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When I first started playing the banjo, I wanted to find a cheap model that still played and sounded good. This is often difficult to do since you usually get what you pay for. Cheap instruments often sound like cheap instruments so there is a fine line between quality and affordability. I have experienced this with guitars and other instruments throughout my life so I knew that banjos would be no different.
My search led me to the Epiphone MB-100 which I deemed a great starter banjo. It was cheap but yet it looked like it was a decent quality instrument. I’m always leery of purchasing an instrument at the lower end of the price spectrum. However, since I wasn’t sure how much I would enjoy playing the banjo, I didn’t want to spend the amount of money that a high-quality banjo demanded.
Searching for used banjos was also an option but I had trouble finding a suitable solution that was as low priced as the Epiphone. Sure, I would’ve preferred to get a top-quality Hatfield, Deering, or another USA made brand but that may come later on when and if I am hooked on this instrument.
I purchased the Epiphone through Sweetwater and paid $229 for a brand new one. You may be able to find a great used or discounted model at Reverb. I also ordered strings to upgrade the ones that came on it. I’m not sure what strings it comes with but upgrading them is often an easy change that can make a sound difference. My goal was to make it sound as good as possible by incorporating some of the methods I wrote about here.
Sweetwater is a great place to order from. They have great customer service and always give you a call to make sure everything is good with your order. They ship quickly and my package arrived two days after I ordered it.
Let’s look at a few key areas that are often areas of concern for banjos as well as other stringed instruments.
- Quality & Overall Feel
Quality & Overall Feel
I have been using this banjo for a while now and I can say that the quality of the Epiphone MB-100 banjo is up to par with what you would expect from Epiphone. It is not top quality and you can certainly feel that but if you are looking for a beginner banjo or just a cheaper one in general, it’s fine.
However, it does not compare to a more expensive model that you might find. Comparing it to an expensive Deering banjo for example would not be fair. This banjo is one of the most affordable models on the market so it stands to reason that it’s going to be an instrument of lower quality.
Some of the main problems that I have noticed with the quality of this banjo include:
- Rough finishes
- Crooked Hardware
As you can see in the picture, the head tension bolts are crooked and some of them are stripped out and will not tighten from the inside. It’s been like this since day one and I noticed this during my initial setup of the instrument.
The overall build quality of it is pretty decent and as someone who has played lots of instruments, I would say this is definitely good enough when you consider the price that you pay. If you are just starting out or need a knock-around banjo, the quality is more than sufficient.
It’s a lightweight banjo weighing in at only 4.5 pounds. It has a decent feel to it for an open back banjo and seems like one that will last for many years if well taken care of.
You will probably want to get a case of some type if you choose to purchase a banjo like this. It doesn’t come with one and even a soft case will go a long way towards protecting it from day to day nicks and bangs.
The action on this banjo was just a tad bit high when I received it but nothing out of the ordinary. It’s about what you would expect from any musical instrument like this. It’s common to have to adjust these types of things and action is pretty simple to adjust on a banjo. You can click here to learn more about adjusting action.
For the most part, all I did to adjust my action was to adjust the coordinator rod and I also made a small adjustment on the truss rod. It had just a little bit too much bow in it for my liking.
It didn’t take much at all to get my action down to a little less than 1/8 inch at the 12th fret. I was surprised at how close the action was already set to the way that I like it. I can’t remember ever purchasing a brand new stringed instrument when I didn’t have to adjust the action on it. This also applies to expensive instruments that I own so none of them are exempt from having to do this.
Musical instruments are usually set up to a standard measurement at the factory. This setting doesn’t work for everyone and is just a starting point. Besides that, they often sit in warehouses and experience various temperatures and climates before making their way to your home. These changes in temperatures and humidity can cause wood to expand and contract and other parts to change on the instrument. Nearly any stringed instrument you purchase will need the action adjusted as well as other small adjustments.
Every person has a different action height that they prefer. Of course, not each banjo that you purchase will have the same action coming from the factory. You may get one delivered that has super high action or the action may be too low for you. Who knows what you’ll get but if you get one like I did, you may not have very much adjusting to do.
As mentioned above, adjusting the action is a simple process and this banjo makes it quite simple. It does have an easy to access coordinator rod and a truss rod. Some banjos don’t even have a truss rod that you can adjust to allow for more or less bow on the neck. This banjo has adjustments for all the parts of the banjo that you would expect to be able to adjust. It also comes with a wrench that will work for the banjo head screws.
However, I was disappointed that it did not come with a tool for adjusting the truss rod. Sometimes this is not included with instruments because it is usually not recommended for users to adjust this part of the instrument. Adjusting the truss rod can result in damages to the instrument if not done right so it makes sense that it wouldn’t come with one considering beginners are likely to purchase an instrument like this.
I have plenty of them lying around but it would’ve been nice to see one included
It’s easy to adjust the tailpiece and armrest as well as the head, coordinator rod, and truss rod. If you know what you are doing, the adjustability of this banjo is great and it can be turned into a great sounding banjo with a little work. Learn more about what you can do to make a cheap banjo sound better.
For the most part, any adjustments that you can expect to do on a banjo can be done very easily on the Epiphone MB-100.
The most important part of the instrument is how it sounds. After all, you bought it to play and hear the sound of the banjo so it had better be good in that department. I’m happy to report that the sound of the banjo overall is good. It’s actually better than I expected it to sound as a cheap banjo. I’m not sure what type of strings it comes with but I replaced the strings with D’Addario light banjo strings and was able to improve the sound by doing this.
Other than standard adjustments that you would do such as adjusting the action, tightening the head, and tightening other parts that weren’t tightened fully at the factory, this banjo is impressive for the money that you spend on it.
It comes ready to play and all you need to do is install the bridge and tune it. Tuning a banjo is easy to do by using an online video, app, or a standard chromatic tuner.
As one of the cheapest banjos on the market, it certainly packs a punch when it comes to sound.
Epiphone MB-100 Images
When I received the banjo, it was packaged well. It was double boxed as instruments usually are with padding inside.
It’s typical for a banjo to ship with the bridge not installed. This is done so that nothing gets damaged. Since the bridge on a banjo is floating, meaning it isn’t attached to anything, it could move around and damage the banjo head. It’s easy to install by just inserting it under the strings before they have full tension on them.
The banjo surpasses my expectations on an instrument at this price level. It has a Remo head on it and the finishes are good enough for the average player.
Adjustments are made easy as with most banjos. The coordinator rod is a simple adjustment and the truss rod can be accessed via the peghead. Simply remove the truss rod cover as you do with most Epiphone instruments.
The banjo comes with a few accessories but nothing special. You should receive a tool that can be used for tightening the head, a bumper sticker and a guarantee certificate. However, there is no truss rod tool, at least not included with mine.
Is The Epiphone MB-100 Worth The Money?
The Epiphone MB-100 is a very affordable instrument considering it is one of the lowest cost banjos on the market. There are others that are in this price range but the Epiphone is as good as any. Epiphone has a good track record and makes quality instruments. This banjo is no exception so it’s a small price to pay for a banjo that will allow you to learn without breaking the bank.
The main person that I would recommend this banjo to is the person who doesn’t want to spend a lot on a banjo. This may be someone who is just starting out or trying to figure out whether or not they even want to play the banjo. If you buy too cheap of a banjo, it may ruin the whole experience. On the other hand, if you buy too expensive of a banjo, it will cost too much money for something that you’re not even sure of.
I consider this banjo to be a middle of the road instrument. It’s not too cheap of a banjo because it has a great sound, and it feels like a quality instrument for the most part. However, the price is low and it allows you to get a decent banjo for very little money. If you decide that you like playing the banjo, you can easily upgrade to a better one at a later time.
This banjo is a great banjo for a starter or for someone who just doesn’t care to spend a lot on an expensive banjo.
There are many things that you can do to improve the sound of it. For the most part, the Epiphone MB-100 sounds great for what it is. Understand what it is and don’t expect to sound like Earl Scruggs on it. It’s not going to sound as good as the banjos that are in the thousands of dollars.
However, as a beginner, you probably don’t care about that because you are still learning to play. This banjo is perfect for those who are just learning to play.
Having a banjo that sounds great isn’t only about the banjo. It also helps to be able to play well. A good banjo player can make nearly any banjo sound awesome. It’s not necessarily because they have an amazing banjo. Remember that as you shop for a banjo whether you are a beginner or a seasoned player. You don’t always need the most expensive model on the market to sound great.
The Epiphone MB-100 fits the bill perfect for someone who wants a good quality banjo that is on the cheaper end of the spectrum. While you can buy banjos that cost much more than this one, it would be hard to find a better banjo for the price that this one is offered.