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!
7077 reviews in the archive.
Where Purchased: Elderly Instruments
As all other reviews on Chuck's banjos state, this is perfect for clawhammer, but I'd like to add that it sounds even better when played with a fiddler. I generally play over the scoop, where the sound is rich, warm, complex and earthy. The midrange is perfect and the lows seems to get lower when you really dig in, while it's just bright enough to work perfect with a fiddle. It thumps, but it's still clear.
Sound Rating: 10
It's hard to say how the setup was out of the shop, since Elderly sets all of their banjos up before sale, but it was almost perfect when I got it. Almost. The Renaissance head that it came equipped with was so tight that the feet of the bridge didn't even make an indentation. I changed this the first weekend I had it and it really REALLY opened up the sound, especially at the low-end, and raised the volume. The bridge it came equipped with seemed like a block of wood, so I changed it over to a heavy Moon, which was actually much slimmer than the bridge it came with. After keeping that on for a couple months I decided the bass was suffering and the high-end was emphasised, so I switched back on a lark before trying out a different bridge. Man, was I surprised to find that this is how it should've been all along. The bass grumbles now, and the treble is still crisp, but the overall sound is much more round...and even more organic.
Action was a little higher than I was used to at first, but I've come to find out that this is preferred. Intonation is great.
Setup Rating: 10
I love Chuck's inlays. They are beautiful and inventive and not too overly complex. But even my bare-bones, inlay-free Rose Hill is a beautiful site to behold. The walnut neck and maple pot (both left natural) look wonderful together and the Rosewood fingerboard is perfect without embellishment, having spots of blue and red in the natural grain. The laminations under the fingerboard and running up the back of the neck are just the right amount of flash for me. Not one single flaw in the finish. Two words: simple elegance.
Appearance Rating: 10
Yep, just as others say this thing is a tank. Everything is put together very well. The hardware is just fine. One complaint, and this is 99% percent my fault: within the first few weeks I had this I took it to a festival where it was hot and humid. The extreme change in heat and humidity between my car and outside was enough to rough up the finish in some spots on the pot and hardware, but it is barely noticeable to the eyes, just to the touch. Again, this was my fault. I had to play it at the fest, took a risk and got what I expected.
**update: hours after I posted this review I recieved an email from Chuck saying that if I'd like to send it in, he would do what he could with the finish. Since it's only a couple small spots, I may or may not take him up on his offer.
Reliability Rating: 9
I emailed Chuck a few times for some details on my instrument and he always reponded promptly and kindly. He really made me feel special for choosing one of his instruments. I don't foresee any problems, but if there were any, I'm sure Chuck would take care of them without question.
**update: as I said above, Chuck offered to repair the damaged finish (which was completely my fault). The fact that Chuck emailed ME making the offer after reading my review speaks volumes of Chuck's dedication to his customers and top service. "10" isn't a high enough rating here.
Customer Service: 10
Everything is great and nothing needs changed. While the bridge isn't top-quality, it sounds great on this instrument. The 12" pot feels great after some getting used to.
Components Rating: 10
This is Chuck's most bare-bones model, but that is perfect for what I wanted. The sound is amazingly clear, especially considering the lack of tone-ring. I tried out a couple other Lee's while at Elderly (and about 15 total openbacks), including his fancily-inlaid models, ones with metal and ebony tone-rings and 11" pots, and this was the one that won on sound and playability.
If something were to happen to this, I'd replace it with the same model and hope that it was as pretty as mine. The folks at Elderly were great and were even nice enough to play a couple of my last selections for me to hear what they sounded like on the other side of the pot.
Great work Chuck, keep it up!
Overall Rating: 10
Where Purchased: ebay
Year Purchased: 2003
Price Paid: 450 ($US) (bought USED)
After some pretty big changes (see below) I have come out ith a great sounding banjo. A nice "thunk" that you can feel in your belly, but very definite note seperation and good sustain. Still a little too metallic to be just how I want it.
Sound Rating: 8
Since I've gotten this, I changed to a Medium 5/8" Moon bridge, a no-knot tailpiece (from the Price-licensed) and Renaissance head (from fiberskin), in that order, and each change has brought improvement. With the Fiberskin and Price, it was just too bright, but that was hard to compensate for with the fiberskin, which souded dead to me unless it was very tight. The banjo came to me with perfect action.
Setup Rating: 9
The inlay and wood is all very attractive, but you can tell that Gold Tone makes primarily Bluegrass banjos (very glossy finish, big--but beautiful--cloud inlays, "Gold Tone" on the headstock...). There are just one or two finish flaws where the stain has gotten on to the binding, but very minor and not noticeable.
Appearance Rating: 8
Very solid, well-built instrument. No problems at all with the tuners, good solid brackets and tension hoop. Never had a problem.
Reliability Rating: 10
Never had a reason for customer service.
Customer Service: 9
Nothing but quality components on this machine. Solid tone-ring makes this a pretty loud instrument. I never had any problems with the parts i swithced out, I was just looking to change the tone. I think Gold Tone would do very well to make Renaissance heads standard on their instruments. The only problem I have is a cracked tuner knob, but it's holding solid.
Components Rating: 8
For the price paid, I would buy this banjo again and again. I think that's it's easily worth the list price. I don't think that I've played a better instrument for this price, even the newer Reiters. After the changes I've made it really suits me well, but others looking for a brighter banjo would probably love it without any changes.
Overall Rating: 8
Where Purchased: Direct from Maker
Year Purchased: 2004
Price Paid: 425 ($US)
Great, full sound, with deep bass and clear highs. Maybe a little quiet to play with a group, but that's a plus for me (or, my lady, I should say).
Sound Rating: 10
Perfect set-up upon arrival. Very well-done joint between neck and gourd. It came strung with gut (at my request) but since then I have changed to Nylgut, which I find superior to gut (same tone, easier to play and holds a tuning). Since the head is tacked on, the tension is not adjustable, but that is made up for by a couple different bridge heights.
Setup Rating: 10
The first thing everyone that I show this to says is "wow! That's beautiful!" I agree. Simple, but a real work of art. Mine has the fifth-string peg at the fifth "fret" and the neck has accurate "fret-markers" carved into the side.
Boucher style headstock.
Appearance Rating: 10
Very good fit on the friction pegs, with very little sign of potential slippage. I initially had problems in humid weather, but since changing to Nylgut, haven't noticed a thing. very sturdy instument, especially for being so light and delicate-looking. Of course, this type of instrument could never be as reliable as the machines we use today.
Reliability Rating: 8
Simply a pleasure to work with. Before starting on my banjar, Jeff sent me over several pictures of gourds he could use. Throughout the building process (which only took a couple weeks--he's a hard worker!), he sent me over pictures of the progress, as well as questions regarding details (i.e. where do I want the fifth string peg, what scale length, what kind of peghead design). Even with something as little as the carving where the headstock hits the neck i was given options.
He always gives prompt responses to emails, even today, months after I bought the banjo. Ten isn't a high enough rating in this category.
Customer Service: 10
Attractive and effective tailpiece. Quality, stable bridges. The top of one of the bridges I ordered broke, but he offered to replace it for free. Solid gourd and straight-as-an-arrow neck.
Components Rating: 9
I can't imagine finding a better instrument for the price, or even twice the price (really!). Since I've switched to Nylguts, I haven't even picked up my steel-strung banjo. Jeff was a pleasure to work with on the design and outcome of the banjar. If you're interesting in seeing my instrument, go to www.jeffreymenzies.com. Mine is number 14 in the gallery.
Overall Rating: 10
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