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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!

7014 reviews in the archive.

Wildwood: Custom bluegrass troubadour

Submitted by spurtalisterous on 2/14/2015

Where Purchased: Direct from Mark Platin

Year Purchased: 2014
Price Paid: 3000 ($US)

Sound

I ordered this custom with a Tubaphone tone ring. This instrument sounds terrific. It is as bright as I need, but nowhere near as bright as the archtop Stelling I had previously. The Tubaphone ring, combined with the maple block rim assembly make for a lot of sustain. Not everyone cares for sustain, and that's fine, but I like it. It doesn't sustain so long that subsequent notes get in the way of the current one. Like Eddie Adcock has his own sound, Allen Shelton has his own sound, I wanted a banjo that SOUNDED like a banjo but had its own character. This one meets the mark perfectly. Playing close to the bridge gives you a character you'd expect from any bluegrass banjo. Playing close to the neck gives such a different tone, and what a beautiful one. I have noticed this banjo doesn't "break up" as some do when they're driven too hard. I guess it has the capacity efficiently to turn whatever vibration you give it into sound. It's quite loud, too. I think the rim is responsible for the surprisingly deep bass response you can get out of the wound string.

Sound Rating: 9

Setup

I bought directly from Mark Platin. Normally I buy instruments new through Elderly because they know the typical setup most players like. Probably it was because it was a brand spanking-new instrument, the setup was not ideal. The fifth string nut, which I love by the way, is nonetheless a bit high. When you want to play in A or above, the string actually has to angle down to the railroad spike from the fifth string nut. This changes the tuning slightly, obviously. Also, I fiddled around with the truss rod for days before coming to a place I was happy with. Again, brand-new instrument. Even the Stelling when purchased brand new through Elderly had these issues. Just warning you: banjos take a while to settle. Finally, I was not in love with the bridge it came with, so I swapped out a few. I ended up very happy with a Sosebee ebony-capped maple bridge. That's when this banjo started sounding like itself. Wow! I was not impressed that the spikes I had installed were turned up toward my face: I had to pull the string over and rub it onto the edge of the neck just to get 'em under the spike. Better setup would be pointing them down.

Setup Rating: 7

Appearance

I had Mark send this off for a special translucent faded-denim finish. It really is beautiful. It's an all-maple banjo, and the grain is really pretty. I also had the binding natural maple, which is a nice contrasting color. Finally, I special requested no inlay on the maple fretboard, and it looks great, elegant.

Were I to do this again, I would have requested maybe to be more choosy about how white the maple would be: the faded denim blue in places takes on a slight marine-blue or greenish tinge due to the natural yellow in the maple. Somehow the PRS people have found a work-around, but this was a first time, one-shot banjo. That's not a complaint, just word to the wise. I love the banjo, and it really looks like no other one I've seen.

Appearance Rating: 9

Reliability

Finish looks terrific. The armrest is the standard one put on every banjo, and I'm not fond of those. I bought a maple one to match my binding trim, then carved and sanded it into an arm-friendly configuration. It's great now. Otherwise, all components definitely appear built to last. Maybe one of the tuners is not as secure to the back of the headstock as necessary, but that's a tweak I'll get in next time I change the strings.

No banjo can be trusted without a backup...what if a head pops? But sure, I'd play this and only this, and probably will for life.

Reliability Rating: 9

Customer Service

Mark Platin is a really open-minded, easygoing guy. He will build what you ask for, and he's extremely responsive to customer inquiries. I applaud him for going out of his way to make me a one-of-a-kind banjo that sounds great.

Customer Service: 10

Components

The Tubaphone tone ring is a feature I would like to promote. Everyone seems to be in love with vintage tone and everything related to Earl, Don, and Ralph. Those guys were fantastic, but they didn't go buy what everyone else had necessarily. I would encourage people to experiment. This banjo is NOT an archtop Stelling, and you can't play it like one! You alter your technique and style to suit the instrument in your hands. The point is to make music, and I am really pleased with the direction this banjo's specific sound points me in.

I'd also like to mention this: I am a pretty physically fit guy, but banjos are heavy to me. The Tubaphone ring makes the banjo much lighter, and I don't feel I have a compromised sound in any way. For anyone who has not already decided what "the only" banjo tone is, you owe it to yourself and your back to try a Tubaphone. The longer you can stand with the banjo, the longer you're playing it, the better you get, and the more songs you learn!

Components Rating: 10

Overall Comments

I don't think there are enough Wildwood banjos out there for people to have enough reviews.  I took a chance on a type of banjo I'd never heard or played.  I guess I trusted the fact that Elderly has stocked and sold these for years as proof they're good.  They really are.  There is not another major maker of banjos to my knowledge that is making a higher-grade professional banjo than Mark Platin.  Ultimately, the banjo is limited to the player once you have a high grade instrument.  Wildwood makes distinctive, high grade professional instruments.  Give 'em a shot; it may be your ticket.

I would also like to reiterate what  a step in the right direction a Tubaphone tonering was for me.  I think anything that makes an unwieldy instrument more ergonomic is the logical choice.  The combination of Tubaphone ring with the Renaissance head, Sosebee bridge, and block maple rim is a wonderful machine both sound-wise and weight-wise.

Overall Rating: 9

Capos: Earl's Suspender Capo

Submitted by spurtalisterous on 2/17/2013

Where Purchased: Elderly Instruments

Overall Comments

Why not? It is only $15, and you don' t have to modify the instrument. Especially when trying out a new instrument w/o spikes, this is ideal. Would you want to buy a banjo without finding out first what it sounds like in B? Not me. It works and I like it. Of course I prefer the spikes which make for one less accessory to keep track of. On the other hand, you don't have to worry about snagging soft skin on a standing nail with this capo. Worth having in your case.

Overall Rating: 8

Bridges: Sosebee Select Bridge

Submitted by spurtalisterous on 2/17/2013

Where Purchased: Elderly Instruments

Overall Comments

I wanted to give my Gretsch open-back a chance to shine with a professional bridge. Bought the 5/8" recommended by the guys at Elderly. It sounds terrific. No one tells you, but whatever is stamped on the bridge should be read by you while playing (turn them in toward the neck)! It was a real improvement for the sound quality of the instrument, and a cheap way to make it really shine. I just bought one for my archtop resonator banjo too.

Overall Rating: 9

Gretsch: Dixie G9450

Submitted by spurtalisterous on 2/16/2013

Where Purchased: Elderly Instruments

Year Purchased: 2012
Price Paid: 209.00 ($US)

Sound

I play bluegrass, but was without a banjo for a while. This one sounds great, just without the volume you'd need in a band. I bought it to play around the house and keep my roll intact. While it sounds great, decay was not fast enough for me so I taped a rolled-up washcloth to the back of the head at different spots until I got the roll-off of sustain I liked best. Terrific.

Sound Rating: 8

Setup

Elderly is always my first choice for buying instruments because of the added value of their setup. I think if they could not adjust it to play well, they would not send it to me. Perfect setup, easy action. I noticed that people buying these online from Amazon complained about setup. Hey guys: next time, go for Elderly and avoid the hassle. Smooth fret edges, too!

Setup Rating: 10

Appearance

I've also heard complaints about the appearance. Man, for a $209 banjo, this baby is beautiful. Satin finished, and a reddish-orange stain. Fiberskyn head adds both to the look and to the sound. Not a blemish on the instrument, nor a rough spot. I've passed this around to a lot of people, and everyone has been impressed. Elderly's even out of stock at the moment, and I see why.

Appearance Rating: 9

Reliability

No knowing reliability at this point. It's played in well so far. I swapped out the bridge for a standard Sosebee 5/8 and the tone was much improved. I would use this instrument for a gig if I had a good miking system. It holds its tuning well. I bought some railroad spikes to install, but I've been using the Earl's Suspender 5th string capo because it does the job well without modifying the instrument. Of course the finish is thin, but it is a better instrument than the Goodtime banjos that you'll pay quite a bit more for. Those seem like toys to me, somehow.

Reliability Rating: 8

Customer Service

No contact with Gretsch, and have no plans to do so. I think this is a well-turned-out product for a great price. If it "breaks," I'll buy another one. If you can't get years of service out of one of these, when old-time guys used to have to build substandard ones out of whatever was available, gosh I'm sorry for you!

Customer Service: 5

Components

I love the geared 5th string tuner. I'm also crazy about a banjo this inexpensive having an arm rest. Love the Fiberskyn head. I switched out the bridge, which is really fine, because an upgrade makes such a difference for only $15. Someone has mentioned these banjos don't have truss rods. I never checked. They are not meant to be "heritage" instruments passed on father-to-son for generations. They are designed to put a very playable, great-sounding banjo in the hands of someone who will not be discouraged by high action or lousy sound.

Components Rating: 7

Overall Comments

There is no better value on the market, to my knowledge. I did not have a lot of cash to spend on a banjo, so I researched this thoroughly. You can easily pay $25-$300 more for less banjo or perhaps equal. Good banjo: fun to play, looks good, and cheap. I could not be happier.

Overall Rating: 9

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