The black one just came. Here's a photo of the two side by side. I wanted the upgrade because I thought the wooden pot would give it a more authentic sound played backless. On the other hand, the thing doesn't have anything like a tone ring or resonator flange, so if you need the banjo to be loud without being plugged in, you might want the cheaper model with the big one-piece metal body.
The necks look identical except for the color of the binding. So do the headstocks, except for the color of the nut and the tuners. Except for being black, the resonator seems to be the same one you'll find on virtually any banjo that lists for under $600. As far as I can tell, the clear drumhead doesn't affect the sound one way or another. Maybe if you were into graphic arts you could put a design inside the resonator the way the Luna people do. For me, I would rather have a more authentic appearance. Though I do admit the dark chrome on black effect is cool.
On mine, the magnetic "humbucker" pickup is right up against the head, but it doesn't go through it. That way if I need to replace the head, I won't need to punch little holes into the new one like I might with some other banjos that come equipped with mag pickups. There is no tone control, only volume. The output jack is above the tailpiece, rather than beneath it the way I usually install mine. I can't decide if that interferes with my right arm movement or if I'm just being paranoid.
I haven't set it up yet, but with the necks looking identical, I don't really expect them to play much differently.
So the breakdown might be, if you want a banjo that plays loud unamplified and looks a little more traditional, go for the cheaper model. If you need to be amplified later on, you can always add a piezo pickup. On the other hand, if you want a banjo that looks very cool and has a built-in pickup with volume control, consider the upgrade.
side_by_side.jpg [ 86.96 KiB | Viewed 13735 times ]