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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!

6776 reviews in the archive.

Pisgah: Rambler with Dobson Tone Ring

Submitted by Burghauser on 9/16/2015

Where Purchased: Direct from Pisgah

Year Purchased: 2015
Price Paid: Don't Remember historic exchange rates / currency converter

Sound

The sound is bright and raw, with plenty of that deep, liquid plunk that’s so nutritious to the Old Time connoisseur. The fifth string, however, produced some harsh overtones, which were addressed by my neighborhood luthier without much ado.

I was experiencing some vague, elusive frustration with the general sound profile until I discovered that I was playing much too aggressively. Once I lightened my touch a bit, the remarkably full range of the Rambler could express itself.

Sound Rating: 9

Setup

Notwithstanding the overtones mentioned above, the setup is very good. My playing style, however, required that I make some adjustments to sedate a certain part of the higher-end spectrum. I put in a Stockwell moon bridge (11/14”, medium weight) and a Fiberskyn head.

Setup Rating: 9

Appearance

All of Pisgah’s instruments are basic without feeling no-frills. Many of their competitors produce banjos that look so warmly regal, fragrant, smoky and perfect (the banjo equivalent of a single-malt whiskey) that they’re a little intimidating. The Pisgah Rambler is the sort of instrument you feel much more comfortable cultivating a long, relaxed rapport with. There’s something about the maple Dobson-style heel that feels vaguely like a human limb once it’s been warmed by use.

The Rambler takes Pisgah’s aesthetic signature (you can spot a Pisgah banjo at a hundred yards), and gracefully enlarges it. The 11-inch spun-over pot feels compact and taut, nicely counterbalancing the gently buxom excess of the neck.

Appearance Rating: 10

Reliability

Reliability Rating: 10

Customer Service

In a community suffering no shortage of very nice guys, Patrick Heavner manages to stand out as a very, very nice guy. He’s generous with his expertise, and responds to email with almost eerie speed.

Customer Service: 10

Components

My only concern regards the tension-hoop: although it’s beveled, the hooks seem made for notches. This prevents the general fit from being absolutely perfect. If asked for input, I’d recommend that the hooks be matched to the hoop with much greater particularity.

Components Rating: 9

Overall Comments

An artist struggles not just for competence, but also for a distinctive voice. It’s one thing for a musician to achieve this. But for a luthier to do so requires an entirely different order of ability. In my experience (I’m on my second Pisgah), these banjos materialize from a vision that’s spare and intelligent—a vision whose verve, boldness and dynamism can only emerge from a thorough, comfortable relationship with the past.

 

Overall Rating: 9

Pisgah: 12” Fretless Possum

Submitted by Burghauser on 6/21/2014

Where Purchased: Direct from Builder

Year Purchased: 2014
Price Paid: Don't Remember historic exchange rates / currency converter

Sound

The sound manages to be simultaneously crystalline and resonant. It’s got plenty of plunk, but never at the expense of those glittering highs. The sound is earthy, organic.

Sound Rating: 10

Setup

At my request, Patrick set the neck so that the banjo might accommodate an 11/16 bridge. Overall, the banjo has that curious, warm solidity I associate with very good heirloom furniture.

My only critical observation regards the nut: it doesn’t seem perfectly snug between the fretboard and peghead overlay. This doesn’t effect the tone, but a good clean fit always inspires confidence.

Setup Rating: 9

Appearance

It's downright lovely.

Appearance Rating: 10

Reliability

Although it’s too early to say, I expect only good things.

Reliability Rating: 10

Customer Service

Proprietor Patrick Heavner was almost eerily quick in responding to emails—and was, of course, friendly and helpful.

Customer Service: 10

Components

The components are superior. Smooth tuners, attractive no-knot tailpiece, etc.

Although it seems a little crabby to mention it, I can’t help but observe that: (a) the banjo lacks an armrest, and (b) an armrest would come in handy. It’s a pity, since I’d be curious to see what Pisgah (with its aesthetic and environmental commitments) would come with in the armrest department. Until then, I’ve ordered a cherry Thin-Line armrest which should match the instrument nicely.

Components Rating: 10

Overall Comments

The Pisgah Possum has that simplicity, that purity, both of tone and design that reminds me of why I fell in love with old time music in the first place. Ironically enough, it’s pretty audacious to build so simple an instrument. Without any bling, bells or whistles to distract you, any defect, however slight, would become embarrassingly conspicuous. It’s a testament to Patrick’s skill and focus that the Possum withstands even the most careful scrutiny. 

Overall Rating: 10

Deering: Sierra Openback

Submitted by Burghauser on 12/15/2012

Where Purchased: Banjo.com

Year Purchased: 2012
Price Paid: 1,895.00 ($US)

Sound

This marvelous banjo has quite a range—it can go from bell-like and angelic to snarling. It’s so responsive that it comes very close to playing itself. No problem, all the way up the neck. It differs from Asian imports in roughly a thousand ways that announce themselves the moment you pick it up. Those folks at Deering must be sorcerers.


Sound Rating: 10

Setup

Custom heel-cut to accommodate a high bridge, tight head, standard light/medium strings.

Setup Rating: 10

Appearance

The appearance is restrained and tasteful. All craftsmanship was, of course, absolutely flawless.

Appearance Rating: 10

Reliability

It's built like a tank.

Reliability Rating: 10

Customer Service

The folks both at Deering and Banjo.com were extremely helpful.

Customer Service: 10

Components

Components Rating: 10

Overall Comments

This banjo is a gem.

Overall Rating: 10

Picks: Hook's Profesional Banjo Thimbles

Submitted by Burghauser on 6/7/2012

Where Purchased: From Mr. Hooks

Overall Comments

I can’t figure out why these things aren’t explosively popular—they’re terrific, and useful for any old-time style of play.

Overall Rating: 10

Gold Tone: Maple Mountain MM-150

Submitted by Burghauser on 5/6/2012

Where Purchased: banjo.com

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

Sound

Super clear and gentle

Sound Rating: 9

Setup

The head needed some tightening—beyond that, very good.

Setup Rating: 9

Appearance

Simple design. A humble little instrument.

Appearance Rating: 9

Reliability

Looks pretty durable.

Reliability Rating: 9

Customer Service

Customer Service: not rated

Components

The tuners sort of stink. Everything else is solid.

Components Rating: 9

Overall Comments

I recognize that real banjo nerds might giggle dismissively at this instrument. Nevertheless, it’s a whole lot of fun to play. It’s got great snap and clarity. I find myself frequently passing over my much more expensive Tubaphone to screw around with the MM-150.

Overall Rating: 9

Gold Tone: Ot-800 long neck

Submitted by Burghauser on 5/6/2012

Where Purchased: banjo.com

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

Sound

The sound is solid and powerful.

Sound Rating: 9

Setup

I get some annoying buzz on the fifth string. I think this has to do with the fact that although it’s tuned lower than a standard, the distance between the fifth string peg and the tailpiece is the same as on a G-scale. The string is a little slack, therefore, and bounces around. I tried a heavier string gauge. Sure enough, the buzz went away; however, it made it tougher to retune in other keys. Also, the 5th string peg falls out every time I replace the strings.

Setup Rating: 7

Appearance

The inlay is nice. When it arrived, however, the neck and body binding were a little smudged and chipped. The fingerboard had some tiny circular scratches, as if a slightly-too-heavy sandpaper was applied just prior to shipping. The whole thing looked gently used, actually. I’ll concede that my aesthetic standards might be a little high, so take my commentary accordingly.

Appearance Rating: 7

Reliability

It's too early to tell.

Reliability Rating: not rated

Customer Service

Customer Service: not rated

Components

The tuners are very nice.

Components Rating: not rated

Overall Comments

I find the long neck essential for vocal accompaniment—this one certainly does the job. It sounds pretty good, and will have to suffice until I can afford a Vega.

Overall Rating: 8

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