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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!

6942 reviews in the archive.

Deering: Sierra Maple

Submitted by Clay Simmons on 10/29/2012

Where Purchased: Hangout

Year Purchased: 2012
Price Paid: Don't Remember (bought USED) historic exchange rates / currency converter

Sound

Bright and ringy with more sustain than my mahogany RK-R80. Not as round and warm. Deering's tone ring definitely has a different sound. They are both great.

Sound Rating: 9

Setup

Setup was better than my RK. Capo doesn't make it go quite so far out of tune. The neck is shallower / more slender than the RK and has a faster finish. However, on my RK I was unable to do pull-offs on the 4th string without it slipping off (I ended up changing the way I did pull-offs to accommodate by pulling down instead of up). Don't know if this has to do with string spacing or what . . . The Deering plays a little more smoothly in this regard.

Setup Rating: 9

Appearance

Not as fancy as the RK-R80. It doesn't seem like it would be that difficult to provide a coat of varnish to protect the headstock from clip-on tuner scuffs and such and the lack of binding definitely makes it look plain. That said, I like the understated appearance and focus on what matters most.

Appearance Rating: 9

Reliability

So far, my Deering Sierra maple has proven to be more reliable than my RK. It holds its tune better. Hardware seems to be comparable with perhaps a slight edge toward the Deering.

Reliability Rating: 10

Customer Service

No complaints.

Customer Service: 9

Components

I like the tuners -- very solid. 20-hole 06 tone ring is unique.

Components Rating: 9

Overall Comments

The maple version of the Sierra is an excellent banjo choice. It is comparable to Deering's Maple Blossom, which is several hundred dollars more than the understated Sierra. Having previously owned an RK-R80 and being very impressed with it, I can confidently say that you will not be disappointed with the sound of either -- they are both excellent, professional grade instruments. Overall, the Sierra is a little more of a player's banjo while the RK has a little more panache. You pay a bit more for American-made, so RK wins the "most bang for your buck" title, but for those that insist on American made, Deering is a great choice. Interestingly, the two instruments are very reflective of their respective designers, Greg Deering and Greg Rich, both invaluable contributors to the banjo community.

Overall Rating: 9

Recording King: R80

Submitted by Clay Simmons on 3/31/2010

Where Purchased:

Year Purchased: 2009
Price Paid: Don't Remember (bought USED) historic exchange rates / currency converter

Sound

I play mostly bluegrass and gospel. I prefer it for the classic bluegrass sound. I play it with a birch Z-bridge for a mellower sound than maple. However, it can be played in the extreme x-position for plenty of crackle and pop when needed. Perhaps it's my setup, but I definitely feel that this banjo wants to be played aggressively, as opposed to some of the more modern sounding banjos that do well with slower sustained stuff and strumming chords. Overall, a great sound for that person who wants to play just like Earl.

Sound Rating: 9

Setup

The nut seemed to be a little low, making it difficult to get decent action up the neck without buzz. I've learned to play with higher action up the neck and it's no big deal now -- some say you get more volume that way anyway. The fifth string tuner makes it difficult to capo cleanly at the fourth fret, but I think RK fixed this on newer models. Making changes is straight forward. It's not a Nechville for simplicity, but a great classic build that I learn a lot from. Parts are all very high quality.

Setup Rating: 8

Appearance

I love the way the R80 looks, even with the thick white neck binding. It's just the way they made them back in the 30s and 40s. Beautiful.

Appearance Rating: 10

Reliability

Most banjos are pretty heavy. At 11+ lbs, this one is no exception. With this weight comes concern that if I drop it it's going to break badly. When I perform, I don't bring my backup Goodtime. With all the good that can be said about Goodtimes, they're just not stage-worthy instruments in my opinion. (But great for camping!)

Reliability Rating: 9

Customer Service

Greg Rich and Scott Zimmerman are very available to answer any questions or concerns here on the Hangout.

Customer Service: 9

Components

As stated earlier, maybe the nut. The stock bridge was pretty cheap, but for $30 you can get the best out there. I really like the flange of the R80. Very pretty and classic.

Components Rating: 8

Overall Comments

I'm a value guy. I don't buy cheap stuff, but I don't want to spend any more than I have to either. The Recording King lineup is great for people like me who want to get bang for their buck and aren't hung up buying from an American company that happens to operate a factory overseas. I am very detail-oriented and inspect my instruments very closely. The fact is, China can build to whatever level we spec to. What has tarnished the image of their manufacturing is that many companies spec to very low levels and have little QC when outsourcing manufacturing. Neither of these issues are factors with Recording King. Just go to a guitar store yourself and pick up a recent Gibson, made right here in the USA. They're a lot cheaper than anything that comes from Recording King. Being American doesn't mean you automatically make superior instruments. That's just crazy thinking. (ADDED LATER: I now own a Deering Sierra and it is a great player's instrument, but in the final analysis, a quality used RK-R80 is the best bang for your buck in the banjo market.)

Overall Rating: 9

Straps: Dogwood Designs Basket Weave

Submitted by Clay Simmons on 2/17/2010

Where Purchased: Direct

Overall Comments

I am very impressed with the quality and workmanship of my Dogwood basket weave strap. While I feel a little guilty for not supporting my local music shop, I do not regret paying a few extra dollars for a custom strap with personality directly from Dogwood. The mass-produced straps sold in music shops just didn't do it for me. I appreciate high quality lifetime purchases, and I am certain that this strap will look better and better with time.

Overall Rating: 9

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