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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!

6855 reviews in the archive.

Capos: Kat Eyz B and C and guitar capo

Submitted by budbennett on 9/27/2016

Where Purchased: Kay Eyz online

Overall Comments

I bought a Kat Eyz capo years ago when Mike Smith was making them.  I was always intrigued by them and when he started making them out of brass I bought one.  I used it for years and never had any problem in any way with it until the leather pad fell off one day (it was used a lot, so the pad falling off isn't a worry).  I loved the capo and so glued a piece of leather in its place and kept on using it, only the glue I used wasn't holding and the leather kept falling off.  I eventually and reluctantly threw the capo in a drawer and moved on to a Paige.

I recently learned from Phil Wyatt, the new owner, that they are guaranteed and so I sent it to Phil and he performed some sort of time travelling magic on it and completely refurbished, cleaned, polished and mailed it back to me better than new.  Double thumbs up for Phil, and for Kat Eyz capos.  

Soon as I can I am going to order a second one to go on another banjo, they are great capos.  

 

Overall Rating: 10

Bridges: Purcell Bridge

Submitted by budbennett on 8/16/2016

Where Purchased: http://www.purcell-banjo-bridges.com/

Overall Comments

Despite having played and owned banjos since the mid 1970s, I have had very limited experience swapping out bridges.  I am a status-quo kind of guy.  I was briefly obsessed with Jerry Rabun's experiments but that represents about all my bridge trys.  So, a  few weeks ago when I was taking apart one of my Stellings to photograph for my Banjo Construction Photo Archive, I noticed that the bridge was pretty wallowed out.  Suddenly a light came on over my head and I realized that was why that banjo always had an intonation issue.  Sometimes the really obvious escapes me....... That was the bridge that came on the banjo in 1990 when I bought it, so I guess it didn't owe me anything at this point so I decided to buy a new one.  Since I had just interviewed John Bullard and he talked about the Purcell bridges that he likes, so I thought I would give that one a try.   I bought an 11/16 standard spacing Roasted Red Maple bridge.  Since I very rarely change bridges (I went through a short time being obsessed with Jerry Rabun's bridges but that was my only venture into bridge territory), I didn't really expect a radical change.  I also didn't have the Stelling with me that I bought it for so I put it on a different Stelling to try it out in the meantime.  Man......... that roasted red maple REALLY blew the doors off.  

Because I am suspicious by nature, I figured the change in sound and all was my imagination so I played that a while and then put the bridge that was on (another original Stelling bridge- reclaimed sunken birch I think, this one from early 2000s) before back on and played that a while.  There was a real noticeable difference in volume, decay, and strength.  It is hard to describe sound.  I went back and forth a few times and the Stelling bridge had a hollow and not very punchy sound compared to the Purcell.  The Purcell sounds punchy, loud, crisp, quick....strong.  I was and am really amazed and have swapped back and forth a few times since and I think the difference is real.  I didn't want to take it off and so have ordered another to go to the banjo I originally bought it for.  I am just amazed at the difference- and again, I am very suspicious by nature.  

Purcell Roasted Red Maple.  Thumbs up!

Overall Rating: 10

Recording King: RK T36

Submitted by budbennett on 6/16/2015

Where Purchased: online

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

Sound

POWERFUL!!! Great tone for what I want to play on it, which is 1920-1950 jazz. It sounds great.

Sound Rating: 10

Setup

Actually, when I took the banjo out of the box, it was still in tune! Shipped all the way from California to Virginia and still in tune. Fantastic. Played like a dream right out of the box.

Setup Rating: 10

Appearance

Fantastic craftmanship. People whine about banjos made in China but if this one is any indication.......people should stop whining. This banjo was beautiful and fantastic.

Appearance Rating: 10

Reliability

Totally awesome hardware and finish. I have hung my 1927 B&D on the wall for now. It is RK T36 for me now when playing out.

Reliability Rating: 10

Customer Service

Very friendly, very communicative. Very personable. Thumbs up.

Customer Service: 10

Components

20 hole tonering. Nice tuners. Excellent inlay.

Components Rating: 10

Overall Comments

 This banjo kicks ass!  Thumbs up to Recording King, Greg Rich and all involved in this banjo!  MANY THANKS!

Overall Rating: 10

Bridges: Jerry Rabun Nerdgoggles Bridge

Submitted by budbennett on 12/26/2008

Where Purchased: directly from Jerry

Overall Comments

I contacted Jerry about building me a bridge for my Stealth. I didn't have any solid complaints about the bridge I had already, just vague dissatisfaction of how the banjo sounded in a big room or outside. I wanted more power and always felt the Stealth had more in there just itching to come out. I told Jerry what I wanted and gave him my measurement particulars ( I like a TALL bridge and the Stealth has odd string placement so it was a custom job for sure).

When I got the bridge I put it on and right out of the box the tone and volume and power of my Stealth was increased. I notice much better note separation, much better volume and a tone that was a very nice surprise-crisp maybe is a word I would use for it. My Stealth now projects and the single string work I like to do sounds much better and the sustain I get for slow things is very much improved now. I will definitely be calling Jerry again for my bridge needs.

Overall Rating: 10

Nechville: Phantom

Submitted by budbennett on 8/27/2008

Where Purchased: Turtle Hill

Year Purchased: 2008
Price Paid: $3500- $4,000 ($US)

Sound

I was looking for a banjo that sounded different from my others and listened to a lot of them. When I heard the Phantom, I decided that one was the one for me. The tone is different, hard to describe- crisp, rich, woody, organic? I don't know a good word to use but it's wonderful. I play mostly classical and new age like music on this banjo and the tone for that is wonderful.

I have found that by cranking down the head I can quickly and easily change the tone to more of a bluegrass sound and i have done that and the banjo really cracks and carries.

I really like that the banjo is so easily adjustable and versatile.

Sound Rating: 9

Setup

I had a non-standard head put on mine and the thing about that is that i needed to not be afraid to crank the head really tight on it. i was kind of concerned or afraid that by tightening the head tighter than i thought it should be would choke off tone but i was totally wrong. one time that i knew tom was going to be coming near me i contacted him to have him set up the banjo for me and after listening to me play a bit, he immediately cranked the head WAY tighter than i had it and BAM the sound changed about a zillion times for the better. suddenly my banjo that sounded great to me before he touched it now sounded GREAT to me.

Setup Rating: 8

Appearance

It's gorgeous. Beautiful walnut burl, first rate finish, not a single thing to complain about. I love the look and everyone else does too.

Appearance Rating: 10

Reliability

The only reason I would bring another banjo with me to a job is if I were going to be playing both traditional and classical music. The Phantom is reliable, consistant and I don't foresee any trouble with it.

Reliability Rating: 10

Customer Service

I bought the banjo from Turtle HIll and contacted Dave via phone and internet. Dave is a first rate standup guy and I recommend him to everyone. Dave was approachable by email, answered in a timely manner, was factual and honest, and he even gave me a free capo and hand delivered my banjo to me due to a convenient situation. I spent an hour or so with him and enjoyed it very much and I look forward to buying from him again.

one time i wanted a new head and a higher bridge I contacted Tom Nechville and Al Price and they were very helpful and informative. Tom made me a custom height bridge and Al had a new head sent to me. Both did this without asking for money first and trusted my honesty and integrity and THAT is not something you see every day. I completely trust them and applaud them for it. I truly cannot imagine better customer service than what I got from both Turtle Hill and Nechville. Fantastic people and fantastic service!

Customer Service: 10

Components

The look of this banjo is fantastic. The tone is fantastic. The neck plays fantastic. I wouldn't change a thing.

Something different for me is that i also have a tenor banjo neck that i put on the phantom pot. at first i only used the banjo as a 5 string, then i was using it 50/50 5 string and tenor, now i find i use it mostly for tenor. if i had the money i'd buy another pot so i could have one tenor and one 5 string but i don't, so i just swap back and forth when the mood strikes me. takes 7-10 minutes to go from playing a song on the 5 string to playing a song on the tenor. because of the short amount of time it takes to switch, i just havn't justified it to myself that i should buy a second pot. i REALLY want a second pot though, just can't justify it.

Components Rating: 10

Overall Comments

If this banjo was stolen I would call Dave at Turtle Hill and have him order me another just like it. I love the tone and playability.

I suggest if anyone is considering a Phantom to try and hear one in person, they are a little different sounding from other banjos. I for one count that as a big plus too. In my opinion, variety is the spice of life in terms of tone.

Overall Rating: 10

John Boulding

Submitted by budbennett on 8/27/2008

Overall Comments

I took two banjos to John for adjusting and setting up. I found him to be professional, helpful, friendly and straight forward, and the work he did was helpful and exactly what my banjos needed.

John's shop is clean, interesting to look at, and easy to find. I sat with him while he worked and we chatted and I felt welcome and happy to be there. I felt that John listened to what I had to say and did for my banjos what *I* needed for him to do. My banjos might have been fine for someone else, but I needed a few specific things done and he did them and did them well. Should I ever need any of my instruments worked on again, I'm going to John.

John is in Mount Airy NC by the way.

Overall Rating: 10

Stelling: Whitestar

Submitted by budbennett on 10/25/2007

Where Purchased: The Bluegrass Connection (West Virginia)

Year Purchased: 1991
Price Paid: 1550 ($US)

Sound

The sound was (at least to my ears) the sound of an archtop. I loved the archtop sound and when I played this banjo the first time I was in love with it. The sound was strong and loud and had a lot of power. Over the years my ears grew tired of the archtop sound though, so I replaced the bridge and head and now it sounds amazingly full and rich and "mature". It sounds different by far than my other banjo (Stealth) and I love it.

Sound Rating: 9

Setup

I bought this new in 1991 and basically the day after I got it home I had a job and played it at the job. Other than tightening the head and occasionally moving the bridge to correct intonation occasionally, I never did a thing to the banjo, so the setup was perfect. I'm not a tinkerer, so basically as I bought the banjo in 1991, so it is now. At least so it was until I brought it to Stelling last month and asked him to refret it and give me a new head and bridge.

Setup Rating: 10

Appearance

It's beautiful. The finish is the Stelling Cremora finish and the binding is black with a white stripe in it. The inlay is the standard snowflake inlay for the Whitestar and it's very understated and beautiful. The resonator on it is gorgeous, curly maple I guess it is.

As far as inlay goes, I'm an all or nothing kind of guy. I like either no inlay at all or over-the-top tree of life kind of stuff. The inlay on the Whitestar is about as close to no inlay as you could get and still have some, so I'm happy with it. Occasionally I kind of wish it had either more or less though but not very often, mostly I'm very happy with the snowflakes.

Appearance Rating: 9

Reliability

I've had this banjo since 1991 and other than a bit of tarnish on the armrest, and a bit of buckle rash (which amuses me because I don't wear a buckle, so it's actually rivet rash from my jeans), it looks almost like new.

Reliability Rating: 9

Customer Service

In 1991 I was looking to buy a Stelling. I called around and the Bluegrass Connection in West Virginia had one and they are relatively close to me so I decided to go to them for it. I ended up talking to them on the phone about it probably a half dozen times before I went there actually. Anyway, I went and played every banjo they had in the shop and quickly settled on the Stelling. I proudly walked to the counter with the Stelling in one hand and my shiny new credit card in the other.......the owner of the shop looked at me, I looked at him, he looked at me, I looked at him..... "um, we don't take credit cards" he said. I was crushed. He offered to do this and that for me, but I decided to get in the car and go home and wait until I could scrape together the cash, so that's what I did. Once I got the money, I called to make sure the banjo was still there and it was so I sent a cashiers check and a note asking if it was at all possible if he could get it to me by Wednesday because I had a job that night and I patiently waited. On Tuesday I came home from work and guess what- the shop owner had personally driven my banjo the two hours from his shop to my house! Why? Because he couldn't get a guarantee that it would arrive before Wednesday. I was stunned then and still now over that customer service.

Fast forward to 2007- I wanted the banjo to be refretted so called Geoff Stelling and he said he'd do it, so I drove it to him and dropped it off. He did the work and called when it was done and I drove back down to pick it up. His shop was very cool. His workers are all extremely friendly and did fantastic work on my Whitestar. I asked for a refret but got a refret and a lot more- the guys in the shop noticed some dings and scratches and they fixed them! Geoff noticed a few problems and he fixed them. When I picked it up, all of the shop guys came to meet me and we stood around and talked about my banjo and they had some advice and words of wisdom about it. I am completely amazed at the level of customer service from Stelling.

Customer Service: 10

Components

The sound is full and powerful and the looks are great.

Components Rating: 9

Overall Comments

You will not go wrong buying a Stelling. If you get a Stelling and have a problem, Geoff is right there to answer your questions. Every time I've written he replies the same day. When I call, he or Sherry are there to answer the phone. They are amazingly great to work with.

Overall Rating: 10

Stealth: Standard

Submitted by budbennett on 5/22/2007

Where Purchased: bought from Scott Vestal

Year Purchased: 2007
Price Paid: $3000 ($US)

Sound

The sound of this Stealth is deep, full and rich. My other banjo is a Stelling and that has the classic Stelling tone and punch, so the Stealth by comparison is probably even more deep and full. I wanted the Stealth because I wanted something to use for solo banjo and I felt like it had the deep richness I was looking for- I was NOT disappointed!

I had heard from some people that the Stealth has a hollow sound but I don't find that to be true, I find it full and rich. I also find that this one has more bass response than any banjo I have ever played. the 4th string is very present on it, but more than anything, the 3rd string really sounds different than I have ever experienced. sometimes just for fun I'll play the third string by itself- slides, single string scales, random fretting of it just to hear the tone of that string- It's very interesting and pleasureable.

Sound Rating: 10

Setup

The Stealth is different from other banjos- the action on the neck is about normal but the strings are much higher off the head and are more widely spaced at the bridge. For me that was like a dream come true but it's different so people might want to be aware of that. It comes with pretty light guage strings which I don't much care for, so I will change those to Stelling Medium Heavies as soon as I get a chance.

The action on the neck is great for me, I have no complaints at all. What I especially love about the neck is that it's wider than other banjos and there is more room all the way up to the nut between strings. For me, that makes doing single string work much easier and makes for bigger and wilder chokes.

Setup Rating: 9

Appearance

I love the appearance of this banjo. The Stealth look is very streamlined and "cool". I will probably buy a black frosted head and put that on at some point but for now it's the standard white head. I asked Scott to make me an ebony armrest so it would match the neck and that thing is beautiful. A bit of grain is visible and it's smooth and very nice to touch. I love the feel of wood on my arm instead of metal.

I ordered a mahogany one and when I talked to Scott about him making this, I mentioned that I really like to see woodgrain. I knew that getting a mahogany banjo wouldn't really give me much in the way of grain as compared to maple or walnut, but I wanted some grain to see. I think he must have chosen wood with that in mind because there's a lot of grain for me because the grain on this banjo. The heel and my side of the resonator are very grainy and I love that.

The Stealth look isn't for everyone, but it sure is for me!

Appearance Rating: 10

Reliability

The hardware looks great, everything seems totally first rate and solid. The tuning pegs turn very smoothly (Gotoh) and I love that I can get a very fine tuning with them- I think that has to do with the tuning ratio- 16:1 I think.

The tailpiece is a Presto and that looks good and seems A-ok to me. The flange looks great too.

Reliability Rating: 10

Customer Service

Scott and I communicated via email the whole time he was making the banjo. When I first contacted him about making me a Stealth he gave me his phone number (it's on the website too) and said I could call or email him anytime. I asked him a lot of questions about finish and wood and heads and fingerboards and every time he answered me promptly and politely. Several times I told him what I was thinking and asked his opinion on some things- most of the time his opinion differed from mine and I LIKE that. He was clearly reading my notes and giving me his opinion and not just agreeing with what I said.

In this day and age, I find it comforting to know I can contact someone I don't know and ask them to make me something, then send them a big pile of money (you pay half when you ask him to make the banjo and the second half before he sends it to you) and trust that they will do what they say they will. I trusted him and was in no way disappointed in the final result.

Customer Service: 10

Components

My Stealth came with a TKL Zero Gravity case. I really like that case- it's very easy to carry around because it has straps on the back so I can carry it like a backpack. Since I bring my banjo to work every day that makes things really easy for me. It might not be the best case in the world but it sure is convenient.

Components Rating: 8

Overall Comments

If this banjo was stolen I would call Scott and order another one ASAP. The tone and playability of the Stealth is unlike any other banjo I have ever played (I've been playing for about 30 years). The radiused neck, the string spacing both on the bridge and on the neck are a dream to work with. The look is very cool and different and I have to admit, I love that.

One thing i really like also is that there is no inlay on the neck. For a little while I was nervous about that but after a day or two I didn't think about it again. Having no inlays isn't nearly as confusing as I thought it would be- I don't miss them at all.

I was lucky enough to play a Stealth for a few hours before I contacted Scott- not everyone can do that but I think if you possibly can do it, you should play one first because they really are different from other banjos. More than anything else, I think the spacing and string height at the bridge should probably be experienced before you lay cash on the line. For me the first time I touched one, I loved the spacing and height but I imagine some might not like it. So IF you play one first and can deal with that, I recommend 100% a Stealth. If you can't play one first, maybe you should talk to someone who has one for a good while because like I said, it's different from other banjos.

In my opinion, because of the neck radius and string spacing and height at the bridge, this is the best banjo I have ever played. I don't imagine I'll ever get rid of this but I might but another, maybe a walnut one next time so I can overload on the woodgrain.

Overall Rating: 10

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