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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!

7185 reviews in the archive.

Banjo Compass/Watch and Learn/Geoff Hohwald: Banjo Up the Neck Improvisation

Submitted by thisoldman on 2/2/2018

Where Purchased: Reverb (online)

Overall Comments

This is one of Geoff's offerings on improvisation, one of 4.  You get a DVD of Geoff explaining/teaching, demonstrating, as well practice tracks at slow and faster tempos. And a book of tab with all the examples.  

In Part I you learn and practice 2 picking patterns, as well as a Glick using the a partial  "D" chord shape  (like the Cumberland Gap/Sally Goodin lick I believe) where you are shown how to incorporate alternate notes on the 11th fret of the second string.  

In Part 2 you learn to add a slide (on the 2nd string) to the lick you learned in Part 2, plus a couple of picking patterns to practice that. You also learn a G lick (at the 10th fret, strings 1,2 and 5) using chokes.

Part 3 brings you a C position" lick (using the "F" shape for partial C or Em chord shapes on strings 1 - 3), plus adding a slide to that lick and/or alternate notes on the 10th fret of the second string.

Then in Part 4 you will learn and practice some other variations of the lick you learned in Part 3.

In Part 5 You get some "high up the neck" licks (some very much like the "teardrop" lick I believe) and some high position G(from the 14th to 17th frets) licks. 

Finally, in Part 6 your work on some "extended licks", extending the variations you learned in Part 1 and 2, adding notes from the 12th fret on the first string.

I haven't had the book for a long time.  To be honest, learning that lick in Part 1 has been slowing me down, but it is becoming easier and cleaner.  However, if you don't want to add the variations or slides, you can certainly stick with the "basic" version of the lick until your skills improve.  There is some debate about the fretting fingering with that lick, whether to use 2 or 3 fingers, and I am finding that it is easier for me at this time to fret the 1st and 2nd strings, and add the 3rd finger (on the 3rd string) when needed.  There are basically 3 chord shapes you use. One I call the slant shape on the first 2 or three strings (for the G lick), then a V or arrow shape for the C position (8th - 10th frets) lick and the E minor shaped lick (7th and 8th frets, for example).   I am getting far enough into the book that I am seeing that these shapes are movable. I am sure there a a few other things I am missing in this description, but you will eventually find that out on your own if you get the package..  So -- lots of good instruction, examples and demonstrations, plus plenty of opportunity to practice within the context of playing tunes.  You can get this package from Geoff at Watch and Learn, Inc., the Banjo Compass website or on Reverb.  You can also see some of these ideas in videos on his website or on Youtube.  And not only can you use this to learn up the neck improvisation, you could incorporate much of what you learn here into your up the neck backup.  

Overall Rating: 10

Janet Davis: Up The Neck

Submitted by thisoldman on 2/1/2018

Where Purchased: Elderly.com

Overall Comments

I decided that 2018 was the year I would start working up the neck - up until this time I have primarily stuck up by the first 5 frets. I've had the book for about a month.  I thought I might be overwhelmed by this book, but was pleasantly surprised. The first tune in the book (Bile Them Cabbage, the first BG tune I learned) comes after a short section on rolls, is played with  2 finger partial chords and has 4 arrangements for the tune, using 4 different rolls, using those 2 finger partial chords. 

The second section is on chords,  a few "standard' licks and then more licks at the end of the section.  The F position chord was familiar and the picking pattern was easy to pick up.  The D pattern (closed chord) was a bit more challenging, and the E minor chord the most challenging, the latter because it is the Cumberland Gap/Sally Goodin lick, which can be a stretch (see threads on the HO), but with some practice that is coming along. Don't let these challenges slow you down, though, because you can still work through these arrangements using 2 and 3 finger chords with the standard picking patterns and as you become more proficient in these "new" licks you can substitute the more challenging fretting hand work  in. 

The next section is on the Identity Factor.  She makes the point that lots of songs have the same chord progressions, with the "identifying motif" as what will cue you in to what the tune is going to be -- think the beginning of Dueling Banjos.  Following are some pick up licks and then this is a vast library of licks by chord.

The following section is called Incorporating the Melody, a short lesson on improvisation.  She provides some arrangements with the melody line, then follows those with arrangements that are "filled out". 

Next comes some short lessons  on advanced expression, connecting the links playing up and down the neck, and the x and y position. This is followed by a section on altered roll patterns, then a section on alternate variations (like playing the B part of a tune twice, each a bit differently). 

The next 3 sections are on melodic style, chromatic style and single string style. There is a short description, followed by licks, and  then some sample arrangements for each style.  

The last part of the book has short  sections on backup and ending a song.

So -- there is a LOT to learn here.  Good news is that many, many of the arrangements can be played with partial (2 or 3 finger chords) on the first 2 or 3 strings.  Each "lesson" is followed by lots of examples, using different arrangements of the tunes to provide more practice and to give you an idea of how little changes can alter an arrangement.  The CD is well done, with tunes at a slow pace and then followed by the tune at "performance speed".   I don't see this as beginner type book, but someone with the basic picking and fretting hand work down (let's say a mid-to-late beginner) could start working on this book and learn a lot within several  weeks.  And there is a twofer here, as the work you put in here would help you with your backup skills.  

 

Overall Rating: 10

Tony Ellis: The Banjo Music of Tony Ellis

Submitted by thisoldman on 8/1/2016

Where Purchased: Amazon

Overall Comments

This book has 47 of Tony's original banjo arrangements.  Both tab and standard notation. You can listen to these tunes on his CDs and find some on Youtube  (Stephen, Father's Pride, for example, and here is a link to the LOC performance of the Musicians of Braeburn https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pMohAu18boo).  Most (33) of the tunes are in gCGCD tuning, with 8 in standard G tuning and 6 in "other" tunings.  Some tunes are played with a capo 2 or 3 frets up the neck..  You will find tunes in 3/4, 4/4 and 6/8 timing.  Tabs show fingering for the picking hand.  Each tune is preceded with a comment paragraph with information such as the inspiration for the tune, fingering, speed at which to play it, etc.  Two finger, 3 finger, and/or Scruggs style picking.  Some single string work.  On some tunes you are directed to move the middle finger up to play the 2nd string and the index to the 3rd string, leaving the thumb on the 4th to carry the melody.  Bought this book because many of the arrangements are meant to be played at slow to moderate speed.  This book would suitable for an advanced beginner or intermediate player.  I played 2 finger thumb lead before I switched over to Scruggs style and I believe with just a background in 2ftl I could have played some of tunes in this book.  I think if you are 6 to 12 months into Scruggs style picking and have learned the basics you would find several tunes in this book very approachable.  And for you 2 and 3 finger players, you will find tunes in here that work for you as well.  Most of the tunes are considered "traditional", while others are bluegrass style. Have had the book just a month, working on Father's Pride and Stephen mostly, and have found several others in this book that will be on my "to learn" list.  If you want to give the arrangements a try, there is a partial tab for Father's Pride here on the BHO and Rick McKeon has an arrangement of Stephen on his website http://rickmckeon.com/ .  I tried out those 2 before I committed to buying the book.   

 

 

Overall Rating: 10

Picks: Fred Kelly Speed Picks

Submitted by thisoldman on 4/19/2015

Where Purchased: Elderly

Overall Comments

Have been playing Scruggs style for just a few months, so keep that in mind.  Started off with a Dunlop metal thumbpick (awkward), then switched to a Propik  when my teacher gave me one (MUCH better).  Ordered a few new fingerpicks last week and threw one of the speed picks in the cart to fill out the order.  I got the orange (medium) thumbpick in the large size.  Fit perfectly from the start.  Sound/tone is a little "thin" (if that is an apt description) or bright to me.  Liked the fit and ease of playing, and may order a heavy gauge the next time, but for now will set this one aside.

Overall Rating: 7

Cases (Soft, Gig Bags): TKL 4640 Black Belt Banjo Gig Bag

Submitted by thisoldman on 5/4/2014

Where Purchased: Banjo.com

Overall Comments

The gig bag that came with my GT CC-OT was so thin it really was more of a dust cover than a gig bag.  Bought this TKL bag at Banjo.com for just under $30, plus shipping.  There are a couple of things I do like about this bag:  the pocket is nice and roomy and there is way to hold the upper neck in place with a velcro strap. Now the not so good.  While the bag has much more padding than the GT bag, it is still not as padded as I would like. The depth of the bag is a bit much for my open back banjo and the depth is the same all through the bag, so it is  more than a little floppy along the neck.  And the shoulder straps are not detachable. Since I am using this bag to transport my banjo to my teacher's house and back, it will do the job if I am careful.  My advice? Save up a bit more and get a better quality gig bag (Boulder maybe?) or an inexpensive hardshell case (like the $50 one you can find online)

Update:   Got to thinking - my banjo has guitar tuners, so if yours has planetary tuners the extra depth/height at the headstock will work better for you than it does for me.

Overall Rating: 5

Picks: Clayton Beehold

Submitted by thisoldman on 8/22/2013

Where Purchased: Amazon

Overall Comments

Looking for the best pick to use with my no-name 4 string to play Irish music, I read threads at the the BHO and the irishbanjo "hangout". The irishbanjo site suggested looking at Clayton picks. The standard nylon Dunlop ,6mm wasn't meeting my needs, so I thought I would give the BeeHold .8mm pick a try. Nice pick, firm enough to get a good crisp sound, yet flexible enough to work with my feeble attempts at playing triplets. My old favorites were my Cool (thin) and UltraCool (medium) picks, but this pick may take their place. $2 for six picks.

Overall Rating: 8

Picks: Clayton Frostbyte

Submitted by thisoldman on 8/22/2013

Where Purchased: Amazon

Overall Comments

Looking for the best pick to use with my no-name 4 string to play Irish music, I read threads at the the BHO and the irishbanjo "hangout". The irishbanjo site suggested looking at Clayton picks. The standard nylon Dunlop ,6mm wasn't meeting my needs, so I thought I would give the Frostbyte .8 mm pick a try. Can't say I am a real fan of this pick. If I have the right angle of attack, I can get a good sound. However, if I am off a little, the pick drags a bit and I don't get a good crisp sound. Good blend of firmness and flexibility, but I just don't get a consistent sound. Will keep working with this pick, but so far it hasn't lived up to my expectations. I may have to try the heavier version of this pick. Right now I have other picks (Fender, Cool, UltraCool, Clayton BeeHold) that work better for me. $4 for twelve picks.
8/25/13 update: Took some sandpaper to the edges of the pick, and "rounded" the edges a bit. Got rid of most of the drag and made the pick work better for me. Upgraded the rating from a "5" to a "7".

Overall Rating: 7

Bridges: 100 year old barnwood minstrel bridge

Submitted by thisoldman on 7/17/2013

Where Purchased: stringbean45

Overall Comments

Bought this bridge for my 70's tenor banjo. Got rid of most of the overtones and the sympathetic vibrations. Banjo now plays nicely up and down the fretboard. Made this inexpensive banjo into a real player. Don has great communication - responds quickly to queries - and builds a bridge to meet your needs at a reasonable price.

Overall Rating: 10

Fender: FB-54

Submitted by thisoldman on 9/11/2012

Where Purchased: Central IA

Year Purchased: 2012
Price Paid: Don't Remember (bought USED) historic exchange rates / currency converter

Sound

Newcomer here. Has a brighter sound and more sustain than my open back Gold Tone CC-OT, about what I expected after listening to audio of other resonator banjos. Bought this used to give the bluegrass style a try.

Sound Rating: 7

Setup

Action was a bit high, so I changed that. Then decided to switch to a 5/8 bridge, so reset action again. Intonation was correct with the old bridge and is good now as well. Like other reviewers I also recommend the switch from the 1/2 inch to 5/8 inch bridge. As a bonus. the width of the strings on the (new) standard width bridge is 1/8 inch wider. Might try lighter strings when I change them. Neck relief is good and dropping the action took just a quick adjustment on the coordinator rod.

Setup Rating: 8

Appearance

Nice looking banjo. Brand name and decoration on the headstock are "printed' on. Inlays on neck are level and look nice. I was pleasantly surprised by the thickness of the metal in the pot. Some oxidation on the pot, but then this is a used banjo. Nice fit and finish overall.

Appearance Rating: 8

Reliability

Seems to be built well. In looking at previous reviews, the first thing I did was take off the resonator and look at the wood blocks that hold the inserts that take the bolts to hold the resonator on. The blocks are glued and stapled to the resonator. Two of the blocks were cracked so I glued and clamped them -- all is good now. The alignment of the blocks around the resonator is not quite right, which explains why the blocks cracked when the bolts were tightened, something I will need to check periodically. Previous owner told me the guitar like tuners hold tune well - for weeks if the weather doesn't change much. Other than the issue with the wood blocks in the resonator, it looks like this will last.

Reliability Rating: 8

Customer Service

No experience here.

Customer Service: 5

Components

Guitar-type tuners stay in tune. Geared 5th string tuner. Neck relief appears correct. Frets were well dressed. Head appears to be at the right tension and even. 30 brackets/J-hooks, so tension should stay even and correct. Tail piece is OK. Beefy arm rest. Frosted head has a sandpapery-like texture on the outside, which I am not appreciating, as it adds an annoying sound when my anchor fingers move on the head. Has "fasteners" on the pot for a strap that are in the wrong place - if you use the fasteners to attach your strap the banjo will not balance correctly. Other than the issue with the blocks in the resonator, seems to be well constructed.

Components Rating: 7

Overall Comments

Bought this used with a hard case, set of extra strings, picks, strap and some instructional books for a VERY nice price on the online auction site. At the price, it will serve its purpose, which is an inexpensive second banjo to try other styles. And I can take it apart and modify it if I want and not worry about messing up a really expensive instrument. I would probably not buy this model at full retail price if this was to be my first banjo, but spend a bit more and get a higher quality beginner-level instrument.

Update: The spacing of the strings at the nut is rather narrow (less than 1 inch). With the string spacing at the nut and at the original bridge, this banjo would be better suited for someone with small hands or skinny fingers.

Overall Rating: 7

Gold Tone: CC-OT

Submitted by thisoldman on 5/19/2012

Where Purchased: Banjo.com

Year Purchased: 2012
Price Paid: 390 ($US)

Sound

This is my first banjo, so I don't have anything to compare it to. I do hear that the sound gets "fuller" and louder as you move from the bridge towards the neck and is at its best (in my inexperienced ears) in the scoop. Will be using this for two finger style and clawhammer/frailing.

Sound Rating: 8

Setup

Tuned up quickly (every string was about a tone down). Action was correct (1/8 inch at the 12th fret). Intonation is good. Haven't had it long enough to decide if I need to make any changes.

Setup Rating: 9

Appearance

This is a pretty "plain Jane" instrument. A couple of small finish flaws; not real noticeable. Couple of pin sized imperfections on the fretboard; nothing to impact playablility. Frets dressed nicely. Binding on neck/fretboard done well - have to really look to see that it is there. Mine has a flat black headstock and heel which blends nicely into the brown on the neck. Can overlook the star and name on the headstock. Quality of plating on hooks could be better. Rim is to be 1/2 inch, but it really measures 3/8 inch. A couple of the J hooks were very slightly misaligned, as was the tailpiece, but this is a very minor issue and easily fixed. I am rating this a "6" because I have seen pictures of high end banjos and this is not up to that level of quality

Appearance Rating: 6

Reliability

Seems like it will hold up for me. I will just be playing it around the house. Finish on wood is satin, which gives it an understated look (along with the black headstock and heel of the neck).

Reliability Rating: 8

Customer Service

Have not had to deal with Gold Tone

Customer Service: 5

Components

Compensated bridge seems to do its job. Really like the scoop, which is one reason why I chose this banjo - and I have found that the neck seems to provide a natural stopping/anchor point for my thumb. No-knot tailpiece works for me. J hooks may be the weakest component. Guitar-type tuners do the job - tunes up easily and banjo stays in tune. Has a capo spike, which is a nice touch and will be useful as I grow as a player.

Components Rating: 8

Overall Comments

This is a first impression, as I am new to the banjo. May update the review after I have had the OT for awhile I know this is a beginner's banjo and not a high end instrument, but it appears that this instrument will meet my needs. Upper end ($-wise) beginner banjos seem rather "pricey" compared to other beginner instruments. This is my first, and probably only, banjo and I think I made a good choice. Padding on gig bag is very thin -- more of a dust cover than a bag to use for traveling. Had a good experience working with Banjo.com on this purchase. And they threw in a $15 tuner for free in the deal. And good job, Gold Tone.

9-10-12 update: Still happy with my CC-OT. Only change I have made is to put in a spillway dam bridge, which made an improvement on both the high (less shrill) and low (not as muddy) ends - the overall sound is more "mellow" now.

Overall Rating: 8

Banjo.com

Submitted by thisoldman on 5/15/2012

Overall Comments

Emailed Wednesday morning to see if the banjo I wanted was in stock. Got an email later that morning saying it was. Made the buy Wednesday evening. Banjo was in the mail Thursday afternoon and arrived in the Midwest by Monday. Banjo set up nicely and took only a few minutes to tune up. Fair price, great communication, great service. I''m a happy customer.

Overall Rating: 10

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