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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!

6773 reviews in the archive.

Backyard Music: Fireside (Assembled)

Submitted by alvacouch on 8/14/2012

Where Purchased: Direct from Backyard Music

Year Purchased: 2012
Price Paid: $145 ($US)

Sound

This is the ultimate practice banjo. Relatively quiet, with a wood head rather than a drumhead. I bought it for practice rather than performance, and am completely satisfied with it in that role.

Sound Rating: 10

Setup

The banjo action was perfect when I purchased it. It is not adjustable and didn't require adjustment. A slight buzzing of the drone string was easily remedied.

Setup Rating: 9

Appearance

This is a no-frills mountain banjo. That being said, it is quite nice looking for the price. The finish is an oil finish that is easily renewed (and one's hands actually help it).

Appearance Rating: 9

Reliability

It is darn near indestructible. I regularly carry it around in the roughest of conditions, e.g., in a backpack. The wood head is not something to worry about. I bought it because I knew I was going to bounce it around, and it has stood up well. I have not owned it long enough to know whether the setup is stable. But so far, the action is fine.

Reliability Rating: 10

Customer Service

The company was very accomodating and satisfaction is their primary goal.

Customer Service: 10

Components

The banjo is intended for practice and as a low-cost entry instrument. I would not have bought it if it were more expensive. It serves its purpose well and at a very desirable price point. I would not "improve" it at the cost of making it too expensive.

Components Rating: 10

Overall Comments

This banjo has served its purpose so well that I bought another for my office, and a fretless. I have another fretless on order for my office. It is not a "performance" instrument, but for my purposes of quiet clawhammer practice, it is ideal.

Update: A few years have gone by. I own four of these (one of each of fireside, fireside fretless, basic, and basic fretless) and they get played daily. The basics are at the office and the firesides at home. Their incredibly light weight and durability has encouraged me to hang them where I'll pick them up and play them. The only thing to watch out for is that the fretted instruments lose intonation rather frequently because the wood head is slicker than a drum head and the bridges tend to slide around as the banjos are retuned. I am amazed that the necks are still straight after several years of being kept tuned up with no truss rods!

Overall Rating: 10

Backyard Music: Fireside Fretless (Assembled)

Submitted by alvacouch on 8/14/2012

Where Purchased: Direct from Backyard Music

Year Purchased: 2012
Price Paid: 155 ($US)

Sound

It's an ideal practice instrument for fretless. I opted for nylgut strings, which makes it a very quiet banjo. I do not amplify it; I use it solely for practice. Its quiet tone is ideal for that. So I rate it as "totally suitable for its intended purpose".

Sound Rating: 10

Setup

The setup is fixed; there is no adjustment. That being said, it needed none. The drone string sometimes skipped out of its bridge slot; I deepened the slot a hair and that is no longer a problem. Because of the low tensions on nylgut strings, I doubt that I will ever have to adjust anything.

Setup Rating: 10

Appearance

This is a basic no-frills mountain banjo. Wood inlays at frets 1,2,3,5,7,10,12 greatly help the fretless beginner and are aesthetically pleasing. It looks like what it is; a basic banjo made for practice and just starting out.

Appearance Rating: 10

Reliability

It is darn near indestructible. I bought it to carry it around a lot and it stands up well to that. The finish is an oil-finish, easily renewed with watco oil. The plywood drumhead is strong and resists damage well. The hardware is basic but sturdy and easily repairable if it does have problems. It's a basic banjo, intended for travel, and it lives up to that rating well.

Reliability Rating: 10

Customer Service

The company has been very helpful in several interactions. I've bought a few banjos from them.

Customer Service: 10

Components

This is a practice banjo intended to allow people to try fretless for small money. I would not upgrade components at the expense of making the price less attractive.

Components Rating: 10

Overall Comments

I read a lot about fretless but the entry-level prices for quality fretless banjos were too high. given my lack of confidence that I could actually play the thing. Then I read that backyard music makes fretless models on demand, on a limited basis. The price was 1/8 of what I was quoted for a "real" fretless model, and got beneath my price point for "experimentation". So, I took the risk.

A few months later, I can say that it is one of the best investments I ever made, and I'm considering ordering a "real fretless" now that I've built up confidence. I play it about an hour a day. The price drew me in, and hooked me.

I would very strongly recommend this banjo to anyone considering trying fretless, but not sure whether they can "do it" or not. It hooked me and reeled me in. It'll do that to you, too.

Overall Rating: 10

Mutes: Mike's Banjo Mute

Submitted by alvacouch on 1/29/2012

Where Purchased: Mike's web store

Overall Comments

A work of art. I purchased this mute for practice purposes so that I will not disturb wife or neighbors. It outperforms all of my expectations. The main thing I like about it is that it does not affect sustain. Tone and sustain are (for me, as a novice) the most difficult things to master, and the mute allows me to know whether I am getting close (or not) to the proper tone. I mainly use it on an inexpensive resonator, but also use it it on a wood-head open-back practice banjo, and it works similarly, but does not attenuate the sounds nearly as much as it does on a resonator. One satisfied customer.

Update after two years of use: This mute remains the best that I have tried for steel strings: I use it regularly on a steel-stringed Ramsey Woody with great satisfaction.  I have also tried the tenor version on steel strings with similar satisfying results. I have found very few mutes that perform acceptably with nylon strings. This one does "alright" with some buzzing, but is not optimal. For steel strings I reach for this one every single time.

Overall Rating: 10

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