First one arrived damaged in transit, signs of a rough ride from the carrier. Second banjo had damage along side of neck / edge of fret board which I believe was caused in the factory when the frets were being finished. This should not have got past "QC" and by now I'm looking close, so it had to go back.
Thomann have responded well, handled the shipping and correspondence but it has taken a little while.
So Banjo no.3. Arrived safe and sound and reasonably finished. I say reasonably, there are areas that could be better and the build quality is a bit 'iffy'. I suspect that with budget instruments coming from the far East, the priority is external appearance, but when you look close up...
This is my first banjo and maybe this is how they are but I find the further up the fretboard you go the duller the clarity of the note played. So I'm trying to improve the 'set up'. The action was very high on arrival - to adjust you remove the resonator back and turn the connector rod. Having opened up the banjo, I am disappointed with the build quality, the fitting of some of the components is not too clever - not a precision instrument at all. At this point I also realise that some of the chrome fittings are in fact plastic. If they were metal the instrument would be even heavier but as a result I can foresee changing or adjusting tension of the head becoming a problem.
Lower action, better string/fret 'breakover' , it is sounding a little better, but still a bit dead above say the 9th fret - I'll try different strings. Tuning is tricky, it seems very on-off with these tuners. The fact that they are a bit notchy does not help and a couple unwind of their own accord - learnt via the net, you adjust the screw in the middle of the key to increase the 'brake', so that's sorted.
I'll try and sum up. I realise, now that I own one, a full resonator 5 string banjo is a complex piece of equipment and to sound good / be well built inside and out, it has to cost some money - wherever it was manufactured. Having read plenty of positive reviews about the quality/value for money of the Harley Benton range I decided to buy the top of "their" range, full fat model. If your going to have one...... and I liked the added decoration etc. But fundamentally it's too cheap. 198 euros is not an inconsiderable sum of money but can you really build an instrument of this complexity for this price to a reasonable quality.
I had hoped that the "Pro" in the title meant I'd be getting something reasonable. I do not believe a professional musician would be happy with this instrument. I am a novice looking to amuse myself in the garden and annoy the neighbours, so for that the banjo will suffice. Value for money at 198 e - not sure.
Finally if you order one check it over carefully on arrival. The body is very heavy ! but the neck and bridge are very delicate. I have discussed the internal packing with Thomann, which in my opinion could be improved. If it gets bounced by the carrier I believe it is bound to suffer.