Banjo Hangout Logo
Banjo Hangout Logo

Premier Sponsors

333
Banjo Lovers Online


Banjo Reviews

Review Categories

Most Recent

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!

6724 reviews in the archive.

Tools: Gramil

Submitted by Crusty on 9/24/2016

Where Purchased: Luthier's Mercantile

Overall Comments

This tool is a glorified scratch marking gauge, but it's made rigid and precise and the cutter is made so that it can be finely sharpened and polished which then allows you to make precise clean cuts using it.  Of course it can be used for marking, but a more valuable use is to cut precise binding ledges by hand without the risk of power tool damage to a nearly completed rim or neck.

It's a bit pricey so it doesn't get a 10, but I'm totally happy with the way that it works.

Overall Rating: 9

Tools: Hall 3-Way Banjo Wrench

Submitted by Crusty on 9/24/2016

Where Purchased: Amazon

Overall Comments

If you have more than one banjo this is the wrench to own.  All 3 of the common nut sizes are on one tool so it ends the searches for the wrench that fits a particular banjo.  Get one - it's money well spent.

 

 

Overall Rating: 10

Strings: D'Addario J69

Submitted by Crusty on 12/2/2015

Where Purchased: Online somewhere

Overall Comments

These strings are essentially the same as the Straight Up Strings Lights (except for a 2nd that's .0005" heavier and a traditionally wound 4th) and they're a delight to play.  The force and tone is balanced across all strings and they cost a lot less than than the SU Lights.  I use them on all my banjos now.

Overall Rating: 9

Bridges: Kateyz McCormick "Spice"

Submitted by Crusty on 11/11/2015

Where Purchased: Kateyz website

Overall Comments

These are the best sounding bridges of all I've tried, including about 25 bridges of various woods and designs that I made myself.  The tones from these are rich, full and balanced, and the third string isn't dominant like nearly all the other three footed bridges out there.  I stopped making my own bridges when I realized that Mike's Kateyz design can't be topped.  I dunno about BG usage but for open backs this bridge can't be beat.  Get one - you'll like it.

Overall Rating: 10

Tailpieces: Rickard LTD Pro

Submitted by Crusty on 7/11/2015

Where Purchased: From Website

Overall Comments

This tailpiece is like a very well made Kershner, with the addition of string tension compensation and straight line string approach to the bridge.  Top quality all the way (as everything else I've bought from there has been). 

My dowel stick end fitting sticks out from the pot so I had to fashion a shim stock spacer to ride between the tailpiece body and the tension hoop to hold the tailpiece body parallel to the tension hoop, but it's not needed on a banjo which would accept a Kershner with no mods.  My range of adjustability now is from a slight amount of down force to way too much.

When this run is sold out Bill won't be making any more so if you want one don't delay.  I understand that there's a new tailpiece coming to replace it in the future.

Bill's Store

 

Overall Rating: 9

Bridges: Sosebee Select Bridge

Submitted by Crusty on 3/28/2015

Where Purchased: Elderly

Overall Comments

I've got a couple of these bridges and I really like them.  They've given any banjo I've put them on a full, balanced and harmonics rich tone.  I think they sound better than any out of a whole pile of other name brand bridges which I've collected and you can't beat the moderate price of them.  I do play clawhammer on Tubaphones so the sound I'm after isn't a PW resonator sound.

Overall Rating: 10

Strings: Straight Up Strings

Submitted by Crusty on 1/16/2015

Where Purchased: Elderly

Overall Comments

These Straight Up Strings (heavies) are just about perfect on my old Tubaphone. As promised the strings are well balanced 1st to 5th and all the weird resonance rattles that I usually fight (especially on my 3rd string) are diminished to the point that I don't have to play around them to keep them down.  The tone is fuller, more harmonic and well rounded, and the icing on the cake is that they all feel the same when playing and that makes playing easier.  I should have tried some of these long ago and you should too.

Overall Rating: 9

Bridges: Zebra Katalox bridge

Submitted by Crusty on 7/12/2014

Where Purchased: David Cunningham

Overall Comments

I needed a bridge to take the resonance rattles (not buzzes) out of my vintage Vega Tubaphone with a Rogers hide head on it and the Zebra/Katalox bridge that David sent fit that bill perfectly.  My banjo notes very clear with a nice amount of ringing now and to me is now the ideal clawhammer banjo.  The bridge is perfectly made and stays put on the head, plus I'm finding that I don't need to retune very often and that's a minor miracle with a hide head.  It's a big improvement over the well regarded brand name maple bridge that I had on it before. Not only did the volume not suffer from the change but my impression is that it increased 5% or so.

Overall Rating: 8

Necks: Eastman Whyte Laydie

Submitted by Crusty on 6/12/2014

Where Purchased: Bernunzio

Overall Comments

I bought one of the WL reproduction necks sold by Bernunzio to convert a Style M Tubaphone tenor to a five string and I'm happy with the way the project has completed.  The rim that I had (103/4") was the same diameter as the Eastman WL rim that the neck was intended for so the neck fit my rim like it was made for it. 

The dowel stick comes loose so I had to glue it in but that turned out to be be pretty easy by clamping a straight edge onto the neck exactly along the desired path of the third string and a bridge stuck onto the head with double stick tape and then gluing the dowel in (tapered at the end to allow a little adjustment) with some sawdust thickened Titebond while holding the two parts in alignment.

Bernunzio states that these necks are blemished and I did find that one of the snowflake inlays in the neck didn't match the color of the others, and the fingerboard had some areas that were lighter in color.  These were minor flaws to me in light of the cost savings and Bernunzio does advertise that unblemished necks can be ordered also.

The neck on my banjo is straight and plays easily and well.  The tuner holes did need to be enlarged slightly to accept standard tuners.  The nut needs to be slotted for the strings, and there's no truss rod since it's a copy of the Vega neck from the early 1900's but the thicker neck along with the laminated wood has kept many Vega necks completely straight for very many years and I'm expecting the same from the Eastman neck.  The nut width is 1¼" which is the minimum nut width for my playability.  There are no side marker dots and you'll have to add them if you must have dots to play.  Maybe one day I'll add another overlay to the peghead with Tubaphone inlays instead of Whyte Laydie inlays but the WL griffin doesn't look out of place. 

I know that I would have spent at least $200 more to have a conversion neck made for my tenor (plus the wait) and for me this was a shortcut that definitely worked out well.

Update:  I've been playing this banjo for about 6 weeks and I'm surprised at how fast grooves are wearing into the frets.  It will likely need a refret of the first five frets within the first year and I'm definitely going to use harder fret material when I do. 

I also installed a ZeroGlide nut on the neck and it's improved the open string tone and it stays in tune much better after being played for a while.

Another update:  I've come to understand now that the heel cut isn't centered on the third string path as it should be and in order to center the strings on the fingerboard the tailpiece has to be shoved all the way to the first string side and I use the side screws on a Kershner tailpiece to cock the strings more toward that same side.  Perhaps one day I'll do a little carving on it to correct that error.  I still really like the neck however and this little Tubey is my favorite in my stable.

Overall Rating: 8

Necks: Mark Hickler Custom Neck

Submitted by Crusty on 3/8/2014

Where Purchased: From Ron/Mark

Overall Comments

Mark made a neck to convert my 1917 Vega Tubaphone Style M to a 5 string and I'm really happy with the result.  The finished neck arrived made to my specs including a 28" scale and a Tru-Oil finish and I really like the way that it looks and plays.  Mark made the action remarkably low (I specified as reasonably low as he could make it) and this is a non trivial feat with a dowel stick banjo.  He even moved the volute a small bit towards the peghead so that I can park a Paige U capo above the nut when not in use.  There's a number of fine line contrasting details that really add to the appearance and now I'm a bit regretful that I specified straight grain maple instead of curly maple.  I specified a Zero Glide nut and Waverly tuners so this neck is a Cadillac, though it has the specified period appropriate Vega inlays that are on the plain side.

It did take quite a while and there were miscommunications along the way that had to be sorted through (likely due to email) but no biggies and the end result was worth the wait and I love to play my Tubaphone now.  When my carver is ready I'm going to have the heel carved to finish it off.

Overall Rating: 9

Bridges: Virgil Lawson Sinker Maple

Submitted by Crusty on 8/26/2013

Where Purchased: Direct from Virgil

Overall Comments

This is a really rich and pleasant sounding bridge. The highs were more or less unchanged from my previous bridge but the mids and lows took on a really rich timbre, with a 4th string that will make my liver quiver when I hit it right. The overall character is not quite as note separated as my previous bridge (likely more sustain) but nonetheless I really like the full complex tone of this bridge. There was some settling after a few days and I shimmed with a piece of paper under a leg to get the tone back.

Update:  I've been playing this bridge for about 6 weeks now and it's my favorite (over Moon, Kat Eyz, Big Foot, Grover compensated)  because the timbre from my banjo is so full and rich.  You should at least try one because there's a good chance it'll become your favorite too.

Overall Rating: 8

Bridges: Big Foot Bridge

Submitted by Crusty on 6/3/2013

Where Purchased: Directly from Don New

Overall Comments

This is the best sounding bridge out of a whole handful that I've tried, including a standard Grover, a medium and a heavy Moon bridge, a Fielding and a few other generics. The notes are strong, clear and distinct with a fast attack and a fast decay and have more timbre than any of the others. Due to the arches under the top rail, a Mike's Mute must have bevels filed on the outside corners of the legs to fit the arches but once filed it works very well.

Overall Rating: 7

Microphones: GLS ES57

Submitted by Crusty on 5/31/2013

Where Purchased: Amazon

Overall Comments

This dynamic mic is equivalent to a Shure SM-57 at one third the price. Same size, weight, response and tone is maybe just a little brighter than the Shure. It's a dynamic mic so a preamp (of some sort) is required.

Overall Rating: 9

White Mountain: Whyte Laydie

Submitted by Crusty on 5/30/2013

Where Purchased: WMB

Year Purchased: 2013
Price Paid: 1375 ($US)

Sound

This is a very nice looking and sounding banjo. I ordered the internal resonator model and it has a sound character that's very good for OT and many would find it fine for BG too. It has a wonderful and unique sound character and with the WL tone ring delivers clear sweet notes, yet the bottom end will still make your liver quiver when you hit a strong low note. The internal resonator gives it a tone which sounds like a slight amount of reverb has been added so high notes on it sound sweet with a hint of edginess at the same time. It's powerful and normally I use a folded towel in the resonator hole to tame the volume unless I'm in a space which can handle it.

Sound Rating: 9

Setup

The banjo was setup quite well as received, though I eventually did change the bridge to a Big Foot and tightened the Renaissance head which I specified in my order. The truss rod is only accessible from the heel, making it more difficult for someone who doesn't know what they're doing to wreck the setup. As delivered the action is fine and low. I installed a Zero Glide nut with the same string spacing and it improved the playability since open notes now sound like fretted notes and the banjo stays in tune when adding/removing a capo. I asked Ron to install a couple of ball type hook brackets in the rim which I use to fasten my strap and they work well with a simple 1" wide latigo leather strap, though I did add a gel shoulder pad because the banjo weighs 7 lbs.

Update: I tried a Virgil Lawson Sinker Maple bridge and it's become my favorite because the timbre is so full and rich, though it does have more sustain than the Big Foot I used previously. The notes are less discrete than the Big Foot but the tonal character is so pleasant that I'm still using it.

Setup Rating: 9

Appearance

It's a very good looking banjo and people who see it first compliment the appearance and then the sound after they hear it. I specified the medium maple finish and it brings out the beautiful grain of the flamed maple. Ron found a stick of maple big enough to make the neck and the internal resonator from so the grain match is very good.

Appearance Rating: 9

Reliability

Hardware is all top quality Rickard with the exception of two band Gotoh tuners. It should last many years without any problems. The banjo comes in a very good Superior hard shell archtop case to protect it.

Reliability Rating: 9

Customer Service

Ron was especially good to work with through the process. Once he had my specs nailed down, he set about building my banjo and he even sent me pictures after the rim and neck had been constructed but before final sanding and finishing so I could have an idea of how it would look. I'll call him first if I ever need any luthier work in the future.

Customer Service: 10

Components

The banjo is just beautiful overall since care has been taken at every step of the process and it all has been built and assembled right. The Whyte Laydie tone ring lives up to its long time reputation. The Hickler rim is beautiful in appearance and sound character. The neck has a 1¼" nut so it's easier to fret than the pencil necked banjos common today.

Components Rating: 9

Overall Comments

This is a very good sounding and appearing banjo made of quality components, nearly a custom build (inlays are buyer chosen) at a very reasonable price. You could easily pay twice as much for the same quality banjo. Check my home page for a sound file of "I'll Fly Away" played on it.

Update: Ron has changed the build of the Whyte Laydie and the current model isn't all that similar to what I have.  Check the Sholo now which can be ordered customized to match the Whyte Laydie generation that I have.

Overall Rating: 9

Hangers: Wall Mount Instrument Hanger

Submitted by Crusty on 4/25/2013

Where Purchased: Janet Davis Music Company

Overall Comments

These hangers work great for providing you a safe place to store your banjo and yet leave it easily accessible to grab and play whenever the notion strikes you. They're well made and sturdy and won't give you any cause for concern about the safety of your banjo. I get more practice time in each day because I can just grab a banjo and start playing. They also store my banjos safely in the middle of practice sessions versus my old habit of leaning it temporarily against something.

Overall Rating: 9

Other: Zero Glide Nut

Submitted by Crusty on 4/21/2013

Where Purchased: Online at ZG

Overall Comments

I think these ought to be standard on all banjos. The ZG nut removes all quirks introduced by the vagaries of nut manufacture and the open strings now have the same tone as fretted strings. The banjo is easier to tune, stays in tune better and typically no retuning is required after installing or removing the capo.

Zero Glide does have a funny concept of what dimensionally close is when you order one custom made and several hours of sanding the bone nut to the right size will typically be required, with several days of healing for your fingertips where they were abraded holding the nut while sanding. The string spacing that I specified was right on the money however. It's a bit of a pain to fit but the end result is worth the effort.

Update:  I've installed a ZG onto three of my banjos now and it's improved every one of them.

Update 2:  For some reason my small rim Tubaphone wore grooves into the Zero Fret, which caused string rattling.  I changed the fret out with a new one and to my surprise in a month of playing it developed grooves and the annoying rattles.  In an effort to combat this I ordered some stainless steel fret wire and made a new Zero Fret, which was relatively easy by filing off  the small bumps on the tang faces so that the fret would fit in the groove.  It sounds like it should now and I expect that it will be much longer lived now.

Overall Rating: 8

Mutes: Mike's Banjo Mute

Submitted by Crusty on 4/4/2013

Where Purchased: Online

Overall Comments

Works great! It really quiets my powerful banjo down to where it sounds like an acoustic guitar and I can hear how well I'm playing.

It didn't fit my Big Foot bridge well at all since the area between the bridge feet is cut in arches, but a file taken to the outer edges of the aluminum mute feet to bevel the edges to 45º makes it fit just fine.

Gave it a 9 because there ain't no 10.

Overall Rating: 9

Drum Dials: Drum Dial

Submitted by Crusty on 4/4/2013

Where Purchased: Ebay

Overall Comments

I thought I was reasonably good at setting head tension by feel and sound but I was convinced by others to get a DD and man am I glad I did. It took all of 1 hour to evenly tension the heads on both of my banjos and neither has ever sounded this good before. What a timesaver and it really takes the hit or miss element out of tensioning a head.

Overall Rating: 9

Bridges: Moon Bridges medium weight

Submitted by Crusty on 1/18/2013

Where Purchased: Elderly

Overall Comments

Just put one on my RK and WOW did it make better sound come out and it cleared the open back muddiness. It hasn't really even had time to settle in and as others have reported my tone could get even better. I use a Renaissance head, no-knot tailpiece and medium strings and with a folded sock under the head I'm getting some really nice rich and clear tones without any unwanted overtones, and it has noticeably more volume than the stock bridge.

Overall Rating: 7

Bridges: Fielding A1

Submitted by Crusty on 1/8/2013

Where Purchased: Elderly

Overall Comments

This bridge is really loud and proved to be too loud for me because it introduced a ringing in my 2nd string and a rattling in my 5th string that I couldn't adjust out with head tension or a sock on the underside and 3 different sets of strings didn't eliminate these overtones. I play clawhammer so it wasn't the right bridge for me but it might be really good for bluegrass. I ordered a 5/8" bridge and the bridge that I got was marked 5/8" but it measured 11/16".

Overall Rating: 7

Recording King: RK-OT25

Submitted by Crusty on 12/12/2012

Where Purchased: Smakula

Year Purchased: 2012
Price Paid: 330 ($US)

Sound

This is a really good sounding banjo for clawhammer. It's on the bright side but a cloth pad on the underside of the head and a no-knot tailpiece makes the tone just right for melodic playing. It's surprisingly loud without a tone ring, though I suspect the maple rim top which is beveled to match a Mastertone tone ring does contribute to the sound, just not as much as a brass tone ring. The scooped neck allows you to pick in that area and lose the resonant tones you get when picking over the head.

After some months of playing it, I've got it setup with a Renaissance head, a Kateyz bridge, a no-knot tailpiece and Nylgut strings and I think it's difficult to find a better sounding old time banjo. Everyone comments on how good it sounds. The tone is full and sweet and in an OT jam group I have to play easy so I don't overpower everyone else.

Sound Rating: 10

Setup

It was setup reasonably well though the head needed tightening. I did have it fitted with a no-knot tailpiece and that killed some of the brightness.

Setup Rating: 9

Appearance

It's plain but a nice looking plain. The maple and rosewood finish is satin rather than glossy and the hardware is all bright nickel plated. It's got simple dot inlays on the fretboard and the RK logo rectangle on the peg head.

Appearance Rating: 8

Reliability

The construction seems standard professional quality to me and I expect it to last a long time with few problems. I expect it to be very dependable and I would take it to a gig without a backup.

Reliability Rating: 10

Customer Service

Smakula's shop is well known for quality work. All warranty work is handled through the selling dealer and I expect there to be no problems if any warranty work is ever necessary.

RK's have a Limited Lifetime Warranty to the original purchaser.

Customer Service: 9

Components

Three ply steam bent 3/4" thick maple rim, maple neck, rosewood fretboard, planetary tuners, Fiberskyn head, bone nut, maple/ebony bridge, and nickel plated brass hardware (except for the coordinator rods)

The arm rest won't lower far enough for me (it's ½" above the head) but I've learned to adapt to it. Update: I removed it because I was getting a nickel allergic reaction on my arm.

The bottoms of the hook nuts don't extend below the underside of the rim and they're smooth so they don't poke you.

Components Rating: 9

Overall Comments

This is a decent open back banjo for old time music that delivers rich, warm and clear bright tones (with a little ringing that is easily cured with a folded cotton sock under the head). The plunk factor is evident too. This is a good intermediate level clawhammer banjo.

Overall Rating: 8

Davison/Jameson: 5-String Banjo 24 Bracket with Closed Solid Back

Submitted by Crusty on 11/16/2012

Where Purchased: Amazon

Year Purchased: 2012
Price Paid: 139 ($US)

Sound

Sound is surprisingly good after a complete instrument setup. There's no tone ring so it isn't Mastertone loud but it's loud enough for a beginner banjo. It tended to be on the bright side.

Sound Rating: 7

Setup

Banjo was received poorly setup with lots of loose hardware and misaligned components. An hour of adjusting and tightening turned it into a completely different sounding instrument.

Setup Rating: 5

Appearance

It's a very nice looking banjo

Appearance Rating: 8

Reliability

Construction is cheap but it could be reasonably durable if cared for.

Reliability Rating: 6

Customer Service

Was able to return the banjo for a refund through Amazon painlessly

Customer Service: 8

Components

The rim is only about .375 in. thick and made of multiple layers of laminated ply. A lamination void was seen on my banjo. One of the hooks had to be bent to engage the rim. The single worst feature is the slim neck - I measured less than 1.156 in. at the nut, making the strings difficult to fret individually. The neck wasn't solidly fastened to the rim and I was able to twist it a bit from side to side - There's probably only 1 bolt which attaches it to the rim. The coordinating rod was bent into a bow shape. The guitar style tuners did stay in tune.

Components Rating: 5

Overall Comments

This is a cheap banjo intended for beginners. After a complete setup with considerable head tuning the banjo came alive and the sound was surprisingly good for bluegrass picking. If not for the too thin neck I probably would have kept it to learn on, but I returned it and bought a more robust Recording King at more than twice the price of the Jameson. It could be an adequate beginner banjo for those who can fret the thin neck.

Overall Rating: 6

Hangout Network Help

View All Topics  |  View Categories

0.1015625