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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!

6966 reviews in the archive.

Tommy George : Long neck

Submitted by Alex Mal on 8/21/2014

Where Purchased: Tommy George

Year Purchased: 2014
Price Paid: 1270 ($US)

Sound

I love a versatile banjo. This one has a tubaphone tone ring that makes it sing and a pop-off resonator that makes it ring. The low low notes have some punch and the high notes are crisp. The tone is even all over the neck. I can take off the resonator and put a sock under the head for an old-timey punch, stick on a pickup under the bridge for a larger club or put on the resonator for bluegrass. I've had the banjo about a week and I've done the first two already very happily. I don't think it's as loud as a classic bluegrass banjo, but I'm not having to push to get a great sound out of it. It handles dynamics beautifully. I expect it will turn some heads and be a hit when I do get out to a bluegrass jam.

Sound Rating: 10

Setup

Excellent, easy set up. Tommy sent it with light strings and it's incredibly playable. My other banjo is a Martin Made Vega Wonder from the 60's that I've always enjoyed, but my ideas are popping out of the George in a way that I haven't expreinced before. The neck is a slightly wider profile and plays effortlessly.

Setup Rating: 10

Appearance

Beautiful, stately, simple banjo. Tommy made it to every specification I asked for and sent me pictures along the way so there really wasn't any risk of it being anything less. There's a fleur-de-lis on the headstock and a George stamp on the back of the head. Beautiful Red-ish mahagony color.

Appearance Rating: 10

Reliability

Only had it a week, so who can tell if everything will last. That being said, all the components are excellent and feels solid. I don't foresee any issues. In fact, I think I'll drag this banjo from place to place for decades.

Reliability Rating: 10

Customer Service

If I could give Tommy a 15 in this category, I would. Very hands on and accomadating. Always in touch as the banjo progressed. I wanted something specific and he made sure that I got it.

Customer Service: 10

Components

No complaints on anything. The neck is exceptional. The pop-off resonator is spaced the way a bluegrass resonator is, so it's very uesful.

Components Rating: 10

Overall Comments

About a year ago I went to Banjo Camp North and realized that I wanted to upgrade my banjo.  It's not that my vega wasn't good enough, but I realized that a better banjo would make me feel more inspired.  I started shopping around.  Played a few banjos that I really liked.  I talked to reps from a few of the big banjo makers in the US, thought about trying to finagle an artist sponsorship but realized that even with a sponsorship the ideal banjo for me would be out of my price range.

I wanted a banjo that wasn't too dark or too brash, that I could play my original songs on and bring to a old-timey jam or bluegrass jam respectfully. I wanted a banjo with that ever-elusive mojo: a combination of sound and playability.  I wanted two extra frets to get some low John Hartford sounds.  I like Pete Seeger's "pluck" so I wanted a tubaphone tone ring.  Tommy delivered. 

If my needs change, I may want a thunky-er old time banjo or a brasher bluegrass banjo (or both).  If that day comes, I'll go to Tommy George again.  His craftsmanship is excellent and prices can't be beat for a professional level instrument.  I'm glad I took the risk on getting a banjo made from someone I've never met and no one in my circle of friends knows of. 

Overall Rating: 10

vega/martin: Wonder

Submitted by Alex Mal on 11/16/2013

Where Purchased: Unknown

Year Purchased: 1971
Price Paid: Don't Remember (bought USED) historic exchange rates / currency converter

Sound

Sounds great. A versatile banjo for bluegrass or clawhammer. This banjo has a good "ring" that could be made to go either way. I bought a good new bridge for it and a rennasaince head because the old ones were dead. Decent response across the whole range of the instrument. Loses a point for not being as loud as a real bluegrass instrument. Loses another point for being hard to get a good ring in the high end.
Hear for yourself:
http://alexmallett.bandcamp.com/album/the-alex-mallett-band

Sound Rating: 8

Setup

This banjo was in my uncle's closet for about 40 years and handed over to me. The setup after all that time was OK, but you always want to tinker with these things. This banjo has a good neck.

Setup Rating: 8

Appearance

Simple and noble. A fine banjo. Nice sunburt on the back of the neck which is a joy to look at.

Appearance Rating: 9

Reliability

I play this banjo on almost every gig--singer-songwriter, clawhammer and bluegrass. As I said--I like it's versatility. It can go either way. It's just bright enough to play bluegrass, but not too bright to play claw-hammer. Plus, it's quite light so I'm very comfortable on stage. I love the big ringing tone of a bluegrass instrument, but hate feeling the oppression of gravity when I'm singing.

Reliability Rating: 10

Customer Service

N/A

Customer Service: not rated

Components

Replaced the bridge and head. Might consider changing the tone ring if I really wanted to push the banjo in either direction.

Components Rating: 8

Overall Comments

A very solid just-good-enough to be professional banjo.  I'll probably upgrade at some point, but I'm also quite happy with this so I don't feel any pressure to.  Definitely great to learn on as you start to define your sound.  It helps that this banjo was a gift, but I'm still very happy to have it and use it.

I used it on my entire first record here:

http://alexmallett.bandcamp.com/album/the-alex-mallett-band

 

Overall Rating: 9

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