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!
7134 reviews in the archive.
Where Purchased: Lakota Leathers
As a banjo player from The Netherlands, the strap was a little more expensive than I expected, due to import tax and VAT. Everything added up cost me about as much as a 3" strap would have cost (I got a 2" strap).
Having said that, it's a great strap! It's easy to install. Once installed, it's very easy to adjust and experiment. Which is necessary, because the strap will stretch a little under the weight of a banjo. The Chicago screws seem like an elegant solution for adjustability and reliability.
The leather is very soft and comfortable. The only thing that caused me some getting used to was having the weight of the banjo on my shoulder as I was used to having it on my lap. I have a Recording King RK-R36 which is a Mastertone-style banjo (which is what Lakota Leathers recommends for use with a cradle strap) which is quite heavy in it's design, although the R35/R36 models are said to be relatively light. Well, it's still heavy!
The cradle system is a great invention - I can't imagine the banjo being any more stable with another kind of strap. It gives me a lot more freedom int erms of posture than I would have without a strap.
I highly recommend the Lakota Leathers cradle strap, and if you can shell out a little more, get the 3" one, you won't regret it!
Overall Rating: 9
Where Purchased: Thilo Hain
Year Purchased: 2014
Price Paid: 760 (€) historic exchange rates / currency converter
It's the only banjo I've ever played or heard so it sounds wonderful to me and it's pretty loud for what I'm used to. It's a warm and earthy sounding banjo, even if I pick a little too close to the bridge - it gets bright but not shrill or painful. It's quite punchy as well. Those are all reasons why I wanted the mahogany-built R36 over the maple-built R35.
Sound Rating: 10
I assume that the set-up wasn't ideal, since the person who sold it to me set it up beforehand. That set-up however, is fantastic - low action, also higher up the neck. I also asked the seller to change to a bridge for more bass response. It sounds very pleasant that way. I've heard the stock bridges on the Madison line aren't all that great. I can't speak for that though, since I never played the banjo with it's stock bridge.
Setup Rating: 10
It's beautiful. I like the look of the mahogany neck and resonator. At first I was concerned with the gloss finish on the neck but the gloss finish is great all-around. I don't care too much about inlay work, but I do appreciate fancy inlays sometimes. I like how it's classy but still modest.
Appearance Rating: 9
The finish looks and feels like it will last me a long time. The 5th string tuner was a little loose though. I'm not sure if it was like that out of the box, but I tightened it once I noticed it and all is well now. Having said that, the tuners do feel quite solid. I would happily gig with this banjo and I'll rely on it for my personal recordings.
Reliability Rating: 9
A little bit slow, perhaps, but the response is useful. I contacted customer service since none of the Recording King dealers knew when the R36 was coming back in stock. I got a reply in about 2-3 days with the exact information I was looking for. Not just that, the reply was very nice and casual. After my preferred dealer hooked me up with most likely the last R36 on sale in Europe (before new stock arrives), I sent another email to the person who responded to me earlier and actually got a reply asking for a video. How cool is that? I'm surely gonna send one once I feel comfortable with one of the brand's employees seeing what a new owner plays on their instrument.
Customer Service: 10
The tuners are generic. Although they feel very sturdy and solid, I'd assume that a set of Gotoh tuners like on the higher end Recording King models would be even better. I can't justify the cost of them so I will keep what is on there now.
I might experiment with bridges and tailpieces. Not because I don't like what is on the banjo right now, but just to experiment a little and see what other tones the banjo is capable of making.
Components Rating: 9
It was a little on the expensive side - I could've gotten something like an RK-Elite-75 or RK-R80 for not much more money. The difference however, is that this RK-R36 was checked (for faults), set-up and spiked. I also requested a hardshell case instead of a gig bag, so that all added to the price. I'm very glad I did that - the set-up is excellent. I wouldn't have wanted to attempt that on my own, having no knowledge or experience with banjos at all.
As many say about the tone ring banjos from the Madison line, it's a lot of banjo for the money and it's in most cases all one needs in a banjo, unless it's very specific things. I'm glad that I held out for a Recording King and didn't settle for anything else. The dealer that sold it to me also has a hand in that, as well as all the praise about their instruments in general i.e. not just their banjos.
Overall Rating: 10
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