Okay, I didn't really NEED another banjo. But now that I have finally tracked down pro 6-string and Bluegrass banjos that I could afford, I was starting to think that a better quality open-back might be a good investment. One with a more traditional finish, spikes, and maybe a tone ring. In fact, out of the entire pantheon of Deering GoodTime banjos, I figured that the GoodTime Classic Special open-back was the one that would probably do me the most good. Since they tend to sit around $780-$800 on most Internet sources (and local vendors NEVER carry anything near that quality), I figured I was safe from another case of "Banjo Acquisition Syndrome" for a while.
Then MF offered a "return" unit on closeout for $400. Ooops.
I received it last night and spent about a half hour with it. It is in new condition except for a tiny bit of show-room wear that is nothing to what I expect to put on it in the next six months. As I had hoped, it is as easy to play as my GoodTime, which is one of the easiest fretting, hammering, sliding, and pulling-off banjos I've ever owned, and I've owned some good ones. There are four notable differences, one of which is cosmetic.
The walnut finish (even though the banjo is maple) helps it look more "old-timey". (This finish is a feature of their "Classic" GoodTime line.)
The tone ring makes it more "chimey" and less "plunky" than my base-model GoodTime. Though I like the more old-timey sound of the base model for certain songs, the brighter, louder "special" really sounds great on three and four-finger picking styles. (The "Special" tone ring is a feature of their "Special" GoodTime lines.)
The spikes at frets 7, 9, and 10 are very nice, although I'll probably only use the spike at fret 7 very much. On my baseline Good-Time, I frequently tune my 5th string up to A for playing in A or D. With the spiking, I can change the pitch more quickly and not worry so much about making the 5-th string "crazy and old before its time."
The planetary tuners are top notch. I never minded the guitar-style tuners on the base-line GoodTime, but I have planetary tuners on my Sierra 5-string, so this makes going back and forth between my open-back and Bluegrass-equipped 5-strings more intuitive.
I would like for it to have an adjustable neck, but my baseline GoodTime doesn't have one, and it stays in adjustment better than some of my banjos that do.
I would definitely prefer that it had dual coordinating rods, since the extra weight of the tone ring does put a tad more strain on the neck-to-body connection. But I'm probably being paranoid. That said, if I was buying a resonator/tone ring banjo today, I would insist on that feature, based on what I've learned.
In other words 5 out of 5 stars. It is definitely the best open-backed banjo I've owned so far, and quite possibly the last one I'll ever need.
I'll post a more detailed review when I get a chance to really spend some time with it.
In the meantime, here's a link that should take you to the Amazon page about it:http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B0026P ... UODVH3TGKE
Here's a link to our RiverboatMusic page describing open-back banjos and showing examples in each class:http://riverboatmusic.com/banjos/five_s ... enback.htm