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Does Deering's most affordable professional-grade banjo measure up to professional expectations?

By Phil O'Keefe

 

The Deering Banjo Company is an American small business success story, having been started as a family-operated business by Greg and Janet Deering in Southern California back in the mid 1970s. They have become one of the most recognized and respected banjo manufacturers in the world, with lines that include Vega, Deering, Tonebrook and Goodtime banjos, all of which are still hand-built in the USA. Their latest instrument is the Eagle II, a model that is designed as an affordable professional-grade banjo. Let's see how well it measures up to professional standards.

Deering Eagle II 5 String Banjo main.jpeg

 

What You Need To Know

  • The Eagle II is Deering's newest and most affordable professional-grade resonator 5-string banjo, but just because it's affordable, that doesn't mean they took quality shortcuts. Nor is it an imported instrument - as with their other banjos, it's made just outside of San Diego in Spring Valley California USA.
  • The Eagle II has an unbound maple neck that is finished with a dark red mahogany stain and a high-gloss finish. There are 22 pressed-in nickel-silver frets on the natural ebony fretboard. The scale length is 26 1/4".
  • The neck features Deering's slender neck shape. It measures 1 1/4" wide at the nut, and is extremely comfortable to play.   
  • eagle-banjo-peghead.jpegThe neck also has the original Deering Eagle engraved inlays. Additional inlays adorn the headstock. The workmanship on the inlays is first-rate; as hard as I tried, I couldn't find any flaws or filler used to fill gaps around them.
  • The Eagle II has smooth planetary tuners, and a geared fifth string peg. Tuning stability is excellent.
  • The Eagle II has a violin-grade three-ply maple rim, and 24 brackets. It utilizes Deering's own Twenty-Ten™ tone ring, a new and patent-pending design that Deering says contributes significantly to the Eagle II's expressive and versatile tonality.  
  • The Eagle II uses Deering's True Tone tailpiece.
  • The Eagle II has a slender nickel plated shaped armrest. 

True Tone tailpiece and shaped armrest.JPG

 

  • The resonator is 13 7/8" in diameter, and also made from maple, with the same dark red mahogany stain and high gloss finish as the neck. It is also double-bound, which I think looks really classy.

brackets and resonator.JPG

Deering Eagle II rear.JPG
 

  • The setup straight out of the case was perfect, and no adjustments were needed. The action is admirably low making this banjo super easy to play. The 11" top frosted head was expertly tensioned, and the two piece maple and ebony bridge well cut and properly positioned so that intonation was right on the money.
  • Speaking of the case, it's included with the Eagle II, and very nice. There is a large gold Deering logo on the outside, and the inside is very plush and well padded. I think the green lining of the case looks really cool.

 

Deering-case.jpg


  • The quality of the nickel plated hardware is also quite good.
  • Deering has a well-earned reputation for building solid instruments, and the Eagle II is only going to reinforce that. Deering stands behind the Eagle II 5-String banjo with a limited lifetime warranty.
  • A left-handed version is also available for a slight additional charge.

 

Limitations

  • The fret position indicators on the side of the neck are relatively small, and not as readily visible as I would have preferred.
  • There are no pre-installed spikes for the 5th string at the 7th, 9th and 10th frets on the review unit. However, Deering does offer this as an option for an additional $39.    

 

Conclusions

This Deering Eagle II is built like a tank. At ten pounds, it's not particularly heavy by professional banjo standards, but it has a definite aura of quality and durability to it.

The items I mentioned under limitations are really minor quibbles, and the spikes can be easily added later, or ordered with the banjo for a slight additional cost, while the visibility of the side dots is probably not that bad for younger players with better eyes than I have.

The Deering Eagle II is an excellent multi-purpose banjo that works well for playing in a variety of styles, including Bluegrass and Clawhammer. The tone is warm and full, with plenty of bass and great projection and more than ample volume. The highs are bright and crisp without being strident or overbearing, but it is the midrange of this banjo that is of particular note - it's punchy and present, with a unique and very cool voice. Sustain is also very good. Playing closer to the neck results in a rounder sound, as you might expect, while rolls played near the bridge snap and chime wonderfully.  It's definitely a flexible banjo, with a sound that works very well with a variety of playing styles and across multiple genres.

This is the kind of banjo that makes a great long-term companion for the serious player; and by "long-term", I mean "lifetime partner."  Sure, there are fancier banjos on the market, but the Eagle II has enough beautiful inlay, binding, and sparkling nickel-plated hardware to stand tall even in comparison to other high-end banjos, and more importantly, professional-grade sound and build quality that will delight its owners and audiences for years to come. It's certainly worthy of your consideration if you're ready to move up to a truly professional-grade instrument that can serve well in a variety of genres. It's a delightful banjo.

 

Resources

$2,549.00 MSRP, $2,119.00 "street"

Deering's Eagle II web page

http://www.deeringbanjos.com/products/eagle-ii-5-string-banjo

Deering Banjo's web site

http://www.deeringbanjos.com/

Deering Banjo's Eagle II demo video:

 

Harmony Central Review Preview - Deering Eagle II 5-string resonator banjo

 

 

Phil\_OKeefe HC Bio Image.jpgPhil O'Keefe is a multi-instrumentalist, recording engineer / producer and the Senior Editor of Harmony Central. He has engineered, produced and performed on countless recording sessions in a diverse range of styles, with artists such as Alien Ant Farm, Jules Day, Voodoo Glow Skulls, John McGill, Michael Knott and Alexa's Wish. He is a former featured monthly columnist for EQ magazine, and his articles and product reviews have also appeared in Keyboard, Electronic Musician and Guitar Player magazines. 

 

 

 

 

1 comment
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webmaestro  |  September 10, 2014 at 11:21 pm
I can vouch for the quality of this instrument. Sounds and looks absolutely terrific. In fact it's one of our best sellers with the highest customer satisfaction ratings. -JC Pricebeat Music
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