Rogue Travel/Starter Banjo Reviews
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Rogue Travel/Starter Banjo

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Rogue Travel/Starter Banjo: Just call me Kay

Dec 26, 2007 (Updated Dec 26, 2007)
Review by  
Rated a Very Helpful Review

Pros:Nice revival of a cheapie classic

Cons:Not a pro level banjo, but good.

The Bottom Line: I would recommend this over quite a few more expensive banjos, it's a good value.


The Rogue Starter/Travel banjo is a product of an interesting company called Saga. Their specialty is inexpensive, but nice instruments under the logos of old time brands like Regal. The Rogue brand covers more standard instruments like guitars and banjos (the Regal brand covers resonators, etc).

What makes this particular model interesting is that it is a modern revival of an old type of Kay banjo that used a bakelite rim, and to this day is considered one of the few decent beginner banjos.

The history of beginner (and intermediate) banjos hasn't been a glorious one. The banjo is a simple instrument, and if it was manufactured on the same scale as guitars, the top of the line ones would cost maybe 800.00.

Unfortunately, the opposite is true. The types of inexpensive banjos varied, with the most common being the aluminum rimmed type (the ones with the square teeth along the edge, taking the place of the flange). Those were actually OK for the price, particularly for bluegrass models which had to be very loud. (I'm having to oversimplify a bit, as bluegrass banjos are another catagory separate from the type I'm reviewing).

Offsetting the economy of aluminum was a list of faults that included metallic sound, overly thin necks, cheap metal tailpieces (which affect sound), cheap frets, lousy intonation, and lousy tuning pegs on guitar style headstocks (to this day, still the mark of a cheaper banjo).

It's not that companies wanted to make lousy beginner banjos. It's just that making one in the 200.00-300.00 range was difficult, even for the Japanese and Koreans.

I should note that guitar headstocks are nothing to be embarassed about. It's a fact that guitar style pegs work just as well, but the old downward pegs are just more traditional and allow certain tuning changes during bluegrass songs.

The best beginner banjos tended to be the "open back" type, without the sound chamber (resonator) attached. Simpler, and the sound needed was different. Most used these for folk and mountain music, a lighter, more "plunkier" sound.

One of the best of these was the old Kay bakelite, which instead of a wood rim, used one of the then new synthetic. It did chip easily, but oddly enough, it was a superior material to aluminum and cheaper wood rims (or pots). To this day, a Kay bakelite banjo is very collectable.

The Rogue is a refined version. It uses a more modern plastic synthetic, which is more crack and chip resistant, and has better metal hardware. Obviously the rim is less prone to warping due to moisture, etc.

The sound is similar. Using light guage strings, the sound is feathery light, and has a nice plunky tone. Tighten up the head, and the sound will sharpen a bit, and still keep that quality. It's also very light and easy to hold, and thus very easy to play. Children and small men and women will find this a perfect fit.

Like most cheapies, intonation is the main flaw. If the action is set right on this one (for a banjo, a bit on the high side) then you'll have good tone up to around the 12th fret, which isn't bad. As you go higher up some notes are good, some are a bit off. When you get good enough to be able to adjust your bridge, you can minimize intonation problems later, but it won't ever be as good as a 1200.00 model.

For around 160.00 you get a banjo highly suitable for learning on, which will sound as good later as you learn to play better. It's eminently suitable for the mountain styles like clawhammer or frailing style (whose practitioners prefer cheap banjos) and for use later on as a travel type. If the dealer is an honest one, then you'll get the free gig bag also, and it's a nice one.

A few years ago, the Deering Goodtime banjo made the beginner category competitive again, and still is a standard at around 320.00. However, the competition has caught up, and Epiphone, Fender, Rogue, Washburn, and others have very good, and often cheaper offerings.

If your need is a banjo with a nice sound suitable for solo work and learning on, that will double as a travel banjo later on, the Rogue is as good as you'll find.

With it's revival of the old Kay bakelite style banjo, heck, it's even got some snob value.







Recommend this product? Yes

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