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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!

7079 reviews in the archive.

Armrests: Zach Hoyt armrest

Submitted by andrewsan on 12/24/2016

Where Purchased: BHO Classifieds

Overall Comments

Beautifully crafted; solid value!

I bought two of Zach Hoyt's handcrafted armrests for two banjos that have unusual diameters, hook configurations, and pot construction. Zach provides outstanding customer support. He is very conscientious about getting an exact understanding of your banjo's dimensions and construction so that the armrest he makes will fit right the first time. I was so pleased with the first 'rest that I ordered the 2nd one a week later. I rate this accessory as a "9" for finish quality because the finish is not as smooth and uniform as a commercially manufactured and sealed armrest. If you want a glass-smooth finish, talk to Zach first. He earned a "10" from me for overall customer satisfaction. Thank you Zach! 

Overall Rating: 10

Kutthroat Stringworks: 12-inch Openback

Submitted by andrewsan on 8/14/2014

Where Purchased: Kutthroat Stringworks

Year Purchased: 2014
Price Paid: 450 ($US)

Sound

I am a beginnning clawhammer player and I love the sound of Kurt Snyder's 12-inch openback. It's a little "tubby" and has a kind of "plunky" sound to it. To my ears, it's a very old-time sound. Not especially bright but the notes are clear and I particularly like the bass response. I've made no changes to Kurt's initial set-up which includes one of his own bridges. I think "...rich and full..." describes the overall sound well.

Sound Rating: 9

Setup

Kurt set up the banjo well for my clawhammer playing. I just had to tune the banjo and start playing. I have no changes to suggest; you can fiddle around with different bridges (and I probably will at some point) but other than that, no adjustments are needed.

Setup Rating: 10

Appearance

If you like a handmade instrument, then you should like Kurt's banjos. I love the look and feel of mine. The pot is block-constructed maple. It has a black walnut flange; book-matched maple neck with a walnut center stripe; brazilian cherry fretboard and custom armrest; and a uniquely designed "twin spar" parrallel brace where you would normally find one or two coordinator rods. Very nicely finished, with custom tuner buttons, truss rod cover, arm rest, and peghead. It's a work of love.

Appearance Rating: 9

Reliability

This is a well built banjo and it's going to last a long time.

Reliability Rating: 10

Customer Service

After contacting Kurt via his website (www.kutthroatstringworks.com), I dealt with him directly. He was courteous and took the time to find out what I was looking for in a clawhammer banjo. Midway through the construction process he reported that he needed to modify the design somewhat to overcome a problem reported by an earlier user. The end result was probably more expensive and time-consuming for Kurt but he did not charge me any more for the improvements.

Customer Service: 10

Components

Kurt fashions his own hoops and makes his own tailpiece and arm rest. I believe that the components are all of very high quality although they aren't particularly polished or chromed...which I find totally in keeping with the aesthetic of the overall instrument. I can't think of any upgrades that would make it any better. If you want chrome and a glass-like finish on your instrument's neck and pot, you probably don't want a Kutthroat. But I am a happy camper!

Components Rating: 10

Overall Comments

Kutthroat Stringworks is worth checking out! Kurt has two openback banjos (11-inch and 12-inch heads), a kind of resonator style banjo, a "mountain ukulele," mandolins, and a double-headed, fan-fretted banjitar! I think this craftsman deserves a lot of support and I hope he continues to build innovative instruments such as my 12-inch openback. Thank you, Kurt!

Overall Rating: 10

Wooden Lady: Wooden Lady No. 3

Submitted by andrewsan on 1/22/2014

Where Purchased: e-Bay

Year Purchased: 2013
Price Paid: 820.00 ($US)

Sound

A great 5-string open-back banjo for frailing, which is what I love. I haven't made any changes to the set-up chosen by the maker, Robert Edney of Richmond, California. Came equipped with steel strings...probably medium gauge. It has a full sound that is "rounded-out" in a way by the fact that Mr. Edney with a brass hoop sitting on a wooden tone ring in the Whyte Lady style. It has a nice brightness about it but it's not too bright for my taste. It's got a very solid, old-time sound. I give it a purely subjective rating of "10" because Sound is a personal preference. I like the Wooden Lady as much as my Hugh Hunter bluegrass and open-back banjos.

Sound Rating: 10

Setup

The Wooden Lady came well set up and ready to tune and play. The action is low and I will probably just change the string gauge from medium to light when I change out the strings. February 2016 update: took the banjo in to Dennis Patkus in Waterville, Maine to check the set up. Dennis adjusted the neck a bit and lowered the action...plays great!

Setup Rating: 9

Appearance

Mr. Edney's choice of woods is impressive! I was drawn tot he banjo by the mix of rock maple and bocate for the block rim and neck is beautiful. All the hardware is solid brass, including the position markers on the fretboard and the inlay design on the headstock. Overall impression: it's stunning and understated at the same time. Lovely!

Appearance Rating: 10

Reliability

The hardware will last a lifetime, as will the finish. Mr. Edney must take great pride and care in his work, since he only produces one Wooden Lady per year. I would take this banjo anywhere without worrying about having a backup in case it fails me.

Reliability Rating: 10

Customer Service

This was an e-Bay auctioned banjo and I have no complaints about Mr. Edney's service and support. No warranty was extended with the purchase of the banjo but I am sure he would be easy to deal with should the need for repair or adjustment ever arise. I rate Customer Service a "10" because I haven't had to return my Wooden Lady for service in three years.

Customer Service: 10

Components

There are no cheap partys on this banjo and no shortcuts in its creation. The all-brass hardware and inlays are a definite "plus" for me. I can't see anything about it that would be improved by some sort of upgrade. Bridge preferences don't qualify as an "upgrade," in my opinion.

Components Rating: 10

Overall Comments

My Robert Edney "Wooden Lady" is an outstanding, handmade open-back banjo that I will pass down with pride. The design, quality, tone, and materials are excellent. I feel very fortunate to have been the winning bidder on this banjo. Since Mr. Edney does not distribute through dealers -- at least as far as I know - and since there are only two other Wooden Ladies out there, you will have to watch e-Bay very carefully if you want to pick one up. Or maybe you will luck out and find one in the BHO Classified section. 

Overall Rating: 10

Straps: Handmade Straps

Submitted by andrewsan on 11/17/2012

Where Purchased: On-line from Amanda's site

Overall Comments

Just picked up my 4th banjo strap from Amanda Brewer's site, handmadestraps.com. Once again, a very high-quality, light-weight strap in a pleasing fabric pattern that works well, aesthetically, with my handmade A-scale banjo built by Dean Lungu in Arizona. I like Amanda's' taste in strap patterns and her customer service is first-rate. She takes custom orders and has straps for guitars, ukuleles, and cameras. Well worth a look! I'll probably purchase strap #6 for my wife's guitar.

Overall Rating: 10

Straps: Handmade Straps

Submitted by andrewsan on 8/15/2012

Where Purchased: On-line at www.handmadestraps.com

Overall Comments

Amy Brewer makes very thoughtfully designed and carefully constructed straps in many different patterns. They are sturdy but lightweight and the wide variety of patterns makes it likely you will find one that really sets off your instrument, whether its vintage, contemporary, or custom. I have two of her straps any may pick up a third. She uses chicago screw fasteners and can make custom lengths. Equally wide selection of straps for guitars, ukeleles, and cameras. Good customer service!

Overall Rating: 10

Bridges: Davis Banjo Bridge

Submitted by andrewsan on 5/14/2012

Where Purchased: Direct from Steve Davis

Overall Comments

My 2nd Steve Davis bridge arrived last Wednesday or Thursday and it fit my old, no-name open back with Aguila Nylgut strings very well! I did have to file the slot a bit for several of the strings, but that was easy. I like the bird's eye maple and will order it again if I go for a 3rd bridge...but I will probably add the ebony top. Steve's $30 price tag is high when you're comparing a Davis bridge to some of the other handmade bridges available from other Hangout members. But if you like his design and the robust construction, coupled with very nice woods, I suggest you take the plunge. Steve is easy to work with via e-mail and his "try before you buy" policy is a plus. I like his design very much. It's artistic, unique, and very sturdy. The form and function work well together. I rate his bridges a "9" just because I think the price is a tad high...I'd like to see them sold for $28. But $2 won't keep me from buying again if I want a 3rd Steve Davis! Very nice bridges!

Overall Rating: 9

Armrests: Ron Coleman

Submitted by andrewsan on 10/18/2009

Where Purchased: From Ron Coleman directly

Overall Comments

2014 Update: I plunked down another $50 for my 3rd Ron Coleman armrest. Once again, a well-made 'rest of flamed maple that Ron took the time to stain as closely to the color and depth of the banjo it went on! By providing a tracing of the Elton armrest and a couple of photos of the banjo, Ron was able to do his magic. 

This is Ron's second model -- cut to fit an outline of the standard, all-metal arm rest you send him. I bought his first model about a year ago and highly recommend it. His #2 design is equally high-quality. It's L-shaped so that it fits both the top and the front (or side) of the arm rest. Mine is walnut and it's a beautiful piece of wood. It comes well-packed, with Ron's signature and the date of creation on the inside. The adhesive strips that Ron uses to attach the arm rest to your base are strong: it won't pop off or slip. Ron makes bridges, too, and I'm waiting for a chance to try the one he sent me. I recommend his products without reservation. -- Andrew Stevenson, 2011. 

Overall Rating: 10

Other: Cloverlick Banjo Brass "Strap" Shoe

Submitted by andrewsan on 9/26/2009

Where Purchased: Cloverlick Banjo Shop, on line

Overall Comments

These "strap shoes" are designed to let you use a standard guitar strap with your open-back or resonator banjo. You buy two of them and replace two of the existing shoes on your banjo. The hook that goes with the original shoe will fit right into the strap shoe. The shoes are made of solid brass and are well machined...no hard or sharp edges, no filings to scratch your finish. I bought one set, loved the way they fit my Mike Coleman open-back and ordered two more sets. Jeff Kramer, owner of Cloverlick Banjos, is the designer and creator. Definitely worth the money. A fine product from a straight-ahead guy.

Overall Rating: 10

Tailpieces: Fielding Tail Piece

Submitted by andrewsan on 9/26/2009

Where Purchased: Direct from Will Fielding

Overall Comments

Besides his line of very, very nicely made banjos, Will sells an elegant tailpiece in polished brass or nickel plate. It's often advertised in Banjo Newsletter and you can see it on his website, FieldingBanjos.com. It reminds me of the turn-of-the-century tailpieces on English banjos. It's perfect for an older banjo of the 1800 or 1900's. I put mine on a Tim Smith restoration that Tim dubbed a "Lange-Tone" since he assembled it from an early 1900s Lange mandolin pot and a Gold Tone neck for a 5-string. Anyway, check out Will's tailpiece if you want something elegant and understated. Nice work, Will, thank you!

Overall Rating: 9

Armrests: Ron Coleman

Submitted by andrewsan on 11/8/2008

Where Purchased: From Ron Coleman directly

Overall Comments

A well-made arm rest nicely finished and stable when attached. Mine is flamed walnut and a very rich, dark brown matte finish. Ron cuts and finishes a wooden 'rest that sits on top of your own metal arm rest. You send him a tracing of your arm rest and he does the rest. Ron has many different woods to choose from and is very easy to deal with by phone or e-mail. While I have never had a Nechville "comfort bevel" arm rest, I think Ron's is comparable in quality. Highly recommended. September 2009 update: the arm rest is working just fine...no wiggling, no slipping on the metal base. I ordered a 2nd one in Ron's new design. Rating upgraded to a "10," give this accessory a try. You'll like it.

Overall Rating: 10

Hugh Hunter: 5-string Walnut Resonator

Submitted by andrewsan on 11/8/2008

Where Purchased: Directly from Hugh Hunter

Year Purchased: 2008
Price Paid: 1,900 ($US)

Sound

I'm an amateur player, so my "sound vocabulary" is limited. But my Hugh Hunter is a great-sounding bluegrass banjo. I would describe it as "bright, clear, with some 'thump' in the 4th string." I love it.

Sound Rating: 9

Setup

The banjo arrived snugly tucked away in a TKL case and securely boxed up for the journey. The position of the bridge was marked on the head. The strings were loosely tuned. I had no trouble setting the instrument up and tuning it. I may take it to luthier Rob Zwally (www.stringdoc.com) for a check-up later this fall. But Hugh did a fine job of setting it up.

Setup Rating: 9

Appearance

This is a beautiful instrument! Hugh works directly with you when you commission a banjo. The finished banjo had all of the features that he and I agreed to a year earlier. Hugh crafted a block-construction pot with alternating blocks of hard maple and walnut, a three-layer neck of walnut-maple-walnut, a stunning walnut resonator by Steve Gill, and a Bill Rickard tone ring. The fretboard is inlaid with maple leaves that I ordered from Luthiers Supply. The neck is bound in maple, as is the resonator. If you want to know more, e-mail me via the 'Hut and I'll share pictures. They're worth a thousand words, for sure.

Appearance Rating: 10

Reliability

The tuners are Ping guitar-style tuners (my specification), with a 16:1 ratio, I believe. Hugh used a Price SL-5 tailpiece that I ordered from Dr. Price. The nut is bone. The finish is matte and smooth as a baby's bottom. Hugh included a set of "Stay Tuned" strings for no extra charge, urging me to try them out and let him know if they worked well. I think he and Bill Rickard are going to use "Stay Tuned" as their standard strings. This should be a completely reliable banjo and I will keep it the rest of my banjo-playing days. I'm rating Reliability a "9" only because I have had the banjo only a month. I'll update in a year.

Reliability Rating: 9

Customer Service

This is my first time dealing with Hugh, but I hope it will not be my last...budget permitting! He is very good at maintaining contact, replies promptly to my questions or comments, and helped me think my through all the technical and aesthetic judgments one makes when ordering a custom-made banjo. He included a CD with pictures of the banjo in various stages of development and sends them to you as he goes along as well. The TKL case came with my name engraved on the faceplate. Very classy touch, Hugh!

Customer Service: 10

Components

All the components were top-notch. Hugh and I agreed on every aspect of the banjo in advance. The Rickard tone ring is impressive, as is the laser-cut, single piece flange Bill crafted. Hugh also cut and shaped a piece of ebony to overlay on the arm rest, giving it a little more personality than the standard, nickel plated issue. The Price Straight Line-5 tailpiece seems a good match with the rest of the instrument. I love the Ping tuners! They're black chrome and compliment the peghead design -- a custom shape that Hugh and I worked out. One stand-out feature of my "Hugh Hunter" is the tunneled 5th string, which he executed very well. My only other point of comparison on this design element is my 1960s J.A. Sloan open-back, which also has a tunneled 5th string...just not as well placed, in my opinion.

Components Rating: 10

Overall Comments

Hugh makes high-quality instrument to your exact specifications. Mine was worth the $1,900 I paid for it...and probably more. This is a banjo I expect to grow into, since I'm just starting out. It's solid, the work of a dedicated craftsman (or "men," since Hugh relied on Bill Rickard for the tone ring and flange, and another colleague for the resonator). One thing I particularly love is the way the banjo SMELLS. Strange, I guess, but it's got its own scent. Another feature that endears it to me is the binding on the neck and resonator. I really like wood as a binding choice. The MOP inlays on the fretboard and peghead are flawless. Again, contact me if you want pictures. I'll even send you the spec sheet that Hugh uses to make sure he and you have covered every conceivable element of the design and hardware. Oh yeah, one last piece of advice: check out his website, Midnight Special Banjos. He's listed in the Banjo Hangout's "Links" section. The sample banjos on the site are only a few of the ones he's created and maybe not the best ones to show off his talents, in my humble opinion. I don't plan on needing another bluegrass banjo for a very long time. Hugh builds instruments that grow on you.

Overall Rating: 10

Rob Zwally

Submitted by andrewsan on 6/21/2008

Overall Comments

Rob has 30+ years of experience as a luthier and speaks with quiet sincerity about what he can do with any banjo you entrust to his care. His diagnosis is thorough and his estimates accurate. He takes time to make sure that you understand the work that he will do and the results that you can reasonably expect. He did an outstanding job taking a mediocre, homemade open-back to sound better than I had a right to expect. He is honest, direct, and obviously cares deeply about the quality of his work. I recommend him without hesitation. Check his qualifications and philosophy at his website, www.stringdoc. com.

Overall Rating: 10

Tim Smith

Submitted by andrewsan on 6/21/2008

Overall Comments

Tim Smith of Mt. Wolf, Pennsylvania is an unusual luthier. His website is a statement of his working philosophy in a nutshell: www.savethebanjos.com. Tim's passion to reviving older, medium-grade banjos and finding homes for them. I purchased a circa 1900 no-name open-back with Cannonball nylon strings from Tim for a very reasonable price and was completely happy with. So happy, in fact, that I sent him my Deering Goodtime open-back awhile later and asked him to customize it by doubling the number of hooks, adding an ebony fingerboard, ebony heel cap, and re-styling the Gumby-like peghead. He did excellent work at a reasonable price. Tim represents his work fairly and his website contains step-by-step, illustrated case histories of many of the banjos he has brought back to like. Check with Tim if you're interested in an economical, turn-of-the-century instrument that shows its history -- Tim doesn't restore banjos to a like-new state; that's not his thing. But he definitely gives them a new lease on life.

Overall Rating: 9

Musicmakers: Riverboat

Submitted by andrewsan on 3/7/2008

Where Purchased: Music Makers, Inc.

Year Purchased: 2008
Price Paid: 450 ($US)

Sound

"Riverboat" is a kit banjo that Music Makers no longer stocks. They had one finished model on the shelf and agreed to sell it to me. It's an all-wood, open-back banjo with a spruce tone ring, cherry pot, cherry neck, and paduak fretboard. When played, it's got a rich voice with some nice base notes. Play it down by the bridge and it's got the punch of a standard bluegrass resonator. Play it up by the neck and it's a little mellower. You could frail it pretty well, I imagine, but I'm not a clawhammer or frailer myself. I like the sound very much. It's loud enough for ensemble playing.

Sound Rating: 8

Setup

Matt at Music Makers checked the banjo out before sending it off to me. He put new strings (medium gauge) on, tested it, and shipped it out. The action is low. There is no buzz anywhere down the neck. I haven't made any changes to the set-up. All I had to do was unpack it; set up the bridge; tune 'er up; and Riverboat was good to go!

Setup Rating: 9

Appearance

If you appreciate fine woods, you'll like a Riverboat. The pot is block construction, lightly stained, with a matte finish. The staining and finish bring out the grain in the wood and it has a very warm appearance. The neck is equally well done: slim, with substantial heft at the base where it joins the pot. The padauk fretboard is about 1/4" thick and well bonded to the cherry neck. I love the shape of the peg head. I can't really place it, but I know I've seen the design on other, higher-end resonators. It looks a little like the "maple leaf" design you can find on some older Deerings...or is it Nechvilles? Anyway, it's pretty. There are no finishing flaws in the instrument that I could detect. An occasional rough spot on the inside of the pot but nothing that constitutes a "flaw," in my opinion. I'm impressed with the quality of the materials and the assembly. The fretboard is unbound; there are no side-markers, but there are MOP dots down the 'board in the usual positions. The frets are well-seated and smoothly finished at the sides...you won't scratch a finger while playing.

Appearance Rating: 9

Reliability

I'm not much judge of hardware. But I think the quality is high. Since it's an all-wood banjo, the only metal components are the tuners, strap buttons, and screws holding the ring on the rim. The tuners are nickel or chrom-plated friction tuners, I think. The 5th-string tuner is geared and also plated the same. I think all the hardware will last until you decide you want to upgrade the tuners...but it won't be because they failed. If you're playing in gigs, you will probably want to bring a back-up, especially if you're playing bluegrass and your pals expect a resonator. Riverboat comes with a frosted head.

Reliability Rating: 9

Customer Service

I will use Music Makers again. Matt was the customer service person I dealt with on the purchase and he was very helpful. Orders are processed promptly and correctly the first time. Riverboat came in one of the best shipping containers I've seen (and I've shipped 5-6 banjos in the last two years). There's been no need to send it back for adjustment or repairs. It came without a warranty, but that's not an issue for me. Music Makers stocks all the parts for a Riverboat, and the plans for building one, so if you're determined to acquire one, contact Matt and ask him to help you pull all the pieces together. There's even a brass (I think it's brass!) tone ring available through Music Makers, so you could upgrade for a brighter sound with a little more "bite" for under $100.

Customer Service: 10

Components

The woods used and the overall design of Riverboat are its best features. This is a big banjo -- about 17" across with a substantial pot that's about 3" thick. It looks like it would be heavy, but it's surprisingly light -- I weighed it in at 7 lbs., give or take an ounce or two. The fretboard might have been a little smoother, that's the only reason I give it an "8." Oh yes, the tailpiece is also wood, very well made, and firmly attached. A Riverboard takes ball-end strings. Music Makers sells extra sets.

Components Rating: 8

Overall Comments

Music Maker's Riverboat model was originally advertized at $699 for a finished instrument. Since mine had been sitting in inventory for quite some time, I purchased it for considerably less. It's definitely worth the price. It's got a deeper voice than my Deering Goodtime open-back and it's not as punchy as the Morgan-Monroe Rocky Top I used to have, but it's got its own character and no "identity crisis." I really enjoy playing it.

Overall Rating: 9

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