Banjo Hangout Logo
Banjo Hangout Logo

Premier Sponsors

982
Banjo Lovers Online


Banjo Reviews

Review Categories

Most Recent

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!

7121 reviews in the archive.

Jeff Menzies: Fretless gourd banjo

Submitted by WGE on 1/22/2012

Where Purchased: from the maker

Year Purchased: 2011
Price Paid: 500 ($US)

Sound

I was interested in a nice fretless gourd banjo for the nice low tunings. I like the tone very much and it sounds like a gourd banjo should sound like. Unfortunately, I can't make it sound like the gourd banjo Adam Hurt plays but that is to be expected.

Sound Rating: 10

Setup

The setup was pretty good. I immediately changed out the nylon strings that came with the banjo to some Savarz yellow-card very high tension strings that felt much better to me in terms of tension level. Perhaps because of this and a slight change in string gauge, I've had to tinker with the nut slots and they still aren't to my liking. With a little more work, I'll get to where I want it to be.

Setup Rating: 8

Appearance

It of course has a very simple appearance being a gourd banjo. I asked Jeff for a walnut neck with a simple scroll peghead and that is what I got. It looks pretty cool hanging next to the other openback banjos I have.

Appearance Rating: 10

Reliability

I had an odd thing happen the other day to this banjo. Jeff had attached the tail piece to the neck extension with gut. In the middle of the night the gut broke and the bridge went flying to the floor. My Beagle found the bridge before I did and chewed on it breaking it into two pieces. This led me to e-mail Jeff and my story continues in the next section.

Reliability Rating: 8

Customer Service

Jeff promptly e-mailed me saying in lieu of gut I could use some copper wire to reattach the tail piece. I happened to have some nice braided copper wire similar in diameter to the gut and it took about 3 minutes to have the tail piece back on the banjo. I am quite confident that the copper will not break. Fortunately for me, the bridge could be glued back together with Tightbond and after a little sanding it works fine and looks almost as good as new. So I rate customer service highly.

Customer Service: 10

Components

There aren't too many components on this simple banjo. The only "issue" has been the gut and the tail piece. Everything else has been fine.

Components Rating: 8

Overall Comments

I have enjoyed this banjo a great deal. I think the price was reasonable and Jeff got this banjo in my hands in about 10 days which is phenomenal. I wanted a 24-inch scale instrument and that's exactly what he built for me. I can recommend Jeff's instruments if you are interested in a gourd or tackhead banjo.

Overall Rating: 9

Brooks Masten: Silver Spun L30

Submitted by WGE on 7/5/2011

Where Purchased: from Brooks

Year Purchased: 2011
Price Paid: 2300 ($US)

Sound

This is the second banjo that I've had Brooks make for me. My other Brooks is a 12-inch cherry banjo with skin head and rolled brass hoop. I wanted to get something a little different and based on listening to a number of Brooks' sound clips I decided on a 11-inch 30L silverspun with a skin head and an unplated Bacon tone ring. This banjo of course is brighter in tone than my first Brooks but it is at the same time is very sweet, and not harsh like some tu-ba-phone and electric tone-ring banjos can sound. I have been very pleased with it and both the 30L and the 12-incher complement one another in terms of tone.

Sound Rating: 10

Setup

The setup was very good. The action was a tad lower than that on my other Brooks but I find it very easy to play. I did have to do a few things. The tuners were a little loose and I had to tighten them. One still was loose and I had to shorten the tuner screw a little to fix the problem. I don't know if Brooks put the black tuner knobs on the Five-Star tuners or if they came that way. I've heard that changing tuner buttons can cause a few "issues." I did end up changing the bridge. Brooks made one out of some sort of South American cherry species, but my preference has always been for Sampson walnut ebony topped bridges. I had one on hand of the proper height and tried it out, liked it, and I am now using the Sampson bridge.

Setup Rating: 9

Appearance

Brooks' silverspun banjos are very striking and this one is no exception. The 30 hooks really add to the old-time look. I was able to get him to use an unplated brass Bacon tone ring that really adds to the beauty of the pot. The neck is a very nice walnut with only sides markers and an Indian head penny inalyed in the figured walnut peghead veneer. I also requested that Brooks do some engraving on the brass plate I wanted in the scoop. He came up with a great design based on the lily of the valley. It is a very unique feature and really sets the banjo apart, as if it needed it! I REALLY think this is a cool banjo.

Appearance Rating: 10

Reliability

Based on my experience with my first Brooks banjo that is now about 5 years old, I have great faith in my new Brooks banjo. This thing is built like a tank.

Reliability Rating: 10

Customer Service

I have enjoyed a very good working relationship with Brooks through two custom-made banjos. He has always been responsive to e-mails and he was willing to work with me to put together exactly the banjo I was wanting. The 30L banjo had a deposit put down in December, 2010 and it arrived in my hands the middle of May, 2011. That was quick work for a custom banjo!

Customer Service: 10

Components

All the components are first class. I did have one small problem arise, however. I had to tighten the skin head a little for our humid summer conditions in Nashville, and I ended up breaking the tailpiece hanger hook on the cast Brooks tailpiece. It broke right at the upper bend. Brooks promptly sent me a replacement cautioning me to let it stand "proud" on the tension hoop and all is back to normal.

Components Rating: 10

Overall Comments

Overall this is a wonderful banjo. It has some features I have really enjoyed. It was built with a short scale, not a true A-scale, at about 24.5 inches. The shorter scale coupled with a neck that is slightly thinner than that on my other Brooks makes it very easy to fret. It really sounds good tuned to D or A with D'Addario J55 strings. I also asked Brooks to use the gold Evo fretwire which has two great benefits. The gold color matches the brass hardware and it really does last. It was only a $15 option and I highly recommend it. The only downside to this banjo is that it is a little on the heavy side, but that is to be expected on a banjo with a spunover pot and 30 hooks, nuts and shoes. The other down side is that I now have to haul two banjos around with me to jams and gigs, the 12-inch cherry Brooks for G and C tunes and the 30L for D and A tunes. But that really is a small price to pay. I really LIKE Brooks banjos!!

Overall Rating: 10

Bridges: Buckeye Banjos Solid Foot Bridge

Submitted by WGE on 3/2/2011

Where Purchased: from Greg at Buckeye Banjos

Overall Comments

I needed to get a new bridge for my cherry Brooks banjo. I had sanded down my old Sampson walnut bridge a little to improve the action and over time is was starting to sag. I liked the design feature of Greg's solid foot cherry bridge. I got a heavy weight, 9/16 ths inch with Crowe spacing. My initial impression is that this bridge has solidified the bass and is overall a little brighter than the walnut bridge. I personally don't hear any difference in volume but I wasn't looking for that in the first place. I think this is a great bridge and is right up there with the walnut Sampson, my favorites for the last five years. For some reason, I don't care for maple bridges. Cosmetically, the cherry bridge looks nice on the Brooks with a cherry neck and pot and it was reasonably priced to boot. Highly recommended.

Overall Rating: 10

Picks: Deuceswilde reproduction banjo thimbles

Submitted by WGE on 12/2/2010

Where Purchased: from maker Joel Hooks

Overall Comments

I know clawhammer players are obsessive about their frailing nail. I have tried a number of picks in the past with limited success. The best has been a John Balch-modified Acri dobro pick. However, I must now say that Joel Hooks' brass reproduction banjo thimbles are the best. Very comfortable, light, staying in place,and producing good tone, these are now my favorites. Whereas I used to wear picks only when my nail was in bad shape, I use the banjo thimble all the time. They really do work; give them a try

Overall Rating: 10

Ramsey: Fretless Special

Submitted by WGE on 10/18/2009

Where Purchased: traded with BHO member

Year Purchased: 2009
Price Paid: 850 ($US)

Sound

I was interested in developing my Round Peak style and decided I needed a fretless banjo. The Ramsey (#1270 originally purchased new in 2002) is perfect for what I wanted. It is a nice 12" thin-rim banjo with rolled brass tone ring and a cherry neck with an ebony fretboard with several small inlays. It makes for a great "Round Peak" sound when setup as described below. My "sound" rating is how it works now after my modifications. Prior to those I would have rated it about 6 or 7.

Sound Rating: 10

Setup

I traded for this banjo with a BHO member. I traded my 12" fretted Lee Rosehill for it and some cash. It came to me with a Renaissance head and Nylguts strings. I imagine it came originally with the Ren head, but I think it started out life with steel strings. I am NOT a fan or Ren heads. I put a pre-mounted Bill Miller vellum-treated calfskin head on it. These are wonderful heads. I treated this one with waterproofing spray before installation. As a side note, Bill's head was perfectly mounted and fit like a glove; I love his stuff. I also didn't care for the Nylgut strings and replaced them with steel. I completed my set up with my favorite open-back banjo bridge, a Sampson old-growth walnut and ebony bridge. I really like the sound of this banjo now. These setup changes, of course, were very easy to do. My setup rating is based on how it came to me, I would now give it a 9 or 10 after my changes. So, don't blame Mike Ramsey for my preferences

Setup Rating: 7

Appearance

I like the look of it. I prefer pretty unadorned banjos and the Special is pretty plain. It does have a Saturn peghead inlay and two inlays on the fretboard. The neck is a very nice cherry wood. I much prefer either cherry or walnut for necks. The Special has a multiply rim but with a cherry veneer to match the neck. It also has a nice rosewood rimcap. All in all, it is a very attractive, but not overly done banjo. Mt only complaint is that the inlays have a great deal of fill surrounding them. As I understand, this may be a common Ramsey complaint. However, you have to look closely to see these faults. Fit and finish are good. This banjo came to me with a few minor cosmetic faults, but it is used and I can't blame Ramsey for this sort of wear and tear.

Appearance Rating: 8

Reliability

Everything looks and feels solid. The hardware is pretty standard stuff but does the job and looks pretty good. I think it is dependable.

Reliability Rating: 9

Customer Service

This banjo was warranted for a five-year period to the original owner. So, there is no warranty for me. I have never had cause to contact Mike about this banjo, so I can't really rate this.

Customer Service: not rated

Components

All OK. The components are pretty standard but functional. It might be nice to have custom-cast shoes and hooks, but what the Ramsey has works just fine.

Components Rating: 9

Overall Comments

I wanted a nice fretless. I was hoping to get a Brooks fretless, but I needed to either sell or trade my Lee. To get a Brooks meant I would need to sell the Lee, and it was easier to work out a trade. The Ramsey trade came along and I went for it. It worked out great. Playing fretless is very interesting and I love the Round Peak style of Cockerham, Jarrell et al.. The Ramsey is a very nice banjo. Originally I was thinking of something with a brass fretboard plate, but I decided a straight ebony board was the way to go and I am happy with that decision. It has a very nice neck profile and the fretboard is nice and wide; very easy to play. Just a note of thanks to the Hangout for this trade. I am delighted and I understand the member who got the Lee is very happy with it, so the deal worked out great for all involved. We each made a BHO contribution.

Overall Rating: 9

Brooks Masten: Custom 12- inch slothead

Submitted by WGE on 7/25/2008

Where Purchased: from the maker

Year Purchased: 2008
Price Paid: 1975 ($US)

Sound

Lovely tone. Brighter than my Lee 12-inch Rose Hill woody, but with a sweet elegance when played softly. It has a nice bite when played with gusto. It is set up with a rolled brass tone hoop. I toyed with having Brooks put a Dobson ring in it, but I think it turned out just fine. Couldn't be happier with its tonal character and versatility.

Sound Rating: 10

Setup

The setup was spot on. It came with a custom made bridge that is 11/16ths and which looks pretty beefy. The action is fine for my tastes and playing style. It has a nice wide fingerboard and narrow frets. It has turned out to be the easiest playing banjo I have ever owned; like a knife through hot butter. Update: I have since replaced the original bridge with an 11/16ths Crowe spacing Sampson walnut and ebony bridge. This has really toned down some of the undesireable overtones. This has taken the edge off and really rounded out the tone.

Setup Rating: 10

Appearance

It really looks great. I wanted the combination of cherry and rosewood which I find is a beautiful contrast and which has wonderful sonic properties. I also wanted a slothead design with a slotted fifth string. Brooks has come up with a nice slotted fifth setup. I had him put the fifth string nut just behind the sixth fret. The neck is nicely carved for the Waverly tuner. The hardware I choose was Brooks butterfly shoes and I specified all the hardware to be antiqued. The tension hoop is raw brass as well. I had Brooks put a stylized cherry blossom at the fifth fret. The entire banjo really exudes "old time" but in a very modern package. There isn't another banjo like it!

Appearance Rating: 10

Reliability

Too soon to judge but I doubt there will be any problems. Update: Brooks uses mandolin fretwire on his banjos. As I understand this duplicates the narrow frets on vintage instruments. The downside is that fret wear is pretty rapid. This banjo will probably need pretty frequent fret work given the heavy play it is getting. NEW UPDATE: I've had this banjo refretted with Evo FWG74 fret wire and I find the wider and slightly taller frets are very comfortable. The Evo wire is supposed to last almost as long as stainless steel frets. I will report back in a year or two.

Reliability Rating: 10

Customer Service

Brooks was very easy to work with through a number of design changes during the banjo's gestation. He was very quick to answer e-mails and I had a nice time talking with him on the phone a time or two when we discussed the banjo's and features. He was very good about sending photos at various stages of construction.

Customer Service: 10

Components

Most all the components are hand made. The hardware is just fantastic. I also really have grown to like the Waverly tuners. Very precise and they hold tune great. The custom bridge works great with the goatskin head. Update: the bridge got replaced but I really do like that goatskin head!!

Components Rating: 10

Overall Comments

With any custom project you worry about how it will turn out and if you will like the end result. I had great luck with a really nice Romero banjo I had done up a few years back and my luck has continued with the Brooks. I got exactly what I wanted, it is unique, it is beautiful, it sounds great, and it plays so very easily. The banjo is very light in weight but very responsive. I feel blessed to have really neat banjos from some of the top custom builders; they aren't cheap but they are worth every penny, in fact two pennies for the Brooks, one on each side of the peghead. I will treasure my Brooks and Romero banjos and try my best to have my playing live up to them. If you are looking for something special, give these guys a call. Update: this banjo is a real headturner. Everybody who has played this banjo has really liked its playability and sound.

Overall Rating: 10

Chuck Lee: Rose Hill 12"

Submitted by WGE on 2/27/2008

Where Purchased: Zepp Country Music

Year Purchased: 2005
Price Paid: $1450 ($US)

Sound

It sounds like what it is, a 12-inch woody. I enjoy the richness of the bass and I like the tone I've achieved after the changes mentioned below.

Sound Rating: 10

Setup

It originally came with a Renaissance head and a "no-name" bridge and the setup rating is based on this initial setup. I got a heavy-weight Moon bridge from Zepp when I ordered the banjo. Since then I have changed out the Renaissance head which I found to be quite sensitive to head tension and which could muddy the tone up the neck if incorrectly adjusted. I got a nice flesh hoop and thin calfskin head from Bill Miller. Installation was pretty easy. In addition, I now have a Sampson walnut and ebony bridge. Now, when played with a modified Acri brass fingerpick, the tone is just the way I like it. The skin head was a great improvement. One suggestion I have would be to increase the height of the fifth string pip just a tad.

Setup Rating: 8

Appearance

This banjo has understated beauty. No inlays and a beautiful rosewood peghead veneer and fingerboard. The neck is oak, which Chuck says was difficult to sand, but the result has very nice grain. Its natural oak color contrasts nicely with the black stained maple pot. I found no flaws in the workmanship.

Appearance Rating: 10

Reliability

After nearly three years everything is working fine. The capstan on the fifth string tuner seems loose when unstrung, but it strings up fine and holds tune. I've worn some of the finish off the side of the neck between the nut and the fifth fret and I am now in some need of fretwork, but I am unconcerned about long-term reliability.

Reliability Rating: 10

Customer Service

I've had several e-mail exchanges with Chuck and he has been very quick to respond and made helpful suggestions. I believe Chuck provides a limited lifetime warranty.

Customer Service: 10

Components

All are first rate. However, as I mentioned, I came not to like the Renaissance head, but it was very easy to change it over to a great skin head.

Components Rating: 10

Overall Comments

I have been very pleased with my Rosehill. I did a lot of online research and Chuck's Rosehill model attracted my attention for its simplicity and understated beauty. All the reviews I read were highly favorable for Lee banjos. I ended up buying one from Zepp, never having played a Lee. I guess I was taking a chance, but it has worked out great and I have no regrets on the purchase. With a change in bridge and head, I really have a fine old-time steel-strung banjo that I have no plans to sell. I really played this banjo hard and it was able to get me on the right track with clawhammer.

Overall Rating: 10

Romero: 13" custom walnut #0684

Submitted by WGE on 2/27/2008

Where Purchased: from Jason Romero

Year Purchased: 2006
Price Paid: $2350 ($US)

Sound

I wanted a big pot, nylon-strung banjo that I could tune to Briggs-era pitch. With the skin head, it sounds just like I wanted, quite minstrel banjo-like in its voice. I tune it down to dGDGA, dADF#A, and dGDF#A with wonderful results. I liked the sound clips for his nylon-strung banjos on his website, and the banjo we worked up was similar to one Jason made for Dirk Powell. Update: see below, I have switched over to steel strings for now on this banjo and I am tuning up to normal pitch.

Sound Rating: 10

Setup

General setup was fine. I found the string action fine. There were a couple of very minor issues I had to deal with, however. I had to deepen the bridge slots for the first and fifth strings and the fifth string pip was loose causing a string buzz. A drop of super glue and a then saw blade took care of those problems in short order. I have made no major changes to this banjo in a year and a half.

Setup Rating: 9

Appearance

Jason really outdid himself with the aesthetics of this banjo. I asked him to scout up some really nice figured walnut for the pehead veneer, backstrapping, heel veneer and rim cap. He got some fantastic crotch claro walnut that was perfect. The neck blank he used also has wonderful figure near the heel. We worked up a custom inlay duplicating a black walnut leaf in the scoop. This is the perfect cosmetic touch for a walnut banjo. This banjo is truly stunning. You can see it on Jason's website.

Appearance Rating: 10

Reliability

After taking care of the little issues, this banjo has been rock solid. The Gotoh tuners will last and since it is nylon strung, the frets will last forever.

Reliability Rating: 10

Customer Service

Jason was great to work with as we designed this banjo. He really took a sincere interest in the vision I had for it. He was helpful in getting the minor problems with the fifth string nut and the bridge worked out. This banjo has a lifetime warranty.

Customer Service: 10

Components

The tuners are great. Jason uses his own hybrid dowel stick/coordinator rod that really does the job and looks good too. This banjo came with his custom ring tailpiece. This really looks nice but it does make changing a single interior string somewhat difficult. Nonetheless, I think it looks and works great for this banjo. Update: about 6 months ago I decided to try steel strings on this banjo. I popped out the old nut and installed the steel-cut nut I got with the banjo. I really liked the tone. However, the Romero ring tailpiece that worked great for nylon strings didn't work well for steel strings. I bought one of Jason's cast tailpieces and everything is now roses.

Components Rating: 10

Overall Comments

This is another banjo that I ended up buying based on online research and reviews. I had never had a Romero banjo in my hands before. I was confident that I would get a great and truly unique instrument that would meet my expectations. It is a real joy to be able to design a custom instrument and then find someone to turn the design into reality. Jason certainly did that. His instruments are expensive, but I have found them to be worth every penny paid for them. My favorite feature is its wonderful deep voice that contrasts so nicely with my steel-strung Lee.

Overall Rating: 10

Hide these ads: join the Players Union!

Hangout Network Help

View All Topics  |  View Categories

0.078125