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Deering Goodtime 5-String Banjo: Once the best, now just the favorite
Dec 26, 2007 (Updated Jun 20, 2011)
Review by ahand
Rated a Very Helpful Review
Pros:Still a decent deal for an openback with this level of sound quality.
Cons:It's a beginner or travel banjo, but could be a good recording instrument.
The Bottom Line: It was a great banjo five years ago, and it's pretty good now, but it has some excellent competition now.
A few years ago, Deering created what was called the Goodtime banjo. It was the first beginner banjo in the 300.00 class to use good maple hardwoods, have a true quality banjo neck, and with a fully adjustable head.
Recommend this product?
Most importantly, it had a tone that reviewers praised as being as good as any "medium level" banjo (800.00-1000.00). It was so successful that players would often recommend it without having ever tried it personally. It was just understood that it was the best beginner banjo out there.
For a few years it was. The maple rim and neck were first class, great intonation and tone, and good sturdy construction.
There were problems. The neck, although good, didn't have a truss rod. The banjo headstock was not only odd looking, but designed to prevent someone from upgrading the pegs to traditional types. If you wanted more, you had to buy the next model up. Also, the tone, while good, was thin to more than a few ears.
None the less, at 320.00 (without gigbag), it was a good deal for a beginner banjo with good sound and good resale value.
In 2007, the picture is a bit different. Epiphone, Fender, Dean, Saga, and other companies had no real good equivalent for years, but by 2004 were hitting full stride and a full range of beginner banjos hit the market. All in the basic price range of the Goodtime.
They didn't match the wood quality of the Goodtime in most cases, and the necks were often more competent than outstanding. However, many were bluegrass ready, could be upgraded, adjusted, and were available in all price ranges.
Meanwhile, the Goodtime has never gone down in price, and has only added a more expensive resonator model, and a traditional model that looks more vintage (but still uses guitar style pegs at 500.00, which is a bit stingy now at that price range, though as I've said before, guitar pegs are hardly a sign of mediocrity).
So, the Epi is more like a Gibson. The Fender is bluegrass ready and louder for less cash. Saga puts out a better cheap openback, and so on.
Deering, in the face of this competition, has not changed the Goodtime in any meaningful way, or lowered the price. You still have to pay extra for the bag (reviewer's note: as of 2011, this isn't always true, and there have been changes made to the model from about 2010 onwards).
To be fair, it is still an open back with some real virtues that have stood the test of time.
In the right hands, it still has an old time tone that is as good as any banjo right up to the 800.00 class. The neck is solid, and doesn't flex, and the intonation is perfect right up to the highest frets. It is a real musical instrument that does the right things, and the money has gone to where it would do the most good.
The headstock, from a style standpoint, isn't as bad as many on the internet have stated. It is silly to not have given it a traditional shape so people could upgrade the pegs. Even the cheapest Fender and Epiphone starter kit banjos have a traditional headstock, and even have truss rods.
In a modern world many would take the Epi or Fender. The sound isn't bad, it's very loud and it cuts through live. More people will prefer a bluegrass sound than the open back, and the newer banjos have all the conveniences that modern guitars have, and have the stylistic aspects (like traditional heads and even planetary tuners) only available on expensive banjos in the past.
In other words, the Goodtime changed the banjo world in it's time, but Deering didn't change it when everyone else caught up.
For 320.00, I would take the Goodtime over an equivalent Fender (unless I was going to do bluegrass). It's got the tone a real player will appreciate, even if the volume isn't there.
(Reviewers note: The price of the basic Goodtime has dropped in 2011 to around 260.00 on the internet)
But for 450.00, I ended up with a Tacoma banjo that was a reproduction of the 20s Orpheum brand, with a quality maple rim and tone ring, excellent pegs, and a tone that would have cost over twice as much 20 years ago. Plus a hard shell case.
I appreciate the Goodtime, because like many players I have a sense of history, and it's even now it's a banjo with qualities one can admire. Perhaps Deering wanted to create a banjo that would lead buyers to the more expensive models someday. What they did was make the beginner market mature.
So if you do find yourself playing a nice 400.00 Fender that does everything you want, you can thank the Goodtime Banjo.
But it's not your fault if you prefer the Fender. Deering decided to keep the Goodtime a classic of it's era, and you know what happens to classics when everyone else is changing with the times.
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