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The banjo reviews database is here to help educate people before they purchase an instrument. Of course, this is not meant to be a substitute for playing the instrument yourself!

7124 reviews in the archive.

Gold Star: J.D. Crowe model

Submitted by Brian on 2/21/2021

Where Purchased:

Year Purchased: 2020
Price Paid: 1800 ($US)

Sound

This is a great sub $2,000 banjo, especially if you find a used one for a lot less than $2,000. This banjo was a NOS 2017 that I bought in 2020. It is hard to describe my likes and dislikes with this banjo's sound. It had incredible first, second and fourth strings. The G strings had overtones that I did not like. I tried various things to get rid of them but I could not. I also changed the strings and bridge, adjusted the tail piece and head tension.

Ultimately, it sounded like a sub $2,000 banjo to me. It was extremely loud, which isn't a bad thing, but given it's tonal qualities it was not enjoyable to me. Add in the overtones and I could not deal with it.

Given the price new, there are way too many used banjos for a few hundred more dollars that have much better sound quality.

Sound Rating: 6

Setup

It was set up well when received. There was a slight buzz when using the capo but I attribute that to the climate change between where it was purchased and where I live. It was easily fixed by adjusting the truss rod a little bit.

As mentioned above, I tried to make this banjo sound better. I changed the strings and bridge. I moved the tail piece up and down, and adjusted the head tension by ear and with a drum dial.

Setup Rating: 8

Appearance

The banjo was beautiful. Fretboard inlays were really nice. Wood selection was great. Metal parts were nice enough.

A big complaint for me was the rim. When looking at the tone ring and rim from inside, it was clear something was out of round. Measuring the rim showed that it was .105" out. Whether this contributed to the sound issues mentioned above, I don't know. But the tone ring fit wasn't consistent all the way around the pot. The pot was longer from neck to tail piece than from fifth to first string.

Appearance Rating: 8

Reliability

The tuners were definitely not the best I have experienced with previous banjos owned (Hatfield, Stelling, Osborne Chief and RB3). I considered changing them out but ultimately didn't want to invest the money in the banjo. I always wondered about the tail piece but it said Presto so I assume it was.

Reliability Rating: 7

Customer Service

I did deal with a company and they were very gracious. After 2 and a half months of frustration with this banjo, we came to an agreement on a refund at less than price paid new. I think this is more than fair given that I had it for 2.5 months.

Customer Service: 10

Components

As mentioned above, the tuners were not of high quality compared to other high quality banjos I've owned. I also have no idea what ring was used. It was a no hole ring.

Components Rating: 7

Overall Comments

Look, I'm not trying to bash this banjo. I think for the price new it is an exceptional banjo. I was trying to get back into banjo and didn't want to spend a whole bunch of money. I once bought a Fender banjo used for $600 which was also exceptional given the price.

This JD-100 just didn't work out for me. People love these Gold Stars so I thought I would give it a try. There are just too many other banjos in the used market for not a whole lot more money that are much better banjos than this particular one.

You can buy these for $1650 all day long! That's an incredible value for what you get! But IMHO, this particular banjo does not stack up very well against the used market. Ultimately, I bought a used Huber for $3,000 (which I will also review after having some time with it). It is not fair to compare the two.

What I've learned is that there are no shortcuts to that wonderful Gibson sound. You literally have to pay to play.

 

Overall Rating: 7

Gibson: RB-3 Standard

Submitted by Brian on 11/5/2009

Where Purchased: Private Party

Year Purchased: 2009
Price Paid: 1549 ($US) (bought USED)

Sound

This banjo was made in May of 1993. It is my second, high quality mahogany banjo. It sounds a lot like the Hatfield I used to have. It is bright and hollow with a very nice growl. Once you've owned a banjo in each of the 3 main woods, you can really tell what each has to offer. I think mahogany is the best all around sounding banjo. This one sounds incredible!

Sound Rating: 9

Setup

The set up was fine. I tore it apart and made a slight adjustment to the tone ring fit. The neck fit is perfect and the banjo notes true up the neck.

Setup Rating: 8

Appearance

This banjo has been played A LOT!! It has a massive belt buckle rash on the back side of the resonator. The neck has had some filler applied to gouges on several frets. I'm going to mark the appearance low but it is actually one of the reasons that I love this banjo. It's got a lot of character!

Appearance Rating: 6

Reliability

Hardware is standard Gibson. High quality with no worries. The binding has yellowed. The headstock inlays have also yellowed.

Reliability Rating: 10

Customer Service

N/A

Customer Service: not rated

Components

All parts are great! It has a maple rim with Kulesh ring. The neck is impressive given the obvious amount of play time it's had.

Components Rating: 9

Overall Comments

As I said, this banjo reminds me of a Hatfield Buck Creek that I once had. It has a great open and bright sound with lots of sparkle. I love the inlay pattern which I think is called standard. It's a 1993 which is from the coveted Greg Rich era. Is it all hype? Not from what I can see! Try one, you'll like it!!

Overall Rating: 9

Fender: Deluxe

Submitted by Brian on 10/22/2008

Where Purchased: Hugo Helmer

Year Purchased: 2008
Price Paid: 399 ($US) (bought USED)

Sound

I was surprised! It's a decent sounding banjo. I enjoy playing it. Certainly a bit on the harsh side but it has some nice tonal qualities.

Sound Rating: 7

Setup

I tore it apart and pulled off the ring. I sanded the rim until the ring slipped on and off easily. I also made sure that there was a slight bit of relief between the rim and the inner leg of the ring. There was one tiny bit of buzzing on the 4th string at the 5th fret. Plays very easily, stays in tune and notes true.

Setup Rating: 7

Appearance

It's not my ideal banjo. I don't like how fat it is from the back of the resonator to the top of the head. The sunburst finish belongs on a Les Paul. The inlays are an embarrasment! The ones on the head stock are very badly aligned! The ones on the neck show filler to cover the poorly cut fret board. It's not horrible, at least it has the classic Gibson looking flange.

Appearance Rating: 5

Reliability

Tail piece appears to be total junk! I wish it had Gotoh's. If I had to guess, I'd say these would be the problem areas.

Reliability Rating: 6

Customer Service

N/A

Customer Service: not rated

Components

Tail piece and tuners are suspect.

Components Rating: 5

Overall Comments

I enjoy playing this banjo! I like the way it sounds and I can sleep at night knowing it didn't cost me an arm and a leg. With a Presto tail piece and some Gotoh tuners it'll be just fine! : )

Overall Rating: 6

Osborne Chief: #87 Nickel Hardware

Submitted by Brian on 10/27/2006

Where Purchased: Private owner

Year Purchased: 2005
Price Paid: (Trade) (bought USED) historic exchange rates / currency converter

Sound

I traded an 03 Stelling Master Flower for this banjo. The reason I did that was tone. I wanted more of a traditional, Gibson tone. This banjo has that!! It is dry and hollow.

Sound Rating: 10

Setup

For my taste, this banjo needs a tight head, and from what I've read, many others feel the same way. Occasionally, the sound will slip off a little which tells me it's time to snug up the head a little. I don't know what it would tap tune to but would guess it to be G sharp or A minor. It's pretty tight!

I loosened the coordinator rods to neutral. Minimal pressure on the pot. The action at the 12th is 3/16".

This banjo was ordered without a "speed neck" so I removed the finish from the back of the neck myself after consulting Leon Neat. It was easy to do and there have been no ill affects, i.e., twisting or warping.

This banjo was custom ordered by the original owner with nickel hardware. At one point, I was going to have all of it plated in gold. After talking to Sonny Osborne a little via this website, I decided to just change out the ring for a gold one as this is the part that has the most affect on tone. The banjo now has a gold Blaylock ring but all the other hardware is nickel.

When I first received the banjo, I completely took it apart. I found the ring to be a pretty tight fit to the rim so I took it off and sanded the rim down carefully. This opened the banjo up considerably! When I switched out the ring for a gold one, the gold one was a tad bigger than the original nickel and so the ring to rim fit now is VERY loose.

This banjo has a fairly heavy (2.3g) Kat Eyz bridge.

Setup Rating: 9

Appearance

No banjo can compare to a Geoff Stelling creation and this one is no different.

Aesthetically speaking, the banjo is gorgeous! Hearts and flower inlay, rosewood finger board and an absolutely beautiful sunburst resonator with stunning maple flame!

Appearance Rating: 8

Reliability

This is a top of the line instrument and has no reliabilty issues what so ever.

Reliability Rating: 10

Customer Service

I received this banjo second hand. I have, however, spoken with Sonny (via the Hangout) as well as Frank and Leon Neat (via email and telephone) and they have been most helpful with any questions I've had.

Customer Service: 10

Components

I love the Neat neck! I love the sound of the Blaylock ring!

Components Rating: 10

Overall Comments

I am very fond of this banjo and will probably have it for quite awhile.

Overall Rating: 9

Stelling: Master Flower

Submitted by Brian on 5/20/2005

Where Purchased: Turtle Hill Banjo Co.

Year Purchased: 2004
Price Paid: 3600 ($US)

Sound

Where do I start? This thing's larger than life! Rich and full doesn't even scratch the surface. Mellow with cut, loud and boisterous, crisp and clear, brash, stark, in your face. I think it'd do whatever a player wanted it to. Like taming a doberman!

Sound Rating: 8

Setup

Great setup when delivered. I did take a little bit of relief out of the neck.

Setup Rating: 10

Appearance

This banjo is a work of art. Beautiful bound peghead, concentric rings on the resonator, wonderflully grained walnut, ebony board. The only flaw I found was a very, very faint, perfectly straight line in the peghead that you literally have to be 4" away from to notice. As perfect as humanly possible. If you aren't happy with this workmanship, you can't be satisfied.

Appearance Rating: 10

Reliability

Of course, top notch! I play this banjo hard and have a heavy fretting hand. There's probably 300-400 hrs on her and fret wear is very minimal. If I can't break it, it's probably indestructible!

Reliability Rating: 10

Customer Service

Dave and Geoff have both been great to work with and have answered many questions since I've had this banjo. No repairs have been necessary.

Customer Service: 10

Components

Nothing weak or cheap about a Stelling. I did put a Kat Eyz bridge on that mellowed the tone a bit.

Components Rating: 10

Overall Comments

A very, very, very powerful instrument. I was not prepared for it at first and at times find it frustrating. Gibson and Stelling aren't even on the same planet, they are apples and oranges when it comes to sound. I play every day and for the first 20 min. I can't seem to get what I want out of it. Then, all of a sudden, it seems to do an about face. I can't explain it. When it gets to that point, I can't put it down, it just keeps getting better and better.

Overall Rating: 9

Hatfield: Buck Creek

Submitted by Brian on 5/24/2003

Where Purchased: Arthur Hatfield, Glasgow, KY

Year Purchased: 2003
Price Paid: $1,950 historic exchange rates / currency converter

Sound

This banjo is perfect for Scruggs style picking. Loud and sweet with a growl in the 4th string. She's still getting broke in and is getting better and better. With Arthur Hatfield's set up (tone ring fit) and a Huber ring it's a guaranteed winner.

Sound Rating: 9

Setup

Banjo was set up by the builder, Arthur Hatfield. He knows how to get the best sound out of his banjos. The action is about 3/16". The tension hoop on this banjo is not even off the head all the way around. I rises up a little by the neck. I do not know the affect this has on the sound. Both spikes were installed too deep to allow the string to go under them.

Setup Rating: 8

Appearance

A beautiful hand made mahoganey neck by Arthur Hatfield. Very beautiful and unique inlay pattern on an unfinished rosewood board. Soothing, golden mahoganey resonator. Not 100% perfect. There was some excess stain on the neck binding, and a crooked resonator screw.

Appearance Rating: 8

Reliability

I fully expect this banjo to last a life-time. There is nothing about it that would lead me to believe otherwise. Very solid, quality through out.

Update: A couple frets came unseated on the neck.

Reliability Rating: 9

Customer Service

It was a pleasure dealing with Arthur as this banjo came to be. His integrity speaks for itself. Highest of rating.

Update: Customer service has been above and beyond! It is a great feeling to be able to call the person who made your banjo and get some feed back. Arthur has been exemplary in this regard!

Customer Service: 10

Components

Handmade Arthur Hatfield mahoganey neck, Huber Flathead tone ring, Cox maple rim and mahoganey resonator, Presto tail piece, Gotoh tuners and a one piece Gibson style flange. All metal parts nickel plated.

Components Rating: 9

Overall Comments

What an honor to own one of Arthur Hatfield's banjos. With a handmade neck and Huber Flathead there's no mistaking this instruments intent, a solid work horse made for playing and lot's of it. Thank you Arthur, for making a dream come true!

There are a lot of banjos out there in the 2k dollar range. If your looking for a Huber/Gibson sound with excellent service, this is the one! If your looking for a model of perfection, buy a Stelling.

Overall Rating: 8

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