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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!

6909 reviews in the archive.

Diane Jones: Thirty of Diane's Favorites (DVD)

Submitted by J-Walk on 10/25/2008

Where Purchased: From Diane

Overall Comments

I got this DVD a few days ago, and I highly recommend it: 30 of Diane's Favorites

http://www.reedisland.com/RIR/dvdjones.htm

It's not your normal clawhammer instructional DVD. She introduces each tune and then plays it. That's it. No wasted time describing what she's doing, and both hands are visible at all times. It's intended mainly for intermediate level players who don't rely on tab. The tunes are sorted by tuning -- a nice touch. Most of the tunes are new to me, which makes it even better. She claims that it's for instructional purposes, rather than for entertainment. But she's lying. I liked this DVD so much, that I sought out a program that let me rip the DVD to MP3 files so I could listen to them without having to watch.

Great stuff. There's lots of clawhammer instructional material for beginners, but Intermediate players tend to be overlooked. Every banjo instructor should do this. Thanks, Diane.

Overall Rating: 10

Brooks Masten: Silver Spun

Submitted by J-Walk on 10/7/2007

Where Purchased: From the maker

Year Purchased: 2007
Price Paid: 1750 ($US)

Sound

As far as I'm concerned, this is what a clawhammer banjo is SUPPOSED to sound like. Mellow, plunky, and very well balanced tone.

Normally, it takes me some time to get used to a new banjo. But this baby felt like an old friend after about 30 seconds. Sounds great loud, and sound great soft. No complaints in the sound department.

Sound Rating: 10

Setup

I requested a relatively high action. I don't have any precision measuring instruments, so I based it off of my perfectly set-up Romero. I asked him to make the action at the 12th fret equal to the hight of two nickels. And that's how it came.

Brooks included an additional bridge for experimentation. As it turns out, I ended up using a Moon bridge, which corrects the slight intonation problem that always occurs with a non compensated bridge.

I think Brooks should consider supplying a compensated bridge.

Setup Rating: 9

Appearance

This is a beauty. Absolutely flawless. The metal "silverspun" was nicely polished -- although it won't remain like that for long. I'm not one for wiping down my instruments, so I expect it to get dirty and corroded over time. No problem.

It has a mahogany neck, which has a perfect feel to it. The wood inside the rim is flamed maple. I chose very simple dot inlays for the fretboard. In retrospect, I should have chosen side markers as well, but I'll get used to it.

The head is goat skin, dyed brown. That's the first thing everyone notices, of course, I REALLY like that non-white look. I remember drooling over a Johannes Bonefaas hairy goat skin banjo. Mine is hairless, but it has a similar look. And I think it's catching on. Jason Romero is doing the same thing.

I should point out that the ultimate look was my choice. Brooks sent me a bunch of photos during the construction process so I could see how it was coming along.

Appearance Rating: 10

Reliability

As far as I can tell, everything on this banjo is top quality. Not sure if it would survive a fall from the Empire State Building, but this thing seems reliable enough form me.

Reliability Rating: 10

Customer Service

Brooks and I exchanged about 50 emails during the course of construction. He seem like a great guy, and will do anything you like. But he also has his own opinions. I inquired about a particular cosmetic thing, and he told me he didn't think it would look good. I accepted that.

The banjo was delivered in a double box, without a case. Because his banjos typically include a case, I asked him about it. Apparently, he confused me with another customer who didn't want a case. So now he's sending me a case.

BTW, this is actually a good thing for me. I'm always looking for shipping boxes for guitars, and now I have two. And I will soon have three.

Customer Service: 10

Components

It's all good. I especially like the 1906 Indian head penny embedded in the peg head. I would have preferred a 1907, but...

Components Rating: 10

Overall Comments

When I got my Jason Romero, I thought I had the ultimate in small maker banjos. Now I'm not so sure sure. Brooks is an incredible maker, on par with the best that I've ever experienced. If I were forced to choose between my Romero and my Brooks, I'd be standing there scratching my head for a long time.

If you're in the market for a unique old-time banjo, you owe it to yourself to get in touch with Brooks.

Overall Rating: 10

Bowlin: Fretless Banjo 1865 Model

Submitted by J-Walk on 5/24/2007

Where Purchased: From John

Year Purchased: 2007
Price Paid: 795 ($US)

Sound

I REALLY like the sound of this banjo. When you play it, you not only hear it, but you feel it. It's certainly loud enough, but it can also be played quietly.

Sound Rating: 10

Setup

No problems at all. I removed it from the box, installed the bridge, and tuned it up. I felt at home immediately. I've played other fretless banjos, but none has been as easy to play as this one. My left hand just falls right in place.

Setup Rating: 10

Appearance

This banjo is about as plain as they come, but it's beautiful and flawless. The skin head is almost pure white. I guess I would have preferred a bit more color variation, but that's a minor nitpick.

Appearance Rating: 10

Reliability

I'm certain that this banjo will outlive me. And probably the first generation of my ancestors.

Reliability Rating: 10

Customer Service

John's a great guy to work with. He kept in continual touch via email, and sent photos when it was finished. There was a slight delay in the delivery because he got sick. He apologized profusely, which was completely unnecessary.

Customer Service: 10

Components

As far as I can tell, this banjo is made from quality materials by a master craftsman.

Components Rating: 10

Overall Comments

John informed me that he raised the price to $995 -- which is still a bargain in my book. He said he puts about 80 hours into each banjo. After you deduct the materials cost, he's working for just over minimum wage.

The only problem with this instrument is that my other banjos are going to feel neglected.

Overall Rating: 10

Romero: 11" Open Back

Submitted by J-Walk on 3/6/2007

Where Purchased: From Jason Romero

Year Purchased: 2007
Price Paid: 2060 ($US)

Sound

I will admit that it took me a while to get accustomed to the sound of this banjo. I'm a new player, and I'd become very used to the sound of my Deering/Vega Old Time Wonder. This Romero banjo really resonates, and (to my ear) it sounded way too bright.

I was getting some fret buzzing, so Jason sent me a new bridge to raise the action a tad. The new bridge is also much heavier than the original. After about a week of playing -- and especially after installing the new bridge, I can now say that this banjo sounds absolutely superb to me. The tone is perfectly balanced, and it no longer sounds too bright. I'm not sure how much of it is due to the different bridge or how much of it is just getting accustomed to playing a responsive and very resonant banjo. But, in any case, I'm a happy camper. But I still keep a sock stuffed under the head.

Sound Rating: 10

Setup

As I mentioned, the action was a tad too low, but a slightly taller bridge solved that problem.

Setup Rating: 9

Appearance

If you've browsed Jason's web site, you know that he makes some absolutely gorgeous instruments. Mine is no exception. I chose the "all wood" rim, and it's made of black walnut with a rosewood integral tone ring. The fingerboard (and overlays) are ebony. Here's the link to Jason's photos:

http://www.romerobanjos.com/0795_gecko.html

The only difference is that the banjo actually has a calfskin head rather than a Renaissance.

My original plan was for much fancier inlay, but I eventually decided that simpler is better. He made a cool lizard inlay on the peghead, and some "petroglyph" fret markers.

Appearance Rating: 10

Reliability

When it arrived, I gave this banjo a thorough inspection and I couldn't find a single flaw.

Everything about this banjo screams quality. Barring total destruction of the globe (or a nasty accident involving a pickup truck), it will still be around and playable in 100 years.

Reliability Rating: 10

Customer Service

When I ordered this banjo, Jason said it would be ready in six months at the latest. the delivery time was actually about 7.5 months. Not a big deal, but people do tend to become antsy when they're waiting for a new instrument to arrive.

I spoke to him on the phone 3-4 times, and he's a very easy to get along with, and anxious to do whatever it takes to make an instrument that you'll like. No complaints in the customer service department.

Customer Service: 10

Components

As I mentioned, everything about this banjo is top-notch. There are no cheap parts, and even the case is impressive.

Components Rating: 10

Overall Comments

What more can I say? I took a risk,and it worked out great. I'd never even seen a Romero banjo in person, much less played one. Two words: Highly recommended.

Overall Rating: 10

Jeff Menzies: Gourd Banjo

Submitted by J-Walk on 3/14/2006

Where Purchased: Directly from Jeff

Year Purchased: 2006
Price Paid: 550 ($US)

Sound

I'd listened to lots of gourd sound clips on the Web, and there's a wide variety of tones. I had no idea what this one would sound like, but I took a chance. And I lucked out. I'm very pleased with sound of this banjo. I think this is one of the largest gourds Jeff has ever used -- about 14 inches. Consequently, it's loud and has a very deep resonant tone. It came with a set of nylon strings, and I'll probably try Nylgut to see if there's an improvement. But as it is, no complaints at all.

Sound Rating: 10

Setup

Here's what happened. The banjo finally arrived and I tuned it up. I was playing for about 20 minutes and the wooden tailpiece broke - KA-POW! Major bummer. I emailed Jeff, and he sent me a new one immediately. The replacement was made of bone, so I don't think it will be breaking.

The action is excellent, and the friction tuners work surprisingly well. My only experience with friction tuners is on a cheap fiddle, so I was expecting the worse. I was pleasantly surprised.

Setup Rating: 9

Appearance

This thing is a work of art. It has a prominent place in our living room, and the patterns on the gourd compliment the limestone around the fireplace perfectly. It's worth the price simply as a piece of art. The fact that it's a fun, playable, and good-sounding instrument is a nice bonus.

Appearance Rating: 10

Reliability

Time will tell how well it holds up. Except for the metal tacks, it's completely organic. Obviously, it seems a lot more fragile than a modern instrument. I hate to think of dropping it on a hard floor, but that would probably be the end of it. Maybe not. I have no idea how sturdy a dried gourd is.

This thing will never leave the house, so the lack of a case is not important.

Reliability Rating: 8

Customer Service

Jeff always responds to my emails, and I was impressed by how quickly the replacement tailpiece arrived.

Keep in mind that Jeff is in Canada. So if you buy directly from him, expect a wait. In fact, I waited 20 days for the two post offices to deliver it. I figured the average speed was about 4 miles per hour.

Customer Service: 10

Components

I guess I would have preferred better quality strings, but that's a nit-pick. And I've already talked about the wooden tailpiece.

Components Rating: 8

Overall Comments

I think this instrument is definitely worth the price. I don't know if I'll ever learn to play it well (it's my first fretless experience), but it sure is fun to mess around with. And, as I mentioned, it's an attractive piece of art.

In retrospect, I think I would have preferred a smaller gourd. It's like having a basketball sitting in your lap. After playing it a while, my right arm gets sore. I'm sure I'll adjust to, and it's probably worth it because of the extra rich sound it puts out.

It's a "primitive" instrument, and that's exactly how I approach it. I certainly don't expect it to be as playable as a modern banjo (and it's not). But I like it, and I expect to get lots of enjoyment from it.

Thanks, Jeff, and keep up the excellent work.

Overall Rating: 10

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