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.
Where Purchased: Musician's Friend
Year Purchased: 2010
Price Paid: 4,999 ($US)
I have owned two pre-war Gibson Granadas. I have not particularly liked the tone of either of those banjos. Shocking! I know. Sacriligeous even. All I can say is that perhaps the sound of maple banjos is not for me. Or perhaps I never set them up right.
All I know is this Blackjack has the sound I've been looking for all my life! Perhaps it is the mahogany, perhaps it is the Crowe tone ring.
The tone is extremely clear and even all the way up the neck. It really pops. The fourth string has a dark, powerful sound.
The 'V' shaped neck is the fastest and most comfortable I've ever played. I did not specify a "speed neck" but I can't imagine needing to go any faster and I can get around the neck and do licks with ease that were once difficult on previous banjos.
Sound Rating: 10
The banjo, when I received it was set up very badly. I was really disappointed when I first played it and was afraid I'd wasted $5,000.
First of all, the head was too loose. No big deal - that was to be expected. But the strings buzzed horribly - the fifth string in particular sounded like a sitar. One of the nuts on the coordinator rods was completely loose and when I turned the banjo over to look at the back, one of the screws holding the resonator on simply fell to the floor!
Now most of this is classic Gibson sloppiness but Musician's Friend should have caught it and they didn't. They actually made it worse by taking OUT the neck relief that Gibson had set up. (They proudly told me this in an email).
After I got a lot of great advice here on Banjo Hangout to help me, I finally got it all straightened out and now the instrument sounds like it should, i.e. killer.
Setup Rating: 2
The banjo is completely stock and that is OK because it is beautiful!
I must have gotten lucky because the finish is perfect and there are no problems with the hardware. The tuning pegs have no slop and are accurate.
Appearance Rating: 10
The finish is just fine - no flaws.
I'm sure the banjo will be reliable and last me a lifetime.
But see the components section.
Reliability Rating: 8
I only bought this banjo from Musicians Friend because they had one in stock. I would've MUCH preferred to purchase it from Janet Davis because they know what they are doing when it comes to banjos and would have set the instrument up right. But they did not have a Blackjack and now, probably never will again.
Musicians Friend assured me that their technician was "trained at the Gibson Factory" and that I was "in safe hands".
They WERE friendly so I'll rate them a "2".
Customer Service: 2
Addendum 2012: The "Antique Gold" plating sucks. In a year and a half, the gold is disappearing from the flange and is almost gone from the J-hooks and the resonator screws. The flange and hooks are nickel underneath and it is showing through. I never touch the flange and seldom touch the hooks. It is just fading off. The gold from the armrest is gone but it is brass so that's OK. The Stretcher band and tone ring are OK except for a few green spots.
Components Rating: 6
The best bluegrass banjo I've ever owned.
It gets better every day as it settles in. So far the head tension that I like best is about 91 on a DrumDial, but that could change over time.
Addendum 2012: The banjo's tone has gotten better and better, it is still the best sounding banjo I've ever owned.
Overall Rating: 10
'Water based or Nitro?' 6 hrs
'1980 Ode Style D' 7 hrs
'Really??!!' 7 hrs