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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!

6975 reviews in the archive.

Digital Tuners: Snark Clip-On Tuners, SN1 & SN2

Submitted by AlpacaLips on 1/1/2012

Where Purchased: Amazon.com

Overall Comments

The appearance and function of this tuner (SN-2) is pretty much perfect. It does the job and it does it right. I have only two complaints:

1. The clip seems a little big. Unfortunately on my resonator-less banjos there's no place to clip it except the head (without turning the banjo upside down), and in my case, the vibrations don't carry quite well enough to get a good reading there. In noisy environments, I have to add a mute to the bridge to give me something to clip it to. Fortunately, the microphone mode works just fine at the head in quiet environments (and seems to work better than vib anyway).

2. I got this tuner one week ago, I've used it perhaps a dozen times, and the included battery is already dead. Snark might be including lousy batteries to start with, but if future new batteries go dead just as fast then I'd consider this a significant failing. It's supposed to turn off after 2 minutes of no note detection; since virtually any sound may be detected as a note, it may be that using it in mic mode kills the power-save function.

Be sure to check the price at Amazon before buying elsewhere; at the time of my purchase it was 1/3 of retail, and half what other online stores charged.

Overall Rating: 9

Deering: Goodtime

Submitted by AlpacaLips on 9/17/2011

Where Purchased: private party

Year Purchased: 2011
Price Paid: 90 ($US) (bought USED)

Sound

This is the old-style Goodtime (dotted fretboard, open tuners, white plastic tuner grips, and Gumby headstock). It sounds fine for a $90 banjo. (Actually, it sounds fine for a $300 banjo, which is why I was happy to get it for $90.) It is quieter than other open-back banjos I've played, but still plenty loud enough to require a mute after the family goes to bed. I haven't played with the setup, but I believe it has basically a factory setup. The video at http://www.deeringbanjos.com/goodtime-banjo is a good representation of the sound. It has no tone ring, and it shows. The sound is very inferior to my $750 Gold Tone WL-250 (which is expected), but well within the range of expectations for a banjo of this price.

Sound Rating: 5

Setup

Action was set at the factory. Action is ideal. The tailpiece is set high, and I wouldn't lower it. (The reason that I say it has a factory setup is that it didn't appear to have been monkeyed with; I'm 90% sure it even had its original strings.) I replaced the strings it came with because they were light gage which for me is like trying to waltz on greased glass, and because they were rusted to crud and wouldn't stay in tune. Installing new Ernie Ball Earthwood 80/20 Bronze frailing strings made it play and sound WAY better.

Setup Rating: 8

Appearance

It's a very plain banjo. Dull maple finish, dotted fretboard. Not a lot of bling. Very ugly Gumby shaped headstock. Yawn.

Other than that, you can see on Deering's website for yourself what it looks like.

Appearance Rating: 4

Reliability

I think this banjo is about 6 years old, and it appears to have all original components. When I got it, the strings were rusty, all surfaces were dirty, and the chrome was tarnished. I cleaned the head with damp baby-wipes, gently cleaned all wood surfaces with 0000 steel wool (OK due to the factory dull finish; I wouldn't do this on a laquer finish) and soft wipes, and took the steel wool to the fret wires, chrome tension hoop, chrome tailpiece, and j brackets.

It now looks almost like new; the only sign of age is that the tarnish on the tailpiece was severe enough that it did leave some pitting that only re-chroming or replacement will fix (no big deal). I wouldn't expect any more from any banjo that had been so badly mistreated. Wipe down your banjos, people!

The only damage is that some of the j brackets are bent slightly at the point where the nut screws on. The construction of the banjo is such that the hooks go from the hook shoes up to the tone hoop at a slight angle, and over time the combination of stress and this angle has caused them to bend. I don't think they were over-tightened, so I'd say this is probably the banjo's weak spot, and given enough years of normal use, it might fail. Fortunately the hooks are easily and cheaply replaced.

Considering what it's been through, I'd say this banjo's hardware is very reliable.

Reliability Rating: 9

Customer Service

Haven't dealt with Deering.

I will say this: unlike my Gold Tone banjo--which had myriad cosmetic problems out of the factory that could only have been the result of low standards or negligence--the Deering banjo was obviously flawless when it left the factory.

Customer Service: 9

Components

As previously noted, this is the old style, which has the ugly shaped headstock, plain dotted fretboard, open tuners, and white tuner grips (the new ones have a fiddle headstock, attractive wood inlay, closed tuners, and chrome grips). Its greatest component drawbacks are:
-- lack of a tone ring
-- lack of an arm rest of any kind
-- j hooks and shoe angle that seem to facilitate bending over time
-- tuners that turn too easily, so that when the tuner is bumped, it goes out of tune (even leaning it against a wall can be a problem)

Components Rating: 7

Overall Comments

This banjo sounds better than expected, and even more surprisingly has excellent intonation up the neck.

Now that I've played this banjo, others in its price range, as well as my other better one, I'd say that the plain appearance and lack of features is why I wouldn't pay over $200 for this banjo (I would pay $250 for the current model, and $300 for the current Goodtime Special, which has a tone ring, arm rest, and fancier headstock detail).

$90 was a steal, even though it needed some lovin' after I rescued it.

Overall Rating: 8

Mutes: Ultimate Banjo Mute

Submitted by AlpacaLips on 8/26/2011

Where Purchased: banjoteacher.com

Overall Comments

After reading reviews of this mute, I was surprised at how well it works. Claims that it works only half as good as Mike's mute are exaggerated I think. This mute is basically a u-shaped bit of brass, like an overweight hairpin, with a coarse bit of fuzz lining the inside where it contacts the bridge. It is surprisingly effective despite it's light weight. Unlike clamp-style mutes that attach only one way, this one can be put on the top or bottom (which allows you to mute brighter unwound strings more than lower and sometimes quieter wound strings if you want). It can also be slid only part way on, and can be adjusted in elevation for different effects. Generally, the more the banjo is muted, the more it sounds like it's encased in styrofoam.

Overall Rating: 9

Gold Tone: White Ladye WL-250

Submitted by AlpacaLips on 8/24/2011

Where Purchased: banjoteacher.com

Year Purchased: 2011
Price Paid: $750 historic exchange rates / currency converter

Sound

I'm a new player so I don't have a lot of preconceived notions about what a "good" sound is, but it does sound better to me than a Deering Goodtime and a Gold Tone CC-100R with the resonator off. It has great intonation all the way up the neck.

Sound Rating: 9

Setup

No changes have been needed. Everything seems to be where it ought to be. Bridge is set right, action is good, head seems to have appropriate tension.

Setup Rating: 10

Appearance

I love the design of this banjo. It is maple with a dark finish and ebony fretboard with abalone inlays. The banjo had several blemishes: rough spots and grime on the neck binding, a chip in the neck where it meets the ring, multiple pits and rough sanding on the inlays, and bubbles in the chrome. It looks good from a distance.

Appearance Rating: 7

Reliability

Other than the chrome bubbles which may flake off over time, everything seems to be solid, and probably long-lasting.

Reliability Rating: 9

Customer Service

I've worked with both banjoteacher.com and Gold Tone directly to get the blemish issues addressed.

Ross Nickerson at banjoteacher.com has been great: he was genuinely concerned that the banjo had problems and that I wasn't satisfied with it, and he went to bat for me with Gold Tone to get me some satisfaction (I agreed to some freebies rather than asking for a new banjo).

Gold Tone on the other hand has been pretty much a joke. The banjo took almost 3 weeks to be drop shipped from Gold Tone (no excuse for that length of time, even across country by ground). Wayne didn't express much concern about the blemishes in the banjo, or that I wasn't satisfied. He did agree to send a replacement part since I specifically asked for it, but when it arrived (once again almost 3 weeks later), it was the wrong part--one NOT EVEN FOUND ON MY BANJO. After I complained about both the wrong part and the length of time it took to get here, Gold Tone sent 3 shoes by priority mail.

Gold Tone buyers should also beware that the Gold Tone warranty requires the customer (you know--the one who DIDN'T manufacture a screwed up banjo) to pay for shipping BOTH WAYS to get warranty service, even if the problem was in fact Gold Tone's fault. If you live on the west coast, that bill could top $100 depending on how well you pack it, so if the issues are cosmetic it isn't really worth it to have Gold Tone fix their own errors unless you have a $1000+ banjo. But if/when I upgrade to a banjo in that price range, I'll have too much riding on the transaction to trust it with Gold Tone. I'd suggest considering only Gold Tone's sub-$500 banjos if you want an entry level instrument, and even then only if you don't mind cosmetic blemishes.

So in case I haven't been clear, I'm not too impressed with Gold Tone.

My customer service rating is of GOLD TONE ONLY, and does not reflect on banjoteacher.com in any way (except that he sells mainly Gold Tones).

Customer Service: 4

Components

A few of the Chinese parts obviously came through with problems, and if Gold Tone does a better quality control job for you than they did for me, you'll probably be OK.

I'm not used to the planetary tuners. The gear ratio is being touted as a big advantage, but fine tuning is difficult. I'm sure it's faster to change strings, but I do that infrequently, and I use alternate tunings every single day. I may not go with planetaries on my next banjo.

UPDATE: I now have a second banjo that I keep tuned to open-G and the WL-250 is normally Double-C tuned, so the retuning issue has largely been dealt with. Also, I've noticed that the planetary tunes stay in tune better than the guitar tuners on my Goodtime.

Components Rating: 9

Overall Comments

The banjo plays and sounds great.

Overall Rating: 8

Digital Tuners: Gold Tone CCT Tuner

Submitted by AlpacaLips on 8/24/2011

Where Purchased: Gold Tone

Overall Comments

Originally I rated this tuner a "10" and said I have no complaints about it. I've now used it a lot more and have compared it to a Snark SN-2 tuner, and find the Gold Tone tuner lacking. It works basically well, but it isn't as sensitive as the Snark. More importantly, it takes too long for the tuner to recover from its previous reading. Sometimes readings are also inconsistent. It is easy to use and read, and has an attractive readout. It has 5 modes for chromatic, guitar, banjo, ukulele, and fiddle (which for some reason is abbreviated with a "v". ;)

Overall Rating: 7

Banjo Teacher.Com

Submitted by AlpacaLips on 8/24/2011

Overall Comments

Ross Nickerson offers great packages at unbeatable prices. There were a few defects with my banjo, about which he was very apologetic and worked to resolve. Only because of his efforts did I get satisfaction from Gold Tone, who didn't seem interested in making sure I was a satisfied customer. I will happily order from http://www.banjoteacher.com again if he carries brands other than Gold Tone.

Overall Rating: 9

Cases (Hard, Flight): Gold Tone HD14

Submitted by AlpacaLips on 8/24/2011

Where Purchased: banjoteacher.com

Overall Comments

This appears to be a great case. It is very sturdy, and the inside is lined with plush synthetic fur. It fits my Gold Tone WL-250 perfectly.

I have only one small complaint about it, which is that the strap that connects the bottom with the lid to prevent it from bending too far backward tends to fold out of the case instead of in when closing, which is a bit annoying.

Overall Rating: 9

Straps: Gold Tone Cloth Strap

Submitted by AlpacaLips on 8/24/2011

Where Purchased: banjoteacher.com

Overall Comments

This is a basic cloth (nylon) black strap. It is basically an inexpensive guitar strap with leather tabs on the end specially made to connect to banjo head brackets. The tabs fold over a bracket and connect to themselves with a cufflink-like nut and bolt.

The description of this product on Gold Tone's website indicates that the nut and bolt are plastic. I suspect they had problems with durability (which could be catastrophic), because mine arrived with a metal nut and bolt. However, this isn't an ideal solution either, because the metal bolt sticks out from the leather tab about 1/4", increasing the potential for scratching. They should add a buck to the price and cover the metal with felt or something.

Also, keep in mind that this is a bare-bones strap with no padding. Unless you want it taking your head off, use it with light instruments only.

Overall Rating: 4

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