Another review on Got A Ukulele that I have been really looking forward to publishing. Some readers think I have a something against the banjo ukulele - I don't. I don't have anything against banjos either. In fact I used to own one made by the company behind this model - the Deering Goodtime Banjo Ukulele.
For banjo aficionados, you will know what the Deering name means. For those who don't, Deering are a USA based manufacturer of a dizzying array of banjos. In fact a maker of some seriously well regarded banjos that can run into thousands of dollars in price. As part of their many ranges, they have an entry level line called 'Goodtime' and this new Ukulele Banjo forms part of that. Now, don't be mistaken to think that the term 'entry level' means cheap and nasty - it doesn't. They are still made in the US, they just don't cost thousands! This one has been on loan with me for a little while courtesy of Deering and Eagle Music in the UK.
The first thing you may notice about the Goodtime that sets it apart from most ukulele banjos is the diameter of the head. A lot of ukulele banjos can look to me like 'toy banjos' and have heads around the 8 or 9 inch size. The Deering uses a full size banjo head of 11 inches and puts a ukulele neck on to it. It kind of looks a little out of proportion but actually it's not much different to a banjo ukulele with a resonator on the back - just that pretty much all of the diameter of this one is the drum head and not the outer resonator plate.
The other thing you will notice is the pale colour. All of the instruments in the Goodtime series share this look, and it's down to the fact that they are predominantly made from maple. I think it looks really nice and certainly different in the banjo ukulele stakes. The rim of the pot is made from 3 ply maple and is finished in a satin which is really nice to touch.
We have a steel rim arrangement holding the 11 inch head in place. The head is branded by Deering, but I think they may be made for them by Remo. Holding it in place are 16 chrome hooks which are all adjustable.
The bridge is a standard ukulele banjo affair (⅝") with three feet, but it sits on a removable wooden bridge plate that is patented by Deering. It is said to help transfer vibrations down cleanly to the head, but it also serves to protect the head in the longer term from the feet that can often dig in to the top of the drum.
The tail piece is chrome and stamped with the Deering name and running through the back of the pot is the adjustable tension rod that also holds the neck in place.
Moving on to the neck, this is also made from rock maple and has a lovely feel to it in the hand. It is made from three pieces with a joint at the heel and one towards the headstock. What I really like about it is that the frets are set directly into the maple of the neck, and the fingerboard extends down over the top of the banjo head. It kinds of floats over it giving higher fret options than it just stopping at the edge of the head. The edge of the fingerboard has a nice wave to it too. Whilst the edges of the fingerboard are unbound, with the pale wood it doesn't look like it needs binding (in fact it would spoil the simple look of the thing). A minor thing that pleases me but I love the wavy grain in the maple showing through the finish both on the headstock and down the fingerboard itself. It's subtle but it reminds me of the maple necks on the Bruko Model 6 soprano.
Frets are nickel silver, and we have 17 in total with 12 to the top of the pot. They are all finished well and have no sharp edges. Scale wise, this is a concert model, though I always tend to find scale descriptors kind of go out of the window with banjo ukes.
Fret markers are not provided on the side but the outward facing markers are inlaid in darker wood and in a bow tie shape. They look superb and are placed at the third, fifth, seventh, tenth and twelfth spaces.
The nut seems to be synthetic and is black, and then we move on to the sublimely shaped headstock which is typical of all Goodtime series instruments. The Goodtime logo and the statement that it is 'proudly made in the USA' is engraved into the wood. And this is solid engraving too - not a mere scratch.
Tuning is provided by unbranded sealed chrome geared tuners. They kind of don't sit with the vintage / country vibe of the instrument for me, but they do work well I guess. From memory, the full scale Goodtime banjos use these tuners, so I suppose it is consistent. Still, I just think that friction pegs would look killer on this instrument. I don't like the way manufacturers tend toward geared tuners because they figure that they will get less complaints from buyers. For me, the sort of person likely to buy one of these will know the difference between good and bad friction pegs. As such Deering - fit friction pegs, but choose good ones!
Completing the deal are Aquila Super Nylgut strings and they can be picked up for an RRP of about £330 (although they are available for under £300 in many places). I think that is pretty good value for a banjolele, particularly a banjo ukulele that is made in the US and not in China. In fact I actually had to double check the price...
It doesn't come with a case which is a bit disappointing, particularly because of the size and shape of it means that it may not fit in many banjo uke cases. Deering offer one specifically for it but it will cost another £50 for a soft bag - a price I think is a bit steep for something that isn't a hard case. I understand it is also available with a rear resonator and there are rumours of Deering making a tenor scale version later this year.
So on to playing the thing. Firstly, I have no great skills in banjo ukulele style playing, triple strums and the like so bear with me. I do know, however what sounds and plays good and I know good workmanship when I see it.
First off - it feels great and solid in the hand. It's really well put together with no issues I could spot at all. Weight wise, it's certainly heavier than most wooden ukuleles, but as banjo ukes go it's pretty reasonable really. If found it comfortable to stand and hold without a strap and it didn't feel cumbersome at all. You could of course easily add a strap by attaching to the hooks around the pot but you may offend banjo ukulele traditionalists. I believe Deering also make an arm rest that can be added if you find the hooks start digging in to your forearm.
Setup was spot on at the nut for me and of course with a banjo ukulele you can easily adjust the action or position of the bridge for fine tuning intonation if you need to. I didn't fiddle with it (which probably shows in the video) but it is only with me on test.
The neck is particularly comfortable with that satin finished maple - really nice on both the fingertips and the back of the hand.
And what of the 11 inch head? Well of course with a banjo, that is where the sound is generated, and in the case of this instrument it really doesn't disappoint. It's got a bark that is frighteningly loud and snappy if you really hammer the strings. A real punch that surprised me. It sounds sweet too though and is just as clear across notes when played softly or fingerpicked. Unlike many cheaper ukulele banjos I have played this didn't have echoey ghost notes coming from the pot no matter how hard or soft I played it - notes are crystal clear. No complaints really!
Sure - it sounds like a banjo - it IS A banjo, but for me it had more nuances to the sound than many other banjo ukuleles I had played that seemed to be only about bite and not so much about character of tone. This has a nice mix, and sure - a ton of volume if you need it too. I suppose where I have suggested I am not a fan of the banjo ukulele it's been down to one dimensional overly loud tones that many of them can (to my ears) create - this one just seems more rounded and has more warmth to it. Perhaps it's down to the increased head size. Experts will be sure to enlighten me.
I think if you like your old time music, this would be a great addition to your collection. In fact, if you just like banjo ukuleles or even just banjos, this would suit you as well also. For a wooden ukulele player considering a first step into the world of banjo ukuleles this would be recommended by me due to the quality and tone. I know some ukulele clubs that don't allow banjo ukuleles as they are too loud (yes, seriously, those sort of clubs actually exist). If I lived near one, I'd be tempted to buy one of these just to take to those clubs and wake the dead...
Highly recommended, great quality, great punch. A great buy!
Be sure to read all my other ukulele reviews here
UKULELE PROSBuild quality
Great looks and detailing
The large head!
Great punchy tone but equally nice played soft
Good price for a US made banjo
UKULELE CONSWould have preferred friction pegs
No side fret markers
No gig bag as standard
UKULELE SCORESLooks - 9 out of 10
Fit and finish - 8.5 out of 10
Sound - 9 out of 10
Value for money - 9 out 10
OVERALL UKULELE SCORE - 8.9 out of 10
UKULELE VIDEO REVIEW
© Barry Maz