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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!

6880 reviews in the archive.

JP (Jim Patten): Whitechapel Archtop tenor banjo

Submitted by ruraltradpunk on 3/27/2019

Where Purchased: online from friend

Year Purchased: 2019
Price Paid: Don't Remember (bought USED) historic exchange rates / currency converter

Sound

I play irish traditional music on the tenor banjo tuned GDAE and this JP Whitechapel suits it down to the ground - clear, crisp, loud, bright for an open back, almost like a cross between an open back and a resonator banjo. The Whitechapel tone ring (made from bell brass from the old Whitechapel Bell Foundry in London) was what attracted me to this model - all examples I've heard of it in the past were awesome.

Sound Rating: 10

Setup

Everyone I know with a JP says that Jim Patton sends his banjos out with great set-ups. As I'm the third owner of this banjo it needed some attention. New strings were in order as the set on it were two years old. I also tightened the Renaissance head, which had stretched over the years, and needed to tighten the coordinator rods because I think the original owner had tweaked them (they also swapped out the original Kershner tailpiece for an Oettinger style one, and swapped the 5/8 bridge for a half inch one - the action was too low for my liking but rose slightly after I'd made the above adjustments so by happy accident is now at a height that works for me. I'm rating the set up as 6 due to the state the banjo arrived in, not a reflection of the set ups Jim Patton does. All adjustments were easy to make by the way.

Setup Rating: 6

Appearance

The banjo is absolutely gorgeous, the Decaphonic rim has tulipwood inlay, the neck has lovely ornate inlays as well. It's the right balance between simplicity and bling. The banjo is also light and the neck profile is great, very comfortable to play.

Appearance Rating: 10

Reliability

Everything about the banjo screams "top quality" - this is an extremely well made, beautiful instrument. I would have no qualms gigging with it without a back up. I already have another lovely tenor banjo (Ome Juniper) but I think the JP is going to leap frog it as my main banjo.

Reliability Rating: 10

Customer Service

I emailed Jim right after I got the banjo to ask him a question about set up and he got back to me super fast. Lovely guy, and other folks I know with his banjos can attest to the same.

Customer Service: 10

Components

The standout components/features for me would be the Whitechapel tone ring and the Decaphonic rim. No weak/cheap parts as far as I can see, not planning on upgrading anything.

Components Rating: 10

Overall Comments

I've been a big fan of Jim Patton's work for several years now and have always wanted one of his Whitechapel archtops. I got lucky in that a friend offered to sell his to me. Many of my favourite tenor banjo players have JP banjos (Angela Usher, Stevie Dunne, John & Maggie Carty, Alan Reid)  - I've been delighted to see how popular Jim's banjos are getting (including in the States) and won't part with this banjo for anything! Ordering a Calton case for it this week!

Overall Rating: 10

Ome: Juniper

Submitted by ruraltradpunk on 12/17/2016

Where Purchased: ebay

Year Purchased: 2016
Price Paid: 2000 ($US) (bought USED)

Sound

My Juniper tenor has a 12 inch pot with a rolled brass tonering and as such it has a warm and slightly mellow sound. Very full, nice amount of sustain, loud with fantastic tone. There's nothing I dislike about the sound at all

Sound Rating: 10

Setup

I got this used, the banjo was well set up, though I did have to swap out the D'Addario tenor strings for my favoured set of Newtone ones as the D'Addario ones are a little lighter and come with a plain A string - my preference is for a wound A.

Setup Rating: 9

Appearance

This is the nicest banjo I've every had, and has a beautiful simplicity to it's appearance. It looks like mahogany (they also offer the model in maple and walnut and I'm fairly confident it's neither of those!), nice MOP inlay on the peghead and on the neck. It also came with aged brass hardware which really caps off the look.

Appearance Rating: 10

Reliability

This is a top class, extremely well made banjo and I'm confident that it's going to stand up to years and years of playing. I would definitely use it at a gig without feeling the need for a backup.

Reliability Rating: 10

Customer Service

N/A, haven't had any reason to contact them. Don't think the warranty is transferable so that's N/A to me as well. Scoring a 5 purely from a neutral "I don't know" standpoint.

Customer Service: 5

Components

No weak or cheap parts to my eyes. It came with a lovely wooden armrest, the tuning pegs turn smoothly and hold tune well, all hardware is top notch.

Components Rating: 10

Overall Comments

I hemmed and hawed about pulling the trigger on this banjo purely from a financial standpoint and I am so glad that I took the plunge. This banjo is a joy to play and I'll likely get better as a player due to putting more time in as a result. I read a testimonial about the Juniper tenor on the Ome website from John Carty, one of my favourite tenor banjo players, where he made a similar observation re: his own playing improving because he couldn't put the banjo down. I would cry salty tears if anything ever happened to this banjo and I would definitely look to replace it. Wonderful instrument.

Overall Rating: 10

Vega: Tubaphone Style M

Submitted by ruraltradpunk on 5/27/2011

Where Purchased: ebay

Year Purchased: 2011
Price Paid: 550 ($US) (bought USED)

Sound

I'm a fan of open back tenors - this one has a kind of dry, vaguely tubby sound, not shrill at all, very warm sounding, and LOUD. I like everything about the sound, no dislikes at all.

Sound Rating: 10

Setup

Got this from a guy who sells a lot of instruments on ebay - he's local so I was able to go see and play the banjo before purchasing which was nice. It was set up with floppy strings, tuned CGDA and had crummy old friction tuners, but I took a punt on it anyway.

Setup Rating: 1

Appearance

It's in really good nick for a circa 1913-1919 age instrument. It's a Fairbanks-Vega era instrument, no "Vega" on the peghead, everything about it is in quite good order, barring a small crack where the heel cap meets the heel of the neck. Frank Ford at Gryphon Strings said it's not a big deal, so that's good enough for me. I love the very simple look of the Style M's, not a lot of bling, but that's grand with me.

Appearance Rating: 9

Reliability

I would definitely use it without a back up - hardware is all going strong, though I did get the friction tuners swapped out for some planetary ones - now it actually stays in tune!

Reliability Rating: 9

Customer Service

Not likely to be dealing with the company what with it being used and nearing 100 years old warranties don't really come into the picture! Just going or a middle of the road score of "5", since there's no N/A option

Customer Service: 5

Components

The friction tuners were basically useless - how on earth did players back in the day tolerate them? It's now sporting some lovely small post planetary tuners. The Tubaphone tonering is obviously the absolute business!

Components Rating: 9

Overall Comments

I love this banjo and if it ever got nicked I'd cry salty tears and then start scouring the shops/ebay etc for another one. It's compact and super short scale makes it really easy to play and really easy to switch back and forth between it and my mandolin without too much of an adjustment curve. Looks great, sounds great, plays great!

Overall Rating: 10

Clareen Banjos

Submitted by ruraltradpunk on 9/23/2007

Overall Comments

This little shop is in Clarinbridge, Co. Galway, Ireland. It's run by the always welcoming Tom Cussen. Not only does he make both tenor and 5-string banjos, which are always in stock, he also has a fair amount of used and vintage banjos in the shop, banjo cases and accessories, along with some mandolins, fiddles, tenor guitars and the odd bouzouki, and an assortment of banjo CD's. Tom is an absolute gentleman, and visitors are always encouraged to play any instruments they like. I have literally spent HOURS in the shop. If you are ever in the west of Ireland you MUST visit this shop, if only to pick up a "Best Pluckin Banjos in Ireland" sticker for your banjo case! The website is www.banjo.ie

Overall Rating: 10

stromberg: Open back tenor

Submitted by ruraltradpunk on 8/25/2007

Where Purchased: Clareen Banjos

Year Purchased: 2007
Price Paid: () (bought USED) historic exchange rates / currency converter

Sound

Has that deep open back kind of sound, bit sustain-y at times but I'm doing the old "stuff something between the head and the dowel stick" trick. Right now that "something" is a small stuffed "Grommit" of "Wallace & Grommit" fame. I play Irish trad stuff mainly and I really like the sound Angelina Carberry gets - my banjo would be nearer to that type of sound I reckon. It's not wildly treble-y, but I have discovered that if I use really pointy picks it gives it more of a treble-y edge to the sound. I'd actually never considered getting an open back banjo prior to this purchase but now I really like the different tonal qualities they possess as compared to resonator banjos.

Sound Rating: 10

Setup

Banjo was very well set up, action and intonation all spot on, lovely to play, only thing I've done is put new strings on it, which made it sound even better than it already did!

Setup Rating: 10

Appearance

I think this banjo is beautiful - very simple looking and the clear head shows off the unique "Cuppo-phone" tone ring nicely. Inlay on the peghead is of a smiling crescent moon with a small star, ebony fretboard. One unusual feature is that the fretboard extends down over the head. This banjo is in excellent condition for it's age, no parts missing or flaws.

Appearance Rating: 10

Reliability

This is a really well made banjo, and if it's lasted this long and still in such good shape, then I don't have many fears about how it's going to hold up over time. I would confidently use it without a backup.

Reliability Rating: 10

Customer Service

There is no company to deal with any more - I'm still going to give it a high rating for this category though, since there isn't the option of N/A and I can't bring myself to give it a low rating for anything!

Customer Service: 8

Components

Standout component is probably the Cuppo-phone tone ring. It's one of the first things you notice on this banjo. There are no weak/cheap parts on this, one of the first things I was struck by upon picking it up was just how well made it is. The only thing I'm planning on changing is the arm rest - I had a basic garden variety arm rest put on it when I bought it, but intend to order one of those wire Vega style armrests - very old school looking, I like 'em!

Components Rating: 10

Overall Comments

I love this banjo and if it was stolen I would cry salty tears! My favourite feature would be it's playability - it's just so easy and comfortable to play, has a great neck profile. Only minor quibble would be the ill fitting old case it came with, and then discovering just how difficult it is to find a case to fit a short scale tenor! No worries though, as we speak a fella in Dublin is making a case to order for it, so it'll fit it like a glove! There aren't alot of these Strombergs around so my advice would be that if you find one, grab that puppy and don't let go!

Overall Rating: 10

Grafton: Popular #2

Submitted by ruraltradpunk on 7/20/2007

Where Purchased: The BanjoWorks, Faversham, Kent UK

Year Purchased: 2007
Price Paid: 225 (sterling) historic exchange rates / currency converter

Sound

I play Irish trad stuff so I got the 17 fret tenor banjo. What I like about the Grafton is that it SOUNDS like a banjo - some of the other entry level instruments I tried out didn't. If it sounded crappy, I probably wouldn't have been inspired to keep picking it up - from the moment it arrived I've played it an average of 2-3 hours a day.

Sound Rating: 8

Setup

Banjo was shipped with the bridge removed - Andy included detailed directions for fitting it correctly, so no problems there. Action is great, this is a very playable banjo.

Setup Rating: 10

Appearance

Very spartan in appearance, satin finsh, no fancy inlay or anything, just a good solid banjo. I don't mind if an instrument is plain looking, some folks might.

Appearance Rating: 8

Reliability

For the short time that I've had this banjo, I reckon it's quite reliable, well built, stays in tune - only refraining from rating it a "10" because I have no idea at this stage how well the hardware/finsh will last, but I suspect it will hold up pretty well.

Reliability Rating: 8

Customer Service

Dealt with Andy over the phone/via email when ordering this and he was very helpful, friendly, easy to deal with. Not sure about warranty stuff, gotta check my receipt for that.

Customer Service: 9

Components

I find the neck very playable, frets are well seated, no sticky uppy ones waiting to catch your fingertips, neck profile is very comfortable too.

Components Rating: 9

Overall Comments

For this price range I think this is a great banjo, especially when compared to others in this price range that to my mind provide alot of eye candy, but once you start playing them just scream "CHEAP!!" at you. I've been trying out alot of pre-war tenors recently and while the Grafton doesn't have the tone of some of those vintage banjos, it can hold it's own in terms of playability, which I think is the main quality a beginner should be looking for. If finance allows when upgrading, I would still hang onto this as a back up banjo.

Overall Rating: 10

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