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!
7076 reviews in the archive.
Where Purchased: Ron Stewart
Year Purchased: 2008
Price Paid: retail ($US)
I was searching for that elusive tone..think early Bluegrass Band Albums/JD Crowe, Jim Mills "My Dixie Home", etc...I wanted a certain balance of midrange and low end along with the right amount of "rattle/crackle/sparkle" and 'honk'. The tone I desire is not a modern tone, it's an old, loose tone with a strong fundamental and not many overtones (just the right ones).
I heard about Ron Stewart getting a new banjo and was curious. I went to both Ron's and Warren Yates' websites and was very impressed by the sound clips. I've always really loved Ron's tone and the clips had the sound I was looking for. Ron spent a lot of time with me discussing the banjo, tone, playability, etc... I bought this banjo on a bit of a whim and thought it might make a good back up for when I finally found my prewar. I certainly didn't expect it to end my search, but I think it has. I'd be very hard-pressed to find an affordable or available prewar that exceeds the overall balance that this banjo has. For me, balance means the whole package...tone, playability, volume, punch, as well as balance across the fingerboard.
This banjo has it. It still amazes me that it's been together a little over a month. It just sounds and feels OLD, I'm not really quite sure how else to say it.
Sound Rating: 10
Ron set it up and played it in for 2 weeks before sending it to me. The action/setup was just like I like it. The head was at G# and the tailpiece level with the head. The action was perfect; not too high, not too low. The string height at the nut was perfect as well. I'm a tinkerer and closet luthier, but I haven't had to, nor wanted to change a thing about the setup.
Setup Rating: 10
The Ron Stewart model is 'distressed'. I like it...a lot. Fender started doing this with the Relic guitars and violin luthiers have done it for a long time. The finish on the 'speed' neck feels like the back of an old violin. Sometimes you pickup an old instrument and it just 'feels' GOOD. That's how my Yates RS feels.
I've always been fond of 'maker's marks' on hand built instruments. I don't want a perfect, shiny finish. If you want your banjo too look like a perfect shiny new car, this isn't for you. My banjo is a tool and I like my tools to feel good in my hands and I think that distressing makes an instrument feel better, it feels like a well used tool....this may not work or appeal to you, but it sure works for me.
The inlay on the peghead and fingerboard is Ron and Warren's interpretation of the Flying Eagle. I love it; much more than the original FE. I like having something different, but yet familiar.
Appearance Rating: 10
I haven't even had to adjust the head tension since I got it.....was at a G#, the day I opened the case and is (quite surprisingly) still within a few cents of G#. I think that is a testament to the quality fit of all the components, in addition to the benefit of having Ron play the instrument in and do the final setup. The banjo stays in tune as good, if not better than any other banjo I've ever had. The Keith tuners add to that stability, I would suspect.
Reliability Rating: 10
Both Ron and Warren have been great; very willing to share their time. Both Ron and Warren told me if I ever have ANY concerns or questions, to just give them a call.
I am proud to have a small builder's name on my banjo's headstock. There is a major paradigm shift going on in bluegrass circles away from the traditional 'big name' factory instruments. I'm glad to see it happen. We as pickers are the beneficiaries of a new golden age of instruments....
Customer Service: 10
The banjo comes with standard Keith tuners...absolutely the smoothest and most reliable tuner I've ever used. Absolutely NO tuning issues. Bill Keith is a GOD and I hope he lives forever, but I'm gonna buy a set of these and stick 'em in the closet just in case.
Components Rating: 10
For me, my Yates RS is my 'grail...I couldn't be happier. I've only ever played a couple other banjos that I think might have been better and one was an original 5-string flathead and the other was a very special '34 TB3 conversion...neither were for sale, nor could I have afforded them if they were.
Disclaimer: I grew up in Bristol, TN listening to bluegrass. I've been playing for over 30 years. I've been fortunate to own and play some great instruments through the years. I've always been left wanting something different/better with the banjo's I've had. I was hesitant to post such a glowing review. Tone, playability, aesthetics are all very subjective..."Beauty is in the eye of the beholder". Everyone has different tastes. So, with that in mind, I wholeheartedly encourage anyone in the market for a banjo to condsider a Yates. Ron and Warren may just have the 'recipe' that you desire!
...all this talk makes me hungry for some good tone!...I think I'll go indulge myself with my Yates RS right now...
Overall Rating: 10
'Winter Wellness Scale' 2 hrs
'Farrier's Reel' 3 hrs
'Advice on a purchase' 5 hrs