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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!

6772 reviews in the archive.

Zachary Hoyt: #63

Submitted by BoneDigger on 2/22/2018

Where Purchased: From Zachary Hoyt

Year Purchased: 2017
Price Paid: $1100 ($US)

Sound

This is a custom made banjo with a 29" scale length, giving me a slightly shorter than normal long neck banjo. I generally keep this banjo tuned to F, but will occasionally tune down to E. This banjo works very well with both tunings. The tone is very similar to #60, which I previously rated very high as well. It's a walnut banjo with a Whyte Laydie tone ring made by Zach in his shop. It also has a 12" pot and is set up for finger picking (not clawhammer). The tone is very nice. Not too dark and not too bright. It can go from somewhat plinky to somewhat plunky depending on your position on the head. It's a wonderful cross between driving bluegrass and old time sound.

Sound Rating: 10

Setup

The setup was very good, as it was on #60 as well. I had Zach set this up for finger picking and he did a great job with it.

Setup Rating: 10

Appearance

What a beautiful banjo! Seriously, it's understated but has a wonderful old time look about it. The brass hardware looks great and the walnut is beautiful.

Appearance Rating: 10

Reliability

This is my second Hoyt banjo and I have not had any issues as of yet. I'm going to rate this a 10 due to the fact that the banjo seems very well made, but I don't have enough time with them yet to say for sure.

Reliability Rating: 10

Customer Service

Zach is an absolute pleasure to work with. He answers e-mails quickly and is eager to please.

Customer Service: 10

Components

The hardware on this banjo includes brass tuning pegs, tension hoop, and hooks. I asked him to use a bronze colored Kirchner style tailpiece. The head is a Renaissance. Everything is high quality.

Components Rating: 10

Overall Comments

As noted above, this is my second Hoyt banjo.  This particular banjo has a 29" scale length and is kept tuned to open F with an occasional change to E. I had this banjo made to match my previous banjo (#60) but with a longer scale length. One thing I need to mention... Unless you stipulate otherwise, Zach builds his banjos with a larger neck than you'll find on most banjos.  It's basically the thickness of a guitar neck.  Since I play guitar, I find his necks to be PERFECT, but others may not think so.  I recommend giving him exact dimensions if you want something different. If you want a particular sound, ask Zach and he'll try to help. Since I play three finger mostly, I wanted a banjo set up for three finger picking.  I like Kirchner tailpieces, so he ordered one in the right color for me.

Upon receiving this banjo, I sold my Vega SS-5 long neck.  This banjo covers everything the Vega did and for a lot less money.  Zach really makes great banjos and sells them for way less than they deserve. 

Overall Rating: 10

Zachary Hoyt: Custom

Submitted by BoneDigger on 1/5/2018

Where Purchased:

Year Purchased:
Price Paid: $1150 historic exchange rates / currency converter

Sound

I play mostly bluegrass and folk "Americana" musis, so I had Zach build a banjo to my preferred specs. This banjo meets and exceeds my expectations. It is set up for finger picking and gives me exactly the sound I was searching for. I already own a flattop Mastertone style banjo, so I was shooting for something between a bluegrass sound and a clawhammer sound. This banjo delivers that perfectly.

Sound Rating: 10

Setup

The banjo (#60) is setup perfectly and theinstalled RR spikes are also done well.

Setup Rating: 10

Appearance

This is a beautiful walnut banjo with brass hardware. The finish is true oil, which should hold up well. The finish could perhaps be a little more even, so I'll subtract a single point for that.

Appearance Rating: 9

Reliability

I just received it yesterday, so I can't attest to it's longevity, but it seems well made.

Reliability Rating: 10

Customer Service

Zach is a joy to work with. He answered all emails in a timely and courteous fashion. Anything I asked for, he tried his best to accomplish.

Customer Service: 10

Components

Gotoh tuners, Rennaisance head, Kirschner style tailpiece... All parts are good.

Components Rating: 10

Overall Comments

As noted earlier, I had this banjo specially made to my preferences. It is a walnut banjo with a 12" pot. It has a Kirschner tailpiece, bone nut and pip, Rennaisance head, and a Silver Laydie tone ring. It has an understated elegance and is just a wonderful banjo. Setup by Zach for finger picking, this banjo nails the tone I was looking for. I am very happy with this purchase and may order a long neck version with the same setup soon. I highly recommend a banjo from Zach!

Overall Rating: 10

Deering: Deluxe D6 6 string

Submitted by BoneDigger on 5/5/2013

Where Purchased: Mundt Music

Year Purchased: 2013
Price Paid: 750 ($US) (bought USED)

Sound

This banjo has a phenomenal tone for a 6 string banjo. I use XL electric guitar string and modify the tuning to ggdgbd, with a drone g string like a 5string and an added bass g string. In this way I can finger pick and strum or flat pick. The tone, both picked and strummed is great. It is full and rich.

Sound Rating: 9

Setup

I purchased this banjo used and it needed a new head and setup. This is no reflection on Deering or the dealer.

Setup Rating: 5

Appearance

This is an older version with split diamond inlays. The wood, fretboard, etc. Are very nicely done. It is a VERY nice looking banjo.

Appearance Rating: 10

Reliability

This banjo is well built. The neck is sturdy but not too thick. The metal parts are well done. I don't expect any problems.

Reliability Rating: 9

Customer Service

I have owned other Deering banjos and have dealt with the Deering company on a few occasions. They are easy to contact and know how to treat a customer.

Customer Service: 10

Components

Nothing cheap used on this banjo. The tuners, flange, rim, etc. are all too notch.

Components Rating: 9

Overall Comments

I bought this banjo as an impulse buy. I was considering a 4 string plectrum when I found this used 6 string for only a couple hundred more that the 4 string. The quality was evident and I loved the sound. I am very pleased with this purchase. Since I already have a 5 string banjo, I use this mostly for plectrum flat picking and strumming. I don't like the sound of these banjos in eadgbe tuning like a guitar, but setup as I have it, it's a real winner!

Overall Rating: 9

Bridges: dam spillway bridge

Submitted by BoneDigger on 5/4/2011

Where Purchased: Directly from Dan

Overall Comments

I purchased a set of bridges (3) from Dan and I have to say that I was very impressed with the design and craftsmanship. I tried all three out on my two banjos (RK35 Madison and Deering Goodtime Special). For my purposes, the original worked the best for my Goodtime and the Barn Wood version worked the best for my RK. These bridges offer excellent tone for a great price.

Overall Rating: 9

Recording King: RK-R35 Madison

Submitted by BoneDigger on 5/4/2011

Where Purchased: www.banjohut.com

Year Purchased: 2011
Price Paid: 700 ($US)

Sound

I use this banjo for bluegrass, Scruggs style. I am very impressed with the tone and projection of this banjo. The only thing that the banjo needed from the factory was a set of strings (the originals were extra light) and a new bridge to bring out the tones that the banjo is capable of. From the factory, the banjo sounded really good but was a little week on #4, the bass string. I replaced the factory bridge with a dam spillway bridge and put on light gauge JD Crow strings. Now it sounds just as good as any banjo I have played, and I've played quite a few.

Sound Rating: 9

Setup

The banjo was set up pretty well when I received it from Banjohut.com. My only complaint was with the RR spikes I had installed for the fifth string. they did a bad job on those and every one of them buzzed. So, that's an issue with the seller, not the company or banjo. The setup was generally very good although the strings could have been better.

Setup Rating: 8

Appearance

I LOVE the way the banjo looks. The finish, the inlays, the peghead, all look great! I can't honestly think of anything I would change in this regard.

Appearance Rating: 10

Reliability

All of the hardware is of good quality. I have not had an y issues with any of it and I doubt I will. The tuners stay in tune and are smooth. The tailpiece, flange, rim, head, etc. all feel sturdy and strong.

Reliability Rating: 9

Customer Service

I have not had any dealings with the company but they have a presence on this site so that's a good thing.

Customer Service: 8

Components

I can't think of anything that really stands out aside from the finish on the resonator and neck. I like the satin finish rather than the highly glossy finish on most banjos. I have not found anything "cheap" aside from the bridge which I didn't like very much but that's typical of most banjos I have owned.

Components Rating: 9

Overall Comments

I am very happy with this purchase. The RK35 was exactly what I wanted and cost only $700! I have owned quite a few banjos and I like this one the best of all that I have owned. My Deering Sierra (now traded) would probably tie for second with the Fender Artist I owned for many years. This banjo has a great tonal quality up and down the neck, good hardware, and looks fantastic! I highly recommend it!

Overall Rating: 9

Deering: Goodtime Special

Submitted by BoneDigger on 4/14/2011

Where Purchased: Amazon.com

Year Purchased: 2011
Price Paid: 560 ($US)

Sound

The Goodtime has a very nice tone that suits my needs as a bluegrass musician very well. I have owned quite a number of banjos over the years and the Special plays just as nicely as the more expensive banjos. Don't get me wrong, it does NOT have quite the projection of a true tone ring banjo, but it is fairly loud and you would have no problem being heard in a jam session. It has good intonation up and down the neck, plenty of bass and highs, and the sound is just very good for a $600-700 banjo.

Sound Rating: 9

Setup

I took the banjo out of the box, tuned it, and started playing. The setup from the factory was spot on.

Setup Rating: 9

Appearance

The Goodtime Special is an attractive banjo but it does not have the flash of the more expensive banjos. With that make a difference in playing? No. I would certainly call it an attractive banjo, just not flashy.

Appearance Rating: 7

Reliability

This banjo seems very well made and it uses quality parts. I really don't see ever having an issue with this one. Although there is no truss rod, the neck is sturdy and I doubt I would ever have any issues.

Reliability Rating: 8

Customer Service

In the few instances where I have called or e-mailed Deering I have never had an issue with the company or its representatives. I have always had quick and USEFUL responses.

Customer Service: 10

Components

Standard parts for this type of banjo. Nothing seems sub-par.

Components Rating: 9

Overall Comments

Have no doubt, this is a good banjo for a good price. I do not consider this to be a "beginner only" banjo and I know of at least two people that use these in a band. The projection is quite good, though it doesn't have the punch of a true tone-ring banjo. It is however, quite loud and more than enough for jam sessions or a gig that includes microphones. This banjo is lighter than most higher end banjos (8 lb versus a standard 12 lb) and that makes a huge difference in comfort. The redesign of the neck is awesome. The headstock is much m ore attractive than the old Gumby looking ones. Plus, the new neck has dot fret markers on the top of the neck where the older ones only had the inlays. Thanks Deering for a great product!

Overall Rating: 10

Mutes: Mike's Banjo Mute

Submitted by BoneDigger on 12/26/2009

Where Purchased: http://www.mikesbanjomute.com

Overall Comments

This is the first mute that I have ever purchased. I doubt that I'll ever need to buy another one. This mute works great and is just as the others have described it: perfect! It reduces the volume of the banjo by more than 50% and makes it slightly quieter than a guitar. MY WIFE LOVES IT! The tonal quality is very good and it is very easy to put on and take off. If you need to reduce the volume of the banjo due to living in an apartment or if you have kids that go to bed early, this is the perfect accessory for you. In fact, I may now take my banjo with me when I am working out of town and staying in a motel. It is well made, well thought out, and cheap! Get one!

Overall Rating: 10

Alvarez: Denver Belle

Submitted by BoneDigger on 12/26/2009

Where Purchased: Mundt Music

Year Purchased: 2009
Price Paid: 400 ($US) (bought USED)

Sound

I primarily play Scruggs style Bluegrass and this model banjo fits the bill perfectly. I do recommend getting rid of the clear plastic head and replace it with a new Remo. I will talk about how I have modified this banjo in a moment. First, here are my overall impressions. This banjo is a late 70s model, from when they were still being made in Japan. The model number is 4300. The inlay pattern is, I believe, called the flying eagle design. It is inlayed with the name Denver Belle at the base of the neck. The neck itself is intricately carved at the heel. The tone ring is chrome plated brass, just like a Gibson, and it has 20 holes, which is standard on most upper level banjos. The neck and resonator are made from Brazilian Rosewood and are absolutely beautiful! The sound quality was pretty good from stock, but I made a few enhancements that have really increased the volume and tonal quality of this banjo:
1) Replace the head with a Remo medium crown, frosted head
2) Tighten the head fairly tight; this banjo likes a tight head
3) Changed the tuners out for two Gotoh tuners (1 and 4) and two Keith D-0tuners (2 and 3). I replaced the 5th string tuner with a 5 star tuning peg.
4) Changed the tailpiece out for a Fults 1934 parallel tailpiece
5) Changed the bridge out for a Snuffy Smith standard height bridge.

With these changes, this banjo will hold it own with any sub-$2000 banjo on the market. The cast of this banjo, with all of the accessories, was less than $700 (included a hardshell case).

The neck on this banjo is extremely fast. I really like how this banjo plays. I doubt it will happen anytime soon, but if I ever upgrade, I doubt I'd be happy with anything less than a $4000+ banjo.

With the above changes, this banjo has a very bright sound with good bass tones. It's as good up the neck as down. Overall, I'm very impressed! For the cost, it is easily a 10/10.

Sound Rating: 10

Setup

This was covered above, but here is a rehash:

1) Replace the head with a Remo medium crown, frosted head
2) Tighten the head fairly tight; this banjo likes a tight head
3) Changed the tuners out for two Gotoh tuners (1 and 4) and two Keith D-0tuners (2 and 3). I replaced the 5th string tuner with a 5 star tuning peg.
4) Changed the tailpiece out for a Fults 1934 parallel tailpiece
5) Changed the bridge out for a Snuffy Smith standard height bridge.

The banjo should be setup by a competent luthier who knows banjos.

Setup Rating: 7

Appearance

This is a very nicely made banjo. The wood is primarily Brazilian Rosewood and it has an intricate inlay pattern (flying eagle?). There is some nice binding on the resonator and along the neck. This is one of the prettiest banjos I have ever seen. The carved heel of the neck is a nice added touch.

Appearance Rating: 10

Reliability

I think this would be a very dependable banjo. The finish looks very good and the hardware seems well made. I do recommend upgrading the tuners to a slightly higher-end brand such as 5-star or Gotoh (or, if you have plenty of money, Keith tuners).

Reliability Rating: 8

Customer Service

I bought this used. I doubt seriously that Alvarez would be interested in warranting a 30 year old banjo.

Customer Service: 5

Components

Standout: all of the wooden components, the tonering, etc.
Change: tuners, head, tailpiece, bridge

Components Rating: 7

Overall Comments

I am very pleased by the playability and looks of this banjo. I am a back-porch picker and do not play in a band. However, I think the sound quality is easily good enough for playing in a band. The banbjo, with the changes I outlined above, has a very bright sound with good bass and overall just has a great Scruggs-y sound. This banjo is a direct knockoff of the Mastertone, and although the higher end Mastertones do have a slightly better sound, this banjo cost me $400 used, where a new Mastertone is at least $4000. You do the math...

Overall Rating: 9

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