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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!

6840 reviews in the archive.

Mountain Banjo: #22

Submitted by Brooklynbanjoboy on 2/18/2016

Where Purchased: From Noah Cline Burlington WV

Year Purchased: 2016
Price Paid: ($US)

Sound

Great, consistent sound for a little mountain banjo.

Sound Rating: 10

Setup

Played well out of the box

Setup Rating: 9

Appearance

Well constructed, rough hewn aspect - appropriate to mountain banjo. Very skilled wood choices. Very effectrive scale choices.

Appearance Rating: 10

Reliability

I keep this one on my desk and it is my "go to" banjo when I get in the mood.

Reliability Rating: 10

Customer Service

Noah is a squared away businessman, very flexible and reasonable, and very helpful.

Customer Service: 10

Components

I never even change the bridge.

Components Rating: 9

Overall Comments

I now have three Noah Cline mountain banjos.  The third arrive a few days ago, and I’m just getting around to “test driving” it on Youtube after fiddling with the setup. 

 

Here’s some basics on Noah and his banjo playing/banjo making:

 

https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC4zlsglpLMap5XSaUPaQ7QA
 

 

I had several fretless banjos over the last 30 years, including mountain banjos, but none of them stayed in the arsenal very long.  On a lark, I traded Noah a good deal of the tools and equipment that constituted Little Bear Banjo Hospital when I decided to close down that operation after about 20 years of banjo repair work.  Noah was serious about building these things, and a very skilled banjo player, and that combination prompted me to strike a deal with him for three of his mountain banjos.

 

Oddly, I find myself drawn to the fretless – as one might be drawn to a new musical challenge.  I suppose I could have elected to learn the saxophone, but I decided instead to try and get serious about fretless banjo.

 

Noah’s banjos are great simple tools, constructed in a straightforward way with an attractive rough hewn look and feel to the work.  He’s gotr the fomula down. 

 

I like the basic scale length/rim size he has chosen as the “basic model,” and though he is clearly inclined to experiment, the essential equation is sound and reliable. 

 

It does, however, end up producing banjos with variety – in sound, look and feel.  These are not exact duplicates, and there is a slight touch of mystery about each of them – it’s up to the “operator” to figure out what must vary in the setup to produce a good, strong simple mountain sound, for example. 

 

I’ve told this story before, so I’ll be brief.  For his “#22” that arrived just after Valentines Day, I asked Noah to include wood I had milled up from a distinguished mahogany sign that had hung above the door of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs for about two generations. 

 

When it was finally and unceremoniously discarded in 2002 or so to make way for a massive Pentagon renovation, I rescued the wood and milled it up, and put it aside for just the right project. 

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Pf9nPPRyA-4

 

 

That project never came about, until I managed to convince Noah to take the wood and incorporate it in one of his instruments.  That’s the banjo I’m working on playing in this “Test Drive” video here. 

 

I’m having a good time with this banjo – and its two brethren.  Those two are earmarked for my first grandsons, Noah and Aidan, born to my son Ethan and his wife Kaytee in late November 2015.  Each banjo is about twice the length of these little twins who are rapidly putting on weight, learning to flip over, making great sounds (probably inventing the rudiments of their “twin language” now). 

 

I’m going to hold onto these until Noah and Aidan can park the banjos in their laps long enough to figure out what fun this stuff can be.  So, don’t be surprised if you see these on a BHO video from time to time, until Noah and Aidan are old enough, and tall enough, to stake their claims to these nice little instruments.

 

V/R,

 

Lew

Overall Rating: 10

Noah Cline: Mountain Banjo Number 15

Submitted by Brooklynbanjoboy on 12/17/2015

Where Purchased: BHO

Year Purchased: 2015
Price Paid: Don't Remember historic exchange rates / currency converter

Sound

Nice, soft sounding, gently quiet fretless banjo.

Sound Rating: 9

Setup

Used Noah's homemade bridge. Won't change the nylon strings. Tuners are fine.

Setup Rating: 9

Appearance

Walnut neck, simple rubbed finish - I would guess Tung oil and wax. Rustic, homemade look but solidly, conscientiously done.

Appearance Rating: 9

Reliability

Modern friction tuners.

Reliability Rating: 8

Customer Service

Noah is friendly, obliging, and quick to return emails.

Customer Service: 10

Components

Squared away in this area.

Components Rating: 9

Overall Comments

Dear BHO Friends,

 

I just received a second mountain banjo from Noah Cline of Burlington, West Virginia.  Like the first one, and decided to try and do a deal for two more small scale versions – for my son’s identical twin boys born in late November this year.  No piano lessons for these kids . . . 

 

The second banjo, number 15 in Noah’s bookkeeping system, dated simply “2015,” is a teardrop rim and a 25 inch scale.  All the parts fit tightly, are executed well, while still having that raw, handmade look and feel to them.  Noah cuts his own bridges which work real fine, meaning that he knows his banjos and is good at cutting the bridge to suit the instrument. 

 

Put this on Youtube right after I pulled the banjo out of its mailing box, without giving it any adjustment time.  It plays nicely, sits comfortable on my lap, and is balanced decently – I like the proportion of neck to rim on this model.

 

This banjo goes to Noah Ache Stern, the first born.  Aidan Elijah Stern will get the second one.  I asked Noah (Noah Cline, not Noah Stern, who is still far to young for hand tools) to cut the neck out of a piece of mahogany I rescued from a distinguished sign that hung for decades above the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs, and one day was unceremoniously discarded in favor of a more modern sign.  Took that hunk of wood home, milled it up into workable sizes, and put it aside – it sat on my workshop shelf for about 15 years before I decided to give the wood to Noah (again, Cline, not Noah Stern, who will clearly an inspired genius capable of designing inventive instruments, but for now can’t quite grasp the concept of pencil and paper, being only 4 weeks old) and have him build a neck out of it. 

 

Here’s my test drive:

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VvxwqdkFOm0

 

 

Nicely done, Noah.  You do good work.

 

V/R,

 

Lew

17 DECEMBER 2015

Overall Rating: 10

Noah Cline

Submitted by Brooklynbanjoboy on 12/3/2015

Overall Comments

 

I managed to snag one of Noah Cline’s mountain banjos – and it arrived in the mail yesterday, 2 December.  He dressed this one up with a decorative peghead overlay  and a nice small five pointed star cutout – filled with a colorful star inlay.  He also added a metal sheath over the northern part of the neck, a crescent moon adorned with what I suppose is another MOP type colorful star, and one of those Dobson-like metal plates at the “scoop.”  He shaped a nice, functional five string tailpiece, and on the reverse side, in the middle of the bottom wood “resonator”, he cut out another crescent moon and adorned that with an adjacent five pointed colorful star. 

 

The banjo is a 25 inch scale.  Noah shaped a nice mahogany bridge, used modern friction tuners, and this little instrument – to my old ears – plays very nicely.  It is comfortable to hold, balanced, and easy to play. 

 

I have owned several “mountain style” banjos, but none of them lasted in my banjo arsenal for very long.  They tended to be slightly longer scales, and just didn’t balance right for me. 

 

This one is a pleasure to hold and play.  

 

Noah’s banjos are rough hewn, hand made folk type projects.  He does use modern screws and such, but he works to incorporate the saw chatter and rough cuts into the character of the banjo.  The neck is a pleasure to move up and down, north and south, getting those longer, liquid slides that fretless banjos offer – I haven’t played fretless in a while, a long while, and I’m really enjoying this one.  Noah put nylon strings on, and I think they are just the right touch. 

 

In addition to being a banjo artist, he is also an accomplished clawhammer player, and a pleasure to deal with in the context of banjo-fueled commerce. 

 

Thanks, Noah.

 

V/R,

 

Lew

Overall Rating: 9

Carl Arcand

Submitted by Brooklynbanjoboy on 11/28/2015

Overall Comments

I just received an exquisite Carl Arcand Second Life Banjo – mating one of Carl’s fine necks to a Little Wonder pot that is 11 and 13/16 inches.  Carl’s hand made neck is Maple and ebony – a nice backstrap and very fine inlay work including a semi-chubby dragon in the peghead, and some flowers, seashells and other odds and ends arrayed on the fingerboard. 

 

Carl’s banjo is well balanced in terms of weight.  I don’t like my neck to outweigh the rim, and Carl has that equation down just right.  He’s mounted a nice piece of calfskin on a square brass flesh hoop, set the scale at 26 and 3/16th inches, and outfitted the thing with Gotoh tuners, a repro wire armrest. 

 

Carl is a serious artist who works with sound as much as he does with wood.  I feel distinct notes coming from the banjo, and all the while the thing produces that old timey sound that I associate with rain on an old tin roof. 

 

I like the extra width on the fingerboard.  Compared to some of my banjos, it feels as though I’ve got about as much space on the fingerboard as a bowling alley lane, and my left and right hands move around with great ease and comfort. 

 

I like to fuss around and install various versions of my preferred bridges.  Carl knows his banjos and after swapping out several different types of “designer” bridges, I cirecled back to the 5/8 inch beavy moon bridge the banjo came with.  Got the best sound, showing me that Carl knows his banjos, knows how to coax the best sound out of them, and makes well thought out choices regarding string gauge, bridge type and tailpiece (a simple no-knot) -  he’s got a particular banjo set -up strategy and that whole equation works our real well, to my ears.   

 

THANKS CARL!

 

V/R,

 

Lew

Overall Rating: 10

Second Life Banjo - Carl Arcand: Second Life Old Timey

Submitted by Brooklynbanjoboy on 11/28/2015

Where Purchased: BHO

Year Purchased: 2015
Price Paid: about 2200 ($US) (bought USED)

Sound

Carl is a serious artist who works with sound as much as he does with wood. I feel distinct notes coming from the banjo, and all the while the thing produces that old timey sound that I associate with rain on an old tin roof.

Sound Rating: 10

Setup

I like to fuss around and install various versions of my preferred bridges. Carl knows his banjos and after swapping out several different types of “designer” bridges, I cirecled back to the 5/8 inch beavy moon bridge the banjo came with. Got the best sound, showing me that Carl knows his banjos, knows how to coax the best sound out of them, and makes well thought out choices regarding string gauge, bridge type and tailpiece (a simple no-knot) - he’s got a particular banjo set -up strategy and that whole equation works our real well, to my ears.

Setup Rating: 10

Appearance

This banjo of mine is an exquisite Carl Arcand Second Life Banjo – mating one of Carl’s fine necks to a Little Wonder pot that is 11 and 13/16 inches. Carl’s hand made neck is Maple and ebony – a nice backstrap and very fine inlay work including a semi-chubby dragon in the peghead, and some flowers, seashells and other odds and ends arrayed on the fingerboard.

Appearance Rating: 10

Reliability

Carl knows his banjos, knows how to coax the best sound out of them, and makes well thought out choices regarding string gauge, bridge type and tailpiece (a simple no-knot) - he’s got a particular banjo set -up strategy and that whole equation works our real well, to my ears.

Reliability Rating: 10

Customer Service

Carl is friendly, serious minded, direct and straightforward. I got a good deal on the banjo, and a great and friendly deal on a new case. He is very accommodating, packs soundly to insure protection for the banjo - all the way from Canada. He mailed the banjo fast, and all our communications were polite and friendly.

Customer Service: 10

Components

I like the extra width on the fingerboard. Compared to some of my banjos, it feels as though I’ve got about as much space on the fingerboard as a bowling alley lane, and my left and right hands move around with great ease and comfort.

Components Rating: 10

Overall Comments

This is a true keeper of a banjo.  THANKS CARL!!

 

Overall Rating: 10

Bridges: David Cunningham bridges

Submitted by Brooklynbanjoboy on 11/9/2013

Where Purchased: BHO

Overall Comments

A few days ago I notice BHO member David Cunningham’s ad for bridges:

 

http://www.banjohangout.org/classified/39405

 

I asked David to build me four 5/8 Zebra bridges with a Katalox cap, two in Crowe spacing and two standard spacing.

David noted that his bridges “have a .010 arc chord depth at the base to account for the sag of the banjo head. This helps to prevent sag at the top of the bridge over time.”

 

That’s way too technical engineering like for me, but it seemed like a good idea, and I’m a sucker for new, innovative bridges. 

 

They arrived today and I tried them out on my Style S 10 inch Vega Little Wonder pot hooked to a Wyatt Fawley neck, built as an A scale banjo.  It’s a fairly new addition  to my arsenal, and I’ve spent a bit of time trying to pin down a sound using various bridges (and toying with the other customary variables).

 

In thelast 24 hours, before David’s bridges arrive, I had at least a half dozen custom made bridges that have accumulated in my inventory on and off that A scale banjo.  They all gave me an appreciably different sound, but didn’t get me closer to what I wanted.

 

David’s zebra wood bridge with the Crowe spacing delivered.  Gave me a great sound across the fingerboard, and helped get me the clarity I wanted with the strings stretched up to A tuning. 

 

His bridges are sleek , nicely made, flawlessly cut and sanded, and consistent in their architecture.  The Katalox cap is strong, stands up to refilling the string slots – I’m using a thicker gauge nylon string and David’s bridges were apparently slotted for steel strings.  Zebra wood has a nice look.  I don’t think it’s necessarily easy to work with; I’ve cut some tailpiecves and other things from that wood before.  But David scored big on the quality of the work using Zebra.  He brands them, and labels them – height, weight, spacing – on the bottom of the bridge feet for convenience.

 

These are nice bridges.  The remaining three are probably going to migrate to my other banjos.  Looking forward to making that happen and getting the nice, clean sound that comes from this product.

 

Thanks, David.

 

Play hard,

 

Lew

-------------------------------

Post Script: (18 November 2013)

I now have six David Cunningham’s bridges.   Four are 5/8 inches in height, two with Crowe spacing and two with standard spacing.  Two are 6/8 inches in height, one standard and the other Crowe spacing.  They are very cleverly cut, very inventively made, and very effective on my various banjos.  

David is a very conscientious bridge engineer.  He has impressive design capabilities and works real hard to please customers.  I’m glad to have stumbled into him on BHO and learned about his product in some very informative email correspondence with him. 

I just pur one of his 6/8 inchers on a banjo I was poised to sell. 

Now it is a keeper.

I’m convinced.  These are first class bridges.

Play hard,

 

Lew

Overall Rating: 10

Picks: Little Maggie Picks

Submitted by Brooklynbanjoboy on 12/13/2011

Where Purchased: 12 December 2011

Overall Comments

I just received my Little Maggie picks in the mail yesterday, shaped them to fit and played with them for the first time in earnest this morning. I definitely like the way they wrap around the finger without impinging -- painfully -- on the cuticles; I have large fingers and these bands fit just right.

Moreover, I cross over from clawhammer to up picking. Two nails on my right hand are a bit longer than the rest, the sure sign of a clawhammer player. These picks fit over those nails and don't get me tangled up in the strings as much as more customarily cut fingerpicks.

I feel as though I'm more accurate. I feel as though my fingers can "breathe." I like these. I also appreciate the carrying case, a simple plastic tube that neatly fits in the pocket and stores easily in the banjo case.

Now, after this first use, I'm a devoted fan of Little Maggie Picks, and intend to order two more pairs -- one for each of my bluegrass banjos, and one to keep in my pocket at all times.

Thanks. Great little product.

Overall Rating: 10

Bridges: BRIDGE

Submitted by Brooklynbanjoboy on 1/4/2011

Where Purchased: DNEW45@ATT.NET

Overall Comments

Donald New advertised the Custom Made Douglas Fir Spillway Dam Banjo Bridge on BHO and I was attracted to the tightly grained wood shown in the photo I saw.

http://www.banjohangout.org/classified/18229

In the ad, and the enclosed note that accompanied the bridge, Mr. New said that he hoped the bridge would improve the sound of the buyer’s banjo, and give the buyer “more pleasure” in playing. I thought that was a very modest way of phrasing it. He made no claim or guarantee that the bridge would open up the sound, make the strings magically more playable, improve the intonation, and so on.

The bridge came in the mail yesterday, and I placed it on the banjo this morning. I can’t say that I am getting the sound that I hoped to get from the banjo, largely because I can’t quite put my finger on what sound I thought possible or most desirable, and that might be a function of both the limits of my instrument and “operator error.”

What I can say is that the bridge is a great piece of work, tightly cut, symmetrical, nicely sanded, notched precisely.

And I can say that it does indeed open up the sound, and it does set up a tension on the strings that made them much more playable. I get a much more precise, crisp sound south on the neck toward the rim, and a bit more clarity in chording.

I can say one more thing about this little bridge. I swing between clawhammer and up- picking, and not usually on the same banjo. The banjo in question, a nice RK-50, showed itself not really suited for clawhammering when I first purchased it. After I installed the Spillway Dam Banjo Bridge, this changed. The bridge made the banjo much more clawhammerable. I really didn’t anticipate that dividend. I managed to convince the Wife that I needed this RK-50 for dedicated up picking work, since no self respecting clawhammer banjo would permit bluegrassing up and down the neck. The Spillway Dam Bridge would have made that argument hard to sustain.

It is possible that many other bridges could have yielded this result. But this is the bridge that very quickly brought me improved results in my set up, so I recommend it. It might not stay on the banjo indefinitely; I’ll try any new banjo bridge once. But it will stay on for a while, and I am enjoying the shifts that it has brought to the instrument in terms of playability and sound.

I wonder what the Spillway Dam Bridge would do to any of my clawhammer open back banjos? I might just have to satisfy that curiousity.

Here’s the ad:

http://www.banjohangout.org/classified/18229

V/R,

Lew

Overall Rating: 9

Recording King: RK-50

Submitted by Brooklynbanjoboy on 6/15/2010

Where Purchased: FRETWELL BASS, STAUNTON VA

Year Purchased: 2010
Price Paid: 800 ($US)

Sound

This RK-50, the lightweight model without a tone ring, is loud and crisp, clear and consistent across the fingerboard, with great intonation south toward the rim and real depth on the north end of the neck. I was looking for a simple modern banjo I would not have to fuss with too much to coax a great sound out, and this banjo checks that box without a doubt.

Sound Rating: 10

Setup

Zack Deming of FRETWELL BASS, Staunton VA's center of gravity for the music community, did the set up. See the July issue of BANJO NEWSLETTER for an article on Zack. I like the height of the bridge he selected. I'm a clawhammer player looking to do some up picking, and I tend to like a bridge high enough to drive a truck under. Zack has this action low across the board with a half inch bridge, and I'm surprised how accessible the strings are, how good it feels to play this way. He also has it set with light strings. I tend toward mediums, but I like the way these light strings feel responsive, and don't require a lot of banging to get them to work.

Setup Rating: 10

Appearance

This banjo is simplicity personified. I wasn't looking for anything dripping in jewels. The finish is consistent and the inlay is done well. Nothing ornate about this one, and to me that is its strength.

Appearance Rating: 10

Reliability

I think the hardware is top quality. Nice plating. Quality tuning machines. I think the stock inventory will last long, and more importantly the banjo can be easily upgraded with higher end hardware. I might change the tailpiece. Not sure yet.

Reliability Rating: 10

Customer Service

RK offers a Limited Lifetime Warranty, which is fine because -- as it the case with most banjo players -- I expect to have a Lifetime that is hopefully long but ultimately limited. I need to say that Recording King is a stand up company. Greg Rich tolerates incessant questions and answers them directly, honestly and with a real commitment to his product. FRETWELL BASS, the RK dealer in Staunton, is a squared away store. Always a pleasure to buy local.

Customer Service: 10

Components

I might swap out the bridge eventually, just because I enjoy experimenting in that way. I might try a higher end tailpiece just because I'd like to bring one of those (maybe a Fults?) to the RK and see what it does to the banjo. I also might end up changing the armrest. I favor a wood top to the armrest over the plated stock rest.

Components Rating: 10

Overall Comments

I am happy to have this banjo. I won't have to fuss much with it. I can focus on playing, learning, jamming with the confidence that this thing will do the job.

Overall Rating: 10

Jason Burns: Open Back

Submitted by Brooklynbanjoboy on 1/26/2010

Where Purchased: From First Owner via Jason Burns Shop in Alabama

Year Purchased: 2009
Price Paid: 1,600 ($US) (bought USED)

Sound

Jason’s banjo is responsive to a variety of touches. I tend to have a sledgehammer approach to clawhammering, and this banjo stood the test. I could also ratchet it down – especially when the wife was trying to read the newspaper in the morning – and Jason’s banjo sounded elegant, articulate, and sweet when played with a much lighter touch. It stood the test of two and three finger up picking, sustaining its volume and offering clearly defined notes. There was nothing muddy about this banjo no matter how it was played.

Sound Rating: 10

Setup

Jason’s banjo came with a 12 inch pot with just the right amount of thickness without becoming a heavy and hard to hold anchor, a nicely dimensioned rimcap, 25.5 inch scale, set up with nylagut –mediums. Jason cuts his own bridges, and offers an extra one to banjo buyers. His bridges are worth it. The scoop is level with the head, which means the fretted part of the neck is higher than the head giving you the ability to have a taller bridge with a slightly shallower neck angle. It is an extremely user friendly approach to designing a scoop as part of the overall construction of the banjo.

Setup Rating: 10

Appearance

My first Jason Burns banjo, an unnumbered prototype, is a lovely blonde maple banjo, perhaps French Polished to a nice but not overbearing shine. It had detailed, tasteful heel carving, an extremely simply and memorably shaped peghead.

Appearance Rating: 10

Reliability

His product is highly reliable. His luthiery is highly reliable. He can be relied upon for a positive, friendly customer-oriented approach. His banjo comes through in a jam. Unparalleled reliability. It is my preferred jamming instrument. Even with a 25.5 inch scale, it can tune easily to A to satisfy cantankerous fiddlers. I can count on his finish, his hardsware.

Reliability Rating: 10

Customer Service

Jason is polite, quick to respond to email queries, thorough in his answers, and direct in his guidance and advice about banjo design. He is fast in satisfying requests for additional parts – bridges, etc – and offers a friendly guarantee of his product.

Customer Service: 10

Components

Jason lathes his own rims. He uses stock hardware and tuners, but I believe he’s casting his own brass hardware now, offering several very appealing options. He does his own inlay work, and is working hard to develop unique artistic twists and possibilities to inlay work. He shapes his own necks. I’m happy with what he builds and casts, and the stock items he orders are top quality.

Components Rating: 10

Overall Comments

Jason is an artist. Pure and simple. I’ve laid out an idea for an A scale banjo that I’d like to get for myself upon my retirement later this year, and Jason jumped on the idea, offered cogent comments on design and setup, scale and neck/pot construction. He’s a versatile thinker. Jason has begun making brass spun over rims and is looking to make his own metal hardware. Jason uses hide glue, employs home-made jigs, and carves the heel designs by hand. This is one great one stop shopping banjo builder.

Overall Rating: 10

Dwight Diller/Bates and Jody Littlehales: West Virginia Mountain Music with Dwight Diller

Submitted by Brooklynbanjoboy on 5/10/2009

Where Purchased: www.dwightdiller.com

Overall Comments

“West Virginia Mountain Music” is a video by Bates and Jody Littlehales featuring some of the most beautiful footage and still shots of the flora, fauna, landscapes and wildlife of Pendleton and Pocahontas Counties, set to the music of Dwight Diller. Several years in the making, it represents the best photographic and editing work of Bates and Jody, who produced Diller’s instructional DVDs.

Jody was an art director for the book division at National Geographic, and lent her skill as an editor to this series of video collaborations. Bates’ long professional experience as a photographer for National Geographic has been distilled in a number of photographic studies published over the last ten years since their retirements; those books are worth looking at themselves for the artistry and erudition they represent.

I cannot offer a dispassionate review, since I am linked to both the Littlehales and to Diller in a series of entangling alliances that amount to some of the most treasured friendships to emerge from my brief and undistinguished association with West Virginia banjo music over the last ten or more years.
So, my enthusiasm for this video, which I have viewed many, many times since Elaine Diller sent me one from her great store, MorningStar Folk Music, in Hillsborough, West Virginia, makes me an extremely biased supporter of the art of Bates, Jody, and Dwight.

They have together produced a video that overwhelms the senses – front loading the brain with landscapes and life forms of every size and shape that inhabit the mountains, water features, and forest lands of West Virginia while drenching the mind with Dwight’s banjo and fiddle from the great body of recorded music that represents his portfolio.

In my own view, Bates photos and Dwight’s music come together in this video in a way that helps to translate these diverse connections that exist in my mind between West Virginia banjo tunes and fiddle music and my own panoramic memories. His video turns my memories into scenes anchored to West Virginia realities, thus connecting my city boy way of making sense of this music, or searching for visual signals of musical meaning, with firm, enduring images of West Virginia.

I’m unlikely to encounter the West Virginia that Bates and Jody have documented in this film, and in the books Bates has turned out in the course of a great photographic career, and I may not understand the recollections that Dwight’s music signals to him, the images and realities that he associates with this music, and attempts to communicate to a devoted audience.

And that may be the reason I have watched this film over and over, and intend to watch it again.

Overall Rating: 9

CloverLick: Pineywoods Eklyte

Submitted by Brooklynbanjoboy on 7/17/2007

Where Purchased: from banjo maker

Year Purchased: 2006
Price Paid: Don't Remember historic exchange rates / currency converter

Sound

This is an ideal banjo for clawhammer, but I'm also finding that it is rich and responsive in an uppicking role, too. It's got a cross between a bright and a plunky sound, with just the right touch of "rain on an old tin roof" to make it a great old time player. I cannot begin to describe the depth of sound that comes from the Tony Pass pot, nor can I fully capture in words the artistry and impectable woodwork that Tony does with his submerged wood. Jeff's neck is just the right design to bring out the best in this pot. His tonerim system is a well worked out design that puts out a fine clawhammer sound.

Sound Rating: 10

Setup

The banjo was set up expertly and attentively. Jeff Kramer, the maker, has an engineer's sense when it come to figuring out sound dynamics, design, wood choice. I did shift the position of the arm rest to suit my eccentric playing posture. Apart from that, this is the first of some 20 banjos I've owned over 40 years on which I have not immediately swapped out the original bridge, or done some other tinkering.

Setup Rating: 10

Appearance

It's a balanced, simple and straightforward machine with a range of possible responses according to how I'm attacking the strings. I'm beginning to see that it responds most effectively to a subtle approach rather than a muscular one, but at any point along that continuum -- from strenuous and athletic clawhammer to more subdued, quiet hammering -- the Cloverlick is a joy to play, easy to handle, comfortable to hold, and inviting to play.

Appearance Rating: 10

Reliability

Bill Keith hardware. It will last through a nuclear event. The finish -- oil and wax -- is deep and appropriate for the walnut.

Reliability Rating: 10

Customer Service

Nearly a year ago, I contacted Jeff Kramer and, on the basis of a one day opportunity during the winter of 2006 to play Dwight Diller's Cloverlick banjo, I asked Jeff to work with me to come up with an equation for an open back banjo with a slightly shorter scale than "normal."

He did all the hard stuff, like talking me out of eccentric scales, guiding me through his thinking about wood choices, explaining his clever tone ring alternatives, and laying out for me the engineering behind his approach to building necks that fit Tony Pass rims.

Between mid July 06 and the finish date for the banjo which arrived yesterday, 3 July 07, Jeff and I exchanged emails that piled up to an inch thick accumulation of paper that constituted his exceptionally straightforward philosophy of banjoing, his reasoning about building choices, and his elegant, simply, understated aesthetic when it comes to inlay, finish, and other decorative choices.

I learned a great deal from this dialogue, and owe much to Jeff for his willingness to take the time from his busy productions schedule to answer questions on the progress of this project.

Fully warranteed. Flexible, accommodating company. Consistently helpful.

Customer Service: 10

Components

Nothing cheap about this banjo. Keith tuners. Top of the line head. Excellent hardware.

Components Rating: 10

Overall Comments

I've owned several made from scratch modern banjos, and this one represents the most seriously engineered design, the most thoughtful effort to match functionality and appearance. Great price for the banjo, especially the Pass pot. I consider this irreplaceable. If this banjo were evert to be illegally removed from the owner, the perpetrator would need to spend the rest of his living days looking over his shoulder. I'm certain that would effect his playing...

Overall Rating: 10

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