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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!

6938 reviews in the archive.

Bales: Maple

Submitted by Okinell on 10/23/2008

Where Purchased: Bales Banjos

Year Purchased: 2008
Price Paid: 3895.00 ($US)

Sound

Awesome traditional bluegrass sound and tonality. This is the first maple banjo that has a balanced rich full sound, but with that brightness you expect from maple. All of Ronnie Bales banjos project more than enough sound. This instrument has that loose growly pre-war sound on the low D string all the way to the 5th/G string, both up and down the neck.

Sound Rating: 10

Setup

Ronnie sets all of his banjos up himself, but he has learned from some of the best set-up guys in the business that trust him alone with their own prized personal instruments. The bridge is marked with a thin pencil mark on the head and once the bridge is in place you can count on one great sound. He does advise his clients to check the head tension and if you own a Drum Dial, he recommends something around 90.

Setup Rating: 10

Appearance

This banjo was made similar in appearance to a pre-war Gibson that is a favorite of one of the Bluegrass artists who Ronnie works for. Having said this, the instrument that my banjo was fashioned after was one of the plainer banjos you'll see. It's stained fairly dark as is the rosewood fret board. The mother of pearl inlays are pretty standard too. But, the lacquer finish is standard world class craftsmanship that Ronnie know for, as is the precise fit of all the components.

Appearance Rating: 10

Reliability

All the hardware is Prucha. That should say it all. The frets, binding, inlays, tuners, nuts, etc. just don't get any better.

Reliability Rating: 10

Customer Service

First off, the warranty on all Bales banjos are lifetime. That is, as long as Ronnie Bales is alive. All you have to do is call Ronnie and you can answer this rating for yourself. You just couldn't find a more dedicated individual than Ronnie and Myra Bales. Going the extra mile is the only way he knows how to do business.

Customer Service: 10

Components

This was really answered in the "Reliability" section. But one thing that I haven't mentioned and you can only find on Bales banjos is the Bales Tone Ring that is made by Bill Blaylock. Once again this is a unique machining design Ronnie has developed. It produces one remarkable sound.

Components Rating: 10

Overall Comments

I just can't begin to describe how satisfied I am with both my Bales banjos. This is my second one......... Does that tell you something? I love them both and both of their sounds. I would scramble to order another Bales banjo if some fool decided to steal it. This may sound odd, but what I really love about both of my Bales is that the finish just has some sort of a warmth when you have it in your hands. You'll just have to buy one and find out for yourself.

Overall Rating: 10

Bales: Mahogany

Submitted by Okinell on 9/4/2008

Where Purchased: Bales Banjos

Year Purchased: 2008
Price Paid: 3995.00 ($US)

Sound

First off I have yet to have a dislike. I know that everyone that owns his or hers banjo thinks their's is the best. But if your after that "growly" sort of loose pre-war Gibson sound your not going to find a better instrument.......period. The lower notes are powerful and the notes up the neck are just as sweet and bright at the 19th and 21st frets as they are down the neck. The sustain up and down the neck is well balanced, but doesn't over do it and get that obnoxious "ringing" some banjos do. Having played two other maple banjos I must admit I am sold forever on the rich, full, and much more balanced sound of mahogany. What I continually find amazing is how you can literally feel the resonance of sounds through the resonator and even into the neck.

Sound Rating: 10

Setup

The banjo was setup by Ronnie Bales when I got it. The strings were lowered, of course, but Ronnie had marked the "sweet" spot for the bridge as he had played it in his shop. Ronnie is fanatical about his banjos and won't ship one until he feels the banjo has just about settled down for the most part. He sent my banjo with one of his bridges and as we have discussed at some length, it seems that at least on these mahogany instruments that bridges with fewer growth rings makes a considerable difference. The head was set up to roughly a G# that is right at 90 on the Drum Dial drum tuning instrument. I have had to re-tighten my head once so far to get a consistent reading on my Drum Dial and also had to move the bridge up about a 1/16 of an inch. The action is perfect for me and Ronnie really tries to work closely with you on that. He really is amazing how he can visualize just what your after, but continually reminds you that if it is not right to send it back and he will recut it, at NO CHARGE. The only thing that I warn you of is that he packs his banjos very carefully and just make sure to remove the resonator and remove ALL THE BUBBLE WRAP between the coordinating rods and the banjo head.

Setup Rating: 10

Appearance

To say that this banjo is easy on the eyes would be a considerable understatement. The attention to deal and extreme craftsmanship is reflected in the flawless finish you will find. Ronnie cuts his own veneers for all of his resonators and only after studying the piece of wood for its greatest esthetics. The inlaying is precise and finished meticulously. About the only way to describe the depth you will find in his finishes is much like the if you've ever been to a crystal clear lake. If you've ever stared into the water from the shore of a sparkling clear lake with the sun shinning through it and that optical sensation of depth you realize is much the effect you get from the many coats of lacquer Ronnie insists on using

Appearance Rating: 10

Reliability

All the hardware is from Prucha, unless you send your own. I sent him a full set of Keith D-Tuners, so that is the only difference on mine. Ronnie would use Keith tuners but has chosen another brand to try and keep his prices down, but will use what ever you want. The rest is all hand made by Ronnie Bales. I don't have the vocabulary to quite describe the increadible finish of his banjos. LIke I recently posted, Ronnie DOES NOT use fillers or sealers as these are all plastic. He uses all nitrocellose lacquers and it takes him days of spraying, sanding, and reapplying coat after coat of lacquer. This is the way any fine musical instrument should really be made. That is one of the reasons that the old Martins have gained such value. The lacquer is not just a protective coating, but is part of the actual instrument and has to conform, shrink and expand, and age along with the wood that the instrument was made from. This is one of the reasons that "nothing really does ring like a Bales". The staining he uses along with this lacquer creates a virtual depth in this mahogany that I have never seen before. Also finishes like this, if you do mar it can be repaired and buffed out usually with few issues or problems. `Most mass produced instruments use polyurethane and UV finishes that can be applied quickly and moved on out with little regard for the tonality. Its the "bottom line" their after, not sound.

Reliability Rating: 10

Customer Service

Thesre instruments are guaranteed for life, or as long as Ronnie is around to service them. Ronnie and his wife Myra are two of the nicest folks you'll ever meet. You would think that they were lending out one of their kids when they sell you a banjo. He tells everyone, that he'll give you your money back if you don't like it. How can you argue with that?

Customer Service: 10

Components

There is nothing that Ronnie puts on his banjos that he sells that he wouldn't or doesn't have on his own personal banjos. Ronnie was in the construction business for years before this and knows and appreciates quality parts, materials and workmanship. He personally goes out to small lumber mills and hand picks the wood he uses. Even then he will only cut and use the wood where the grain is right for what ever he is making at that time. Where most manufacturers could get 20 necks out of a board, Ronnie might get only 10 and then might cull even from that lot. He has now started working with Bill Blaylock on his own signature tone rings From the sounds of this first one there are going to be some sad faced over priced trendy tone ring owners. I personally have Blaylock Bear Tracks/J. D. Crowe ring .and wouldn't trade or change for anything, but I might get another Bales mahogony with Ronnie's signature ring.

Components Rating: 10

Overall Comments

I would recommend any of the Bales banjos to anyone. I have told Ronnie that I really believe that there is going to be some banjo players looking in the mirror and wondering why they dropped 6 figures on an pre-war Gibson when they start hearing one of the Bales banjos. To say I would buy another Bales if mine were stolen is an understatement. I'm about to order my second one just in case....does that tell you something? The average price of a Bales right now is about $3995.00. To me that is unbelievable! What your buying is SOUND.........not a load of bobbles, bangles, glitz and glitter that does nothing unless your into "eye candy". Do yourself and your audience a favor and check out Bales Banjos.............

Overall Rating: 10

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