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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!

7163 reviews in the archive.

Doole: 12" pot tubaphone style openback

Submitted by Richard on 10/2/2011

Where Purchased:

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


I play clawhammer , and this banjo suits it well. I was also looking for a banjo with good sound up the neck for melodic playing, and a good range of tones from bass to treble, as well as a banjo that could be loud! This one ticks all the boxes, thanks to the 12" pot and tubaphone style tone ring. When others play it, it seems to sound a little thin and brittle, but sounds fine for me while playing and on recordings. Nice and warm, bassy sound over the frailing scoop, and more trebly over the head.

Sound Rating: 10


Set up well, needed a few minor adjustments. The fifth string is set higher on the pip to allow for better thumb action.

Setup Rating: 9


Beautiful. Australian timbers, with minimal and tasteful overlay. Further inlay and engravings are available, but i prefer natural beauty. There's a couple of tiny flaws in the finish but I can overlook that. I had my initials inlaid in a diamond shape on the 12th fret, and the fret markers are diamond shape as well. Other custom features include the frailing scoop, Vega style armrest, dowel stick. All features are available to change on request. I chose an Elite translucent head over the renaissance style as well.

Appearance Rating: 9


Have had to tamper with the tuners a little from time to time. The head can be a little tricky to adjust properly but this could also be due to the 12" size, as previous banjos of mine have been 11". The finish has held up well, although the plating on the metal for the armrest has pitted a little. The maker has offered to fix this up, but i haven't chased it up.

Reliability Rating: 8

Customer Service

Very helpful and friendly. 100% recommended. These banjos are constructed by Ray Black and Pat Doole, and are well known amongst Australian OT players.

Customer Service: 10


As far as I know, all the metal parts except for the tuners are made by Ray / Pat. They seem to hold up pretty well, apart from the plating as mentioned earlier on the armrest. Which hasn't deteriorated any further over the last 2 years, I should say.

Components Rating: 10

Overall Comments

Fantastic. I knew that I wasn't going to be able to afford a handmade banjo on a regular basis, so I had to choose carefully ! I played these banjos at a few different festivals here over a period of 2 years and made my choice. Doole also offers 11" models, and also with a Whyte Lady style tone ring as well as a Concert style one. I've played this banjo alongside some of the best brands around in guitars, banjos and mandolins and it holds it's own well. Sounds great on recordings too.

Overall Rating: 10

Oakridge: Masterclone

Submitted by Richard on 1/25/2005

Where Purchased: Guitar World

Year Purchased: 2004
Price Paid: $950 (Australian) historic exchange rates / currency converter


I play clawhammer as well as three finger picking in a band playing a variety of folk styles. i wanted a banjo that was not too bright, with some body - bass as well as treble. It has basically been set up as a bluegrass banjo, which is what it is, so some compromise had to be made on the'mellow' sound that i wanted. It can make a wide variety of sounds depending on the style of playing, from a 'crack' to a fairly good 'plunk'. The volume is great - which was the main aim.

Sound Rating: 7


Was not set up well. Had a pro job in oiling the fretboard, filing the nuts, tightening head and brackets, adjusting neck, tightening resonator screws, sanding bridge. This is the major let down on these banjos- if they were setup properly in the first place they would have a better reputation.

Setup Rating: 4


looks good - too much inlay for my liking. i would prefer resources to go on materials and setup rather than inlay. It has a wreath inlay down the fretboard, and who knows what on the headstock. The neck and resonator are maple (with some flame on the resonator), with a rosewood fretboard. Otherwise, finish is good and very durable.

Appearance Rating: 6


Have only gigged it a few times and it holds up well. Tuning is a problem in heat and humidity, but this is to be expected. finish is tough, and , well i guess i have gigged it without a backup. Nothing has fallen off yet.

Reliability Rating: 7

Customer Service

no dealings

Customer Service: 5


pretty much the same components as most korean masterclones. It has a geared 5th string, planetary tuners, arm rest, etc etc. binding on resonator and neck, Nothing stands out as needing to be changed yet. i'm not sure what the tone ring is made out of.

Components Rating: 7

Overall Comments

I would recommend this banjo for the price, because it is essentially the same instrument as a lot of bigger name banjos made in korea, for about $3 - 400 less. After the setup, it sounds quite impressive. If it was stolen, i would probably just go and buy another korean because i still wouldn't be able to afford anything else. I quite like it - it feels solid and it doesn't move about when i play standing up as my last banjo does. The sound is a major step up from my last banjo, and that was the main aim for buying this one. My playing technique has improved since i bought it -speed, accuracy and even fretboard knowledge - now i am more motivated to play up the neck !
I compared this banjo to a few other korean ones and the top of the line goodtimes. This was done over time, and i settled on the Oakridge for its feel and sound. I won't rate it any higher than a 7 since i'm sure it doesn't sound better than a lot of handmade banjos, but it does fine for me.

Overall Rating: 7

Samick: SB5

Submitted by Richard on 8/25/2004

Where Purchased: Blakes music

Year Purchased: 2001
Price Paid: $350 (australian) historic exchange rates / currency converter


This is samick's most basic model. It is my first banjo, and i didn't know the difference between styles when i bought it. I play a simplified 3 finger style, kind of old timey. I realised that it didn't actually sound like a bluegrass banjo even though it had a resonator, so i decided to play on its strengths as a simple banjo and remove the resonator and flange to make it an open back. I also added an armrest and installed spikes. For an old time plunky sound, it does ok.

Sound Rating: 7


Banjo was well set up, it is just very basic. The action was fine, bridge in correct position, head tension ok. I recommened getting rid of the resonator and playing it open backed. very easy to work on, and it doesn't matter too much if you stuff up anyway (like when i drilled through the neck while installing spikes).

Setup Rating: 8


Very simple - dot inlays, gold printed logo on head. Black binding, dyed black fretboard. non - gloss mahogany coloured neck and resonator. i prefer simple decoration so it works for me. The plastic guitar type tuners are very unsightly, though - but the price of planetary tuners are a bit too high and they may be difficult to replace. The banjo had some shop wear which i'm not too fussed about

Appearance Rating: 7


Hardware isn't too bad - frets seem to be a little easy to wear, fretboard dye has faded in used areas. Binding may be lifting in a couple of spots. 5th string tuner has had to be tightened a few times.

Reliability Rating: 6

Customer Service

never dealt with them. i have a few samick instruments and i am generally impressed with them as a mid priced instrument.

Customer Service: not rated


Tuners could be upgraded, everything else is ok for a banjo at this price. If you are expecting heavy tone rings, etc. then you may be disappointed.

Components Rating: 6

Overall Comments

Given the price, this banjo is quite a reasonable buy and has its own strengths. i recommend removing the resonator and letting it be what it is - a simply constructed basic banjo. My favourite feature would be the colour and simplicity of it - least favourite would be the tuners. For my first - its ok.

Overall Rating: 7

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