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Buying advice for $1600ish budget.

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Jun 14, 2019 - 10:36:09 AM

83 posts since 12/21/2012

If you can get your hands on one to try, I highly recommend Bart Reiter's banjos! Quality hand made, great sounding, and not super frilly. I own his Round Peak model. Elderly Instruments in Michigan has most of his models with prices. They are a great value.

Jun 14, 2019 - 5:57:37 PM

1929 posts since 12/31/2005

As you are learning about builders, you really should consider getting ahold of Craig Evans's Banjo Builders series, or at least the ones that have the builders you are thinking about. These are great video visits with the various builders being discussed. They talk about their backgrounds, their philosophy on building, and their tools and techniques.

Jun 14, 2019 - 6:25:57 PM
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Players Union Member



6686 posts since 10/26/2005

Thanks for the mention, Brian!

Shirizzle, you’ve got the world by the tail! But I’d suggest you put your money in your pocket for a while and head out to a few OT music festivals and then a couple of choice music stores.

At the festival, you’re going to hear all sorts of different brands and models of banjos as well as interesting styles of play. Go ahead and ingratiate yourself with some of these players. Tell them you’re “on the hunt.” More often than not they’ll tell you about their buying adventures. You’ll make great new friends! Ask questions and see if you can give their banjo a test run. You’ll learn a bunch and it won’t cost you a dime. And you’ll have a ball in the process.

Next, visit a large music store that carries an inventory of quality banjos and try out everything that has five strings on it. If by now you’ve discovered a favorite brand or builder, call them up and possibly give them a visit.

Now reach into your pocket. At this point you’re really going to get your money’s worth because you know what you like to hear (voice), which fits your playing style and what’s going to make you a better player. Banjos aren’t just things… It’s an extension of you. It’s your voice in the language of music.

Given a little quality time and exposure, you’ll find that missing piece and it will be magic!

Have fun!

Jun 16, 2019 - 5:29:24 PM
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6 posts since 3/6/2010

Ken got back to me. I’m going to start the process of getting a custom jo. I even have some extra funds to add a few extras.

Jun 16, 2019 - 7:45 PM



3048 posts since 2/1/2012

Way to go Joshua. Hopefully Ken with keep updating this thread with build pictures every now and then.


Jul 15, 2019 - 6:18:35 PM
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6 posts since 3/6/2010

Just mailed the deposit for Ken to start the build. I tried uploading the sketch of what he’s going to make me, but couldn’t get it to post.

I’m pretty excited. This banjo is going to be built near the town I grew up with native grown wood! Also, I’m about fed up with my current banjo that won’t sound a note above the 5th fret.

I appreciate everyone’s input and advice on here. This is an awesome forum. I plan on doing some open mic nights in my local area once I get my new banjo. Should give me plenty of time to get practiced up.

Jul 15, 2019 - 6:37:42 PM

1929 posts since 12/31/2005


Jul 16, 2019 - 8:54:12 AM

353 posts since 3/31/2013

Ken builds great banjos. The neck is very playable and the intonation on mine is perfect.

Jul 19, 2019 - 4:34:56 PM
Players Union Member



447 posts since 4/17/2019

Thank you, you followed my suggestion and located a smaller builder who is independent of market fads. Way to go.

Aug 22, 2019 - 10:24:02 PM

6 posts since 3/6/2010


Ken is working on the inlays! I’m so excited to have a good quality instrument. I’ve been frustrated with my current banjo because it’s hard to play. My dad was able to find me an Ibanez b50 Basically for free (he traded an old double bass pedal for it). In the mean time, at least I’ll be able to learn while I wait for for my banjo to be built. Clawhammer style is my focus at this time. It’s easier for me to sing and entertain. Music has always been my calling and there’s something about the banjo that struck a nerve in me. This forum is awesome. Long time lurker.


Larry, thank you for being supportive even though I didn’t have you build me an instrument for me. It would’ve been easy for me to buy a mass produced product. I’m sure I’ll be interested in one of your fine instruments as well in the future. 

Edited by - shirizzle on 08/22/2019 22:28:48

Aug 23, 2019 - 12:07:49 AM

610 posts since 6/25/2006

I would look for a modern banjo specifically desgined for clawhammer rather than vintage - vintage banjos tend to have standard scale, skinny necks and low action - and think about what kind of sound you are after.  Most players seem to want dark and plunky so they go for a tonering that is simple brass hoop, wood or dobson.  Brighter: whyte ladie.  Very bright/resonant: tubaphone.  The Deering Sierra would be bright/resonant but also very heavy - might be worth checking out Deering's white oak banjos

Also, another recommendation for Ken Le Van - I have a custom banjo made by him and it is awesome. There are photos on my page.

Edited by - hobogal on 08/23/2019 00:15:11

Aug 23, 2019 - 12:14:23 AM
Players Union Member

Chris Meakin


2473 posts since 5/15/2011

A little while back, Ken did a stunning bit of inlay he called 'Mountain Sunset'.

Most of the photos are gone now, but I thought it was beautiful work.

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