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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!

6873 reviews in the archive.

Picks: Geipel Thumbpicks

Submitted by Raul Cabezali on 12/30/2014

Where Purchased: Thomann - German online shop

Overall Comments

Well, finally my Geipel thumbpick has arrived. It fits my thumb perfectly well.

There are 8 sizes and I ordered my size rather blindly. I have big hands but nevertheless assumed that size 8 would be too big, so that I ordered two numbers below and thought I would adjust the pick a little if it was too big. Luckily I chose just the right size. 

I've been practicing a little with it and I don't hear any real difference with the Dunlops or the delrin Fred Kellys I've been using so far, probably the sound is a bit more articulate. Being metal, the touch is a little harder and this might need some time to get adapted to. What I like best is that it doesn't stick out from the thumb as much as other thumbpicks, so my hitting-the-head issue is minimal when I use it.

So far so good. I will update this review as I get more experienced with it.

Overall Rating: 8

Recording King: RK-O25 Madison Openback

Submitted by Raul Cabezali on 7/11/2014

Where Purchased: Thomann

Year Purchased: 2014
Price Paid: 349 (euros) historic exchange rates / currency converter

Sound

It sounds quite well for clawhammer style, loud and resonant. That's really surprising if you consider that it doesn't have a tone ring. It also sounds pretty usable for scruggs style, although the g-strings sounds a bit "nasal" as compared to my Fender FB-58 - you know, as when someone has a cold, I don't know which better word to use or how to explain it- . However, I sounds really sweet up the neck, another surprise. It sounds as if there was some natural compression in the sound which makes notes stand out without sounding brittle or harsh.

Sound Rating: 8

Setup

The setup was perfect, the action might be a tad too high though. The bridge wasn't installed, so that was the first thing I had to do after unboxing the banjo.
I had to cut the bridge D and d grooves a bit deeper to stop those strings from coming out of the groove. After installing the bridge in the right place and a couple of adjustments, the intonation is perfect.
It plays like a dream.
Also, the tuning pegs were tightened - unlike my Fender FB-58, which had them loose - and work like a charm.

Setup Rating: 9

Appearance

The finish is satin with some dark stains here and there trying to emulate the appearance of old wood. It really does the trick. It looks old and noble. The worst thing - even if it doesn't bother me much - is that the heel of the neck is a much darker wood than the rest of the neck.
The ivoroid tuning peg heads look wonderful and match the overall oldtimy look of the banjo perfectly well.
I forgot to add this banjo has a scoop up the neck. This only is a 80 euros (100 dollars) difference with the non-scoop version of the same model.

Appearance Rating: 9

Reliability

According to the specs, the hardware is nickel (I suppose it must be nickel-plated steel). I don't think the finish will last forever. A chip of the nickel plated tailpiece cover already came off when I was inspecting the presto tailpiece, so I think this will probably happen again when I tighten the head or adjust the setup, or even change strings. Fortunately, all the hardware parts look "standard" so I guess I'll be able to find replacements in case they become unusable.

I'm using this one as my second banjo, so in fact this is my backup.

Reliability Rating: 7

Customer Service

I haven`'t had to deal with the company yet - well, I just received my new banjo yesterday! but I hope I won't have to in the future either -.
The dealer has a 30-days return policy, which I think I won't have to use, then a 3-year European guarantee plus the manufacturer's lifetime limited guarantee. That's a lot.

Customer Service: not rated

Components

The planetary tuning pegs work smooth and precisely. The bridge is also really good. I don't think these parts will have to be upgraded.
The only upgrade needed is installing railroad spikes - something I'll do when the 30-days return guarantee has expired -.

Components Rating: 10

Overall Comments

Also, I shot a video with a couple of sound samples and a general comment on the banjo (in Spanish). Click on this link to watch it:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HhLltnDQqrQ

Overall Rating: 8

Tuners: schaller D tuners

Submitted by Raul Cabezali on 1/16/2014

Where Purchased: Thomann - German online shop

Overall Comments

Before I bought them I was aware that they are inferior quality than the original Keith tuners, but being half the price and not really sure if I would like them or not or if they would be useful for me, I decided to try with the cheapo ones first and then upgrade if necessary when I finally get my longed-for Deering Sierra (sometime during the next decade or century).

I installed them a week or so ago - that was fairly easy -, but they didn't come with instructions about how to set them up, and that's a major handicap. Looked for them on the manufacturer's website, but either they don't have them or I wasn't smart enough to find them. Luckily, I finally found a pdf in the forums with the instructions on how to set up the Keith tuners, what the thumb screws did, and how to use them to lock the strings. I wrote a somewhat angry review on the seller's website stating that their product came without setting up instructions and that it was a bit of a nerve to suppose that the user of this product had to use the instructions of the other manufacturer whose product they're knocking off. 

All in all, these tuners look good and sturdy, they work really smoothly and are more precise than the tuners I had previously. I think I'll replace the two remaining of the original tuners first chance I get, probably Schallers too.

To summarize, they work quite well so far, and they do what they are supposed to do. The only funny thing is that when you change the tuning from G to D by tuning the B string to A and the G string to F# the head tension decreases, and as a result the remaining strings get a bit out of tune. After years of using electric guitars with tremolo systems, I was kind of expecting this, but, you know, it's very annoying.

Overall Rating: 7

Fender: FB-58

Submitted by Raul Cabezali on 11/21/2012

Where Purchased: Thomann - German online shop

Year Purchased: 2008
Price Paid: 479 (euro) historic exchange rates / currency converter

Sound

It sounds quite good enough for bluegrass, loud and clear, even if I miss some of the overtones amd the separation of notes that I can hear from really "professional" banjos. On the other hand, I'm getting the impression that its sound is improving with time, probably because the parts and materials are starting to "ripen", to settle down so to say. My band mates agree with that, too.

Sound Rating: 8

Setup

The banjo was not really properly setup from the factory. Intonation and action were OK, but the tuners were loose and the 4th string was difficult to keep in tune. I had to tighten the nuts and all screws at the tuners, something which took me just a few minutes to do. The bridge is another budget part, and the strings cut a deep groove into the "rosewood" top of the bridge after a couple of weeks playing. Probably, this is the weakest part of this banjo, and must be replaced as soon as possible. The tuners are also budget, so replacing them can be a wise move too, although I haven't yet after almost 5 years since I bought it - just because they do work, even if not really finely -.

Setup Rating: 5

Appearance

It's a very beatiful banjo for the price. The inlays are nothing short of spectacular. They're not abalone or mother of pearl, but they look fantastic. Also, the fretboard wood is incredibly good looking, pitch black and noble looking. I don't know what wood this is, but if someone told me that was ebony from Madagascar, I would have no reason to doubt it.
The overall finish is very good, with a couple of flaws in the binding and back of the neck which don't affect its generally very good-looking appearance.

Appearance Rating: 10

Reliability

After 5 years and more than just a couple of very amateurish setup attempts, the banjo still works and plays almost like the first day. I had to change the head once, but aside from this, I can say that this banjo will keep fit for a long time, woods, hardware and finish. Only the armrest bolt to attach it to the flange - probably not real steel - shows some wear after being removed and reinstalled to replace the head, but the rest of the hardware, wood and finish are still perfect after all this time. Also, the second and third frets down the neck are now ready to replace - too much 2-4 sliding and 3-2 pull-offing I guess.

Reliability Rating: 9

Customer Service

Didn't have to deal with the company yet - and I doubt I will have to in the future -

Customer Service: not rated

Components

As mentioned, replacing the bridge is a must and replacing the tuners is a very recommended upgrade in my view. The rest is pretty much more than usable from the factory.

Components Rating: 8

Overall Comments

I'm growing fonder every time of this my first real banjo. As already mentioned, I think it's maturing and sounding better with time, alongside my banjo playing skills. Probably I would have to sell it if I ever upgrade to a more professional banjo - I'm considering a Deering Sierra -, but I don't think this is going to happen in the near future, so in the meantime I'm just enjoying every minute played on this modest but rewarding instrument.

Overall Rating: 9

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