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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!

7107 reviews in the archive.

Hickler : Hickler Std. Frailer (prototype)

Submitted by tucsonsean on 8/29/2015

Where Purchased: Hickler Banjo, Mesa, AZ

Year Purchased: 2015
Price Paid: 850 ($US)


Has a woody, barking bite loud enough to hold its own in an old-time band/jam situation, but can be mellow when backing a voice. Added bonus: it loses none of its volume or timbre when capoed.

Sound Rating: 10


It was well set up when I purchased it, but one of the advantages of buying from a luthier is the customizing of the set up through builder/customer interaction. Because of the novel and ingenius way the banjo is built, I can make further changes on my own, should I so desire.

Setup Rating: 10


It's a beautiful instrument. The neck, pot, and partial internal resonator are all natural Cherry with a satin finish. The African Padauk tonering makes a nice contrast. The Richlite unbound fingerboard matches the Ebony peghead overlay. There is simple MOP stars and dots inlay, an Elite Fiberskyn head, and the hardware is nickel. The workmanship is flawless and the overall appearance is simple, yet elegant.

Appearance Rating: 10


The tuners are Waverly and the hardware is Balsam Banjo Co. I've played it to death since I bought it. I plan on playing it for years as my primary instrument. The only reason I'd take my Wildwood along on a gig would be to save time retuning.

Reliability Rating: 10

Customer Service

Mark Hickler is warm, witty, and a painstaking craftsman. He personally vouches for all his instruments, and responds to requests positively, politely, and in a timely manner. Mark's been building banjos full-time for over ten years, has done a lot of custom work, and works closely developing instruments with White Mountain Banjos.

Customer Service: 10


The bolt-on, adjustable neck is both ingenious and practical. The solid partial resonator obviates any need for 'stuffing' the back of this banjo, leaving the sound loud, clear, and without overtones. The grain and finish of the wood is outstanding, and the hardware is all first-rate.

Components Rating: 10

Overall Comments

My banjo (#000) is the prototype for a model Mark has been developing for years now and is now in production:  a first-rate, custom-made, hand-built banjo for under $1000.  The production models will be slightly different.  The tonering will be Mesquite, so that all the wood will be non-endangered, native species.  The rest of the banjo will be native Cherry. Production models will also have a frailing scoop (mine does not), and I think the peghead cover will be Richlite, like the fingerboard (the prototype is Ebony).  Don't be fooled by the price:  this is a first-rate banjo by a first-rate luthier.  For more information, and to hear it and see it, go to Mark's website or YouTube.

Overall Rating: 10

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