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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!

6871 reviews in the archive.

Tone Rings: Blaylock

Submitted by bluegrassbanjopicker on 5/18/2019

Where Purchased: Bob Rodgers

Overall Comments

The Blaylock 20-hole tone ring is the best possible “dream” ring for a prewar conversion, or for one who wants to put a high quality tone ring in their import, rather than suffer with the much-inferior factory-installed tone ring. 

Bill Blaylock and his son make possibly the VERY best tone rings available, and when I installed mine, it was hard to fathom or accurately describe the incredibly rich and loud tone and volume. I could immediately tell that the ring  was not just any halfway-good ring; it is in all respects a professional ring that will not drop out in volume or leave you wanting more, because that is just plain IMPOSSIBLE with any ring from Blaylock. I challenge any skeptics to name another ring which instantly gives amazing raw power, without having to do setup after setup after setup....!

 The Blaylock is NOT one of the “fussy” rings which refuse to ring until just before the banjo owner throws up their hands in dismay. 

If you have been looking a LONG time for “the” tone ring for your special banjo, try a Blaylock! You don’t need to spend more than half the price of a used RK-35 on a Dannick! 

Investing $500 for the Blaylock ring will not leave you wondering “why didn’t I buy the Dannick on the basis that my favorite banjo player has one installed on his?”

There is only so much that bell bronze tone rings can offer, and you’ll get hundreds of dissenting opinions. But in my mind, a contest between a Blaylock and any other ring is no contest. I used to believe that only the $600+ rings could be any good. Not any more. 

The precision with which Bill machines the ring is second to none. His work speaks for itself. And as for a “bad” Blaylock tone ring; sorry, you will NEVER find one! 

Countless owners of prewar Gibson conversions can testify to the power of the one Ruling Ring.

I can proudly say, along with many other happy Blaylock customers, that Bill Blaylock truly is the “Lord of the Rings!”

 

Overall Rating: 10

Tuners: Sonny Osborne - Sonny's Ugly tuners

Submitted by bluegrassbanjopicker on 8/11/2018

Where Purchased: Jim Britton

Overall Comments

I purchased a set of Sonny's Ugly Tuners from Jim, as a better replacement for the cheap Schallers on my Epiphone. I installed them as soon as I had them out of the box.

The tuners are very top-notch in every aspect. No incessant fiddling with trying to get to the right note, as with the Schallers. Since the tuners have their own separate levers, I don't have to worry about the other pegs on my banjo. 

These tuners may be "ugly" to some, but they blend in very well with the peghead on my Epiphone. They are held in place by the 1st and 4th tuning pegs. 

To set the tuners, first tighten the two set screws on either side of the tuner housing. The two levers should be previously set at a 45 degree (approximate) angle, which is the higher tuning position. The banjo should be in normal G tuning at this point, and the levers should not move the cams. Now, gradually loosen the set screw while pushing the left lever (G side of peghead) slowly clockwise. The note will decrease in pitch.

 Reverse the movement of the lever on the B side of the peghead. When you have reached F# (lower cam), and A natural (higher cam), stop loosening the screws. At this juncture, you can proceed to pull the left lever counterclockwise back up to G, and the right lever clockwise to B. The beauty of the tuners is that they do not require re-tuning if you play in a different key, and there are no ruined gear housings to worry about!

The bottom line is that the tuners work, they're an awesome product (no Chinese junk), and that I will be using them for many years to come. Thanks goes to Jim Britton for his excellent service and communication.

 

Overall Rating: 10

Gibson-Epiphone: EB-88 Mastertone

Submitted by bluegrassbanjopicker on 12/9/2017

Where Purchased: Received in a Trade from Betty Stienbarger, Mendon, Michigan

Year Purchased: Nov. 21, 2017
Price Paid: Don't Remember (bought USED) historic exchange rates / currency converter

Sound

Really great sound, absolutely wonderful. Terrific tone all the way around the neck. I believe in about two years this banjo is going to sound even better!

Sound Rating: 10

Setup

The banjo was not set up when it arrived, but I had it set up by Brent Entz, a good banjo-picking friend of mine. I replaced the head with an AMB, got the head good and tight. Setup was complete when I added a Purcell Select Maple bridge and put the strings at 1/4 action.
Update: The AMB head was punctured and replaced with an older Five-Star head which really brought out the bounce!

Setup Rating: 10

Appearance

This banjo has the old "Gibson banjo" look to it. Pearl inlays and really good quality nickel-plated hardware.

Appearance Rating: 10

Reliability

All hardware is nickel plated. Good finish.
This instrument is definitely stage-worthy and I would never hesitate to use it in a jam or any performance.

Reliability Rating: 10

Customer Service

Good customer service.

Customer Service: 10

Components

The banjo was upgraded at some point from its original chrome-plated EB-88 pot assembly to a 60's Bowtie RB-250 nickel-plated assembly with a Gibson Crowe 20-hole tone ring.
I have replaced the original, bent flange with a Recording King Gibson-style reproduction nickel-plated flange.
No weak parts on this banjo!

This banjo was owned by an anonymous owner for its first years, then it was most likely passed on to Jim Chamberlain (BHO member Sonhouse) of Boston, MA. Jim sold or traded this banjo to another individual who removed the original pot assembly and put a different, unknown-age Gibson pot assembly on it. This "newer" Gibson pot was from a Gibson banjo which Nick White (of Cadillac, MI) bought from the Music Barn (Greensboro, NC) and then subsequently sent the banjo to Sullivan Banjos (Louisville, KY) to have the rim cut for a Gibson Crowe ring and to have the neck fixed so it would note true. At some point, the pot assembly was separated and then attached to the current Epiphone neck. This Epiphone/Gibson banjo (no longer an all-original EB-88) was then transferred to the ownership of Betty Stienbarger who owned it until Nov. 23, 2017, at which point it was traded to me for my "Deering Golden Classic Copy."

Components Rating: 10

Overall Comments

I am really pleased with the banjo. I could have never asked for a better instrument. As Gibson Kalamazoo-made Epiphones are very rare, I couldn't pass up the offer to trade for it. I am so very happy with it. Now I know why "Only a Gibson is Good Enough!"

 

Overall Rating: 10

Bridges: First Quality Roasted maple

Submitted by bluegrassbanjopicker on 12/9/2017

Where Purchased: First Quality Music

Overall Comments

The First Quality/Sullivan roasted maple bridge is a guaranteed accolade to anyone's banjo. For me, it was the difference between night and day. That cheap stock maple bridge came off and the roasted maple simply blew it away. Solid, crisp tones all the way up and down the neck. I could not be more satisfied. You can't go wrong with this bridge! 

Overall Rating: 10

Tone Rings: JLS #12 Flathead Bronze Tone Ring

Submitted by bluegrassbanjopicker on 10/10/2017

Where Purchased: Gold Tone

Overall Comments

The JLS #12 Bell Bronze tone ring is exactly what I was looking for, in a tone ring upgrade from a Bell Brass ring, also from Gold Tone.

I had previously installed the Bell Brass ring, but it simply did not give the banjo a vintage sound.

The JLS #12 took care of all that. Loud, vibrant tones and a really nice "cluck" to the notes. I could not be happier. This ring is very close in tonal qualities to the Tennessee 20 ring.  

If you are looking for a ring that will give you "the" sound, look no further and spend no more than you have to, with the JLS tone ring. I would recommend it without hesitation. Hands down the best ring in the $300-$400 price range! 

 

Overall Rating: 10

Tone Rings: Tennessee 20 Tone ring

Submitted by bluegrassbanjopicker on 6/15/2017

Where Purchased: Mike Mason (5twang)

Overall Comments

I purchased the Tennessee 20 tone ring from Mike Mason, to upgrade the tone of my custom banjo "The Centurion," which I modeled closely after the '30s Gibson banjos.

I set my banjo up with this "new" ring and it sounds oh so much better than it did with the previous ring.

This tone ring is absolutely 5-star in its performance. You will have to search far and wide before you find a tone ring this good, under $500! It is one great ring. I am very, very pleased to say the least! $200 well spent. 

 

Overall Rating: 10

BANJO MATE TONE ENHANCER: Banjo Mate Tone Enhancer Brass

Submitted by bluegrassbanjopicker on 4/3/2017

Where Purchased: BanjoTeacher.com

Overall Comments

This piece of brass does work wonders. I was getting frustrated with the sound of my banjo beforehand. The Tone Enhancer took care of that. Five stars for the enhancer. Kudos to Little Mountain Music for making it available!

Overall Rating: 9

Bridges: Tim Purcell Select Maple Bridge

Submitted by bluegrassbanjopicker on 2/23/2017

Where Purchased: Tim Purcell

Overall Comments

I had heard (and read) some good topics on how the Purcell bridges are really great and things like that, so I decided to try one for myself. I chose the new Select Maple bridge with 5/8 height and Crowe spacing from Tim Purcell. Interestingly, the bridge I bought was the first Select Maple bridge he made, which he had installed on his RB-00 conversion.

This bridge is the difference between night and day. The perfect blend of harmonics and balance, it gives my Deering a really spectacular tone. 

If you're looking for the best, try one of Tim's bridges. You won't be disappointed!

 

Overall Rating: 10

Bridges: David Cunningham Walnut/Katalox Bridge

Submitted by bluegrassbanjopicker on 7/14/2016

Where Purchased: DCBanjo Works

Overall Comments

After several emails back and forth with David Cunningham, he suggested I get a Walnut bridge with a Katalox "cap", which the strings rest across.

The bridge puts out more plunk and more of the traditional "banjo" sound that I am familiar with. I really like this bridge and am happy to say that David did a fantastic job on this one. No complaints whatsoever.

Overall Rating: 10

Tuners: Keith D-Tuners

Submitted by bluegrassbanjopicker on 6/30/2016

Where Purchased: Derek Easter (Eastbanjo)

Overall Comments

I had been searching since before my birthday in March, for a good set of the "Scruggs"/D-tuners, but hadn't seen anything yet that I could afford.

Later on, I happened across Derek's ad for the gold-plated Keith tuners. I thought, "It'll be really dumb of me to pass up his offer." The next paragraph describes my satisfaction, once I saw them in person.

These are the best D-tuners in the world, they are built like a tank. 100% USA made, and will never disappoint the user. Worth every part of the price I paid for them. I got them for my Deering Intermediate. Normal retail price for the gold-plated ones is $312. I saved close to $100 on my set.

Good friends still exist; thanks goes to Derek for the tuners and the Beacon Banjo Co for making them available in the first place.

 

 

Overall Rating: 10

Deering: Intermediate

Submitted by bluegrassbanjopicker on 9/28/2015

Where Purchased: eBay

Year Purchased: 2015
Price Paid: 775 ($US) (bought USED)

Sound

Really great sound! I absolutely love it.
No dislikes.

Sound Rating: 9

Setup

I had the banjo professionally set up by Brent Entz, on Oct. 9, 2015.
Very good setup procedure.

Setup Rating: 9

Appearance

Really nice banjo! Butterfly flange pieces add a pretty flair to the resonator. Mahogany resonator and neck, with Indian rosewood fingerboard and diamond-shaped inlays.
Pretty banjo!

Appearance Rating: 9

Reliability

Awesome finish! Works perfect!
Came with standard Grover planetary tuners and an archtop hardshell case.
Notched tension hoop with good J-hooks and a strong, SOLID tailpiece that doesn't bend with the slightest amount of force.

I can definitely depend on it, and would definitely use it on a gig without backup.

Reliability Rating: 9

Customer Service

I contacted Deering to let them know I had purchased the banjo. They were really helpful in answering my questions. Great customer service!

Customer Service: 9

Components

Everything is absolutely great! Nothing cheap or flimsy on this thing!

Components Rating: 10

Overall Comments

This banjo had three owners before me: L.C. Spencer, the first owner, had it from 1981 to 1994, then it was passed to a P.J. Wallner in 1994, and to Teresa Wright, of Agra, Oklahoma, from 1998 (approximate date) to Sept. 23, 2015, at which time it became mine. A keeper for life! I will not sell it or give it away.

Overall Rating: 10

Melody Plus 5-String Openback : N/A

Submitted by bluegrassbanjopicker on 12/4/2014

Where Purchased: Not Purchased; Free

Year Purchased: 2014
Price Paid: 0 ($US)

Sound

Sounds good!

Sound Rating: 8

Setup

The only thing this banjo needs now is a case. Everything else is okay.
This banjo was and is currently set up with an older, 5-star type head, which was on it when I went to pick it up.(I do not know if it had had a different one)
Re: Head has cracked in one place and will need soon replacement.
Will probably put a new 5-star head on it.

Setup Rating: 7

Appearance

Nothing was wrong with the banjo.

Appearance Rating: 9

Reliability

The bracket shoes and j-hooks/nuts appear to be quality components and will last a while. Tailpiece is good.

Reliability Rating: 8

Customer Service

I did not buy this banjo, it was given to me from an elderly Christian woman who had placed an ad in our local Craigslist.
I am the third owner of the instrument.
Customer sevice was very good.

Customer Service: 10

Components

Guitar-style tuners on this banjo are good and I will not change them.
Aluminum pot with bracket shoes and quality hooks and nuts.
I replaced the friction fifth string peg with a Grover geared peg. I made some 'Deering Boston Banjo' flange pieces for it, and it is currently a resonator banjo.

Components Rating: 9

Overall Comments

This is a fine banjo, and it seems to be built to last. I will not sell it.

I gave this banjo away to a good friend of mine last year.

Overall Rating: 8

Oscar Schmidt: OB-5

Submitted by bluegrassbanjopicker on 10/18/2013

Where Purchased: Instrument Alley

Year Purchased: 2013
Price Paid: 301 ($US)

Sound

This banjo is absolutely WONDERFUL after you have tightened the head accurately. Great banjo for the beginner. You will not be disappointed.

Sound Rating: 8

Setup

The banjo was not tuned up but it was easy to do that when it arrived at our home. Bridge needed to be correctly set, but everything else was good.

Setup Rating: 6

Appearance

It has very nice hearts and flowers inlay, and all the hardware is great.

Appearance Rating: 8

Reliability

The only thing I would replace eventually would be the j-hooks and hex nuts, and maybe the head. I would definitely use it on a gig or anywhere!

Reliability Rating: 9

Customer Service

I've never dealt with Oscar Schmidt, but this is a good quality banjo and I probably won't need to deal with them anyway.

Customer Service: 4

Components

The only parts needing upgrade would be the j-hooks, the head, and DEFINITELY the tailpiece.

Components Rating: 6

Overall Comments

This is a good beginner instrument with the perfect snap to delight anybody wanting to learn the banjo. I STRONGLY recommend this as a student instrument.

Overall Rating: 9

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