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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!

6878 reviews in the archive.

Frost: Gourd

Submitted by handsup8 on 10/4/2011

Where Purchased: From Frost

Year Purchased: 2011
Price Paid: 750 ($US)

Sound

The sound of this Gourd banjo [Frost #31] is absolutely beautiful. It has a large gourd compared to others I've played and seen, and Frost cut a nice hole on the top near the neck which helps produce a rich, mellow yet bright timbre. The low end is particularly special on this gourd. I am mainly playing old-time clawhammer tunes on it, but I want to work on learning more Minstrel-era pieces to bring out its full range.

Sound Rating: 10

Setup

The banjo was well set up. Frost delivered it to me at a gig he was playing in town, and it was ready to go. The bridge, a handmade one of butternut, was nicely placed near the center of the big skin head, which gave it a nice pop and also produced a very friendly scale length. There was a minor divot in the neck where a branch was nascent in the black cherry he used. It causes a minor buzz when I bend the string right there, but does not effect the tone. Frost said to put some wax in there, but I haven't done it yet because it's hardly ever an issue. The only setup changes I might make are to replace the nylon strings with Nylguts, but it sounds so good as is that I haven't messed with it at all!

Setup Rating: 9

Appearance

Yes, it's beautiful. (I will post some pics on my member page). The neck is black cherry, very beautifully figured with nice contrasts between the front, peghead and back of the neck. (It is fretless and there is no fingerboard distinct from the neck.) Moreover, the neck is sculpted in a very lovely and functional way: the neck flows in a great pattern with three "ogees," I think that's the right word! Moreover, the ogees correspond with the 5th, 12th and 17th fret positions and help orient one to the fretless neck. The skin head is nicely varied with a couple translucent places, and the brass tacks used to secure it to the gourd are handsome and well arrayed. The gourd is not only large, but is slightly a-symmetrical in a way that really makes you realize that it's a gourd and not just a rim. Finally, the tailpiece is a beautiful almost maroon color and I need to ask Frost what it's made of. It's a very fine little piece of carving, attached by twine wound round a groove in the dowel which protrudes from the end of the gourd.

Appearance Rating: 10

Reliability

It seems made to last, although it is a gourd so I'm not sure what it's longevity will be compared to a more manufactured rim. I probably wouldn't use it without a backup because it's low tuned and doesn't do all the things I need a banjo to do with a string band. Nevertheless, I have no doubts as to its reliability and quality.

Reliability Rating: 9

Customer Service

Frost was great and very friendly. He built it for me, but it was not like a custom job. He built me one of HIS great banjos, and I'm damn grateful. That said, I'm sure that he would listen to input from customers if they had particular wants/needs. He gave me good, quick feedback on the neck concern I had and delivered it on time. We didn't talk warranty.

Customer Service: 10

Components

It's an awesome gourd banjo, with a beautful shape, sound and look. The neck is particularly lovely, but I also love the tailpiece and butternut bridge. The tuners are a bit sticky, they're friction, and the 5th peg slips low out of tune sometimes when you retune, but you just have to push it back in a bit and retune. However, when you get it in tune it stays there. Patience is the low price of playing an instrument built like they used to do it.

Components Rating: 9

Overall Comments

This is a great banjo. I play it ALL THE TIME, and whenever it is in a room of other banjo players they all want to play it. It is a particular joy to sing with it, and I am anxious to get some minstrel tunes down to take advantage of its tone and low tuning. That said, it sounds pretty damn good with the "standard" old time tunes I play on it right now! I'll post some sound files soon. Here is a link to my pictures of the banjo:

http://www.banjohangout.org/myhangout/photos.asp?id=19586&albumid=6094

Overall Rating: 10

Enoch: Tradesman

Submitted by handsup8 on 6/29/2008

Where Purchased: From Kevin

Year Purchased: 2007
Price Paid: 895 ($US)

Sound

This Tradesman has a beautiful, rich sound. It can be chubby and thunk just right for when I'm playing at home or with a fiddler. It also cuts brightly hrough the clutter when I'm busking, playing out or in a jam. This is NOT a "quiet" or sombre banjo, but it does have a great low end and gentle side.

Sound Rating: 9

Setup

The banjo was setup wonderfully. However, the action was a little high for me, and the banjo seemed to go sharp when played even for a short time. I sent it back to Kevin, and he lowered the action somewhat and corrected the tuning slippage [I don't know how!]. I may put a lower bridge on it, but I may also just adjust my playing cause I like the way it rings as is.

Setup Rating: 9

Appearance

Great look to it, simple but elegant. I love the Dobson heel, the honest peghead, and the cherry neck. The Tradesman reveals the fine eye of a Craftsman.

Appearance Rating: 10

Reliability

The hardware seems good, no complaints. I usually take it without a backup to jams/shows. It may not be the banjo for someone who wants to both clawhammer and up-pick. However, I only clawhammer at this point so I haven't tried those other styles. I've also only had it for six months.

Reliability Rating: 9

Customer Service

Excellent customer service, friendly without any extra sugar. First of all, Kevin let me come up to his workshop and try the thing out in a very relaxed environment. Then I sent it back to Kevin for work on the tuning issues and to have the action lowered. Even though he was VERY busy [what with the Dobson coming out and all] he got me the Tradesman back promptly and under warranty. He also let me trade back the gigbag towards a fine TKL hardshell.

Customer Service: 10

Components

You guys know the components, or can see them clearly online. Sometimes the tuners bug me a bit, particularly the G-string tuner gets loose and wobbly, but that's easily rectified with a screwdriver.

Components Rating: 9

Overall Comments

This is a great banjo, and I played many others before I decided to buy it. [Granted my budget was restricted and I did not play Kevin's more high-end instruments, or any high end models by the likes of Chuck Lees, Romero, Fieldings or Bowlin. However, I did play Ramseys, Reiters, Deering/Vegas, Goldtones, Recording Kings, and others.] I have had friends with comparable as well as significantly more expensive banjos praise the Tradesman highly after playing it. I wanted a banjo suited for old-time clawhammer and for accompanying fiddlers, and this one is spot on. I can't put it down and I recommend it highly.

Overall Rating: 9

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