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!
6986 reviews in the archive.
Where Purchased: From builder
Luke Mercier's Crowe River banjos have a very pleasing old-time sound. I'm playing the nylgut strings that he put on the banjo when he sent it to me, though he suggested that I might want to make the leap to gut strings eventually. The bass string has a satisfying guttural "plonk" that has a surprising amount of ring to it. The higher strings don't have the same sustain, of course, but they have good clarity and seem very responsive to varying amounts of pressure.
Sound Rating: 10
The set up was great out of the box--the friction pegs are smooth, accurate, and hold well. Bridge set up on a fretless is pretty-much stress free, of course, but I like the height for my clawhammer style. Make no mistake--this is a simple instrument--but the care Luke takes with this humble design is inspiring, and it gives me something to think about as I try and craft a music to match the banjo.
Setup Rating: 10
If you're like me, and think that expressions of beauty depend on saying more with less, then this is the instrument for you. The simple one-piece oak neck and peghead are handsome. The ebony pegs are dark and satisfying to crank. The finish glows and brings out the best of the wood. The skin head is held tight with a handmade brass hoop, and the carved ebony tailpiece is looped tightly to the dowel end with a taut piece of waxed hemp.
Appearance Rating: 10
Luke suggested finishing the neck with French polish, the same thing he puts on his violins. I don't regret it--it's frictionless to the hand, not at all sticky, and I like the subdued sheen it has, nothing like the gluey tackiness you see on some banjos. I'm assuming that there will be tarnish on the brass hoop, and the skin head will get dirty, as they do. The fit of wood to wood is tight, the hooks are solid. It's light--as you would imagine. I wouldn't use it to dig a ditch or paddle my canoe, but I'd take it anywhere.
Reliability Rating: 10
Luke is great to deal with. Quick to respond, attentive to my queries, and took my order seriously, though I'm sure he had plenty of other things to do, and this was probably not the most important of his tasks when he built it up last summer. It's his cheapest model--but he cares about them all. I'd do it again in a minute.
Customer Service: 10
This banjo isn't really about the sum of its parts. It's a craftsman's take on a very old handmade instrument from the mid-nineteenth century. If you want to hoid and play something like that, then you will find this very satisfying. If you want shiny gold-plated filigree--well, I don't suppose you'd be reading this anyway....
Components Rating: 10
A simple banjo that stands up to a lot of playing! I'm going to go play it right now....
Overall Rating: 10
'Letter From My Darlin'' 35 min
'Banjo Builders DVDs' 3 hrs
'Old Time DVDs' 3 hrs