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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!

6938 reviews in the archive.

Ramsey: Standard

Submitted by tmoneygetpaid on 8/19/2012

Where Purchased: maker

Year Purchased: 2012
Price Paid: Don't Remember historic exchange rates / currency converter

Sound

Rating sound, and rating anything about an instrument, is a strange thing because it is entirely subjective. That said, when I was looking for a new handmade openback, I played Enochs (tradesman 11 and 12" pot), Chuck Lee, Reiter (Round Peak, Standard), Brown (mesquite), and others. I played about a dozen openbacks at the Music Emporium in Lexington, played everything at the Old Town School in Chicago and at Hogeye in Evanston, IL.

And the Ramseys were my far and away my favorites. They are darker and still loud and full. Clucky but not overly so (that was my main issue with the Reiter Round Peak). I loved the sound of the Woody as well, but the Standard for me hit the sweet spot between dark and woody and clear and ringing. It is loud, but not as loud as the Student that I played (probably the mahogany neck and the head tension and setup are responsible).

Sound Rating: 10

Setup

Wonderfully setup by Mike.

I'm pretty sure the Standard neck is just a bit thinner than the Student, still thick and meaty but the Student felt a bit like its thickness got in the way. For some, that size will work better. The Standard is absolutely perfect for me.

I love the wider nut spacing he uses on his banjos. Gives room for left hand pull-offs, and feels right for a guy with big ole hands like me.

The Ramseys I played at the Music Emporium had really loosely-tensioned heads, which is probably a big part of their dark sound I enjoyed. The brackets could be loosened with hand tension, which is pretty much the bare minimum tension you could get away with. I mention that because you can always go brighter and louder by tensioning the head more, but you couldn't go darker from that bare minimum tension.

Love the strings he put on-- whatever they are. And the stock 5/8" bridge (presumably a Stew Mac) sounds good. The nut (even the 5th string nut) was carefully slotted on a diagonal to reduce stress.

Setup Rating: 10

Appearance

Beautiful. Love the dark look of the banjo. The pot is maple but is stained dark dark dark. The mahogany neck is stained to match. A cool look that I like a lot. And the inlay is gorgeous.

The standard has just the saturn inlay on the peghead overlay and the shooting star at the 5th fret. On mine, it looks like the Saturn is abalone and the star body is mop with a abalone tail. Anyway, I love the inlay, way more than I expected to. Just the right amount of bling for my taste.

Deducting a point because there are a few small areas where the finish is cloudy or the sanding/ fret file is visible. A tiny detail, but a detail nonetheless.

Appearance Rating: 9

Reliability

I'd depend on it. The hardware is all good ole Made-in-the-USA Stew Mac. 5-star tuners, which I like and find great, but I've heard others complain. The only worry I have on the reliability front is the thinness of the pot. It is a multiply (looks like 8-9 thin plies). But that surely constitutes a big part of the sound I love, so I'm 100% onboard for that trade-off.

Reliability Rating: 10

Customer Service

Mike is easier to reach over email than phone-- go that route if you need to get ahold of him.

He's a one-man show, which I think is great and wouldn't want him to change, so I sympathize with the long time it takes to get the guy on the phone. Just be patient and you'll get him on the horn.

Customer Service: 7

Components

The only thing I worry about with this banjo is the thinness of the frets. There's no buzz or anything, just anticipate needing a refret in 5-10 years of regular playing, which is to be expected I guess.

Components Rating: 9

Overall Comments

As I said, I played dozens of banjos in my search for an openback that would suit me. I was getting disheartened, and even started hating the tone of everything I'd play, including my old banjo. Found the Standard and it's the instrument I'd been searching for. I'm so excited to have this instrument for the rest of my life.

Overall Rating: 10

Deering: Sierra

Submitted by tmoneygetpaid on 1/11/2011

Where Purchased: Old Town School of Folk Lincoln Park, Chicago

Year Purchased: 2010
Price Paid: 950 ($US) (bought USED)

Sound

Let me first say that I am drawn to the sound of mahogany banjos. I searched for 3 months for a bluegrass banjo that played well and fit my hands and whose sound I loved. The two I ended up having to choose between were both mahogany neck/ mahogany resonator instruments (the other was a montana rose by flatiron). In the process, I tried out GTRs, a number of Gold Stars, a few other Deerings, Gold Tone BG and OB series banjos, the Recording King Madison banjos (tried the new RK R35, the R25), and a bunch of others. I tried pretty much everything under $1k in Chicago and Boston. I even made a trip to Elderly Instruments in Lansing, Michigan to sample their extensive used stock at that price point.

The sound is right up my alley. It is really loud, especially moving from the Gold Tone openback that I've been playing, which I still love the sound of, and is preferable to me for clawhammer playing. Taking the resonator off gives me a nice alternative clawhammer banjo, albeit one whose setup is clearly more tailored to bluegrass player's likes with low action.

The sound varies really nicely depending on how far up/ down the neck you place your right hand. It's also really responsive to different types of picks (got a Blue Chip thumb pick for Xmas, which sounds really different from the nickel propik thumb pick I've been using). It's not as biting as an all-maple banjo, but that's what I wanted.

Sound Rating: 10

Setup

Setup was perfect for my playing when I tried it at the store, which is largely why I got it. Everyone plays slightly differently and has slightly different preferences in terms of sound, so I'd strongly recommend anyone considering buying a banjo go out and play as many as he/ she can in his/ her price range.

The things I noticed about the setup and playability instantly were: the 5th string is really easy to fret, which is not the case with about anything else I played, and was important to me as I am drawn to "melodic style" which frets the 5th string often; a really fast neck that allowed me to change positions fluidly and felt way "faster" and more comfortable to me than others I tried, especially the Gold Stars; perfect intonation all the way to the 22nd fret; nice action that was at a great midpoint between the extreme low action that most bluegrass banjos are setup at, and the higher action that I like playing clawhammer with.

Setup Rating: 10

Appearance

The appearance is not overly ornate, but I really like the look of it. The guy at the music store told me this was their minimally-fancified banjo, and that was done intentionally to keep cost down. The inlay are nice (I got a 2008, which has some really pretty maple in vines around the mother of pearl circle inlay) without being over-the-top. The new new ones have really nice inlay that looks beautiful.

The fretboard is ebony, and I've always preferred the look and, more importantly for me, the feel of an ebony fretboard over rosewood, so that was another big draw for me. The fretboard is not whitebound, but the resonator is.

Finish is pretty minimal-- not as glossy and thick as on my gold tone or the higher-end deerings. But this, too, is presumably to help keep cost down, and I'd gladly trade some shine for a cheaper price tag.

Appearance Rating: 9

Reliability

I can't look into the future and see how soon this banjo and any of its parts will need maintenance. Anything you use heavily will eventually need some work.

Reliability Rating: not rated

Customer Service

Customer Service: not rated

Components

Tuners are great. The gold standard for tuners before I got this were the planetary tuners with leather washers that are on my Gold Tone White Ladye, and these feel just as good and hold a tuning just as well. The tuners and other components, and the apparently high build quality, are actually what made me choose this banjo over the Flatiron Montana Rose I was otherwise gonna get.

Mine had a snuffy smith bridge swapped in for whatever was stock, and I have no intention of changing that. The bridge and all other hardware seem great. The resonator comes off easily. My only gripe is that all the resonator-securing bolts are not as equally well fabricated/ threaded. One or two seem to not want to go into one or two of the nuts on the resonator. Not a big deal, but it will be a pain if I have to replace them eventually.

It also has a couple flagship "nice banjo" components, like the dual coordinator rods, one-piece flange, and bronze tone ring, blah blah.

Components Rating: 9

Overall Comments

I am still thrilled to play this banjo every time I pick it up. It sounds fantastic, is a joy to play, and is clearly well built. Honestly, I was really hesitant to even give Deerings a chance, since I have come to associate the company with their Goodtime series, and many of the Goodtimes I've played have been terribly setup and feel kinda like kiddy/ pony banjos to me. I should've looked at them sooner. Don't make my mistake! At this price point (right at $1k used), I can't imagine finding anything that sounds and plays better.

Overall Rating: 10

Gold Tone: White Ladye WL-250

Submitted by tmoneygetpaid on 11/22/2010

Where Purchased: Janet Davis Music

Year Purchased: 2008
Price Paid: 600 ($US)

Sound

I've come to love the sound of this banjo. I thought at first it was a bit too aggressive-- I was initially more fond of the more mellow Vega Senator/ Little Wonder sound, and I still would love to own one of those some day, but the sound occupies a fantastic middleground between that type of sound and the Mastertone copies that are meant to cut through the mix and project a ton of sound. This banjo is still quite loud picked or frailed.

I initially played only clawhammer, for which this is intended, but I've been playing 3-finger on the Whyte Ladye, and I recently got a comment from my instructor (who owns a Huber and a Gibson) that it has a nice bluegrass sound. For a bluegrass instrument, I'd want something that has the full 22 frets, a resonator, and possibly a flange, but as is, I can play enough bluegrass and frail everything with a sound that's great, and I can comfortably carry it in a gig bag on my back on a bike to lessons.

There is a little pop to the sound that I don't find desirable, but some people might love it.

Sound Rating: 9

Setup

There are two small points about the setup on mine: there's a ton of buzz on the 12th fret on the third string (only that string and that fret), and the 5th string nut is high enough that it prevents easily fretting the 5th string at the 6th fret. Most players, especially frailers, are unlikely to even need to fret the 5th string at the 6th fret, but it bothers me that I can't. The buzz is the obnoxious point. I have minimized it with a higher bridge, but that also puts the action high enough that playing bar chords within my practice routine leaves me with sore left hand knuckle joints after playing.

Setup Rating: 7

Appearance

Beautiful. I love the inlays, love the flame on the headstock on Gold Tones. The finish and binding are to my liking as well.

Appearance Rating: 10

Reliability

The tuners are great. So much so that I am bummed out by any banjo I play that has different tuners. I have a banjo that has the stew mac four star (five star?) ones, and I prefer these.

The finish is great, too. It's stood up to some hundreds or thousands of hours of practice so far.

Reliability Rating: 10

Customer Service

Never dealt with them, but you get a lifetime warranty as the original purchaser.

Customer Service: not rated

Components

The tuners, as I noted above are great. It will need a refret immediately after I get a suitable backup, but that's inevitable. Dual coordinator rods are great, and really effective to dial in an action that suits you, as suggested in the setup instructions.

Components Rating: 8

Overall Comments

I love this banjo-- it's come to be THE banjo sound I love and want. I recently bought a Recording King RK-R35, which has been heralded for its sound and quality at the price point. I returned it because it was just too different. In time, maybe I could've come to love that sound, as I did this one, but why should I when I can just pick up an axe with a sound I know I'll love?

I am thinking of getting another banjo, and I'm absolutely going to check out the Gold Tone BG and OB lines-- they seem nearer to the sound I'm used to while adding a bit of bite, volume, and a midrange presence that bluegrass instruments usually have.

After a bit of work, and the installation of some railroad spikes or a sliding 5th string capo, it'll be a 10, but right now with the insane fret buzz and the 5th string nut needing a bit of a file, it's a 9.

Overall Rating: 9

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