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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!

6864 reviews in the archive.

Gold Tone: CC 100+

Submitted by Paul Bock on 11/18/2017

Where Purchased: Factory direct

Year Purchased: 2017
Price Paid: historic exchange rates / currency converter

Sound

Excellent tone quality and volume for a banjo of this price! With steel strings, it sounds amazingly loud and solid whether using picks or frailing. With nylon strings it is more subdued but part of that can be adjusted by optimizing the bridge (which I haven't done yet) for bare-finger, nylon-string playing.

Sound Rating: 9

Setup

The setup was perfect for steel strings as received from the factory. I have changed the tailpiece to a Kerschner, which is what I prefer with the nylon strings I'm now using, and I need to tinker with the bridge a bit, but no complaints on the factory setup at all!

Setup Rating: 10

Appearance

This is a very attractive low-end banjo, especially because of the use of diamonds (aka "snowflakes") for position markers instead of just dots. The finish is excellent, and although purchased as having a "factory cosmetic defect" (which is why the price was reduced) I'm darned if I can find the defect. The one thing I don't like is the gaudy engraving on the armrest, which is why I'm giving it a "9"; I'll be replacing it with a plain, non-engraved armrest soon.

Appearance Rating: 9

Reliability

The hardware is all chrome-plated and looks very serviceable, and I see no reason why it wouldn't hold up for the long term, especially since I'm only a "casual" player.

Reliability Rating: 10

Customer Service

I have dealt with this company before. Several years ago I needed a rim re-turned to achieve a proper tone ring fit on another banjo (not one of theirs) and they graciously consented to do the work. The job was excellent and they were very easy to deal with. In buying this new banjo from the factory the deal was fantastic (due to the supposed "defect" which I still haven't found) and the salesman was super. This banjo has the Gold Tone standard factory warranty. What's not to like?

Customer Service: 10

Components

I'm VERY impressed with the overall construction (two rimrods!) and especially note that the tuners are excellent quality. The tension hoop and brackets are a small step down (not as heavy) from the more standard "notched" style, but they certainly seem sturdy enough. Except for the gaudy engraving (which I don't care for) the armrest is solid, and the factory tailpiece is very nice, excellent for steel strings although not so good for nylon strings because it has some minor sharp edges that will cut the nylon). All in all, very competent design and execution.

Components Rating: 10

Overall Comments

This has got to be a "best buy" in a low-end openback banjo!  If you ever see a Gold Tone "factory-new cosmetic defect" advertised in the BHO classifieds I encourage that you seriously consider it because you'll get a good banjo from a company that takes pride in its products, AND you benefit from a substantial savings!  Why pay more?

Overall Rating: 10

Vega: Vega 1925 Style N Conversion

Submitted by Paul Bock on 12/6/2012

Where Purchased: Internet ad

Year Purchased: 2012
Price Paid: 849.00 ($US) (bought USED)

Sound

With a Remo Renaissance head and Chris Sands medium nylon "classic banjo" strings this banjo has excellent sound and projection. Awaiting a Morley-style bridge which should improve it even more. This instrument is/will be used primarily for classic-style banjo music.

Sound Rating: 9

Setup

Set-up was fine as received for steel strings, but the nut slots & bridge slots had to be enlarged for nylon strings. Action was 3/16" above the FB at the 12th fret with a 1/2" bridge and that is fine for classic-style playing. Neck is mounted with the original dowel-stick so there isn't really any adjustment for action height.

Setup Rating: 9

Appearance

Beautiful 3-piece neck matches the original rim very well. Tasteful, understated inlays accentuate the fact that this was not one of Vega's high-end instruments in 1925, yet it looks very elegant in its simplicity. No flaws of any kind were evident.

Appearance Rating: 9

Reliability

I can find nothing to criticize about the hardware. One thing Gary did was to use a more "generic" Gibson-style armrest and in my opinion this is far superior to the old Vega-style armrest. Had he not done so, I would have bought a new armrest myself. It may not be the "authentic" look but in this case functionality trumps authenticity. There is no question that this banjo is built to last and I expect to be playing it for many years.

Reliability Rating: 10

Customer Service

Not applicable.

Customer Service: 10

Components

No faults with any of the components. This banjo has the original rim and "Little Wonder" tone ring but the hooks, tension hoop, armrest and tailpiece are replacements. All are very well made and should last for many years.

Components Rating: 10

Overall Comments

This is a truly excellent banjo from the standpoint of being a fully functional instrument with great tone quality for classic-style playing. It is exactly what I was hoping to find and the price was truly a fantastic bargain given the fine workmanship. The only reason it isn't a "10" is because I haven't seen another one of the same kind with which to compare.

Overall Rating: 9

Gold Star: GF-100FE

Submitted by Paul Bock on 4/7/2007

Where Purchased: Janet Davis Music

Year Purchased: 2007
Price Paid: 1295 ($US)

Sound

This banjo fits my Bluegrass style perfectly. Superb tone, depth and responsiveness across the entire fingerboard. It is "string sensitive" in that different strings will alter the sound quite perceptibly to the experienced ear. Lighter strings, especially on the 2nd & 3rd, seem to sound best. The tone as set up is that deep, solid, slightly "hollow" Bluegrass tone that I love, but this banjo responds well to "tweaking" to change the sound characteristics to suit the player; i.e., different bridge, strings, tailpiece, head tension, etc.

Sound Rating: 10

Setup

Setup by Jim Davis at JDMC and he did an superb job. I have made no changes other than experimenting with a couple of different sizes of strings. The "playability" is really superior, it feels great all the way up the fingerboard.

Setup Rating: 10

Appearance

Gold Star has really made progress in appearance since I bought my 2004 GF85. The finish is flawless and the metal parts are smooth, polished, and beautifully plated with no sign of "machining flaws" as was true of earlier production banjos. This banjo now compares favorably in both appearance & sound/playability to banjos costing 2 or 3 times as much. The new Golden Gate case is very impressive, well-made and solid.

Appearance Rating: 10

Reliability

The tuners have apparently been improved and feel smooth with no jerks, skips or slips. I intalled Keith tuners on 2 & 3 but left the original tuners on 1, 4 & 5 and have not seen any problems. Only time will tell how the overall reliability fares, so even though I see no potential issues I'll be conservative and give it a 9.

Reliability Rating: 9

Customer Service

No experience with Saga customner service, but Janet Davis Music is absolutely top-notch..

Customer Service: 10

Components

I can't find anything on the banjo that isn't first-rate. Some people feel that the Presto-style tailpiece is poor but truthfully I can't find anything really wrong with it. As stated above, the tuners seem of very good quality and work fine.

Components Rating: 10

Overall Comments

I love this banjo! I would recommend it without reservation to anyone, including performing professionals, who are looking for a quality Bluegrass banjo with that solid, deep flathead sound that is so popular. I perform semi-professionally and this banjo is now my "main axe." If it was stolen I'd buy another one just like it in a heartbeat.

Overall, I would rate the sound as a slight improvement over my 2004 GF85, the playability about the same, and the appearance as definitely superior.

Overall Rating: 10

Gold Star: GF-85

Submitted by Paul Bock on 2/25/2005

Where Purchased: Janet Davis Music

Year Purchased: 2005
Price Paid: 995.00 ($US)

Sound

GF-85 #040137 was shipped to me via UPS after set-up by JDMC and it sounded terrific - full & rich with great tone, volume & sustain all the way up the neck. The clarity of the notes is wonderful. I'm very impressed that a banjo at this price level sounds this good. I put on a Huber bridge, changed the strings (I prefer something slightly heavier than what came on it) and raised the Presto tailpiece a bit and it still sounds great, just a tad less treble. Be careful, though, it responds so well that any carelessness in playing technique will stick out like a sore thumb - but then, that's the sign of a really good banjo, i.e., it will respond to the player's every touch.

Because of the price I think this banjo deserves a 10 for sound. You'll have to spend a lot more on another brand to get one that sounds as good as the GF-85.

Sound Rating: 10

Setup

Jim Davis at JDMC set the banjo up using a Snuffy III 11/16" bridge and put HO spikes in the neck for me as well. I think he did a great job. The action is extremely good, just a hair over 1/8" above the FB at the 12th fret which is exactly where I like it. The frets are just about the perfect size, IMO. Jim said that it set up to the higher bridge with no problem so changing from/to a 5/8" or 11/16" shouldn't be any hassle for the owner. The Presto tailpiece adjusts very easily using the adjustment screw.

In summary, JDMC did a great job of setting it up for me and it looks to me like making changes won't be hard at all, i.e., there are no potential hassles that I can see. A very well-designed and constructed banjo.

Setup Rating: 10

Appearance

The finish is flawless and I didn't notice any flaws in the metal work. There is a small amount of filler in some of the inlays but the slots may well have been routed using a template so some filler is inevitable since the inlay pieces probably are not precisely uniform in size & shape.

The flange doesn't sit precisely at the same position below the edge of the resonator all the way around, and after careful examination I determined that the resonator itself is not perfectly symmetrical, i.e., if you turn it over on a flat surface it "rocks" back & forth. Since the wall lugs are set at exactly equal distances from the edge of the resonator and the flange is precisely located on the rim, the slight distortion of the resonator cause the flange to be even with the edge of the resonator at the heel and below the edge at the tailpiece. Not a biggee, but it is something I noticed. Also, there were two thicknesses of felt in the neck notch which exacerbated this appearance issue, so I replaced the felt with a single layer and now it isn't as pronounced and might not be noticed by most people.

This is a "plain Jane" banjo in terms of overall appearance because it isn't highly decorative or ornate in any way, but except for the comments above it looks great!

Appearance Rating: 9

Reliability

Based on the construction and the quality of materials I think this banjo is about as dependable as one can have. Everything is solid and well-constructed. Some people have reported tuner problems but I haven't noticed any issues at all. I would not hesitate to use it "as is" for a gig.

That said, I'll be adding Keith tuners at 2&3 and changing out the other three for 5-Star tuners because I like 'em and I know them to be 100% reliable no matter what. For that reason I'll derate reliability a tad because I'm not convinced that the "as supplied" tuners can be depended upon for the long haul.

Reliability Rating: 9

Customer Service

There is not anything about JDMC that I can say good that hasn't already been said by many others, so I'll just say that whatever good you've read or heard before is true and I have absolutely no complaints of any kind. I'd buy another banjo from them in a heartbeat.

Customer Service: 10

Components

As mentioned above, I think that the tuners may possibly be suspect in terms of long-term reliability but everything else looks first-rate.

Components Rating: 9

Overall Comments

I've been playing since 1956, so I've owned a lot of banjos - some good, some not so good. This one equals or beats anything I've ever owned sound-wise or playability wise, and frankly I just can't see how they do it for the price. To beat it with another brand I think you have to be prepared to pay between $2000-$2500, and there are probably some models that cost even more that don't sound as good. If I had a student who had gotten beyond the very basics and wanted a decent banjo for the longer term the GF-85 would be my recommendation. If you have very deep pockets and want to own something really fancy just for the "name" that's fine, and I wish you well. But if you want great sound & great playability in a nice-looking banjo that leaves most of your money in your wallet, this is the one to buy.

BTW, I know Tom Adams personally and IMO he and his 1981 GF-100W are proof that the player makes the banjo and not the other way around.

Overall Rating: 10

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