The Best Banjo
You’ll agree with me that finding the best banjo can be a hard work that a novice isn’t well-equipped with knowledge to take. To start with, there is a plethora of these string instruments on the market, the choice of which can confuse beginners. To save you money from making the wrong choice, I have compiled the reviews of the best banjo instruments.
Banjos are string instruments with close ties to instruments such as ukulele and guitars. They have existed for many years producing distinct sounds and playing a significant role in a myriad of music genres such as the Old-Time, Folk, Bluegrass, traditional and Modern Jazz.
Without further ado, I’ve gone through the top 5 banjos, given their pros and cons and highlighted my verdict for each product. Furthermore, I have included the buyer’s guide to help you pick the best banjo.
Deering – Best Banjo Brand
When purchasing musical instruments, priority should go to the companies that specialize in those instruments not the ones that manufacture them as an afterthought.
So, what’s special about the Deering?
It is one such company that is renowned for quality banjos that produce distinct sounds in all musical genres designed for them. The Goodtime 2 is a 5-string instrument that Bluegrass players can find satisfying.
It gives a rich tone and it is playable given the important components that it has.
Design-wise, its neck is made of the high-quality maple wood, which is the wood predominantly found in high-end world’s best violins.
But that’s not all…
For customized strings, the tailpiece is adjustable to enhance their sharpness. Again, the tailpiece is made of the material that absorbs the vibration so that it does not interfere with the distinct sounds produced by the rim.
When playing, the vibration of the strings passes to the tension-bound bridge then to the rim. If the tailpiece is not vibration-absorbent, it can distort the unique sounds given by the banjo.
The indispensable feature that the Deering embraces includes the single-bound maple resonator. This is imperative in that it projects sound and amplifies it.
Without this resonator, your clothing can absorb the sound. Bluegrass players need this resonator to produce high volumes.
Also worth considering are the sealed geared tuners to ensure that your banjo stays in tune for a long time. The strings are light and the fretboard is well-designed.
In a nutshell, the craftsmanship in this banjo is of a top-notch quality.
The down-side though…
If you are accustomed to playing in concerts, you will have to get yourself the gig bag. I found this Carrion Hardshell Banjo Case as the best option.
I wish the Deering Company had included their case with the purchase. Perhaps they tried to minimize the costs.
Also important are fingerpicks that you will need to play this instrument. The legendary Earl Scruggs has set a path for the usage of these fingerpicks in playing banjos.
A thumb pick and 2 fingerpicks are what you need to play in a “three fingerpicking style” – the style popular in the Bluegrass style.
Given its build quality, great components and playability, the Deering Goodtime 2 is a go-to 5-string resonator banjo suitable for beginners. Bluegrass players and Jazz players can find it pleasing in their instrument collections.
At a price, it is worth the investment because the Deering is a renowned manufacturer of high-quality musical instruments. The company focuses on banjos, so it might convince one that they have put immeasurable efforts in making Goodtime 2 a success.
I do recommend it to the beginners and intermediate players. One can actually practice with it before considering the professional banjos priced well over $1000.
Gold Tone – Best Banjo to Buy
It’s one of the high-quality banjos that reflect the United States’ quality craftsmanship.
This banjo is an open-back, meaning it has no resonator.
If you plan to play in an ensemble or a Bluegrass genre, this might not be a good choice for you. But a Folk and Country music that needs a mellowed sound could do well with an open-back banjo.
Both the neck and the rim are crafted with maple wood – the wood that is characterized by an unbeatable quality as often used in high-end violins. But the rim has a laminated construction, which I found as a downside.
Nonetheless, it doesn’t compromise much of the tone quality.
The fingerboard is constructed with the rosewood which is a high-quality and durable wood. A curly maple veneer is used on the headstock.
All these features are embodied in an affordable instrument. They are rarely found in entry string instruments.
When I first encountered this banjo I was overwhelmed by the good tone. Despite being an open-back instrument, I enjoyed its softer tones.
Five-string banjos embrace the presence of the 5th string as the drone or thumb string as it helps in tuning purposes.
To provide ample stability, two-way adjustable truss rod is included together with 24 brackets. And for a comfortable playing of the instrument, the armrest is also included.
On average, I must admit this is a good instrument with a beautiful vintage brown finish to impress the onlookers. Other features include the bass tone ring for a great sound production and the vibration-absorbing straight-line tailpiece.
Weighing just 5.1 pounds, this is a portable banjo to walk with to any gig. Unfortunately, it doesn’t come with the case.
You may consider the case I recommended in our preceding Deering review.
Anyone looking for a banjo that can produce softer sound and that is characterized by high-quality construction; this could be the best option. It is suitable for both the beginner and the intermediate players.
The design is beautifully finished without unnecessary coatings that could have increased its price.
The instrument comes equipped with features that you would find in an expensive model for professionals. These include the planetary tuners.
Again, not any banjo can feature the 2-way adjustable truss rod, so I applaud this product. Although it has its downsides, they do not outweigh its positives.
Jameson – Best Banjo for Beginners
For the price, it could be the best gift for the aspiring musicians keen to understand the logistics of banjos.
While it may be regarded as a low-cost model, it contains great features such as the geared 5th tuner that you would find in more advanced banjos.
Jameson 5-string banjo comes with the resonator to project and amplify the sound. That’s a feature that is indispensable for Bluegrass players.
If you want to play as a soloist then you also need a closed-back banjo.
With the resonator, your audience can enjoy great sounds. Of high consideration is the 5th string tuner that keeps your banjo in tune and improves its playability.
That’s the feature I always encourage aspiring banjoists to look for because over time these instruments can go out of tune.
The lovers of country, folk and bluegrass music genres can enjoy playing this banjo. It lets you enjoy playing without losing so much money.
Once you master this banjo, you can then upgrade to professional ones with high-quality build materials.
At such a low price who would expect a whole host of features?
Because the banjo does not include the carry bag, I recommend purchasing the Jameson Padded Case with Shoulder Strap. It will also ease the tension on your shoulders when traveling and will protect your precious instrument against the harsh elements.
Not only is this banjo looking aesthetically good but also performing well. With the adjustable tailpiece and the chrome plated armrest, it helps in improving playability.
The armrest helps you to play without causing tension on your right arm.
The impression I got from this banjo is the affordable price. Anyone keen about banjos can afford this price because these stringed instruments can cost over $1000.
Despite having the lower price tag, this instrument has not compromised quality in its class.
It still provides a good sound production with good maple and mahogany build materials. It has quality components.
I would like to recommend it to wannabee musicians or even to students. It has the features that you would normally find in highly-priced banjos.
These include the geared 5th tuner.
Resoluute – Best Banjo for the Money
It’s a stepping stone to more professional banjos that costs even 10 times the Resoluute 5-string Resonator Banjo.
Whether you prefer the clawhammer technique, early or old folk or bluegrass music, it can be accommodated just by removing or fitting the resonator.
By just producing the banjo to anyone I doubt if they could guess the exact price brackets. It is armed with good features that emulate the ones you would find in the more expensive banjos.
There are 24 brackets to enhance the tension on the body, the 5th tuner to ensure that the instrument stays in tune and a professional Remo drumhead.
The fingerboard is made with high-quality maple wood for a smooth texture and smooth playability. The beginners will find this banjo helpful as it includes the helpful guide as well as the chords charts.
That will expedite the acquisition of knowledge to ace the instrument.
Like my preceding products, this is a 5-string banjo including the 5th tuner that is shorter than others. All the components are made of high-quality materials.
It draws its aesthetic appeal from the maple construction. The wood makes it look more professional.
Upon arrival, all you have to do are minor adjustments to the bridge and the strings. If you want, you can purchase additional bridge or strings to replace the shipped one if they wear out.
Note that the bridge has to be adjusted properly because it can have a significant impact on the sound production.
These are extra costs to incur when purchasing this banjo. But the total price will still be reasonable.
For the aspiring instrumentalist, this banjo turns out to be the best starting tool. It is affordable but has great features you would find in more advanced tools.
I am impressed by the quality construction of its components and the inclusion of the 5th tuner drone string.
Also worth applauding is the versatility of the removable resonator which helps one to play a plethora of music genres. Bluegrass players need the resonator whereas the classical music players need the softness of the open-back banjo.
The downside of the instrument, which turns out to be the downside of more banjos, is the lack of the carry case. The carry case is an extra cost, so I wish they had included it.
Other accessories you will have to purchase them.
Pyle – Best Inexpensive Banjo
It brings you the classical style tones with its great features.
Adorned with a high-gloss finish, it is a string instrument that you could shine with in concerts.
The truss rod is adjustable to enhance the stability of the instrument and to solve the intonation problems.
Weighing just 7.1 pounds, I must say it’s a portable weight, although not the lightest banjo in my list. Much of the weight can be attributed to the resonator and the body materials.
Nonetheless, you can still travel with it to your hiking or camping adventures. The downside is that the carry case has not been included.
It seems that these companies try to minimize the costs by excluding the carry cases.
This is an indispensable tool for expensive banjos.
With this banjo, you can play a wide variety of music genres including the bluegrass, folk and country. It imparts a great tone.
For anyone wishing to play bluegrass with this banjo, I recommend the Bluegrass Banjo for the Complete Ignoramus (Book & CD set). This book can help you embrace the beauty of Bluegrass.
I recommend this banjo to students and wannabee musicians alike. It is affordable, so it won’t break your bank balance to own it.
At a glance, its high-gloss finish gives it an unparalleled aesthetic appeal that is coupled with a good performance.
Despite being the low-end banjo, it has great features such as the 5th tuner that enhances playability. The truss rod can be adjusted to enhance stability.
Looking at the overall construction, it gives a good impression that the instrument will last for many years. I recommend getting additional accessories such as the extra bridge and strings.
Playing the instrument should be easy with lots of online tutorials. I have included the recommendation for Bluegrass enthusiasts.
Best Banjo – Buyer’s Guide
I am done reviewing the best banjos on the market. Let me now walk you through the buyer’s guide to ensure that you make an informed decision. I will highlight the important features to consider before making a purchase. Furthermore, I will demystify the banjo’s anatomy and components that people find quite overwhelming.
That’s not all…
I will also recommend the helpful YouTube videos to help you understand banjos and how to play them.
What to Look for When Purchasing Banjos?
Banjos can be complex instruments to novice buyer’s not knowing which key aspects to look for. Despite reviewing the best 5 products above, it can still be confusing to pick the best among them.
In general, these instruments vary in price, the number of strings, build materials and tonal quality. I will go through these considerations to help narrow your hunt for the best instrument.
Pricing – In case you’ve noticed, banjos can cost even over $1000. These are the hand-crafted professional banjos used by professional banjoists.
They are made with high-grated construction materials and produce a sound of top-notch quality.
For beginners, you can find the mass-produced banjos charged under $150. I have included some of these low-cost models in my reviews.
The price tends to reflect the quality of the instrument, its performance, and its materials. However, it doesn’t mean that banjos costing less than $150 are mediocre instruments.
They still have superb sound production and an impressive performance, just not on the level of professional banjos.
The low-cost banjos can be suitable for beginner and aspiring banjoists, especially if one is not quite certain about the hobby but just trying out.
It also helps to purchase from a reputable brand online because, unlike the brick-and-mortar stores, you won’t be able to test the quality of the sound or the tension of the strings.
Some banjo brands such as Deering are reputable manufacturers of high-quality instruments. But, the price alone is inadequate to determine if a certain banjo is of high-quality.
Others may be the same with build materials but produce distinct sounds. To add on, open-back banjos are less expensive compared to the closed-back counterparts.
Build Materials – Expert banjoists would tell you how significant each component is in the instrument. For instance, the rim often called the “pot”, is important to the sound production of the banjo.
When playing, the vibration of the strings goes to the bridge then the head then finally to the rim which then produces the sound that we hear.
That being said, the rim must be made of a more resonant wood or metal of high-quality, not the inferior and less-resonant aluminum. For many years, the wood such as the mahogany, rosewood, maple, and ebony have proven to be the best resonant materials for the rim.
A good rim is characterized by the types of woods I mentioned above. Beware of laminated materials in the rim as that means different materials glued together.
That could mean the combination of inferior less resonant materials with resonant ones. The vibration could be tampered with.
Also noteworthy is the wood components in the neck. The same wood, maple or mahogany, is used in constructing the neck.
Quality woods in the neck enhance its stability. You must also beware of laminated materials at the neck.
The other worth-considering component in the neck is the truss rod as it helps stabilize it and improves intonation.
Furthermore, on the neck, there is a fingerboard on top of it, which also needs quality build material. This board tightens the frets so it needs a hard-wood.
On the fretboard as well, maple or rosewood is used predominantly in high-end instruments.
Strings – Low-quality strings can also affect the quality of sound produced by your banjo. Steel strings are predominantly used in many banjo instruments because of their toughness.
Equally important to the strings are the tuners. Geared tuners help put the strings in tune for a long time.
In my reviews, the 5-string banjos have the 5th tuner, which is an indispensable feature for high-quality instruments. Without the geared tuners, the strings may get out of tune over time.
Note that the bridge is not affixed to the head but held by the tension of the strings.
Also important is the multiple plies of the rim as it can boost the sound production of your instrument.
Nonetheless, you can pop out some cash to get one on Amazon. The other contributing factor to the weight is the resonator.
The open-back banjos are less expensive and lightweight compared to the closed-back ones.
Should I Buy Closed or Open-back Banjo?
As I have highlighted above, open-back banjos are less expensive and lightweight compared to the closed-back (resonator) banjos. However, this is not the only consideration.
The resonator can be a metal or a wood attached to the back of the instrument whose function is to project the sound to the audience. Let’s see their key differences:
Open-back banjos have been used for folk music and classic-style music because of the warmer and mellower tone that they produce. The clawhammer technique is perfect for these typical banjos.
Because the open-back banjo was designed to produce softer tones, you do not necessarily need fingerpicks to play it.
There is no a clear winner between the resonator and the open-back banjo that which is the best. It all depends on your music genre choice.
Beginner players may find open-back convenient for their learning.
If you are into bluegrass music, the resonator banjo can be a suitable instrument for you. This music genre requires the louder and brighter tones that the instrument imparts.
The design of the resonator banjo is basically similar to that of the open-back counterpart. The major difference is the addition of the back-cover.
Some instruments may add the bells and the whistles to boost the sound.
This banjo is often characterized by the strings placed closer to the fretboard to produce a twangy and a fuller sound. You can use fingerpicks to play.
The back cover can be the metal plate or the wood.
How to Choose the Best Beginner Banjos?
Apart from the price difference, there are many factors you need to consider when selecting the best beginner banjos. The best strategy is to spend some time analyzing and assessing the quality of the instrument as well as considering different banjo styles.
In general, there are different banjo styles beyond what I have reviewed in here. Let me highlight them below:
4-string Banjos – This category includes the plectrum and the tenor banjos whereby the tenor is the shortest. But these banjos are seldom used as the base instrument in melodies.
Instead, they are used for chordal accompaniments, among other play styles. The plectrum has been used traditionally in jazz music.
6-string Banjos – These have been popular since mid-19th century. They resemble the guitar in the way they are tuned so it can be easy for a guitar player to transition into banjos.
You can also find the electronic 6-string banjos but are more expensive. Moreover, you can find open-back and closed-back 6-strign banjos.
5-string Banjos – Now, these are the most popular and convenient banjo instruments, hence I chose them in my reviews. They are the first traditional banjos made popular in the 1830s.
Much of the design of these 5-string banjos I have highlighted in my reviews. The enthusiasts of clawhammer, frailing, folk music, country, bluegrass and classic music often prefer the convenience of 5-string banjos.
Besides the convenience, 5-string banjos were designed for these genres of music.
Contrary to the tuning of guitars, the 5-strign banjos are not tuned from low to high across the fingerboard. The common banjo tuning particularly for Bluegrass music is the G-B-G-B-D (open G-chord).
If the banjo is tuned to an open-chord G, you can strum without fingering the strings. The 5th string is the geared tuner and is interchangeably called the thumb or the drone string.
Understanding the Anatomy of the Banjo
Equally important to the understanding of how banjo works are the understanding of the anatomy of this instrument. If you have to replace a certain part, you have to know which part is it and how to figure it out.
Check the image below aimed at introducing some parts of the banjo.
Important: Most banjos come with the bridges unattached so do not regard that as a factory fault. The bridge is not affixed to the head but held by the tension of the strings.
In most cases, it is unattached when shipping to loosen the tension so it doesn’t get damaged. Attaching it should be an easy task for the beginner.
Amongst others, Deering banjos are an exception as they always come with the attached bridge.
The straps will help you when you play the instrument while standing up. It eases the tension and prevents fatigue on your hands.
The additional strings will help you in case the current ones get broken or degrade in quality. It is important to check the tonal characteristics of the string materials before making any choice.
And to store the banjo or travel with, you need the cases or gig bags. They will safeguard the instrument against any scratches.
Is it Easy to Learn Banjo?
Yes, it is easy to learn banjo provided you are being taught by an expert or you are following the right online tutorials. You may also need specific lessons in clawhammer techniques or bluegrass genre.
Fortunately, some banjos have included the beginner’s guide as well as the chord charts. But, by devoting time to online tutorials you can master the instrument.
The bluegrass playing technique was introduced by Earl Scruggs. Although it can be a bit challenging, an expert tutor can take you through that mammoth task.
Should I Buy Used or New Banjos?
Just like any other instrument, you need expertise to diagnose if the owner is selling a counterfeit or a great product.
The instruments sold in pawn shops may be the substandard ones which were bought and got damaged prematurely. I suggest you always consider the reputable sellers.
Because purchasing online can have cons, I reckon you rely on customer reviews to find out if the seller is reputable. If you opt for a second hand banjo, get ready to purchase the replacement parts.
If you want to avoid all the hassles of pre-owned banjos, then invest in a high-quality Deering banjo. The new, high-end banjos are expensive but will surely last you long and will produce uncompromised sound qualities.
I have come to an end of the best banjo instruments on the market. Although there is no basic formula to look at when purchasing, I have demystified the process and reviewed the best products.
Furthermore, I have highlighted the important features to look for.
The choice is yours. My take is that, consider all the factors.
In spite of the various banjo styles, I have chosen only the 5-string instruments because they are the most popular ones. Note the difference between the closed-back and the open-back banjos.
They do not necessarily differ in quality, but in music styles. For instance, bluegrass players need the resonator whereas the classical music players need the open-back.
My buyer’s guide has plenty of information to help you master the buying process of the best banjo. I have also included the YouTube videos that could help the beginners in understanding the anatomy of this instrument.