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!
6986 reviews in the archive.
Where Purchased: First Quality Music
As it says on the box: this is a precision instrument; it's well made, and reassuringly heavy.
So why the low rating? Well, I don't think you really need it. If you follow the head tuning guidelines of luthiers such as Steve Huber, you'll realise that your ear is an even finer instrument.
Being a relative novice to the instrument, I was not confident enough to believe my ears, so bought the tuner after reading the successes of others; however, it merely confirmed that which I already knew - that the head was pretty even all round.
BTW - it won't tell you what note the skin is tuned to: you'll still have to divine that using the tap test, anyway.
The asking price for such a tool is not bad (considering the price of a Blue Chip thumb pick, say), but on reflection I think that money could have been better spent elsewhere.
Overall Rating: 5
Where Purchased: Mike Stidd
In short: it's a must-have item for the diligent, midnight pickers out there with sensitive-eared families, or cheek-by-jowl neighbours to placate. Now the story...
It seems that there are two, opposing ideals to banjo sound: one is the search for ultimate 'tone' - this often equates to the most volume you can get out of it; the other is the search for a device that completely squashes the life out of that tone for the benefit of family sanity. I suppose we should be thankful that there are such devices: I'm not sure that budding fiddle players have such an easy time.
It's been a bit of a journey. My first Banjo teacher demonstrated a simple wood-block mute that jams on the top of a regular bridge. The sound was pleasing, offered a fair level of muting and was real cheap (about $10). Job done (so I thought). It served well for a while, but does get in the way once you get to learning to pick down at the bridge, and has a tendency to work loose while playing. The muting wasn't so pronounced, so you could play a duet with a guitar and not be drowned out.
I also bought a metal clothes-peg-style mute for twice that price (I forget why), but it's a waste of money: the tone is so raspy that it's even more annoying to your unwilling audience and you just don't want to play.
As I got a bit more adventurous with gear, I bought a rather lovely curvy bridge from Scot at firstname.lastname@example.org. Visually pleasing, and functional, too. However, the jam-on mute was no use any more, so here's where Mike's Mute comes in handy:
It's clear from the amount of reviews here that pretty much everyone who's bought one has honoured Mike's wishes and posted a review. And why wouldn't you: it's a well-made piece of kit; does exactly what it says on the tin (i.e. provides a high level of muting); secures pretty solidly, so it's not going to work itself off; and doesn't sit so high off the bridge that it gets in the way. I was a little concerned that I'd strip the threads of the rather flimsy-looking nylon bolts, but in all the messing around I've done in the last few months, that hasn't happened.
The mute didn't actually fit the profile of the eearthandring curvy bridge, so I've bought a slide-on 'Essex' mute for that banjo. It's not as effective, but it's ok.
To my surprise, my Sierra arrived fitted with a Stelling compensated bridge, so again, the jam-on mute was not going to work. The slide-on mute was no good, because the Presto tail-piece mouts the strings at slightly different levels, so the tuning would fall out when the mute was deployed. Mike's Mute to the rescue! It fits fine on a flat top, and also over the slightly wider plan profile of the compensated bridge.
Mike's Mute is so effective that I can't really use it as an effect in performance. I tried varying the attenuation by sticking a felt pad under the brass block that sits over the bridge and varying the tension on the bolts, but that didn't work: it's either ON, or it's OFF!
One other unexpected thing is that, with the banjo muted, you can get to hear lots of other vibrations going on around the instrument you wouldn't usually worry about. I got this annoying buzzing on the 1st string when I put the mute on that I thought was introduced by the mute itself, until I did a bit of investigation and found that the source of it was the loose cover-flap of the Presto tail-piece!
Overall Rating: 9
'DIY / emergency capo' 41 min