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I have attended Pete Wernick's first 2 one week-long Bluegrass Band Camps (not to be confused with the Jam Camp, although there are similarities) in Boulder, Colorado. The first one was in January 2015 and the second was in January 2016. This review is a largely cut and pasted from a forum post I wrote shortly after the first camp in 2015. I have added additional comments about going as part of a gigging band at the 2016 camp versus going more-or-less solo (an old banjo camp buddy suggested we go as duo, which we did but we had not played together since the last banjo camp) as I did in the 2015 camp further on in the review (starting at the bolded area). The band camp is different than the jam camp and a new category for Pete. Many of you might be familiar with his "Wernick Jam Camp", mostly trying to get Novice players to learn the fundamentals of playing together. The Band camp was squarely aimed at getting actual performing bands and groups to polish their skills. If you had an actual performing professional band of 4 or more it was $300 per person. Partial groups were $450 per person and did not have to be gigging bands. Individuals were $600 each and Pete let people know up front that he had a limit since he did not want it to become unbalanced with too many of one or the other instrument. It took the place of the 3 one week long Beginning, Intermediate and Advanced Banjo Camps that he had been doing every January in Boulder for decades. I had attended Intermediate Banjo the three consecutive years before this and to be honest was not planning on going back unless I was ready for Advanced, if I ever felt that confident. Pete not only had himself and his wife, Joan, but many other excellent musician/coaches to help with instrument skills not only groups of each instrument but also one on one attention; vocal skills especially harmony singing, the biggest challenge, and song arrangements, breaks and performance. I still got to sit in on two of Pete's Banjo classes and got to do two One-on-Ones with him as well as getting direction on Bass, my first ever mandolin lesson and two songwriting classes/forums. Even though there were only two solid full performing bands "Sugar Creek" and "The Hippie Buckaroos" and many partial bands, they did a good job of shoehorning the various different players and partial bands into groups. A friend of mine from Banjo camp had asked me back in October to join him as a partial band and I did, him on banjo me on bass. I did not think a two banjo band would fly. They paired us up with a guitar, fiddle, mandolin and another banjo player from Germany. After several days of picking, singing arranging and polishing we had a Friday night concert with paying attendees as well as campers packing the house. We spent Saturday reviewing the game film and doing various other last minute One-on-Ones, jams and classes. I got more from it than I have any other Bluegrass or instrument classes including 4 years at Rockygrass Academy and Pete's Banjo camps. In November 2015 I joined "The Hippie Buckaroos" as the banjo/lead guitar and one of the first things we did was sign up for the 2016 Band Camp. I have to say it was better and even more useful going with a performing band and probably speeded up our "gelling as a band" process. I would highly recommend it to anybody who wants to polish their picking and singing abilities and improve their Bluegrass band skills but I got more from it when I actually went with a band. I would say it ended up becoming a Band camp because the players who got put together became a band even though we did not start out that way.
I have also included a review I copied and pasted below (in italics) from Fiddle Hangout from the fiddle player in my group, Jack.
"Hello Everyone, I wanted to share with you Fiddler's my experience last week at Pete Wernick's Bluegrass Class in Boulder, CO.
The Camp started last Sunday evening with a Social get together but then the Camp started in earnest on Monday morning. Pete (Banjo of course) was assisted by his wife Joan, humorist and Guitar instructor, all around good guy and multi-instrumentalist, Hereford Percy, and a portion of Pete's fellow Long Road Home band members, Jordan Ramsey teaching Mandolin, Martin Gilmore teaching Guitar and Songwriting (man, can Martin sing) and Justin Hoffenberg teaching Fiddle (Boy was I lucky) . I believe Pete is temporarily out of Long Road Home due to his National and International Tour with Hot Rize. The Camp ran Sunday evening through the following Saturday. Each day began in the large group with pearls of wisdom from Pete. Pete would then teach the group a song, verse and melody, then we'd play it with Pete calling out breaks for each group of instruments. I was the only Fiddler at camp so that pretty well isolated me and forced me to pay attention and step up when the Fiddle break was called. After about an hour and a half in the big group with Pete, we broke into 5 different bands. Of the 5 bands, 2 or 3 were actual bands who came as a group to work on their stuff. The rest of us were freelancer but everyone found a good fit. After lunch we broke into groups by instruments for an hour with our respective instructors. The nice thing about being the only Fiddler was I got a private lesson from Justin every day. Justin is an excellent Fiddler and a great teacher and a really intelligent young Man. After our lesson we would meet again as a large group and work on singing three part harmonies. That was superb. Not only the singing but being taught by professional Bluegrass musicians how to structure a three part harmony. We did these things each day. I'm afraid I'm getting a little long winded so I'll close with a couple of other items. Friday night we had the student and faculty concert. The concert was publicized and we ended up playing before a full house which included paying customers. It was a great week and I learned a ton. I spent my first 4 plus years of learning Fiddle on nothing more than Fiddle tunes. Recently I've begun trying to put what I've learned with Fiddle tunes into Bluegrass songs which is my first love. I would encourage you Fiddlers to consider Pete's Bluegrass Camp. You can log on to Drbanjo.com and check out future camps. Look around the site while you are there. There's a ton of great information to go through. OK, stick a fork in me, I'm done."
Overall Rating: 9
Where Purchased: http://yatesbanjos.com/picks.htm
When I started playing Scruggs style banjo around 10 years ago, I got some plain-jane Dunlop .0225 fingerpicks. Around 2008 I switched to Bob Perry's cobalt plated picks, which are really good picks. I read some rave reviews of the Hoffmeyer's around late 2012 when they first came out and I started using those.The Yates came right around the same time but they were a little pricier and I already had the Hoffmeyers by the time I heard of the Yates. I really liked the fit and finish of the Hoffmeyers and thought I was satisfied. A few months ago Warren Yates was building a rim and a ring for me and we got to talking about picks. He pretty easily convinced me to try some of his Yates Oval 8's. Wow! I have been playing them every day for almost 3 months and I could not be happier. There is something totally different in the feel to Warren's picks. When I first got the Hoffmeyer's I had no problem going back to the BP's. Now when I try on the Hoffmeyers after using the Oval 8's they feel really different, stiffer or heavier in some way. The Yates Oval 8's cost a little more but they are a must have for me at this point. They have superior fit, finish and feel but more than anything else for me, the right tone. One other thing that Warren told me was that most players said they did little to no reshaping of the picks. I have always put a bend in the end of the other picks to curl them around my fingers, so I took it with a grain of salt. For some strange reason I barely needed any bending with the Yates and only on my index. I can't explain it. I already bought 2 extra pairs to keep a set with each banjo and a back-up pair. Thanks Warren. Keep up the good work!
Overall Rating: 10
Where Purchased: http://www.dcbanjoworks.com/index.html
First things first, what I think is fantastic banjo tone might be different than you. Taste is subjective but I really love Earl, J.D. and Pete Wernick's tone in general although they sound different on different recordings. I have been playing Scruggs style bluegrass banjo enough to own my own 5-string banjo for a little over 10 years. I have played fretted stringed instruments of all types, including banjos, for about 35 years. I got a cheap Asian pot-metal banjo in 2005, then a plain Jane Sullivan Festival in late 2006, then a really nice mahogany Bales in 2013. I love to tinker around and experiment to get the best from all my instruments and 5 string banjos are perfect for experimenting with. In the years after I got the Sullivan I have done lots of things to get the best tone such as different strings, heads, straps, picks, Zero-fret, tone enhancers, pickups, D-tuners. etc...I acquired a lot of bridges from Kat Eyz; Sosebee; Z-bridges:Scorpion; Bart Veerman, etc... I read some rave reviews on BHO of David Cunningham's bridges in late 2013 and ordered two bridges for my new Bales in January 2014. David contacted me before he began to work to make sure he knew what I was after. I got two standard spaced 11/16" bridges one Maple/Padauk and Zebra/Katalox. The Bales just loved the Maple/Padauk. The tone was consistently clean and strong across the strings. I had found some bridges emphasized the high notes more. Good growl on the 4th/low D. I have taken the bridge off the Bales a time or two but it always went back on. The Cunningham bridge seemed to bring out the best in this banjo. Clean, clear and strong. I am pretty sure that part of his success in this design is that he creates a very slight radius on the feet to match the sag of the banjo head. Brilliant!
Over the last half of 2015 I slowly bought different banjo parts one at a time and ended up assembling two new banjos when all was said and done. I did not plan this ahead of time I just started by buying a used radius neck on BHO classifieds to bolt onto my Sullivan pot assembly and things kind of snowballed. I put together a maple neck and resonator Mastertone style with a Yates rim and Yates no-hole tone ring. I also bought and installed a Bela style large radius flying eagle neck onto my Sullivan pot assembly originally, then later I acquired a new Sullivan torrified rim and Sullivan V-35 tone ring. When I got the final versions of each together last month I knew that I needed some more Cunningham bridges. Even though he does not advertise them on his website I sent him an e-mail asking him if he could do radiused bridges. Luckily for me he agreed to do them but he had to specially set up his machines because he had never done these sizes before. I ordered two standard spaced 3/4" bridges, one Maple/Padauk and one Zebra/Katalox for the maple and two 11/16" radius bridges one Maple/Padauk and one Zebra/Katalox each with his Achilles heel. I have only had them on for a week at this point they are definitely keepers with a lot of the same strengths as the others; clean, clear and strong. During the whole process David kept me notified and even sent me pictures of the blueprints then later the finished bridges. All of this customer service and my favorite custom banjo bridges for a very reasonable price. I am also grateful that he is thinking outside the box with the slight curve of the feet and the recent Achilles heel. He has me as a customer for life.
Overall Rating: 10
Where Purchased: Amazon
I have a Reunion Blues and a Superior Fiberglass case as well as hardshell Guardian and TKL cases that originally came with my Bales and Sullivan banjos. I prefer the Reunion Blues over the other cases and use it when I leave the house for picks, gigs, band practice, festivals and general travel. I used it as carry-on last week to fly back and forth between Denver and Salt Lake City with total confidence in the plane's overhead compartment. The Reunion Blues is not really like a soft gig-bag although it might look like it from the pictures. It has a pretty solid structure and the outside is super-heavy duty 1000 denier Cordura nylon. It's kind of between a soft case and hard case. First and foremost the really good built in shoulder straps. You can keep one or both straps zipped into the case or leave them both loose for convenience all the time like I do. You can use the straps on your left or right shoulder or both. Part of the reason I need the straps is I often carry other things as well as the banjo and it gives lots of options for keeping at least one hand free. The interior is really nice with a padded hump in the neck area with a Velcro strap for locking down the neck. There is no string box inside the case but there is a 2 pocket system on the front that can hold a lot of stuff. I usually have some bags with strings, tools, bridges etc.. in the larger pocket. They are wide enough to hold a songbook or 2 as long as you don't have to have it zip it closed all the way. It is such a snug pocket for books I don't worry about them sliding out. Speaking of zipping, the zippers are super heavy duty and look brand new at 5 years in. I had a much cheaper Durafoam case by another manufacturer before this and the zippers and the little strap that kept the top of the case from flopping over all the way ended up broken after 2 or 3 years. The two biggest factors for me are protection and portability and it does both of these well largely due to the built in straps and padding. One last thing is what they call the "Zero G" case handle. It is crazy soft and comfortable. I hope other companies including luggage companies and folks who make cases for carrying heavy stuff could start using something like the "Zero G" handle.
Overall Rating: 9
Where Purchased: http://www.kateyzcapos.com/home/guitar-capos
If you don't want to read the whole review here's the bottom line; Kat Eyz capos look good, play good and sound good. They are little works of art and fine craftmanship. They live above the nuts of my guitars and banjos because I think they are the best capos for me.
I have one older Kat Eyz banjo capo that I have hands on used for years and several newer ones for banjo and guitar. Part of this review is to let you know that if you bought a Kat Eyz years ago or read a review about the older ones and are considering getting a newer one, they are just as good if not better. I hope Phil corrects me if I'm wrong on this but I think Mike Smith and Phil Wyatt developed these capos together and Phil took over the entire capo end of the business recently so that Mike could keep up with the banjo bridge end of the business. The companies now have two different websites with links to each other. By the way, Kat Eyz are killer banjo bridges if you didn't already know.
I ordered my first one online from Mike 7 or 8 years ago. I'm not sure if Mike was entirely making them himself or they were making them together or what. I got it to use on my standard width 1 & 1/4" wide nut flat fingerboard banjo, a 2006 Sullivan Festival. It was my one and only capo on my one and only banjo for many years as I was learning Scruggs style. I have tried Elliot-McKinney, Perfect Pitch, Shubb's and Paiges and Planet Waves artist capos. I prefer Kat Eyz. I want a capo that I can store behind the nut that I can easily move on and off the neck. I like to easily adjust the tension and placement with a screw mechanism myself for fine tuning instead of relying on a spring or some other means with hopefully a minimum of re-tuning as the end result. The Kat Eyz scores on all fronts. The V-shaped cradle doesn't have issues anywhere on the neck in 1-4 positions and doesn't scuff or mar the neck in any way. It also has to look good and appropriate for the instrument which Kat Eyz does. Kind of a vintage look for lack of a better term. That original capo still looks good, works good and plays great. Not to get into the weeds too much, but I also used it with a Bilt-Rite capo cross bar attachment, which is no longer built. It made the Bilt-Rite work better than the Paige it was originally attached to (see my separate Bilt-Rite review for more info). When I got my second banjo, a Bales mahogany with a vintage, narrower V shaped neck, I acquired a slightly more expensive but very similar style capo made by another respected high end capo craftsman because I liked the latching system. It was coincidentally made in the town where I went to kindergarden and first grade and where Blue Bell ice cream originated from, so some sentimental reasons in there too, I guess. As good as that capo is it is I still prefer the Kat Eyz, which costs less and works as good or better.
I recently ordered a stainless Kat Eyz 2" guitar capo online. I just asked a question in the e-mail about a banjo C-capo for my radiused very wide Bela Fleck style neck that I had just put on my Sullivan. I had never used a C capo preferring to just capo 1-4 and play out of C position but I just got into a band with a female singer and we do so much in and around C that I was unable to use G licks on. He called me up the same day and asked for neck measurements and asked about how I was going to use it. He sent it to me along with the guitar capo I had ordered at no extra charge. He said if I liked it I could pay for it and otherwise send it back. Needless to say I love it and paid for it after 5 minutes of playing. Weeks later I ordered a second guitar capo online and he gave me a slight refund on Paypal since I was a repeat customer as if I was buying several at the same time. I didn't ask he just offered. He also contacted me each time after I ordered and offered to put my initials on all the capos for no extra charge. Phil's work is excellent with great attention to detail. His customer service is very personal and goes above and beyond in a day and age of increased one-size-fits-some and mass production.
Overall Rating: 10
Where Purchased: online
This DVD/digital download (I own both) was my key to Scruggs style banjo. I prefer the digital downloads because they are easier to rewind or replay and as long as I have a computer and my password and login I will have access to them. I had played guitar, harmonica and bass for years before I took up banjo again. The first time I bought a banjo in 1981, unfortunately, I bought a 4 string plectrum not realizing that it was not going to work for Scruggs style. After I realized my mistake I stuck the banjo in a closet and eventually sold it. 25 years later I knew what kind of banjo to get and I picked up a cheap Korean banjo. I started going to a local Saturday night pick at a bookstore because I knew enough about chords and I had been finger-picking guitar enough that thought I could figure things out. Luckily I did learn alternating thumb roll and forward roll from a book which helped. I also took some group classes and bought some other banjo videos that had tab with them. The good news was that I could play something and improvise my own breaks and play along with most bluegrass type songs. The bad news is my breaks never sounded "Scruggs-y". When I tried tab my playing lost musical "flow" and speed it just never sounded right and I usually forgot whatever I had just played.
Luckily for me I came across this instructional video a few years ago. A big point of Murphy Henry's "Method" that differs from most other teachers video or live "in-person" lessons is "No Tab" (written down tablature). She really doesn't want the student to be dependent on looking at a piece of paper to play music. She also doesn't want you writing down notes or creating your own tab to refer to later. She considers her style "by ear". I would more consider it "by example". She tells you what to do as well as showing you what to play with close-ups of her left "fretting" hand and right "picking" hand. Here's what's amazing to me, if I try to learn something from tab I usually don't remember it and it doesn't sound musical while I'm playing it. With the Murphy Method I feel like I remember it and it sounds "musical" right away even at slow speeds. She goes through tuning the banjo near the start of each song. This was originally recorded before electronic tuners were affordable or common. You can skip over the tuning segment or actually check your tuning against hers which is actually good ear training. The video has 5 songs "Banjo In The Hollow, Cripple Creek, Cumberland Gap, Foggy Mountain Breakdown, and John Hardy". It's 1 hour and 50 minutes long. She spends a short amount of time covering 3 rolls; Forward; Backward and Square (alternating) Roll and picking technique. She also briefly covers 3 chords G; D7 and C. Most of the focus for the rest of the video is on the melodic "breaks" on each song, which is really what I needed the most help with, and enough chord information to play along. The majority of time the lessons are focused on notes, licks and timing and executing them with both hands. All the songs are in the key of G. Even though at the time (and since) I have never been to a pick where somebody played "Banjo in the Hollow" or "Cumberland Gap" (a song I have come to love, especially after seeing Earl playing it on the old Martha White videos). I learned them all in order which I would advise everybody to do. They are chosen in this order so that the skills and licks you learn in earlier songs can be used later not only in this DVD but her other DVDs. On her website Murphy actually suggests learning the first two songs from this DVD and then some from "Banjo for Misfits" which is also a great beginner's DVD with these 5 songs on there "Boil Them Cabbage Down, I Saw the Light, Worried Man, Do Lord, and Two-Dollar Bill" and going back and forth. I learned the songs well enough to play them on my own and I would occasionally practice "Cripple Creek" or "Foggy Mountain Breakdown" on my own or play them at a pick. By the way lots of mandolin and fiddle folks will want to do "Cripple Creek" in the key of A, so if you go to open picks that is a good way to practice it. The Murphy Method breaks and kickoffs are real "Scruggs style" material and sound more accurate and "right" than my own improvised breaks. After I felt like I had learned the songs, since I could play through them on my own from memory, I did not keep reviewing the material. I went to a few banjo camps and I kept going to picks. I learned a lot more songs but I felt like when I tried to play fast my playing got sloppy and I felt like my progress was slow.
How to play banjo faster and cleaner may be common knowledge or obvious to some of you so please forgive me if that is the case. This is what helped me improve. About a year ago I was frustrated with my progress, so I started reviewing the Murphy Method songs I had learned years before, which was all of BB I, "Old Joe Clark" and "Salt Creek" off of BB II. As I was reviewing them and cleaning up my mistakes I realized that I had never played these songs at her fastest speed. The idea came to me that to get faster I should pick out a few songs and just repeat them at the fastest speed which I could pick them clean. Over a period of time I could ramp up the speed on those core songs. Even if I was still learning new songs I had to practice those core songs on a regular basis. I also figured that they may as well be the songs on BB I since they had licks that were building blocks and re-used throughout Scruggs style banjo. I should also compare myself, as in play simultaneously, to a really good example of those songs such as are on the Murphy Henry videos or an audio version of those songs such as a backing track or the original song (double check your tuning ((not always A 440)) and Key) or with a metronome. At first I played the songs slowly note for note along with the DVD at the slowest speed, usually the second example she plays, to make sure they were right. If I made mistakes there I reviewed her instructions. I would play them several times at that slow speed or second slowest speed, usually "slow with guitar" to lock the song in and warm up. Then I increased the speed to play those songs faster by practicing the same songs unaccompanied or with a metronome or a backing track or with the faster speeds on the DVD (remember there are several speeds). I will say that Murphy usually has a big jump in speed between slow and fast, so I spent a lot of time reinforcing my playing at the in between speeds on metronome or more recently "GrassTrax" backing tracks. I also own some of Murphy and Casey's "Slow Jam" and "Fast Jam" play along videos, which are good to play with as well. If there was a lick or place that caused me to stumble on a repeated basis I made a loop and repeated that. Finally I played with her fastest speed usually after being substantially warmed up and dialed in to that song. Even if I could not keep up with her fastest version all the way through, it was usually clear which parts I was playing slower or poorly that I should work on. The best way I found to make progress on those was not to play the whole song through, but to start playing a little before where the hard part started until a few notes or a measure after the hard part. Now I try to go back and review songs at least once a month from this DVD or BB II or Jam Session Standards. I can play her fastest speed on everything on this DVD except for "John Hardy" (I stumble on the D part) on this DVD with less warm-up time. I can play "Salt Creek" along with her at her fastest speed but not "OJC" yet but I am making progress. I think going to picks and making live music is critical to my musicianship but Murphy has given me an ideal to shoot for and a way to get there if I stay focused and dig in. I will also say that I feel like her instruction helped me get to a point where now I can use tab and it is easier to play and remember without becoming tab dependent. I have also read comments that people thought you if you didn't play along with her DVD you would get lost or have a hard time playing the songs on your own or with other people which has not been my experience at all. I will finally add that since I played guitar so much before I got to banjo, as well as since then, I needed less help and direction on the backup and chordal aspects of banjo playing. If you are entirely new to music I think it is very important to spend time listening to this music especially Bill Monroe and Flatt and Scruggs, etc... and learning your chord shapes, usually open position first then closed position, then playing along by vamping or rolling through chords to get a feel for this music and get t into your head. There are lots of books, DVDs and free online You Tube videos as well as Murphy's Fast and Slow jam DVD's.
Overall Rating: 10
Where Purchased: online
I bought 5 songs from Grass Trax earlier this week to practice with. The songs are played at different speeds from 60 BPM to 130 BPM increasing at 10 BPM if you so choose (i.e. one 5 minute (more or less) long track at 60 BPM, the next one 5 minutes +/- at 70 BPM, etc...) with your instrument, in my case banjo, pulled out of the mix. The rest of the mix is typical bluegrass instruments of guitar, bass, fiddle, mandolin and dobro. It also has a PDF file with the chords but I generally picked songs that I knew the chords and breaks to. I plugged my laptop into an external speaker (I also did an earbud in one ear at one point so I could hear my banjo with the other ear when I got booted out of my living room). I went to town on "Blue Ridge Cabin Home" for about 30 minutes increasing speed after playing the track +/- 5 minutes at a slower speed and going up 10 BPM until I just could not keep up. It seems like 120 BPM was my collapse point. Next Old Joe Clark then Red Haired Boy. Generally I just played breaks looping over and over although I did practice chord changes at different spots on the neck for Red Haired Boy. I have always been strong on chords and weak or at least slow on breaks so I focused on my weakness. I loved it so much I just bought a bunch more. If you already know the songs and are trying to increase your speed at playing them this works great and is only $1.99 a pop. I got a few songs that are on my "Must Learn" list I bought tonight as motivation to get off my rear end and learn the breaks. I'll probably stick at the slower speeds until I get the new songs down pat but still beats practicing with a metronome IMHO. There are a lot of songs that I am good enough at that I will probably never start at the slowest speeds again but it never hurts to work on fundamentals as every music and sports coach has always told me. My two cents, hope it helps. YMMV.
Overall Rating: 10
Where Purchased: Apple App store
This app has been the answer to my dreams and it only costs $1.99. It is a metronome/roll trainer/band in a box and it can help you read tablature in real time better. The main focus is 3 finger/Scruggs style rolls but it also has a clawhammer/Bum-Ditty pattern as well, It has several basic Rolls already pre-programmed are several forward; alternating thumb; 1 mixed; backward; forward backward; Foggy Mountain Breakdown and Speed goes from 0-200 BPM. Banjo; Guitar; Bass and Metronome are all included in the audio mix and you can turn the volume up or down in the mix. You can also turn off the Banjo; Band or Metronome. You can play the rolls in G; C; D; or G-C-D-G. If all that is not enough and you want to add your own rolls for 99 cents more more you can buy a Roll Maker app that is built into it and write your own rolls which I did and it works great. I have added 7 or 8 of my own rolls. If you have an Apple iPhone, iPad, iPod Touch or computer and you practice banjo rolls this can be a phenomenal tool.
Overall Rating: 9
Where Purchased: eBay
I recently got the Bilt-Rite Capo and after at least four different pickin' circle sessions and several practices, I have to say it has almost completely eliminated tuning issues (obviously not for the 5th string just the lower 4), given me better tone and leaves my left hand more wiggle room for Eminor and C shaped chord work at the capo. On top of all that it actually fits behind the nut on my Sullivan Festival even when I put it in the case so I don't have to put it away and get it out constantly. If you buy one I highly recommend that you use it with the Paige capo but luckily I already had one. I bought mine on eBay for $45.00.
Overall Rating: 9
Where Purchased: BHO Bart Veerman
This is a review for the excellent Geipel metal Zither pick that Bart Veerman sells. What sets it apart is the blade shape, shorter throw and metal blade and very specific sizing (which I love). My Blue Chip, Golden Gates, etc... are gathering dust since I have had these. It took me very little time to get used to the short throw, but I swear I think I am faster and smoother and the tone is right on. My thumb now stays a lot closer to the strings where the action is, which makes sense. On top of that you can't beat the price and they look like they'll last forever. I will be selling my Blue Chip at the next festival I go to.
Overall Rating: 10
Where Purchased: online
I love my Mike's Mute and use it a lot, but it kept vibrating loose and coming off. The first "mod" I tried was adding two little black rubber "O" rings that I picked up at Ace Hardware for .59 cents or so underneath the nuts that hold the top on. This helped but did not entirely solve the problem. I then drilled two tiny holes, one on each foot, on the aluminum feet that go on the underside of the bridge and super-glued a toothpick into each side. I then cut the toothpick down to about 1/16" and filed down the nub just so the feet would not slide out from under the bridge. Now when I slide the aluminum feet under the bridge the toothpicks snug up against the front of the bridge. This cured everything. I can play for hours with no loosening or slipping. I think the toothpick mod is what keeps it from slipping but the "O" rings probably help the mute not crush the bridge and strings so much and act a little like a shock absorber. I will post pictures on a forum soon if you want to check my posts for photos.
Overall Rating: 9
Where Purchased: online from Mike!
Great mute!!! I owned another kind that I didn't like much and lost it, which was fine as I rarely used it. That led me to search the "Hangout" forums for a better mute, which led me to Mike's. It was shipped promptly, easy to attach and remove and doesn't kill the tone. I often practice my guitar chops by playing an unplugged electric guitar. Now I do the same with my banjo. I still hear the notes clearly without the volume and the power associated with our beloved instrument. I actually sit and practice rolls and songs in the same room while watching TV with my son or I can play while the family sleeps. As many have said a marriage-saver/whine-stopper.
Overall Rating: 10
'It's Friday!! Good Morning' 37 min
'Gibson conversion' 1 hr
'Little Zane' 1 hr