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!
6773 reviews in the archive.
Where Purchased: Mike'sBanjoMute.com
I really like it! I've seen great reviews about it where the only complaint is that once it's muted, it doesn't sound like a banjo anymore. Well sure, I doubt any mute for any instrument in the world can reproduce the same sound at a lower volume. Although the sound of the mute is different from the regular banjo, it's significantly quieter, and I actually kinda like the sound it makes. Reminds me of what a harmon mute does to a trumpet (Think Miles Davis' Flamenco Sketches off the "Kind of Blue" album). This gives my banjo kind of a mellow sweet sound. I got used to it quickly. When I removed it after about 15 minutes of playing, my ears had to readjust to the brighter unmuted sound again. I will get a lot of use out of my Mike's Banjo Mute!
My only complaint isn't really Mike's Banjo Mute's fault, it's my own . I've gotten lazy with my right hand technique, and my 5th finger will occasionally come to rest on the side of the bridge or be too close to it. MBM makes that problem worse. But then again, it makes me put the fingers in a more appropriate position, so maybe that's a good thing.
As far as equipment I use with the mute: I play a Morgan Monroe MNB 1 (got it at BanjoHut) then had it pimped out by Jon at Woodsong's Lutherie in Boulder, CO. My $450 banjo sounds like a $2K Banjo now. See my related post.
Overall Rating: 9
Where Purchased: banjohut.com
Year Purchased: 2008
Price Paid: 400 ($US)
This is more of an entry level banjo, price-wise, that has a resonator but not a tone ring. But if setup properly, even pros can hardly tell. (See below.) I love the sound of this banjo. I have friends that have bought similarly priced entry-level banjos and they sound like children's toys compared to this model. For the cost, I believe this banjo was a steal. Sounds very good playing down the neck. I'm not good enough of a player yet to say what happens when playing more up the neck. Tone gets sweet and harp-like when you pluck/strum up the neck off the head.
Sound Rating: 9
The banjo was not really setup very well. Probably could have been much worse, though. I think the strings were cheap, and the tailpiece was too close to the head among other things probably.
I took it to Jon at Woodsong's Lutherie in Boulder, CO when I was there for Pete Wernick's week long winter banjo camp. Jon did an AMAZING setup job. As I recall, I was charged a total of $120 for the job, which included installation of capo spikes for the 5th string, new D'Addario string job, and labor for other setup stuff that's way over my head. It sounds like a $3,000 banjo ever since he did that job. And that's not me talking, it's Pete Wernick! During class at one point, he asked me for my banjo to play something to demonstrate a point he was trying to make (he wasn't wearing his banjo at the moment, as it was a break.) So I gave it to him and he did his little teaching moment. Then Pete kind of looked down at the banjo, and I think he realized that it had very good sound while also being lightweight for a resonator banjo (no heavy tone ring in the MNB-1.) He asked what it was and how much it cost, and he then proceeded to break out into an amazing little 5 minute (or so) mini-recital including Foggy Mt. Breakdown. it was cool to have a legend like Pete showing me what even a modest banjo like mine could do in the hands of a master.
Anyway, when he was done, he basically said that he was really impressed by the sound that came out of that MNB-1 without a resonator. I think that's a good advertisement for The Morgan Monroe brand and the model, but I am pretty sure it's at least equally as good of an endorsement of Jon's skills over at Woodsong's Lutherie. That banjo sounded so much better after the professional setup job. Not cheap, but well worth the money.
Setup Rating: 4
* Planetary Tuners
* Mother Of Pearl Inlaid Headstock
* Mother Of Pearl Inlaid Fret Board
* Mahogany Resonator with Thumb Screws
* Mahogany Neck
* Rosewood Fretboard
* Rolled Brass Tone Ring
* 24 Brackets
* Geared 5th Peg
* Nickel Plated Arm Rest
The strings on it were cheap IMO and had to be replaced. It was and is otherwise a very beautiful banjo for the price level. It looks like a $1000+ banjo.
Appearance Rating: 8
So far it has been VERY dependable. I've had no problems, and have seen no unnatural wear whatsoever.
Reliability Rating: 9
This part is an issue, really. Banjohut.com shines when it comes to bang for your buck. They have good prices on banjos. That's about it. The stuff that came with it (finger picks and tuner) were Chinese trash, not worth a penny. The tuner functioned poorly for a week or two and then broke.
They also advertised a DVD that came with it. The DVD and associated printed materials were very poor quality, and hard to read and understand. Not worth the disc or the paper they were printed on.
Clearly, the "Extras" they advertise that comes with your banjo is just so they can say it comes with the crap. In my opinion, they should stop making themselves look so cheap and unprofessional when it comes to the add-ons. Instead, just say "we sell banjos at unbeatable prices--go get a tuner and an instructional DVD somewhere else" I would have preferred that to the crap that came with my banjo.
The case was ok, though. : )
Customer Service: 4
Just the strings and the setup was sub-par from the dealer.
The woodwork on this banjo is beautiful for the cost. Well worth the price, and the dealer's price was the best we found anywhere.
Components Rating: 7
Morgan Monroe MNB-1 = Awesome entry level banjo. My Highest recomendation.
Banjohut.com's Setup=Mediocre at best
Jon's (Woodsong's Lutherie in Boulder, CO) Setup was awesome.
Overall Rating: 8
'G string intonation' 42 min
'Gold Tone OB-150' 3 hrs