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!
7077 reviews in the archive.
Where Purchased: : direct from Bart Veerman
What I ordered: Basic two-footed bridge, 5/8-inch tall, mystery wood, no top, 46-millimeter “clawhammer” string spacing. (Cost: $20, including shipping.)
My banjo specs: Short scale, walnut neck, 12-inch thin maple rim (Keller drum shell), Dobson tone ring, thin goatskin head, Chris Sands heavy strings. (See review here.)
Selection: Bart offers a wide variety of bridge styles with a long list of options to customize each bridge order. You can specify number of legs, height, wood, finish, string spacing, compensation and more.
Price: Bart’s bridges start at $15 and escalate in price depending on the myriad options available for customization. Your base option offers choice of height, wood and string spacing. Shipping is $3 within Canada, $5 to the United States and $7 elsewhere.
Availability: You can order Bart’s bridges directly from his website at banjobridge.com or from respected online retailers Elderly Instruments and Janet Davis Music.
Quality: The Bridge is attractive and sturdy. The craftsmanship appears top-notch.
Ordering: Bart’s order form asks a number of detailed questions about your banjo to ensure the bridge you order best matches your instrument. The ordering process is a bit clunky, as you have to submit the order form and PayPal payment separately. However, Bart’s response time is excellent. He responded the next day, asking additional questions about my banjo to ensure the bridge met my needs. I ordered on a Friday, and the bridge was shipped on the following Monday.
Bart is based in Canada, so mailing time to the United States takes some time due to customs, etc. Bart estimated seven to 12 days. My bridge arrived in seven days.
Service: Throughout it all, Bart was in constant communication, notifying me when he received my order, asking questions and following up to make sure the bridge arrived and met my expectations. His customer service is superb.
The bridge arrived in a padded envelope with a business card and invoice. The bridge was marked on the bottom with a “1” on one foot and a “5” on the other to indicate the proper orientation in relation to the strings. I just slipped the bridge under the strings with my old bridge in place and switched it out for the new one with a quick check on the intonation, and I was ready to play.
Playability and sound notes: My banjo immediately sounded louder and crisper upon installing the Bart Veerman bridge. The tone has more clarity, pop and warmth with a quick note decay. Although I have not played my banjo in a group setting as of this writing, my suspicion is that it will be able to cut through better than it was able to previously.
It took almost no time to adapt to the wider “clawhammer” spacing. The difference is so subtle that I didn’t even think about the additional space at first, but now I’m reveling in the ability to drop thumb more cleanly without catching on the other strings. The slots fit my strings perfectly thanks to Bart’s initial emails about my banjo.
I don’t know what Bart’s method is of matching a bridge to a banjo, but he does a masterful job. Part of the secret has to be in his ordering form, which asks for all the particulars of your banjo. I entered nylon strings on the form, and he followed up about which strings to get the exact gauge.
Comparison: Bridge prices vary widely, from $3.50 mass produced no-name products to $60 boutique handmade bridges. I’ve used cheap Grover bridges and more expensive Moon bridges and some in between. Bart’s bridge prices fall nicely in the median between cheap and boutique options, but he sets himself apart by offering such detailed customization and having a knack for pairing his bridges to the banjo you describe. I’ve never had a bridge that made such an immediate difference. I would not hesitate to order another bridge from Bart or recommend his bridges to other players. His prices are reasonable, and his product and service are exceptional.
Overall Rating: 9
I had the opportunity to visit Zepp Country Music back in October 2009, but it wasn't until February 2010 that I actually bought something. I wanted a hard shell case for a new banjo. I live in Akron, Ohio, and placed my order by phone after searching the store's website (www.zeppmusic.com) for what I wanted.
I was interested in a TKL Premier case, but I wasn't sure it would fit my banjo (a short scale with a 12-in. pot). I spoke to Marc Miller, store manager, who agreed that the fit might be too tight and suggested some other options that might work better.
However, some of those option were out of my budget and others were out of stock. So I asked if I gave him some measurements, could he could tell me if my banjo would fit. By the end of the call, I had Marc searching through his case inventory and measuring every possible angle to ensure my banjo would fit the case I wanted. Great customer service!
I placed the order on a Monday and received the case on Friday of the same week. Marc said I would receive UPS tracking information the next day by e-mail, but the tracking information didn't arrive. I don't know if it was a mistake in taking down my e-mail address or it was just a lapse in memory, but the problem was quickly resolved. I e-mailed Marc and received the information I needed within an hour and a half.
The package arrived in a sturdy box with good cushioning, and the good news is my banjo fit perfectly. So beware: My banjo and I are now mobile! Thank you Marc (and Donald Zepp)! I will definitely be a repeat customer.
Overall Rating: 9
Where Purchased: Directly from builder, Bill Van Horn
Year Purchased: 2009
Price Paid: 950 ($US)
This banjo, to my ears, fully embodies the old-time sound. The banjo has a wide range of tone. Its lower range sounds warm and plunky while its higher range has a bright, lilting pop. It can sound either mellow or brash, depending on my playing. While I try to keep my volume lower, the Dobson tone ring provides plenty of punch.
Sound Rating: 9
The banjo was set up perfectly for clawhammer. It has an A-scale neck and a 12-inch pot, with a Dobson tone ring and no-knot tailpiece. The banjo plays most comfortably over the neck scoop. The string action is a bit low over the head, but there is still plenty or room to play closer to the bridge, which is set close to the center of the head for a mellower sound. The neck is thicker than typical factory banjos and has a wide string spacing, which is very comfortable for playing and fretting.
Setup Rating: 9
This banjo was built for me, so this is the exact appearance I wanted. The banjo’s simple elegance brings out the beauty of the woodwork. The neck and dowel rod are Walnut with a Chechen fingerboard and peg head overlay. Bill Van Horn's take on the Dobson heel is very reminiscent of the boat heel. The fingerboard has Mother-of-Pearl dot inlays and a star at the fifth fret, and an Indian head coin adorns the “paddle” style peg head. The Chechen has golden figuring that is further enhanced by the raw brass hardware. The banjo has an overall old-timey look.
Appearance Rating: 10
The matte Tru-Oil finish has shown no evidence of rubbing off on my skin or clothes. The hardware and components are all of good quality. This banjo is not only beautiful, but sturdy as well.
Reliability Rating: 9
I dealt directly with Bill Van Horn (BVH here on BHO), first meeting him to look at and play some of his previous builds. I ordered the banjo in early September 2009 with the expectation of waiting until after Christmas. Bill followed up by phone and e-mail almost weekly with updates or questions for me, and he delivered my banjo earlier than I expected. He says if I ever have a problem to call him, and he will fix it. I have no reason to doubt his word.
Customer Service: 10
Bill builds his necks from scratch, using a carbon fiber rod inside for stability, with scales lengths of 24, 25 and 25.5 inches. Hardware and components: Gotoh tuners; Bill Rickard Dobson tone ring, raw brass tension hoop, hooks and nuts; a Keller drum shell (1/4-inch thick, 3 inches deep) for the rim; Fiberskyn head; and a Moon Bridge.
Components Rating: 9
This is the perfect banjo for me, and I expect to keep it as long as I play. The price suited what I feel is "next step up" from my beginner banjo, but the quality far exceeds what I saw in similarly priced instruments. It is a pleasure to play, and I am continually impressed with its looks.
Overall Rating: 9
Where Purchased: Fitch Banjos (www.fitchbanjos.com)
Year Purchased: 2008
Price Paid: 400 ($US)
I bought this beginner banjo with the intent of learning Scruggs three-finger. It arrived with a nice bright tone with minimal sustain, but not exceptionally loud. I have since set it up for clawhammer and it sounds full and warm with nylons and a higher bridge. It sounds as good as any starter I've tried, but a starter nonetheless.
Sound Rating: 6
This banjo was set up great by Cliff Fitch for bluegrass. It had a low action and played easily.
I had no problems switching it over to clawhammer set up. The banjo has only one coordinator rod, so there is not much more to adjust than the tailpiece and head tension. I added a higher bridge with no difficulty.
Setup Rating: 9
Of all the starter banjos I looked at, the RK-20 was most attractive. It has a nice wood finish and pleasing inlays. The metal doesn't knock your eyes out, but it does the job. The Recording King label kind of detracts from the otherwise nice headstock with its boring square label, but that's pretty nitpicky.
The RK-20 isn't going to win any beauty contests, but it's far from needing a brown paper bag to hide itself.
Appearance Rating: 7
So far the wood finish, metal parts and tuning pegs have withstood all wear and tear. However, the finger board showed early signs of wear. Overall, seems like it will last plenty long.
Reliability Rating: 8
Did not deal with Recording King directly.
Customer Service: not rated
I love the neck. It is slim and very playable. The frets were dressed well.
Otherwise, the parts are pretty basic for a starter. The multi-ply maple rim sounds nice, but is by no means great. It has a tone hoop. The factory bridge was replaced by Fitch, but was included. I will never use it. The planetary pegs look nice and do the job, but can be a bit a of a bear for fine tuning. The tuners hold their tune pretty well once tuned.
The RK-20 only has a single coordinator rod, which is a weak point.
Otherwise, everything else is satisfactory.
Components Rating: 7
This banjo is a great starter. It sounds good enough to keep for a couple years before upgrading to a keeper. The Recording King Songster is right on par with the Deering Goodtime and Gold Tone Cripple Creek. The price, neck and looks are what sold me on the RK-20 over the other two. (Also the set up with purchase from Fitch Banjos was a great value.)
Overall Rating: 8
Great selection of parts, accessories and learning material. Easy-to-use website. Fast shipping (my package arrived in two days with cheapest option!) with sturdy packaging. No complaints, and I'll definitely order from Elderly again.
Overall Rating: 10
I ordered a Recording King Songster from Cliff Fitch (www.fitchbanjos.com) in March 2008. Cliff was very friendly and helpful over the phone and quick to respond to my e-mails. The transaction was easy through PayPal and the banjo was delivered when he promised in fine playing shape. It was well packed and only needed slight tuning. His set up was as advertised. If and when I feel the urge to upgrade, I will definitely consider going through Fitch Banjos to purchase or set up my instrument. Thanks, Cliff!
Overall Rating: 10
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