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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!

7048 reviews in the archive.

Gold Tone: Plucky

Submitted by 10gauge on 4/29/2009

Where Purchased: Janet Davis

Year Purchased: 2008
Price Paid: 250 ($US)

Sound

The sound is warm and pleasant when all is well. I bought it to take on banjo adventures, but use it to practice while sitting in my (parked) car since the neck doesn't hit the windshield. I often have to re-tune and it never sounds quite perfectly in tune like my full size banjo and a compensated bridge from a full size banjo doesn't compensate correctly for the scale size of this banjo. I like the sound well enough to play it often, but sometimes it can get just a bit frustrating. If this banjo were for a kid it would be a struggle for them.

Sound Rating: 6

Setup

The action was set up fine. It has a nice low action. The bridge was in the wrong place and I was very out of tune, probably from shipping? Other than moving the bridge for correct intonation, I haven't made any modifications to it at all.

Setup Rating: 8

Appearance

I saw pictures of the banjo before I bought it and so wasn't surprised by the way it looked. The head has a bar on it that routes the strings down so that the head stock can be flat intstead of angled, the flat head stock gives it a sort of goofy look and the bar looks out of place too. Also, since it's so small you look a little goofy playing it. It's all wood which I like and there is some figuring on the fret board from a knot that I like. The finish has some stress cracks near the hardware from the tail piece and also where the ply comes together on the inside of the rim.

Appearance Rating: 6

Reliability

This thing is a tank. I have not been very nice to it and it takes a lickin' and keeps on tickin'. It comes with a tool that has a phillips and a wrench for the head.

Reliability Rating: 9

Customer Service

I got it from Janet Davis and originally they wanted to charge me a shipping fee for a whole banjo, but when I asked them to reduce that due to size and weight they worked with me. I haven't asked them to do anything with anything else about this 'jo.

Customer Service: 8

Components

This banjo is good at being what it is a travel banjo for practicing when you can't or don't want to lug around your big banjo. The friction fifth could be upgraded I suppose, but wouldn't really expect it to be nor would I expect Gold Tone to change anything else on this banjo. My biggest complaint on my banjo is that the 16th fret is a little bigger than the 15th so I get the same note on the 15th and 16th frets and have to work around it by finding the note somewhere else on the fret board.

Components Rating: 6

Overall Comments

I have gotten a lot of hours and fun out of this banjo and it's good enough to keep me playing it. I love singing in the key of C which is what this banjo is tuned to. I didn't even notice it when I took it backpacking and it's a little easier on the wifes ears since it's quieter, so if I just have to play when she's home I'll sometimes play the plucky to give her a little relief. I'll also take this one along if I ever go on a business trip. I'll be able to play it in a hotel quietly without pissing everyone off, though it's loud enough for me to hear and enjoy. If I was to buy this banjo again I probably would since it's such a good fit for me. As for a recommendation I can't give a strong go ahead because of some of the negatives, but if you read my whole review I don't think you'll be surprised by anything concerning this banjo.

Overall Rating: 7

Helix: Cherry Blossom #4

Submitted by 10gauge on 1/26/2009

Where Purchased: From Maker

Year Purchased: 2008
Price Paid: 800 ($US)

Sound

I'm a begginer and play bluegrass style and enjoy fiddle tunes and melodic arrangements as well as standard Scruggs arrangements. This banjo has a wonderful sound. The sound is full, alive, rich and well balanced. When I tighten up the head it gets very loud, but I prefer the head to be a few cents flat of G#. I've found that I really like melodic songs since I've began in April and the mellower tone of the slightly looser head is sweet and beautiful. I can't say enough good things about the sound of this banjo. I let a guitar player that also plays banjo play my banjo and was blown away by the sound of it from an audience standpoint. If you are the kind of person who says about a banjo, "Sound is the most important thing to me", then you should seriously consider getting a Helix. I don't give ratings of 10 lightly. This banjo has a "10" sound.

Sound Rating: 10

Setup

When I looked at the banjo the action was too high for my taste. Larry adjusted it for me and I came back a couple days later and purchased the banjo. Since then I have made more adjustment to the action and replaced the brige with another that Larry gave to me with the banjo. I can tune my Helix with an electronic tuner and it sounds in tune. Many other banjo I've played seem to need some tweeking even after tuning with an electronic tuner.

Setup Rating: 8

Appearance

It looks good. The hardware has a nice polish. The Gold Tone neck that Larry used for my banjo has a nice snowflake inlay pattern and a nice flame maple veneer on the head. The grain pattern on the rim is very pretty. The only crtisism I have for this banjo is the resonator back is basic and has a shellac finish that I don't like and the flange isn't quite even all the way around.

Appearance Rating: 7

Reliability

I think this banjo will last me a lifetime.

Reliability Rating: 8

Customer Service

I'll probably work on the 'jo myself if I ever have problems, but Larry suggested that he would be happy to help me fix anything that needed fixing. He also said that he would stand behind his instrument if there were some kind of larger issue that made the banjo unplayable.

Customer Service: 9

Components

From what I've been told and from my experience Helix banjos sound great because of Larry's proprietary block rim. No one else is making block rims like Larry and the sound generated from them is steller. I will probably change out the tuners eventually. I don't know if all planetary tuners are like this, but I have to keep the torque on the screws that hold on the buttons just right.

Components Rating: 9

Overall Comments

I would definitely recommend this banjo for the price I paid (it came with a very nice case). My favorite feature of the banjo is the full rich sound. I'm proud to have something hand made and would feel like I had lost a friend if it was stolen. I researched Larry's banjos before I bought it, so I knew what I was getting into. I won't be purchasing another banjo, unless perhaps I can come up with the four grand for an Ome. I've played a lot of Fender's, Deerings, and other banjos at music stores that are in the price range of my banjo, none even came close to my Helix.

Overall Rating: 9

Janet Davis: The Ultimate Banjo Songbook

Submitted by 10gauge on 12/26/2008

Where Purchased: Musical Arts: Mesa, AZ

Overall Comments

My wife got me this book for Christmas. So far this book seems to be perfect for my level of playing (9 months) and also offers lots of growing room. I'm rating it 9 out of 10 even though I feel it's a ten because it is really only one of two books that I've used for banjo. There are 8 of the 26 songs that are must learns for me and a 7 others I'm very interested in and of the rest there are 3 or 4 that hold some interest for me. Currently I am learning Fireball Mail, Foggy Mountain Breakdown and Dueling Banjos. I really like they way the first versions are easy and the following versions get more and more challenging. This books will be dog eared by the time I'm though with it and then I'm sure it will continue to be a great reference. My one critisism is a couple of the songs are not very banjo-y, but Janet kept these few and far between and it seems like a ligitimate attempt to stretch out the banjo genre and so I'm not really complaining. If your not already playing the standards that are in this book, it is sure to be a great learning tool. If you are an advanced player, I would guess you would enjoy all the alternate licks and more challenging versions of the songs you already play. Thanks Janet.

Overall Rating: 9

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