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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!

6991 reviews in the archive.

Romero: Sunbolt Resonator

Submitted by Bryan on 6/6/2006

Where Purchased: direct from Jason Romero

Year Purchased: 2005
Price Paid: 3000 ($US)

Sound

Jason built this banjo to order for me and it was to be a wood tone ringed reso banjo for bluegrass style picking. It is a surprisingly loud and clear sounding banjo with hints of overtones which are just a little different than your standard bluegrass banjo. It is pretty bright in the upper registers but not in the way some metal tone ring banjos can be when they are approaching "tinny"
It has great tone up and down the neck and most people hearing it dont realise it has a wood tone ring. It sounds good played hard or soft and even though I dont consider myself a hard picker I can get a lot of volume out of this banjo. It has plenty of sustain and that low 4th D string has a lot of "grunt". I like light guage strings and even so this instrument could only described as "powerfull" .

This summer just gone I played it a lot outdoors , including at a local festival, and sitting under a tree, playing with other people is just where this instrument sounds at its best

Sound Rating: 10

Setup

I asked Jason to set the banjo up with a low action, which he did. The bridge was removed for freighting and I had to fool around with it for intonation etc. I replaced the strings with my preferred light guage brand . I have had to angle the bridge a little and the compensated bridge of Jason's own design and manufacture could have done with being slightly more compensated (IMO) I gradually tightened the renaissance head over a few weeks and had to tighten the tailpiece. Otherwise everything was fine and the instrument plays beautifully.

Setup Rating: 10

Appearance

This is an excellent looking banjo. Check out Jason's web site. Make sure you wear protective clothing because of the drool factor.Mine is 0547 in the reso banjo set of photos. As others have said, photos dont do justice. I wanted a slightly understated look with simple but highly visible inlays, so I came up with a slight variation on a couple of Jason's earlier designs.

Wood: Santos mahogany with Cocobolo fingerboard, headstock veneer, and armrest. T45 tone ring- Katalox,bubinga. Ebony binding, "sun" inlay;pink abalone,mother of pearl. "Hard oil " finish
Combination of gold and chromed hardware.
Being something of a woodworker myself I have inspected this banjo top to bottom and could only come up with perfect

Appearance Rating: 10

Reliability

I cannot see why this banjo would not last a lifetime(or several). Jason does only use one rod inside to connect neck to shell but this all seeems strong and any way the banjo is very light, for a reso banjo. I dont know where he sources his hardware but it seems of top quality. I asked Jason to make a wood armrest something along the lines of Nechville, which he did and it is very comfortable and seems strong. The wood parts are finished with what he describes as his "Hard Oil "finish which I must admit I had my doubts about , as I have a background in surface coatings. As people in the industry will know ,polymerised tung oil is used as part of the base for a lot of modern clear one pot polyurethanes. Cooked (polymerised) at high temperatures it offers considerably better physical propeties than in its raw state. The feel of the finish while playing is very silken, and after many months of hard playing is unmarked, so I think it will compare favorably with other finishes for durability. Jason offers a conventional style laquered finish as an option . Overall, it compares well with any top of the range instrument. I would use it at a gig without a back up although I didnt really buy this as a "band" banjo

Reliability Rating: 10

Customer Service

Jason is great to deal with and was helpful and friendly during the design and planning stage and was quick to turn a concept into reality, though, (as I suspect with most custom instrument builders) his estimate on completion time was a little optimistic, though to be fair ,it was also during the time he was shifting workshop. His instruments have a lifetime warranty for the original owner. I live in New Zealand so I hope I wont have to ever send it back.

Customer Service: 10

Components

All components are good and nothing but the best woods are used. The wood armrest turned out particularly well. The wood tone ring sounds great and of course contributes to the light weight of the banjo. The inlays are beautifully done .
The hard case TKL is excellent too

Components Rating: 10

Overall Comments

This banjo was very reasonable cost wise for a custom instrument and I suspect Jason Romero is becoming very highly regarded in the banjo world. I would have no hesitation dealing with Jason again. This particular banjo was never going to be a "Masterclone" but it has a pleasing ,distinct tone, clear and loud, that makes it unique plus it's a great looker. It's a little hard to compare with other instruments but it certainly stands up more than favorably in terms of sound,playability, and appearance compared to other banjos I have played

Overall Rating: 10

Nechville: Meteor Electric

Submitted by Bryan on 8/30/2004

Where Purchased: Janet Davis Music

Year Purchased: 2002
Price Paid: many ($US)

Sound

This instrument is a very good attempt to create a powerful, reasonably natural sounding banjo, and is suitable for probably any picking style( I dont know about frailing or clawhammer). I bought it to use with a fully plugged in band where competing against plugged in instruments and even Fender Stratocasters on an accoustic banjo is a one way losing battle with either microphone or aftermarket pickups. I play pretty straight ahead bluegrass style and I wanted an electric banjo that looked something like what you would imagine an electric banjo would, rather than like an electric guitar. It has 2 pickups one magnetic which is an EMG equivalent to the neck Telecaster pickup, surface mounted in a similar location to a neck pickup on an electric guitar, plus a piezo pickup mounted under the 6 inch head. Both pickups are active and are linked to the same 9 v battery easily reachable through a small cover plate on the back .
The rest of the inside of the semi hollow body is also accessible from the rear through a separate larger round cover plate.
I play either straight into our band's Behringer mixer which in turn is routed through the main amp, or if the band playing in a "live " envirement ie a gig I first go through a Boss volume pedal and then a DOD accoustic guitar processor/ preamp . The processor allows me to select, through the foot switches, a "natural" setting or any of others I have programmed in that might have a little chorus or delay to create different sounds. I try not to overdo this. There are separate onboard volume controls for both pickups ,plus a separate tone control. For the most natural banjo sound both pickups on full seem to sound best , but at very high volumes the piezzo pickup is best backed off a bit as, like virtually all piezzo pickups I have ever heard, it gets a bit "brittle" on maximum. Having said this, this instrument is more than capable than holding its own with any electric instrument or keyboard. There is an even "gruntier" EMG pickup, the EMG 81 which is available as an optional alternative to the standard FT which would be worth considering considering for even greater ear splitting potential, but I am more than satisfied as it is. The overall sound is very banjo but slightly woodier and warmer than a metal tone ringed Bluegrass banjo, with tons of sustain. The sustain can of course be emphasised even more with the use of ,chorus,delay, reverb etc. This banjo sounds good full bore 160 bpm as well as slow "folky" fingerpicking.

I played at a friend's house once where the only amp available was a very cheap little bass guitar amp, and plugged straight into that ( no processor or efects) and it souned really good so I dont think you would have to spend a fortune on an amp.
The unplugged sound is also very pleasant , though of course, fairly quiet- great for practising.

Sound Rating: 10

Setup

Setup was excellent from new. It has the tunnelled 5th string set up plus the radiused fingerboard. The overall neck dimensions are perhaps slightly greater than the standard Masterclone but feels fast and easy to play. The 6 " head can be tightened from the top( it is in effect, a Top Tension), but I think the use of the controls and the type of sound equipment will have more bearing on the overall sound.

One of the biggest bonuses with the Meteor is the comfort of playing. It is like holding a small lightweight electric guitar and is a dream to play, with the combination of the great neck, the light weight, slim body, and extremely comfortable picking position with the edge of the body forming a very comfortable alternative to the armrest on a resonator banjo.
The banjo came with spikes for the 5th string capoing which have a better visual impact than the sliding capos I have always had on my accoustic banjos., I find them (the spikes) make the 5th string go sharper than the slider but I have gotten used to tugging upwards mid length to find a pretty close quick fix between songs with the band.
The Meteors come standard with guitar style tuners which are nice and accurate. String height was good, if almost high, and other than by the truss rod, I dont know how you could adjust this as the neck is essentially is a bolt on, just like an electric guitar. The Nechville compensated bridge is standard and certainly does the job.

Setup Rating: 10

Appearance

This is the nicest looking instrument I have ever owned. It has a black walnut neck, ebony fingerboard, and the fairly plain but easily navigated hexagonal inlays. It has a Cocobolo rosewood top on the body, and maple back.All the hardware including the metal band round the body is black plating of some kind and is definately not going to tarnish like nickel. The finish on the wood parts is gloss and is a nice spray job but despite a stunning overall appearance does contain some small flaws in and under the finish which would virtually be my only criticism of the whole package, taking into account the megabucks these banjos cost. However , the overall appearance, with the stylish but unmistakable banjo design of the body, plus the uncluttered neck with the tunnelled 5th string this is one fabulous looking instrument. My fellow band members were sceptical about it before it arrived but were quickly won over with the pleasing tone and increased adaptability it offers.

Appearance Rating: 10

Reliability

All componentry and materials are tops. I never take another banjo with me to gigs, in fact I dont really enjoy playing accoustic banjos now due to the weight and protruding body, (not to mention that 5th string peg which sticks out and does its best to dislocate your thumb)
However this banjo would probably not suit a player in a very traditional Bluegrass band as it looks a bit alternative, but for crossover country/bluegrass/rocknroll or Jazz it offers power ,versatility and very very enjoyable playing.

Reliability Rating: 10

Customer Service

I bought this banjo from Janet Davis who was very helpful and patient. We chose the combination of necks and bodys from the items Tom Nechville had in stock or was in the process of completing. The combination of woods may sound a bit strange but I trusted the suggestions that Janet and Tom made. Since I live in New Zealand the whole thing was a bit nerve wracking but the despatch and airfreighting to New Zealand went off without a hitch. It has a full warranty but other than an accident I dont think too much is going to go wrong

Customer Service: 10

Components

Tom Nechville has come up with a great design for an electric banjo, and the best materials are used. The guitar style tuning pegs are nice, the black hardware stays immaculate with minimum cleaning and the body polishes up well. One very faint criticism might be the specially designed tailpiece which , although is of an open design to facilitate string changing could do with the openings (where the strings go under and then up to the bridge) being rounded over as the wound 4th string jams a bit on the hard edge.

The Meteor also comes with a very protective but light, specially made trapesoid shaped case. I love that too.

Components Rating: 10

Overall Comments

I would reccomend this banjo as a very good solution to the eternal banjo pickers problem of getting good sound quality at high volume when competing with plugged in or electric instruments, especially if you want an instrument that makes a statement in itself and is not just another Masterclone. Not, however, as I said before for a fully traditional looking and sounding Bluegrass Band. Yes , I would buy another though I think they are a little expensive. I havent played any other brands of electric banjos, but I have been told it sounds more banjo natural than the standard Deering Crossfire. It is definately nicer easier and nicer to play than any accoustic banjo I have ever laid hands on, including Gibson , Stelling, Deering. Sound and tonal qualities are, of course, always subjective and whilst the Meteor does not sound like any of the above it has a very pleasing warm tone that is still very" banjo" in essence. Personally I love it.
If I was buying another one I would probably investigate some of the other pickup options,since, if you look on the Nechville website you can also have synthesiser options etc etc.

Overall Rating: 10

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