Bill Goes to IBMA 2003
Picks and Pans

There were some really interesting items at the IBMA this year. First of all, let's discuss instruments.


First Quality Music -- formerly First Quality Musical Supplies -- introduced their new "entry level" banjo , "The Festival". This is actually more of an intermediate banjo. It lists for less than $2000 -- sells for less than $1500. It has a plain neck, but a Tennessee 20 tone ring. This is obviously intended to compete with the low quality and medium quality Asian imports and the Gibson RB. It wins, hands down. The value is in the pot assembly. I played several of them, both at First Quality and at the IBMA. Highly recommended. They also have their new "Presentation" model, which is highly engraved and gold-plated. This is a beautiful banjo. It is well worth the price.

Desert Rose Instruments had some beautiful banjos. These instruments have the Tony Pass rim and a Tennesse 20 tone ring. The neck inlay is a flawlessly executed proprietary version of Hearts and Flowers, called Hearts and Roses. The flowers are replaced with engraved roses. The banjos are awesome. There are two models, a mahogany banjo for $3000 and a walnut banjo for $3200.

Saga has reintroduced the Gold Star banjo. These were legendary banjos of the 1970's and 1980's. Some professionals still swear by them. The prototype which was at the show was delightful. List price $1295.

The LouZee banjos, designed by Mike Longworth and Paul Hopkins, took a lot of people by surprise. These banjos feature the Tony Pass rims and the proprietary LouZee tone ring. Some people thought they were a joke, at first. Then they played them. Many bought them. They have a very powerful sound, approaching the prewar ideal. Watch out for these banjos!

Geoff Stelling had some beautiful banjos on display. The Viking was all "old wood." Again, the Tony Pass rims have made these banjos appeal to a much wider audience. They are delightful banjos.


The Huss and Dalton banjos. These look and sound like a fine piece of furniture. Don't let the resemblance to a Sullivan banjo fool you. They are not Sullivan banjos. Huss and Dalton make nice guitars. They should continue to do so.

Morgan Monroe banjos. I don't care what the ads say, they do NOT have a 10 pound tone ring. These banjos are manufactured in Korea for a group of people who manufacture and sell sound equipment. They are not banjo players. The "three-ply block rims" are not in the league with really well made block rims, such as the ones from Tony Pass. Figure this. Tony's rims cost half the list price of a Morgan Monroe banjo. Most of the cost is in the labor.

Neither a pick nor a pan:

National NP-2 fingerpicks. I got a couple of samples of the new National NP-2 fingerpicks. Well, they are not a reissue of the old nationals. They are a little smaller. Their ads lead one to believe that the important thing about the new picks is the serial number. Sorry, fellows, the serial number isn't what makes them sound like the old picks. It's the construction. The material appears to be very similar to the old picks, but the new picks are smaller, and they are shaped differently. This said, they are good fingerpicks. Try them, you may like them. They just aren't the same as the old ones. However, this may change soon. Several pickers gave National suggestions as to how to reproduce the old picks. There is no reason that they cannot do the work.

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