I got a new banjolele. WooHoo! It’s a fairly new product, a Gretsch G9740 “Clarophone”. It came Monday, I’ve got a only few hours playing on it, not as much as I wanted, but some previous appointments, tendonitus and few days sick ate up my time. Anyway, now I have time and I am feeling great.
I’ve wanted a banjolele for a little while. I’d been researching them and was it kind of a toss up between this one, the Luna 8″ Banjo Uke and the Eddy Finn EF-BU2. Now, I have never seen any in person nor played one. The local music shops around here don’t carry them. So I read about them on forums or reviews on the vendor websites.
Searching YouTube I saw this video and it has the sound I wanted and Ed Roland was playing it the way I try to play (or want to play). I sounded good with Ed playing it.
So the search went on, until last week. This Clarophone, as I will new henceforth ever refer to it, is a neat little banjolele. I bought the Clarotone from Amazon. The price was what everyone else was asking, and the shipping was free. I liked the looks and I liked the fact it was a Gretsch.
The Clarophone… It’s an 8″ concert size old timey inspired banjolele. The sound is kind of old sound, I guess that from the uke strings on it. The sound is not particularly bright. It can get loud, especially if you use a pick and hammer away with it. Factory action is not bad and with a movable bridge, intonation is not an issue.
I do have a problem with the factory strings. The high G is a little over weighted compared to the CEA strings. So when you strum, you hear this high string pinging just a little over the top. So sooner or later I need to find the right set. Here’s my take on the problem: The Clarotone is concert scale, but being long at 15 1/2″, the strings are tense and I think that make that G ping like it does. I’m leaving the factory strings on for a little while. I have two tenors sitting that has the same but much worse G problem, caused by my obsessive need to change strings on everything.
It’s stained an old looking orange color, perhaps a bit too orange. The finish is matte. It’s got a nice looking Remo 8″ FiberSkyn head, and the nickel hardware looks real old time. The neck is U shaped and slippery enough, frets are jumbo and the woodwork is maple. Amber fret dots really look cool. The back is a maple disk with a little space between it and the drum, that helps the sound get out.
Tuners are friction and were a little loose out of the box. An application of the included banjo wrench/screwdriver tightened the tuners up nicely. Tuning is interesting with friction tuners as a little turn goes a long way. I hope the strings are still stretching as I have to tune it every time I pick it up. It sounds really lousy if not in tune; in tune – it sounds great. Like it was 1922 again.
It does not come with a case. There is an optional gig bag, but I do not like gig bags. For now I’ll use a banjo case I have. Later, I’ll find me a proper banjolele case. I wish they had a nice tweed or tolex case with Clarotone or Gretsch splashed across the side.
Would I recommend the Clarophone? Maybe. I think it’s possibly the same as the Luna with different trimmings. I’d love to try an Eddy Finn or a Gold Tone, but I don’t know where I could try one. I like to play old time music strum-style. The Clarophone sounds great for that. Just fix that G problem and get a proper case and I’ll be set.