I got the banjo last night, and it’s stunning. Everything about it, the look, the feel, the sound, it’s all just perfect. I’ll take good care of it!
I finally got to meet my banjo this weekend, and I am so pleased! It is exactly as I dared hope - warm sound, light weight, handsome appearance and wonderful feel. Thank you so much. I look forward to dragging it everywhere with me.
I used my new banjo for a recording project yesterday (an arguably too ornately arranged version of Needle Case) and it was insanely good on every count. Sounds terrific, neck feels great, head has a wonderful soft feel only available with hide, tunes up and holds tune.The slightly high action is perfect and gives an ideal angle off the bridge—everything about it is top notch.
Can’t wait to get the next one!
Bainbridge Island, Washington
I was fortunate to have gotten a circa-1886 Geo. C. Dobson rim with all original hardware from my good friend John Bowlin. Needing a neck made, I am lucky enough to be neighbors with one of the most accomplished banjo-makers in the country, Brooks Masten. I am doubly lucky in that unlike many other makers, Brooks is willing, able, and skilled enough to take on a project like this.
My vision for this banjo was to restore it to its original condition… the way it appeared in an old Victor Banjos catalogue, dated May 25th, 1886. Brooks skillfully recreated the appropriate neck for the desired Model #51. His sense of proportion, finish work, and fitting of the neck to this old rim were flawlessly executed. His inlay of the position markers and 1886 U.S. Dime in the dowel-stick were done immaculately, as was the installation of the brass plate in the scoop area of the fingerboard. The materials employed were of the highest quality.
The result is a superlative banjo restored to a condition that likely surpasses the original. The balance, stability, and heft of this banjo are remarkable. As hoped for, the tone of the vintage pot in combination with the playability of the neck make this a magnificent instrument.
My interaction with Brooks during the building process was truly enjoyable. He was supportive of my vision for the instrument, and his suggestions served to refine the final result. His knowledge of historical banjo design made his input invaluable. Having visited Brooks at his shop several times during the process, I came away not only with what is my finest fretted banjo, but also a new friend.
Thanks to John Bowlin who saved it, and to Brooks Masten whose artistry gave it new life, the voice of a 130 year-old banjo is heard again!!!
Brush Prairie, WA
I was just checking out your website… Your banjo has done over 6 years of great service… traveled across three continents, played on scores of albums and never let me down at a show, sounds great amplified… I’ve even bought other banjos and sold them again because they didn’t do the job the Tugboat Captain does… It is my only 5 string banjo at this point and I don’t see myself ever replacing it… So, thank you!
By the way thanks so much for the banjo, it is working out excellently. I was a little nervous buying an instrument before actually playing it (the last time I did that it didn’t work out so well), but I could not have asked for a better instrument, it is a real beauty. Jamming and practicing is going to be so much better. Thanks!
Just wanted to let you know that I put some Classic Nylgut strings on my 11.5” spunover and it is sounding absolutely great. Great plunk and volume. I have been using it for local gigs quite a bit. I attached a picture of me using it with a group playing a gig up at the Flying M Rance (for an Oregon Trail wagoneer group).
I haven’t managed to thank you yet for the fine 12” Spartan banjer (#164) that you sent me last week. It has far exceeded my expectations! I’m looking forward to commissioning more from you in the future.
It has already turned quite a few heads around the St. Louis Metro area and I suspect you’ll be receiving some new orders from some St. Louis folks, soon!
St. Louis, MO
I received my 20L spunover with walnut neck last November. I had planned to make it my number two banjo. Much to my surprise, it has moved up to number one. You have cured my quest for that “special banjo”. You are one super banjo builder.
Sierra Vista, AZ
I got to sleep late last night with sore fingertips cause I had a hard time putting it down. Sweet sound. I like what you did with the geometry i.e. nice action all the way up the neck yet plenty of room from the scoop to the bridge for digging in.
As a metalworker I am amazed at how you wrapped the pot. Great design, workmanship and aesthetics. I’m glad you are doing what you do. And the tailpiece harkens back to another time.
The Pegheads all seem to be functioning perfectly and they really look good.
I love this banjo. I have a few nice basses, an awesome classical guitar and other instruments. But this is the only instrument that really just blew me away when I brought it home. When you first look at this thing and pick it up it looks 150 years old, but when you start to play it you notice all the details and modern touches. The one piece walnut neck is amazing and very playable. I guess it’s a modern primitive or something like that.
The banjo arrived safe and sound at my house today. Really great job. I’m very happy with it in looks, playability and sound. I will definitely recommend you as a top notch builder.
I’m glad we decided on the plain fingerboard last minute. I played some brass plate banjos at Zepp’s yesterday and am definitely much happier with the ebony board. Good call. Inlays turned out beautiful, too.
You did a fantastic job on the banjo and I dont think its possible for me to be more pleased than I am. It plays outstanding and looks absolutely fantastic!!! The action is perfect, I love the Indian, the scoop is perfect and whatever you used to shine up the pot metal is just plain great The custom bridge is a treasure as well…
Thank you very much for taking the time, its surpassed my expectations and enjoyed the experience…Thank you sir
I have to tell you I love the Silver Spun and I have a feeling the new one you are sending will be even more pleasing. My wife actually commented last night as I finished a tune, she said “I love the sound of that banjo, don’t you sell that one”. Now when you build banjos that help get a man laid, you have a true gold mine
Rock Hill, SC
Brooks, I wanted to wait till I played with some other folks to write. I took my new banjo to the jam last night….....Short answer…..Sheeeee itttttttt it’s nice.
I have yearned for this since my Kyle Creed (with the same fretless/fretted combo) was stolen 23 years ago. I had always been afraid to ask someone to make one for me because, what if I didn’t like it? I had heard of you from some of my friends and got to play a few of your fretted models over the past couple years. I felt you were so popular that if I didn’t like it I could sell it fast. Afterall, I have been so totally spoiled by my 1926 Tubaphone that I didn’t think I would ever play a second banjo. That Tubaphone may feel a little neglect or jealousy now. But it better get used to living with another banjo…...for 23 years I have only had that Tubaphone.
The sound of my new Brooks is “round” and thumpy, but sustains well. Theeeee greatest thing about my Tubaphone is the range of tones I can pull from it. The sound from it is extremely versitile. This characteristic is what I have come to need/demand from an instrument that I will keep and play. This character would make or break any decision I would make over keeping your banjo….....
THEY’RE GOING TO HAVE TO PRY IT FROM MY COLD DEAD HANDS.
I’ve lived with #112, the cherry and rosewood slothead, now for almost three months and that is enough time for me to have formed an opinion of it. In a nutshell, it has been really great! The wide fingerboard has been wonderful and the 25.5 inch scale works great for G, A, Gm, Am, C, and D tunes. It still amazes me to look at the thing. The cherry is simply beautiful and the rosewood veneers and fingerboard make for a stunning instrument. The slothead and slotted fifth string have really drawn very positive comments.
My fellow banjo players at the Nashville Old-time Stringband get-togethers all have wanted to play it and I’ve enjoyed getting the chance to sit in front of it and really hear what it sounds like. The goatskin head, which I’ve found works best a little on the loose side, is my favorite skin head. I liked the bridge you sent with it but I think the Sampson walnut and ebony bridge (11/16ths with Crowe spacing) that I added really gives it old-time plunk and tames some of the overtones.
So, I just wanted to let you know how pleased I have been with my Brooks banjo.
Dear Brooks…last weekend my travels took me to Rochester, and the musician friends we were staying with took us to Bernunzio’s, which I’ve always wanted to visit. When you walk in and look to the right, you are faced with s mind-boggling line of the MOST incredible banjos imaginable.
I played bluegrass sine 1962, and have a great old Mastertone. I still do that occasionally, but since 3 years ago at Banjo Camp North, where my wife and I were bluegrass faculty members , a convergence of Dan Gellert, my old buddy Reed Martin and a few others send my banjo vehicle literally screaming off the clawhammer exit, where I’ve mostly stayed. So my first love now is old-time, and that ALWAYS leads me to the open backs.
Well, right smack dab in the middle of the row was one of your new Bacon tone ring Spartans, with flush frets, 14 hooks and a slotted paddle head. (I knew it was yours right off from the penny!!). It was probably the most elegantly simple banjo in the row, but if it had had a long arm, it probably would have grabbed me by the neck!! I ignored all the Tubaphones , Whyte Laydies and Stewarts and went right for the Spartan. I picked it up, sat on the stool in the middle of the room, and in 30 seconds, despite NOT having gone in there expecting to spend what I can barely afford for another instrument, I knew there was no way I could leave without it…so I didn’t.
I sat there, planning what to sell when I got home, and I was so overcome, I thought for a moment that I would have to ask my wife to bring me a brown paper bag to breathe into!! I’ve had it a week now, and it has seriously opened a new world of playing for me. It is the best banjo I have played, hands down (although I love our Enoch Tradesman and a great old rolled-rim banjo Stewart-ish I found not long ago in a shop right here in Saratoga Springs, New York, where we live).
I expect that very soon it will be the only banjo I will WANT to play!! Congratulations of creating crack in 5-string form!! And seriously, THANK YOU most of all for having created that masterpiece that fate brought me to….Best to you…
Greenfield Center, NY
Hey Brooks! Remember me? I bought one of your banjos about a year ago, I’m a librarian in North Carolina.
Man, I just wanted to tell you how much I freakin’ love my banjo. Like if the house was in flames, that’d be the thing I grabbed. The sound has settled in over the year and it just warm and plonky and sparkly and I’m honored to play it.
Anyhoo, hope Portland is treating you nice and that work is just the right amount of busy.
I just got my new Brooks banjo in the mail, and I LOVE this banjo!
This year I decided it was about time I had a banjo custom made to my exact specifications. Just let Brooks know whatÂ you’ve always dreamed about, and he’ll make it for you. My Brooks banjo is fretless, black walnut, with a Whyte Laydie tone ring and skin head. This banjo is beautiful to look upon and sounds great—a sweet tone on the slower tunes, but plenty of “pop” for fast, punchy clawhammer. My friends here in Kentucky can’t seem to put it down.
Brooks banjos have my highest recommendation. Thanks, Brooks!
One wonderful thing is that the bridge you made works very nicely with this banjo (normally I have to mess around with different bridges I have built until I find one whose resonance works optimally with the banjo). As with the silverspun, your craftsmanship remains continually excellent and the banjo looks just beautiful.
What I’ve always liked about your work is that it feels like you put a little of yourself into each banjo you make. Every one of em that I’ve ever held or played seemed like it was special and unique, like you were present when building it and really care about what you’re doing—artistry, I guess. They don’t ever feel like they were pumped through an assembly line process or rushed to get out the door.
That’s why I want to own another one of your banjos, so please take as much time as you need to make another special banjo, know what I mean?
Frank Joseph Rolla
What’s to be said of a craftsman who unintentionally pins both thumbs to the shell of a cabin he is building with a pneumatic framing stapler, and alone on the job site in the remote border country of the southern Rockies, remains patiently for his companion on the project to return from a trip into the village to free him with a wonder bar. Clearly this would make that person one hellacious, uniquely qualified, double thumb banjo player. For my money, and I am not naming names, that person could be Brooks Masten, a craftsman above reproach, and, thumbs down, my choice for the finest traditional banjo fabricator working today; also my favorite musician on said instrument as well. Unwilling to thumb his nose at apprenticing with the great mid-generation luthiers, this person has distinguished himself as someone incapable of resting under the thumb of convention by producing the Spartan, part instrument and part weapon.
My first Brooks banjo is #07, a calfskin over a White Lady tone ring with an internal resonator, the latter pushes the low and mid back through the skin for a perfect warm and tubby voice. The ring handles the high with a clarity that still amazes me after many years of faithful service. There are several other unorthodox features to this instrument which have turned a few heads and caused many more to exclaim I want a banjo configured exactly like this.
My #22 is equally unique in all respects. This calfskin 13 5/8’’ fretless minstrel with a 27 plus inch scale and fitted with heavy gauge gut, speaks with boss authority tuned to low A. Twenty-two continues to make me arrive late at the office.
It bears mentioning that I am guilty, perhaps as others have (in the old days), to demand special features on a banjo that departed from what Brooks holds as tradition and faithful reproduction of period instruments. Old Number Seven is such a departure. From the beginning I have referred to this guy, my favorite banjo, as “the Hybrid,” while Brooks prefers “the Mutant.” Instruments in the current catalog appear unique as well, exotic and traditional at the same time. I know from first hand experience that Brooks will continue to make great leaps with every instrument he crafts, that the most recent I have played are truly his best work, and by god, I have thumbed through all the catalogs and web sites and banjo pest holes out there. Brooks, I have two words for you, be have.
Frank Joseph Rolla
Santa Fe, NM
What a fine machine, It has just enough pop to its plunk. i am hearing different and new tones i have never heard before come from my other banjos. and not to mention it is one good lookin instrument!!!!!
I could not be more satisfied.
To sum up, I’m totally thrilled with my banjo and couldn’t be any happier. I just hope I haven’t done too good a sales job for you over here, or I’ll be having to wait years to get my next one!
I recently bought your banjo #75 from John Bernunzio and felt that I should write and let you know that this is the most amazing instrument! For sound, playability, and looks I think it is just the best out there, period.
I own a few banjos, old and new, and this one has become an instant favorite…when I can get it out of the hands of a couple of banjo-playing pals. Thanks for a great instrument, I will be spending a lot of playing time with it, and I’ll let everyone know where they can get their very own!
Fort Collins, CO
I’ve got two words for you: Damn son!!!
I love It.
Roy Andrade (Reeltime Travelers)
Johnson City, TN
I wanted to tell you how happy I am with my banjo. First thing, it smells and looks good. Secondly, and more importantly, it sounds great. Thirdly, it is a real pedigree item in terms of construction.
I have owned quite a number of banjos, trying to find a sound and setup that I am happy with. Something not too shrill like a lot of current stuff, good volume, with a nice sustain but not too much, something that sounds at home with old-time but that copes with more contemporary tunes. This banjo does just that. The best thing is that the setup on it lets me play gentle and also lets me really work hard and give that banjo a darn good frailing when I need to. The sound works so well on slow and fast melodies that I have gone back to a number of tunes that I first learnt to play and they just come out so well.
The construction is excellent, and the care and attention starts in the quality of the individual components. I am really pleased I opted for the skin head as it gives me the “plunk” that I wanted. The neck profile really works for me too. Ultimately, it is the really flexible instrument that I hoped it would be and it is just a pleasure to pick it up, sit down and play it.
I’ve tremendously enjoyed working with Brooks getting the banjo I wanted. He made me a simple, elegant and stellar fretless that I love so much I’m having him make me another fretted!! His willingness to work with me is amazing and his knowledge of banjo history allows him a breath of choices and details. His instruments are playable all the way up the neck. The tung oil method of finish he uses is the finest I’ve ever played on. There’s no hint of drag at all that I’ve gotten from other finishes.
I recommend him with the highest of praise.
Hey man, this dang thing sounds great. Real old timey for sure. Everything on it is flawless and just exudes this cool old time feel.
Yous da man.
Hello Brooks, I must say your banjos are very impressive. Keep up the good work and if you have some extras we would be willing to carry them.
Bernunzio vintage instruments Rochester, NY
I first played a Brooks banjo in North Carolina and it pert near blew me to the floor. Since I was merely a student at the time and struggling to even eat regularly, there wasn’t much chance of it making the journey back to Kentucky with me. So I saved what money I could, all the while inquiring about Brooks’ character from folks who know. “Interesting,” I thought as the stories were propelling the man into mythical proportions.
A few months later I wrote the real Brooks an email describing the banjo I would like to play but to be built with his eye for detail and feel of old time music. After several brainstorming sessions we had a plan. I flew out to Portland in January, 2006 during the Portland Old Time Gathering anxious to see what Brooks had conjured up. I recognized this banjo the first time I saw it. It came to fruition beyond my wildest imagination. Brooks Masten builds banjos with the hands of a one hundred and fifty year old craftsman and the eyes of a true artist. I have never been more grateful to possess an instrument as I am for this banjo which is now an essential part of my musical endeavors and is sure to vibrate with the sounds of the southern Appalachians long after I am gone.
In other words, this is one hell of a banjo.