Pros: Interesting looks and style, good enough value for this price range.
Cons: Not really a true Celtic Banjo, could entice a beginner into a wrong purchase.
The Luna 5-String banjo with laser etched Trinity is certainly an eye catcher, even in a genre where the cosmetics approach the garishness of 19th century costume jewelry. The clear head reveals a Celtic symbol etched into an attractive mohogany resonator. When I saw it in the store it immediately diverted my attention from the vintage four string banjos.
The second I saw the headstock identifying it as a Luna, the whole Stonehenge Celtic look made perfect sense. If you're familiar with Luna guitars, then you know that this company has become the new age stenciled Cowboy guitar company of the millenium. In many cases, the colorful images of moon fairies and such are one step away from brushed velvet painting foo foo'ness, but one has to admit, they do have style. More than once the bright colors and often gorgeous images have made me pick up a Luna guitar and try it out.
There is two things to know about this banjo. One, it's not a real Celtic banjo. Celtic banjos have four strings, not five, and don't have standard length necks. If you buy this and show up at for an audition with a Celtic band, forget it, it'll be like you came dressed as Merlin the Wizard. A Celtic banjo will have a short scale neck, and be designed to take the heavier strings needed for playing with a pick. This is called a Celtic banjo because of it's cosmetic design, not it's design intent.
Secondly, all those cool cosmetics on a 300.00 banjo mean that there's probably only 150.00 of quality built in. In the specs, the rim is described as plywood, and that, along with the neck, is the heart of the instrument. Use a cheap rim, and anything you do will be like putting gold Grover tuning pegs on an Epiphone. It may tune better, but it won't make it sound like a Gibson. Use a cheap rim, the banjo will sound cheaper. Here, it sounds noticably better than, say the entry level Fender open back, because the rim is a lot thicker (which can offset quality to a point).
It had that classic deep echo of an 70s aluminum rim Japanese banjo. Part of the reason was that it was set up poorly. That can be improved a great deal by tightening the head, or changing it out for a frosted type. Though, of course, in which case, there goes the nice Celtic symbol, which is this banjo's mojo, so that isn't an option. Not to mention not being able to take off the resonator to convert to an open back type, which would give the audience a view of your zipper if you're not careful.
Taken as a standard entry level 300.00 entry level instrument, we can be considerably kinder. At this price range, the Luna frankly does have an identity which so many don't; it will impress most who see it (who don't play banjo), and with some tweaks, could be made to sound at least as good as an old Lida or similar 70s era banjo.
One thing to keep in mind, the reason they used the aluminum rims back then was that it provided the kind of strength that an expensive wood rim provided, and better sound than cheap plywood. Like other companies that have revived the aluminum rim for this price range, that might have been a better decision. Most of those who would get all snarky over a metal rim wouldn't the audience they would be selling to anyway.
The use of mohogany for the neck and resonator is good. Though we may be talking nato here. The basic sound characteristic of mohogany, a mellower sound, was probably done to offset the sharp bite of a clear head, which wasn't necessary here. With a generic plywood rim, you want all the sharpness you can get.
There are tricks one can use to reduce the echo tone if you encounter that here. Tighten the head a bit (learn how to do that first though, don't just start tightening the screws), and screw down the tail piece till it almost touches the head. Before all that, take the bridge off, and thin the upper 2/3's with sandpaper (carefully) by maybe a third (that's an old bluegrass trick) but be careful to not sand the string grooves off. Finally, how a banjo will sound will depend on the type of fingerpicks you use. Try out both steel and bronze, and even plastic.
There's a reason I'm bothering to give such advice. If you're a beginner, it's worth looking at this banjo. The fact is, though it's hardly suitable for an intermediate or above player, there's some obvious virtues for a beginner. All kidding aside about the Celtic symbol, it is distinctive, and a welcome change from the usual Eagle over the shield motif these clear head banjos often sport.
The colors are well matched, and the headstock is a traditional shape, with guitar pegs that work well enough and stay in tune. In fact, beginners are generally better off with guitar pegs anyway. Easier to figure out and tune. I found it decently balanced, and not too heavy.
I can't make a definitive judgement on the sound, as I always spend a few days adjusting a new banjo, and couldn't do that in the store. It did seem like the Luna had room to improve, and I was tempted to buy one and do a set up with some upgrades, so the thing had undeniable appeal to me.
One thing I should add, my comments on the sound are based on 2011 beginner banjo conventions. These days, the average 300.00 banjo is better than most of the banjos I played back in the 80s that cost a lot more. Contrary to what you might hear on the internet, most of these new beginner models are way better than most of the vintage Harmony banjos; a lot more playable and stay in tune better.
The Luna 5-String Celtic is a good choice for a beginner, or maybe a guitarist who wants a second instrument to use on stage. It certainly looks good, and pristine sound isn't generally an issue over a PA system. It's also at the price range a beginner banjo should be. In fact, 250.00 would be better. If you read though my other banjo reviews, it'll be more obvious as to why.
We're now in an era where a 600.00 banjo can be good enough to even record with. At least to the point where the player can make a difference in how good it sounds. More than a few clawhammer players still use old cheapies, for example.
If you're thinking about learning the banjo, the days of having to find an old Harmony are pretty much over. I've never seen so many decent sounding banjos in the 300.00 price range. Though I'd probably recommend a Gold Tone or Recording King over this one, it'd be hard to find fault with this choice. It's certainly better than the Epiphone or Fender starter banjos that are in this price range. In the end, it has enough sound to learn on, and has a distinctive style that makes it look more expensive than it is. It's got some real value here.
Just remember one thing; it's not a real Celtic banjo, but if it makes you want to learn and play, then you'll have the luck of the Irish for sure.