Leon Hunt yanks the Deering Boston six-string from the hands of Taylor Swift to give you the run down on this electro-acoustic banjo, aimed squarely at guitar players.
The Deering Banjo Company is a quality American brand that has gone from strength to strength over the past few decades, which is no mean feat given the stiff competition that continues to come in from the Far East. Since they began trading in 1975 they’ve gone on to become one of the most trusted and respected names in the world of banjos. Greg and Janet Deering started out primarily as makers of high-end instruments, but over the years they’ve continued to diversify and have now extended their range of banjos to suit every conceivable playing style and budget. These span from their superb entry level Goodtime instruments right up to their professional Tenbrooks models. They even have what they call their “Private Collection” with the prices for these instruments topping out at an eye-watering $64,000!
Before we get properly stuck into this review of their Boston six-string banjo, I should point out that most banjo players will instinctively, albeit irrationally, take an instant dislike to an instrument like this. It might even leave some banjoists feeling similar to the way many drummers feel about drum machines. In truth, a six-string banjo isn’t really ever going to deprive a banjo player of any meaningful work as it can no more emulate the sound of a Scruggs-style five-string banjo, with all the associated idiosyncrasies and playing techniques, than a keyboard could deliver a half decent sax solo. What it does do, however, is unlock the sonic qualities of the banjo to guitarists wanting to add a different sound to their shows and recordings, but are not prepared to go through the rigmarole of learning a whole new instrument.
Over the years I’ve reviewed dozens of banjos, the routine goes as follows; The UPS guy delivers a big box, I open it up and spend some time taking a good close look at the banjo that was inside. I then sit down and play it for 20 minutes or so before setting out to write the review.
When this Deering Boston six-string arrived, the routine went pretty much as usual until I got to the playing part. At least an hour went by before I could tear myself away from it for long enough to get to my computer. Even now, I’m frequently returning to it “just to be sure”. I started by playing some bluegrass guitar licks, which was all very well but I really started to enjoy myself when I damped the strings with the heel of by right hand and started playing some riff-based rock guitar parts and power chords.
At first glance, this Boston six-string has all the usual Deering lower / midrange characteristics; a no-frills satin finish to the mahogany neck and resonator, and a non-Mastertone style pot (body) assembly. Instead of employing the usual high quality brass tone ring mated to a three-ply maple rim and one-piece flange, Deering has opted to use what they call a 24-piece butterfly flange bolted to a steel rim. Under usual circumstances, I would see this purely as a cost cutting exercise, but in this instance I’m going to give them the benefit of the doubt as it may well have been done to help contain and control the slightly unusual sonic requirements of this particular banjo (the extended bass provided by the low A and E strings). Irrespective of how Deering construct the various models in their range, they’re always extremely well detailed, put together and presented – and there’s no change here. The fretwork is typically excellent, with no rough edges and not so much as a hint of a buzz. This is where Deering always shine against the competition, and this is even more apparent with these midrange products that will invariably be compared to the output from the Far East. Another area that sets this banjo apart from similarly constructed “factory” instruments, is the quality of the nickel plating, it’s easily as good on this banjo as it would be on their higher end products. The “seed and vine” fingerboard inlays aren’t particularly to my taste, I always tend to prefer a more symmetrical design, but rest assured the quality of the workmanship is, again, great.
Sounds and Playability
As already stated, the fretwork is first-rate and this goes a long way towards making this an extremely easy and enjoyable instrument to play. Add to this a pleasing, albeit slightly narrow neck profile and radiused fingerboard and you begin to understand why I’ve been unable to put it down since it arrived.
If you think a finger-picked five-string banjo is loud (and you probably do) then imagine what a heavily strummed six-string would be like. The truth is, you really don’t need to hammer this thing, and if played with a certain amount of sensitivity it’ll make a great, punchy sound. It has a lovely and rich, clear sound all the way up the fingerboard but the really surprising thing is the clarity it produces at the bass end. I’ve played a couple of cello banjos in the past, they were a lot of fun but the letdown was always that the bass seemed to lack punch and clarity. On this Boston six-string banjo, it’s as clear as a bell all the way down to the low E and without the merest hint of a buzz.
This is a nice useable instrument that should appeal to guitarist wanting to add some twang to their show without all the graft of learning to play the banjo, although don’t expect to sound like a Earl Scruggs with it. It has the added advantage of having a Kavanjo pickup installed. The Kavanjo, whilst not being the ‘truest’ electrified banjo sound available, is quite pleasing and extremely resistant to feedback, which will always be a big factor when playing in louder environments such as with electric guitars and drummers. The Boston six-string just feels right at home in your hands the moment you take it from its hard case. This is a banjo built and set up by a company that cares how it plays and sounds so that in itself may be worth paying a little extra for. It sounds great, plays great, and looks great – add that to the generous price tag, and you’ve got a real bargain on your hands. All in all, it’s an excellent sounding banjo that could present some useful possibilities for guitarists. In addition, Eagle Music offer in-store and mail order discounts – so it’t a no-brainer, right?
Build Quality: 4/5
Value for money: 4.5/5
Pros: Electro-acoustic banjo that goes the extra mile for gigging guitar players; extremely playable and fun.
Cons: Not much to report here! Unputdownable, some might say.
Overall: This is a banjo built and set up by a company that cares how it plays and sounds – and that says a lot. The hard case is also excellent.
Model: Boston six-string
Retail Price: £1,640
Made In: USA
Tropical American Mahogany
Slender Deering Neck Shape
Seed & Vine Inlays,
Guitar Style Tuners
22 Pressed In Nickel-Silver Frets
3/16″ Durable Nickel Plated Steel Rim
24-Piece Butterfly Flange
24 flat hooks with 9/32″ hex nuts
24 Bracket Shoes
11″ Frosted Top High Crown Head with Kavanjo Banjo Pickup
Beveled Tension Hoop
Deering 6-string Tailpiece
Nickel Plated Hardware,
Deering 6-String Tailpiece
Mahogany, with white binding
Trimmed in White
Straight Side Walls