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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!

6942 reviews in the archive.

Helix: Phoenix #001--Ash/Cherry (Rim Changeout)

Submitted by oolee on 2/15/2013

Where Purchased: Larry Hill

Year Purchased: 2013
Price Paid: 275 ($US)

Sound

I switched the rim from an amber bamboo (Jackrabbit #009) rim to this, a cherry/ash hybrid.
Relative to the bamboo, it's thicker, wetter, louder, boomier. It's a denser sound that feels as though it will open up in time...whereas the bamboo was springy, loud, ringy right out of the case. It's comparing a California white wine, in the bamboo, to a Southern Spain sherry wine...the latter tends toward more complexity, more thickness, there's just more there. I LOVED the bamboo sound, but I like to change things up.
The Phoenix sustains as much as the bamboo, same projection, simply meatier and more complex. Awesome.

Sound Rating: 10

Setup

Yeah, well Larry transferred the Jackrabbit neck to this rim and lowered the action, so yes, we conferred, per usual. No surprises, it's just right.

Setup Rating: 10

Appearance

I love the neck from the Jackrabbit, but let's keep this to the new rim...

The contrast between the woods, the cherry and ash, is not as stark in person as it appears to be in pictures. I LIKE this. There's great continuity to the grain between the two woods. The upgraded hardware is great, notched hoop, perfect. It's a beauty. I'll post pictures shortly after I post this.

Appearance Rating: 10

Reliability

Yes.
Hardware has been upgraded. Everything is rock solid, love it. I had thought about going bronze, but I find this hardware perfect.

Reliability Rating: 10

Customer Service

I'm used to Larry, been in and out of contact for a year or so since picking up the Jackrabbit #009, so I know what he values: communication and MUSIC. Talk SOUND with him. I called him with sound preferences in mind, and aesthetics in taste as well. We listened to some knock notes and I chose the hybrid. I initially wanted oak, as I've got lots of twisted oak in my yard, but I stayed true to sound, and Larry is always accommodating and more than happy to talk MUSIC.

*Anybody who is new to banjo or instrumental music and reading this, considering buying from Helix...I know that talking "sound" is intimidating at first, unnatural. We think in terms of money and written review. Well, go online, get to a store, do a lot of listening, and find SOUNDS you like -- and do NOT like. Know what you like to hear. It's huge to be able to articulate this, even in simple ways (deep, high, sharp, etc) and at least TALK to Larry. If you don't leave the conversation having ordered a Helix, you'll at least have engaged yourself in musical, aesthetic thinking and conversation...you'll come out ahead either way.

Customer Service: 10

Components

The rim is the new thing, and yeah. It's fantastic. I'm a drummer, originally, and I love hearing the shells open up. This will be incredible, it already is, and will be moreso...the ledges, too, whew. Unbelievable.

Components Rating: 10

Overall Comments

Very happy. Very, very excited about this one.

Overall Rating: 10

Helix: Jackrabbit #009

Submitted by oolee on 6/15/2011

Where Purchased: Larry Hill/Helix Banjos

Year Purchased: 2011
Price Paid: ~600 ($US)

Sound

I'm new to banjo and beginning with clawhammer style playing.
The voice of the bamboo is gorgeous, resonant, springy. Larry's bestowed bamboo banjo name, "Jackrabbit", is hardly arbitrary. It takes off.
I find myself plucking strings and muting them quickly just to bask in the resulting tones. Guitar-playing friends of mine have sat stunned listening to what comes out of this instrument. One friend tried to buy it off me two days after I received it. Offered me $1000, maybe half-jokingly.
I'd call the sound on the brighter side, but not twangy/metallic. More of a balanced, rich bright.
Gorgeous.

Sound Rating: 10

Setup

Larry's communication leaves few surprises. I knew what was coming. Set up to what I preferred exactly.
Comfortable, action is high enough to boom, low enough to be easy as ever to play.
Great neck shape. Natural on the hand.

Setup Rating: 10

Appearance

Easy on the eyes is an understatement.
Unlike some early Jackrabbits, my #009 is an amber shade of bamboo, with a neck dark enough to match. The abalone inlays I bought and Larry installed sparkle out of the fretboard. These, complimented by the walnut capped peghead and heel, make one pretty -- yet not flashy -- banjo.

Appearance Rating: 10

Reliability

No reason to believe the banjo won't last forever.
Finishes are perfect. Inlays aren't falling out. Spikes are comfortably positioned at 7, 9, 10, 12, utterly unobtrusive and incredibly useful. Don't believe the "fretboard/banjo-murdered-by-spikes" stuff. Jump keys quickly and easily. Lovely.
I've had $600 Hawaiian ukuleles, mid-expensive factory stuff, that have worried me infinitely more than the Helix ever will. Ultra-sturdy.

Reliability Rating: 10

Customer Service

There just isn't enough to say here.
If you want an instrument that is YOURS, to YOUR specs, to YOUR style, something beautiful, inspiring, talk to Larry. TALK to him. He'll challenge you to think about what you are looking for. I don't mean "challenge" as in "talk down to" or "push" you...it's more of a very enticing invitation. Listen to Larry describe what he can do, what he has done, what he hasn't done and is willing to try, you'll be kept awake mulling over choices, mulling over risks. His dedication and excitement are infectious.
I have NEVER before this had an experience where I have had NO buyer's remorse -- this was the first. And it's mostly due to the feeling that with Larry, you really venture into something of a partnership, crafting your instrument together. If you're a musician already, new to the banjo, you'll especially feel a part of Larry's process. He'll overwhelm you with his knowledge and still make you feel like you KNOW your banjo.

Customer Service: 10

Components

Hardware, I am not qualified to speak too much about.
I think Larry uses Gold Tone hardware, I trust him, all's solid as can be.

Components Rating: 10

Overall Comments

I rambled quite a bit. I'm uninhibited online.
If you're interested, feel free to contact me and I'll tell you anything you want to know about the experience. I'll upload soundclips soon that won't sound quite as much like a two week banjo player.
Or, if you're forgiving, I might upload some anyway, give a sense of the voice of the banjo. Pics to come, waiting on the return of my camera.

Overall Rating: 10

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