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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!

7003 reviews in the archive.

Mockingbird Music Co - Glenn Nelson

Submitted by rbergesch on 1/22/2017

Overall Comments

Glenn was set up as a vendor at the Ossipee Valley Music Festival 2016 in Maine.  Among the offerings, I noticed an openback Vega.

It was the proverbial '...doggie in the window."  I fell love the banjo on the spot. 

Glenn had taken a Vega style M Tubaphone pot from the 30's, originally a 4-String, and made a new blond maple five string neck with modern Gotoh tuners all around.  He preserved and used the dowelstick and inlays from the original neck for the new 5-string neck.  The new neck looks good and plays great.

I purchased the instrument to learn and play clawhammer style.  The neck is conventional, not scooped, but that's not an issue for me.  He did something innovative with the bridge: the 5th string side is higher than the 1st string side, and slopes evenly downward by probably about a 1/16 inch.  I'm liking it, but it may not be for everyone. 

I love the tone of the old Tubaphone. The instrument is a player, not a museum piece, and I am really glad I found this instrument.

Glenn also did a great job reconditioning my early 1960's Vega Scruggs banjo.  He changed the head, and did a great set-up; except for adding a geared 5th string peg I had not had any work done on the instrument since I purchased it some years ago.  It is brighter, louder, and shiner; and I couldn't be more pleased with the outcome. 

Overall Rating: 10

Skip King (eaglesisland)

Submitted by rbergesch on 8/7/2015

Overall Comments

I'm giving BHO member Skip King (eagleisland) the "9" rating number only because I might meet the "perfect" teacher sometime down the road.  But until then, Skip has been my best teacher to date...

Skip teaches Bluegrass Banjo several afternoons a weeks at Buckdancer's Choice music store in Portland, ME. I'm not sure of the exact extent of his schedule, because we were readily able to work out a time.  He is flexible in scheduling.  Snow, etc. schedule disruptions were accommodated one way or another.  I have been playing banjo for either five years or forty years, depending on how you count the 30+ years I didn't pick up the instrument at all; probably the truest assessment would be tend toward the five year (or less,) mark.

So Skip really helped me along during the six months I've taken lessons from him; I had met him several times, and he had noticed a BHO post where I voiced a question about BG rhythm, and the result was getting started with a lesson using that as a starting point.  It was productive, so we kept scheduling more until the summer crunch came (on my end,) with a lot of out-of-town travel to mess up a steady lesson schedule.

Skip helped me with a lot more than the (first,) rhythm question we worked on.  What is most important, however,  is that he taught me in a way that worked for MY learning style; it was definitely not a one dimensional approach.  Tabs, playing along shifting leads to vamping back-up, sending TabEdit versions of pieces by email; whatever worked for me, Skip would incorporate it into the lesson structure.

However it worked, I learned quite a bit with Skip, and hope we can continue as the summer fun ends...






Overall Rating: 9

Bridges: Steve Davis compensated bridge

Submitted by rbergesch on 5/18/2012

Where Purchased: Direct

Overall Comments

I just want to add my $.02 to praise Steve's bridges, and then a whole lot more to praise Steve himself as a craftsman and a banjo guy (whatever that may be, I mean it in the best possible way.)

I'm fortunate to live in Maine, so it was a pleasant trip up to Port Clyde with my recently purchased Vega ST-5. The instrument is still new to me, and I'm really liking it as I get used to it, but there were some minor intonation quirks up the neck that seemed to indicate a compensated bridge. Because we had the instrument at hand; and I wanted to add a little height over the existing bridge (which was, I think, OEM,) Steve ended up making a custom bridge from an existing blank which he had prepared previously, essentially on the spot.

Works just fine. Intonation up the neck is just right, and the tone has more clarity and sparkle; which is what I love in a banjo.

And the bonus at the end of the process was that Steve pulled out his Gibson-based 5 string, which Jim Cox had modified some years ago, and played some great tunes... Altogether a great banjo day in Maine for Bob...

But back to the bridge. Steve's bridge solved my tuning problem and it made my banjo sound better, so what better outcome could I have had?

Talk or write to Steve, and he can probably do the same for your instrument, too.

Overall Rating: 10

Cox: Kentucky-5

Submitted by rbergesch on 3/11/2011

Where Purchased: Jimmy Cox- Maine

Year Purchased: 2011
Price Paid: Don't Remember (bought USED) historic exchange rates / currency converter


I've had a Vega longneck banjo for 40+ years; didn't play it for most of the last 30 years, until 12 months ago. Tastes change, bluegrass is the thing! And this banjo is AWESOME!!! Far above my puny ability to work the three finger magic, but the sound is the best. Bright, but sweet low tones as well. Every little hammer-on or pull-off sparkle sounds clear as a bell, but bearing down on the picks takes the volume WAY LOUD. I'm going to enjoy working my way up to this fellow...

Sound Rating: 10


Banjo was returned to Jim by customer who wanted to upgrade to a different instrument. The banjo was gently cared for, and Jim did some fine tuning on the neck, new strings, etc. Action, bridge, tension all set right. If a good instrument ages well, this may be even better than a new one; I certainly thought so when compared to others available in his shop in my price range... But each of his instruments are absolutely unique, no matter what "model" you're looking at.

Setup Rating: 10


Great, subtle, no major frills appearance. Hearts & Flowers on an ebony fingerboard, walnut neck, nickle metalwork. No visable flaws on the gently used instrument.

Appearance Rating: 10


Finish is quality, should last a long time with proper care. Hardware is all solid, quality parts nearly all made by Jim Cox himself, both wood and metal...

Reliability Rating: not rated

Customer Service

Sales force is outstanding. Haven't owned it long enough to talk about reliability, but there are only a couple of moving parts that can be replaced pretty easily... You don't buy an instrument like this for the warranty.

Customer Service: 10


Nothing but top flight parts throughout, most handmade of best stock available.

Components Rating: 10

Overall Comments

As an non-professional, I can't imagine NEEDING another bluegrass-style banjo, ever. I have a top-flight superb-sounding banjo that some of the local pros seem to envy. Any other purchases would be collecting, and I don't see doing that; the wife is not in the mood...

Overall Rating: 10

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