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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!

7124 reviews in the archive.

Gold Tone: OB150

Submitted by camlan on 1/22/2021

Where Purchased: Tom Lee Music North Vancouver BC

Year Purchased: 2021
Price Paid: $1000 ($US)

Sound

I have owned and do own banjos over $5000 and the OB150 sounds very strong for a $1000 banjo. I believe it is the tone ring and basic construction with real Gibson Mastertone type parts that really make this happen. This banjo has a real good bluegrass or modern tone. It has lots of sustain if you want it, all the way up the neck. Excellent quality of sound once you get a good high quality bridge - Snuffy Smith

Sound Rating: 9

Setup

They did a great job at Gold Tone and Tom Lee. Just lowered action, brought head up to G#, and put Crowe 9.5 - 20's on. Compared to other banjos, this banjo does have a bit more string tension due to the length of the nut to bridge, so be ready for that. If you like low string tension, this may not be your banjo.

Setup Rating: 8

Appearance

Looks great for a $1000 banjo and is very traditional looking. Nice craftsmanship in general and looks great. Inlays look authentic and the wood work is beautiful. Love the satin finish which is well done.

Appearance Rating: 9

Reliability

Time will tell. Looks super solid though, unlike many other brands at that price point.

Reliability Rating: 9

Customer Service

Gold Tone customer service are good people. Very eager to help with setup or any questions you may have. I am very impressed with their approach and they are very reasonable and attentive.

Customer Service: 10

Components

The banjo has solid wood and Gibson clone parts that make it sound as great as it does. I am very pleased with the components and the tuners seem fine and easy to use. Very nice case for this price point as well. Gibson-like neck with some volume to it. If you are looking for a neck like a fender electric guitar, buy a Deering.

Components Rating: 9

Overall Comments

I am very pleased with this banjo at this price point. I feel you get a lot more bang for the buck with this banjo due to the surprising build and tone you might expect from a $3000 Deering. Very impressed. Please note that this banjo has more of a Gibson traditional neck shape and slightly higher string tension. So if you have small hands, or you don't like higher tension on your strings, then you might be better off with another banjo. I have small hands but like the Gibson neck feel, and I am fine with the string tension, which I find speeds up my left hand anyway. 80% of players will likely not even notice the string tension. I was nervous buying a Chinese banjo, but this thing is really well made. Again, sounds fantastic for bluegrass or more modern styles, lots of tone range as you play out from the bridge. Gold Tone have hit this one out of the park! I will still prefer playing my $5000 Hopkins, but this is a very respectable jam and traveler banjo which was my reason for buying it. It has a very nice sound which is different than my Hopkins and so I will play both alot for variety sake.

Overall Rating: 10

Hopkins: Walnut / Chrome

Submitted by camlan on 3/9/2020

Where Purchased: Morgan Music

Year Purchased: 2020
Price Paid: Don't Remember (bought USED) historic exchange rates / currency converter

Sound

This banjo has a fresh, somewhat traditional sound but not too much of that quick decay or dusty sound. I play bluegrass and this banjo sounds fantastic compared to the many Deering, Stelling and Huber models I have owned. It has a pure sound that can get growly or clear if you want it to be. Great range of sound and very clear and loud up the neck.

Sound Rating: 10

Setup

Banjo was set by Alvin at Morgan Music and I also checked with Paul Hopkins as he walked me through measurements over the phone and the setup was/is dead perfect. Both excellent guys who will bend backwards to make you happy with your banjo!!

Setup Rating: 10

Appearance

I have owned Stellings and Hubers and the workmanship is right there. Very beautiful wood work on neck and resonator. Traditional and not too showy, but very nice all over.

Appearance Rating: 10

Reliability

I have had not issues with neck or pot, tuners work fine and banjo stays in tune.

Reliability Rating: 10

Customer Service

Alvin at Morgan Music and Paul Hopkins have been really great to work with. It a used banjo and Paul is spending hours helping me out. Who does that these days!!? Alvin gave me several different banjos long distance (Vancouver BC - Missouri ) until I landed on this Hopkins Walnut Standards Deluxe. Alvin and Paul are top of the heap.

Customer Service: 10

Components

The wood quality is first rate, the tuners and hardware are all top quality, love the 5th string tuner that you feed the string into so it does not stick out and poke you. I also love the neck shape which is medium every which way, easy in the hand and feels quick.

Components Rating: 10

Overall Comments

I don't usually blow smoke, but this thing really is a 10. This is a wonderful sounding banjo that has enough traditional sound character, but also is clear enough for more melodic styles. It looks fantastic. The customer service and support from Morgan Music and Paul Hopkins is off the charts. This is the perfect storm of professional banjos in the sub $5000 range. I have owned over 20 banjos and this one is the best so far. 

Overall Rating: 10

Bishline: Danny Barnes

Submitted by camlan on 1/19/2020

Where Purchased: Morgan Music

Year Purchased: 2020
Price Paid: Don't Remember historic exchange rates / currency converter

Sound

For a wood tone rim/ring banjo, this banjo blew my mind. I have owned 2 Hartford banjos and the Danny Barnes has to my ear a richer sound and can get plenty loud with proper technique. It is somewhat warm but surprisingly clear at the same time. For those who cross over to Roots and Newgrass, you will love the different sounds and volumes you can get out of this instrument. Truly amazing! Oh yes, you can also plug it in and rock the house!

Sound Rating: 10

Setup

Setup was perfect out of the box, I lower the tailpiece a bit to try to max the volume. The rest was perfect for what I like.

Setup Rating: 10

Appearance

The photos on the Bishline website do not lie. The wood trim and the quilted Mahogany are truly beautiful. This is a very attractive banjo and I like the black powder coat a modern accent. Very cool looking banjo.

Appearance Rating: 10

Reliability

This banjo looks bomber and all the parts are 1st class.

Reliability Rating: 10

Customer Service

Both Morgan Music and Rob Bishline (who did not even sell me the banjo) are fantastic to deal and talk to. Morgan Music is a great shop, and Rob is so helpful to people.

Customer Service: 10

Components

Tuners, tailpiece, black powdercoat flange, ring are all winning parts. The pick up is quality as well.

Components Rating: 10

Overall Comments

I have owned too many banjos from top builders, and this Danny Barnes banjo is unique sounding in a good Bluegrass & Roots way and is the easiest banjo I have ever played. I absolutely love the feel of this neck, just fits me perfectly. It feels like the next generation of design and quality. I strongly recommend this banjo. For those who play amplified, this is your axe!! Don't be scared by the wood rim/ring, this banjo is plenty loud and gutsy for playing Bluegrass. It is also a light banjo and I would strongly recommend it over other woody resonator banjos I have owned. Oh, I almost forgot, it is a better banjo for a $1500 less than anything in the same quality ballpark!

Overall Rating: 10

Bishline: Harvest

Submitted by camlan on 1/19/2020

Where Purchased: Morgan Music

Year Purchased: 2020
Price Paid: Don't Remember historic exchange rates / currency converter

Sound

This maple Harvest is one great sounding Bluegrass banjo. It is a tad more clear sounding than my Huber, but still delivers great volume and growl. The sound is still perfect for Bluegrass, but those playing more modern genres will appreciate its clarity and balance. It can be played very loudly or can produce sweeter tones at lower volumes, it has wonderful range. See video on Bishlline website to see of what I speak.

Sound Rating: 10

Setup

What can I say, perfect out of the box! Great action and I find this banjo super easy to play. It would be my most playable banjo out of the 12 I have owned.

Setup Rating: 10

Appearance

Just look at the website. It reminds me of a Deering Calico at 50% of the price. The quality of the wood, stain, inlays and workmanship are unbelievable. I have owned Stellings and Hubers and this banjo is right there on quality.

Appearance Rating: 10

Reliability

I have only owned it a short while but this thing looks bomber. It stays in tune well and I have had no issues whatsoever.

Reliability Rating: 10

Customer Service

Morgan Music are great to deal with, Alvin and his team are very polite and service oriented, they try to make things work. My banjo was well shipped and packed. Rob Bishline did not sell me the banjo and yet he was willing to offer all sorts of helpful advice on what model was right for me and even on details of setup. Don't be afraid to discuss your dream banjo with this builder, he'll set you up!

Customer Service: 10

Components

Tuners, flange, ring, hardware, and woods are all top notch, what you would find on a $4500 banjo.

Components Rating: 10

Overall Comments

I was going to buy a Deering Calico which is a fine instrument. I had tried several. But I find the Harvest every bit as beautiful and amazing sound-wise but even better on growl, clarity of notes, and it is lighter. I think it is 2+ lbs lighter than my Stelling and I can now stand with my banjo in the Bluegrass circle. It blows me away that a banjo that has this aesthetic, sound quality, and playability is $1500+ less than comparable banjos. Buy this banjo, you will not regret it!!

Overall Rating: 10

Davis: Vintage Tone Bluegrass (with Wood Ring)

Submitted by camlan on 6/17/2018

Where Purchased: Davis Banjos

Year Purchased: 2018
Price Paid: Don't Remember historic exchange rates / currency converter

Sound

It sounds amazingly like a classic bluegrass banjo up and down the neck. Excellent clarity and note separation. I've owned Deering Hartfords and they can sound a bit dark with a slight woody 'wow', but not this Davis banjo. I was not expecting it to sound so much like a great bluegrass banjo and it is almost as loud as my Huber. Up the neck you can hear every note clearly, better than many banjos I have owned. Amazing!

Sound Rating: 10

Setup

The setup is perfect and Tim really got the head and action dialled perfectly right out of the box!

Setup Rating: 10

Appearance

I asked Tim to do an early Earl Bowtie and Sunburst maple and the look and quality of construction is far better than any major brand I have owned. It is very authentic and classically beautiful.

Appearance Rating: 10

Reliability

Time will tell how it wears, but all the finish and hardware is A+. It seems to stay pretty much in tune and the tuners are really smooth and easy to get on the right note fast.

Reliability Rating: 10

Customer Service

Tim bent over backwards to figure out exactly what I wanted and he absolutely delivered. He have been super easy to deal with and a really nice guy as well. The order taking, check-ins during the build, and shipping logistics were all a breeze.

Customer Service: 10

Components

The biggest question mark and the most amazing outcome or feature of this banjo is how good the Wood Tone Ring is. Davis Banjos had my wood tone ring made by Bill Simpson and man, did he and Tim ever do a good job. This ring really delivers that bluegrass sound and the note clarity and tone is really amazing all the way up the neck. So I have great sound in a light banjo I can stand and play for hours with - Perfect!!

Components Rating: 10

Overall Comments

I started this banjo project with Tim Davis to do the seemingly impossible - build a great sounding maple banjo that looks like Earl's Bowtie, that has amazing sound, that is pure quality craftsmanship, and that is light as a feather. Well, Tim totally delivered on all points and I am totally blown away. And I am an experienced player who has owned many (read 10) banjos. Bennett Sullivan recommended Tim to me and I am so happy he did. Tim, you and your banjos are 10 out of 10!! If you have ever considered a lighter banjo for pain-free playing in your bluegrass circle, give Davis Banjos a call. You will not be disappointed.

Overall Rating: 10

Heartland (Robin Smith): Reno Custom Walnut

Submitted by camlan on 9/8/2015

Where Purchased: Heartland Banjos

Year Purchased: 2015
Price Paid: 3200 ($US)

Sound

I cannot tell you how thrilled I am with virtually all aspects of the Walnut Reno Custom. First off, the sound is exactly what I was after and it really rings true in all areas of the fret board. Delivers a balance of rich bassy growl and clear but not brash highs up the neck thanks to Rob selecting just the right piece of Walnut for the neck. Volume is good anywhere on the fretboard. Sound ring is as good as I have heard at our large bluegrass club. Sounds better that banjos in the $7000 plus price range!




Sound Rating: 10

Setup

The custom neck width and depth is perfect for my hands and the exact feel I was after. It is amazing how much more comfortable my left hand is doing some of those tougher reaches that used to bother me a bit - no more! And the string action is perfect right out of the box! Amazing how easy it is to play. Even the string gauge is better! Did add Kershner tail piece for a more substantial sound. Not a Presta fan.

Setup Rating: 10

Appearance

The colour and look of the 'antique' inlays are exactly what I was shooting for and the Reno design with the beautiful Heartland design on the peg head are really authentic and classy. The wood work and appearance of the neck, rim and especially the burl Walnut resonator are absolutely fantastic. When I look inside the banjo the finish is so clean compared to other expensive mass produced banjos.

Appearance Rating: 10

Reliability

Looks totally bomber and there are no vibrations or wolf tones to complain about. Tuners feel solid and all hardware looks pro.

Reliability Rating: 10

Customer Service

Rob has been really easy to work with and on the ball which is so refreshing. He steered me in the right direction and over delivered with the end product. Delivery time, costs, logistics and the protection of instrument through shipping were all first class. He is a nice, honest and very skilled guy.

Customer Service: 10

Components

Top of the line, American Banjo parts and added a Kershner tailpiece instead of Presta. Tuners, bridge, Remo head, and resonator are all top notch. All wood work and finish are Primo. Very beautiful.

Components Rating: 10

Overall Comments

When I compare this banjo with my friends' more expensive 'Big Name' products, I am feeling pretty darn smug!! Rob has built my dream banjo at an outstanding value and I am over the moon!! This is without question my life-long banjo and it is totally perfect in every way for me. I have already tallied about 40 hours of playing before giving this commentary and I truly feel like I am playing more comfortably, faster and with better note tone. Don't pay $2500 more for an inferior instrument, check out Heartland first!!

Overall Rating: 10

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