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!
6919 reviews in the archive.
Where Purchased: Angies Banjo
Although I’ve seen a few questions about it on the hangout and there was a review of the second book in this month’s BNL, I haven’t seen much mention of the Eddie Collins “Basics of Bluegrass Banjo” book and after looking at the book, it is a real shame this one doesn’t get more mention. I purchased the “Beyond Basics” at a recent Eddie Collins workshop because I liked what I saw but didn’t see the point in buying another “Basics” type of book at that time. However after I dug into the material a bit, I liked what I saw enough to purchase the “Basics” book as well. I thought I’d take a few minutes and post a review of the book.
The first thing I noticed about this book, is that there is a lot more text in this book than in many of the music books I’ve purchased. Eddie sprinkles in lots of paragraphs with helpful tips on things like the importance of memorizing songs, types of exercises, explaining the different parts of a song or how to structure your practice. This aspect of the book appealed to me since I really enjoy the verbose explanations and thought provoking statements (I’m not as much of a learn-by-example kind of guy as some folks might be).
All of the normal stuff you’d expect to see is in there.. hand position, the rolls, common chord progressions, common licks, hammer-ons, slides etc.
One of the things that I really like about this book though is that the many different elements of playing are taught in an integrated manner. You won’t spend 2 years learning a bunch of lead breaks and then be clueless in your first jam session! Eddie starts from the very first song (Camptown races) encouraging you to try to pick out the melody by ear. He then gives you the lyrics to the song and the chord structure and discusses how to accompany the song with chords (just basic strumming at this point). This structure continues throughout the book. All aspects of the songs are introduced at basically the same time: playing the solo, singing along and playing backup. In addition music theory is slowly introduced including rhythm, scales, chord progressions, etc.
As the book progresses, it discusses arranging the songs (meaning how you would perform it with a group, not writing your own solos). For example, when the song, “Golden Wings” is introduced on page 35, the solo is given. On the next page is a description of some new chords needed for the song followed by a chord chart and a lead sheet with the lyrics / chords that shows when you take the banjo break. If you decide to play along with the CD, you can play the chords during the verse and chorus (and sing along as well if you are so inclined!), then play the break at the appropriate time. By the time you get to page 94, the arrangement for New River Train takes the whole page. It shows a suggestion for the intro, when to play the rolling backup, when to vamp, when to play the fills when to take the solo and how to tag out the song. The lyrics for all three verses are given and the CD contains the full 3 minute arrangement with the singing and guitar break so you can exercise all of your skills at a comfortable speed.
The book includes two CDs, one containing the examples and songs at a fairly slow pace and the 2nd one at a little faster pace. The idea of the 2nd CD is that it can be used just for general listening pleasure as well as to play along so that you can learn how the songs sound. The Banjo is recorded more heavily on one of the stereo track so you can adjust its volume according to your needs.
In Chapter Five, the book introduces ¾ time and at the same time discusses the process of building up a solo from a melody you pick out by ear. It discusses how you might want to fill in the beats in between the melody notes of “Amazing Grace” and then shows the tab for the whole solo. Again the chord chart is given and the CD gives you the chance to play backup while the other instruments play a solo.
There are chapters on using<
Overall Rating: 9
Where Purchased: thebanjohut.com
Year Purchased: 2007
Price Paid: 279 ($US)
No quite as loud as the bigger banjos with the heavy tone rings and large flanges, but this was a conscious choice on my part since this banjo was purchased for practicing when I had to keep things a little quieter. The quality of the sound is a definite step up from the low-end aluminum pot beginner banjos. To my ear, I don't notice a significant difference when moving between my GF-85 and this one (other than the volume). I'm going to rate this a 7 just because I don't think it's fair to the higher end banjos to put it higher, but I am thrilled with the quality.
Sound Rating: 7
The Banjo has a 1/2 inch bridge which gives it a low action preferred by most starting players, however many players might prefer a higher end bridge. The action is set such that the banjo is very easy to play.
About three months in, the instrument developed a buzzing on the third and fourth strings, and the tension rod adjustment to correct the problem was very easy.
Setup Rating: 8
I chose the light colored Maple and like the looks of it. The finish on the fret board is a little inconsistent with a few minor imperfections (nothing that affects the instrument musically). The fretboard inlays are just very simple dots and the pearling appears to be painted on. The Mastercraft logo is also painted on. Overall, I'm guessing that on a high end banjo, you are probably paying 70% of the purchase price for appearance (fancy inlays, pearling etc). Obviously, when you buy a banjo at this price, you'd rather cut corners on cosmetics rather than musicality.
Appearance Rating: 7
The finish seems fine to me. The hardware across the board (arm rest, brackets, tailpiece etc.) appear to be a little lighter weight than the equivilent parts on my Gold Star GF-85. However, they seem sufficient for the intended purposes.
The tailpiece seems a little flimsy and appears to be mounted slightly cock-eyed and I haven't figured out how to fix it.. however, the tone of the banjo is fine, so I haven't puch much effort into it.
The tuners seem better than on my other banjo. I recently went a couple of weeks without playing the banjo and when I picked it back up, all strings were within a hair of being in tune (according to my electronic tuner).
The strings that shipped on the Banjo were somewhat dead when it arrived so I changed strings very soon after starting to play it.
Again, everything appears to be of a quality in line with the price and I expect no problems with the banjo holding up over time.
Reliability Rating: 8
When I had the issue with the buzzing (mentioned above), the owner took time to walk me through the process to correct the problem (using his toll free number!). He was very friendly through the whole process of selecting and ordering as well. Response was also very quick when I had an issue on the zipper of the soft case that was shipped witht he Banjo.
Customer Service: 9
See the section under hardware above.
Generally, the philosophy in building this Banjo seems to have been to cut out expensive cosmetics while producing a sound instrument musically (kind of the Toyota Corolla of Banjos!)
Components Rating: 7
Exactly what I was expecting for the price. If you are looking at a Cripple Creek or Good Time, this one is worth considering as well. After shopping around, I decided that the Mastercraft gave me an equivilent instrument at a lower price.
I'm rating this a 9, not because I bellieve it is good as a $15,000 Gibson, but because the value is exceptional for the price paid.
Overall Rating: 9
'John Prine' 9 min
'Shorter Neck, Same Scale' 31 min
'Tom Arri (BanjoTom2)' 45 min
'Super Moon' 57 min
'Very sad news!' 1 hr
'Billy Strings' 1 hr
'Pandemic response' 4 hrs