The Morgan Monroe Banjos
A Typical Example of What Happens
When People Try to Take Advantage of a Market
Without Really Understanding It
A couple of years ago, some ads began to appear in Banjo Newsletter and other publications about the Morgan Monroe instruments. The minute I read them, I knew what they were doing. There were two statements they made that stood out.
1) The Morgan Monroe banjos had a ten pound tone ring.
2) The Morgan Monroe banjos had a "three ply block rim."
It was obvious that someone who had written their ad copy was totally in the dark about how banjos were put together. Let's examine the statments.
First of all, I've never seen a banjo with a ten pound tone ring. Most tone rings weigh in at 3 pounds. some a little more, some a little less. So a ten pount tone ring was really a strange item. I called them, and found out, after some interaction, that they were referring to the whole body. The tone ring actually weighs three pounds. So there is one piece of advertising BS shot to pieces.
Second, the "three ply block rim" -- this reminded me of some of those instruments I have seen that had a rolled brass ring inside a flathead ring -- if one is good, two would be better, right? Nope.
What they have is a three LAYER block rim. Almost all block rims have layers. Tony Pass rims have three layers. But I become very suspicious when I see people advertising layers instead of plies. There's a big difference.
I finally saw some of the banjos at one of the IBMA conventions. They are very pretty. They look and sound like a fine piece of furniture.
Two things other than the way they sounded at the IBMA convention led me to believe that the people who import these things do not know anything about banjos. One is that they are imported by an audio gear company. The other is that the people in the company don't know what certain terms mean. At least they didn't back in 2002 when they began advertising these instruments. In their catalog, they mentioned that their cabinets had "geniune denier nylon covering." Denier is a term that refers to a measurement of a nylon thread. That's like saying, "My banjo has a geniune inch head."
They tipped their hand in one of their ads. They told the story of the old instrument maker, Morgan Monroe, who would go through the forest, tapping against the trees with his axe, until he found one that had the ring to it that he needed to hear, so he could select it to make an instrument.
Then they showed a sign that told me everything. It was an entrance sign to the Morgan-Monroe State Forest, which covers more than 24,000 acres in Southern Indiana. There was no "Morgan Monroe, the luthier." The whole story was phony -- just like their banjos. And just like their "Intelli" tuners, which are an attempt to capitalize on the name and trademark of the Intellitouch tuners. The Intellitouch tuners are great. The Intelli tuners, NOPE!
There are much better banjos for the same price.
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©2006 Bill Palmer. All rights reserved. For permission to republish contact Bill Palmer. The opinions expressed on this page are strictly Bill Palmer's. Mastertone, Stelling and the other brand and model names are the property of the manufacturers and other people who own them.