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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!

6951 reviews in the archive.

Heartland (Robin Smith): Custom RB-75

Submitted by bullseye1130 on 3/24/2013

Where Purchased: Direct from Robin (Gallatin, TN)

Year Purchased: March 2013
Price Paid: $3500 ($US)

Sound

I contacted Robin with the idea of building a banjo that could get me close to a Pre-War sound much like what Sammy Shelor gets out of his Huber or TB-75 conversion. Basically, a 4th string that possesses a deep, biting growl coupled with a responsive mid-range and vibrant highs that allow the instrument to pop and rattle when I want it to. I play a lot like Shelor with some Scruggs and Crowe influence. The head is set around a G so it leans more towards the mids and lows. But, it is just as responsive as any banjo that may have a tighter head. The banjo has the drive I want when I play a solo and when backing down, it sounds just as good. The Mahogany neck and resonator contribute to the overall "sweetness" of the sound as well.

Sound Rating: 10

Setup

Robin did an outstanding job of setting this up. It's as though he knew what would be perfect for me, without me actually coming to his shop to tinker with the instrument along with him to get the best. The original idea was just that, that I would venture to Gallatin to try the banjo out, tinker as needed with his help, and take it with me. Extenuating circumstances made the trip impossible but Robin rose to the occaision and set it up as I would've wanted. The action is perfect, and I doubt I'll ever tinker with it until absolutely necessary. His work is so good that making changes won't require a rocket scientist.

Setup Rating: 10

Appearance

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, so I gave this section a 9 cause you can't really rate your custom instrument for someone else's taste. I love it though; elegant simplicity takes on a whole new meaning here. The wood has elegant graining for mahogany, and Robin stained it a nice reddish brown. Think of a dark burgundy, not quite the full traditional "mahogany" stain. Enter here where I got to customize my banjo; concentric rings in the resonator, white/black/white binding, RB-1 style Birds and Bows inlay with a rosewood fingerboard, a fleur-da-lis in the peghead (looks like a compass needle in my eyes), my name in the 21st fret block, and "Coastie" in the truss rod cover. I wanted the instrument to have a nautical feel to it because I am in the Coast Guard. There were no flaws whatsoever, and I scanned that banjo from top to bottom. Robin does impeccable work, even better than some of the industry heavyweights.

Appearance Rating: 9

Reliability

Robin uses American Made Banjo, or AMB, hardware. Their parts can be found on modern Kel Kroydens (made by AMB) and are used by Bill Stokes in his Showcase Pots. Point being, they're trusted in the industry and built to outlast anything out there. The craftsmanship of the components rivals that of FQMS, Huber, you name it. Everything about the banjo is built to last. I got this instrument for that reason, because I want to be able to play it throughout my lifetime as my grab and go banjo.

Reliability Rating: 10

Customer Service

Robin was great throughout the entire process and easy to contact. Towards the end when there was no need to talk daily, our email correspondence would falter which is why this section gets a 9. But, I cannot stress enough that early on Robin was always eager to talk or respond via email whenever I had a question about the process and what to expect. He is very willing to set up payment plans to accomodate anyone. He wants your business and enjoys his craft. I know that if I ever had problems I could send it back to him for repairs. Like anyone else, I'm sure he offers a limited warranty; but don't quote me as I have not looked into that.

Customer Service: 9

Components

I had Robin build the banjo with a multitude of different components after a lot of brainstorming and consideration. Each was chosen to compliment the other. His neck work is considered among the best in the business, especially for radiused necks. I had him build mine with a 14" radius and a slightly wider neck. Even the mahogany he used for the neck and resonator is outstanding, despite it being advertised as his "lower grade" mahogany (he as a stockpile of old growth that goes for an additional price). For the rim, I wanted to use a Jimmy Cox standard. Cox has been in the rim making business long enough to make a name for himself. He is known for making the best hard rock maple rims out there so naturally I wanted one in my banjo. As far as the ring, this is where I changed my mind a few times before finally deciding on a Huber vintage flathead ring. It's a great ring for a great price and I knew that it would complement the banjo well.

Components Rating: 10

Overall Comments

At the time of review, I have had the instrument for 2 days and probably put about 6 hours of playing time into it. I am overly impressed with the quality and craftsmanship that went into it, and have to continually remind myself that it is my new banjo! Essentially, if you want something to compare it to, Robin gave me a customized Huber Shelor model for $1000-$2000 less than a stock Huber the way I look at it (~$4300 for an older model with a vintage ring and ~$5320 for one with new HR30 ring and enhanced rim). I ordered it in Nov. '12 and in Mar. '13 it was here. I highly recommend him for your consideration on future projects. He has the expertise of the big boys without the added price. Robin has added another picker to his list of happy customers.

Overall Rating: 10

Gold Tone: Orange Blossom OB-175

Submitted by bullseye1130 on 5/30/2012

Where Purchased: Real Guitars, Fort Myers FL

Year Purchased: 2011
Price Paid: 1200 ($US)

Sound

Great, fat sound. Gold Tone made the OB-175, now the 275, with a bronze bell ring versus their brass rings in order to make these instruments sound more like a prewar flathead. For an instrument that at MSRP calls for about $1450, the sound is awesome with everything you could ask for. It has a richness to it, and plenty of brightness too with good bells up the neck. The banjo also has plenty of volume and sustain.

Sound Rating: 9

Setup

Setup is excellent. The OB-175 and now 275 are made in South Korea and then setup/final assembly is done at the Gold Tone shop here in Titusville, FL. After playing it for a few months, I went ahead and put a Huber 11/16" bridge on it (easier to play for me because of the change) along with a Huber Head. I tuned the head higher to about A-A# so I could get a more cutting sound out of it. I also have noticed a boost in volume (possibly due to the higher action, I don't know). I would recommend that if someone were to use a 11/16" bridge or higher on their banjo (basically anything other than 5/8"), seriously think about it and if you really want to go for a higher or lower bridge, consider a neck set. In my haste, I neglected to consider this and may have created an action that's TOO HIGH... I like higher actions but it does seem to get out of tune slightly as a result. Coordinator rod adjustments could fix this but may have an adverse affect on tone.

Setup Rating: 9

Appearance

I love the simple appearance that the banjo has. It has a maple neck with a mahogany resonator, natural finish with a high gloss and a quasi sunburst on the neck and resonator. It features an ebony fingerboard with the simple yet elegant 1941 Style 75 inlays. No appearance flaws what so ever!

Appearance Rating: 10

Reliability

This banjo is built to last. Some of the nickel plating has already lightly oxidized/pitted thanks to the Florida humidity, but I'd trust this banjo to stand the test of time. I've played it at parties as well, and I've had incidents where I thought I had scratched the finish but nothing happened. It's a tough banjo.

Reliability Rating: 10

Customer Service

Wayne Rogers is a great guy to work with. I picked his brain for about two weeks about his products. He was always quick to e-mail me back. The warranty is "limited lifetime" to the original owner for this model. Second owners can still get a 5 year warranty from Gold Tone.

Customer Service: 10

Components

The only component I don't care for is the armrest... it has a two legged armrest instead of the old style one leg that you would see on an old Mastertone style banjo. Other than that, no complaints. Every part is compatable/upgradable with most aftermarket parts so that's nice to know.

Components Rating: 8

Overall Comments

If you have the opportunity to buy a used OB-175 or new OB-275, do so! Especially if you are looking for a quality, professional grade instrument WITH A REAL BRONZE BELL TONE RING without really breaking the bank. It's amazing how much a professional grade instrument really does enhance your playing over an entry level banjo. I'm not bashing beginner products as we all start there and have our experiances with our first banjos. My first banjo was a Mastercraft burled maple model and I loved it. But I didn't realize what I was missing until I picked up that OB-175. It has a great, fat sound thanks to the bronze ring, plenty of sustain and alot of power to back it up.
*The new 275's are the same as the old 175's, just with a new model number.

Overall Rating: 9

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