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Learning the banjo is lots of fun, the banjo being inspired by artists like Led Zeppelin and even Taylor Swift. There’s never been a better time to start playing this funky instrument that is so much more fun than the violin or guitar. But with so many different banjos to choose from, it can be hard to know where to start looking. Not all banjos are the same; they don’t even all have the same number of strings. So, it can be a bit of a minefield when deciding which to invest in. And that’s the same even if you are not limited to a certain budget. In this article we are going to look at a few of our top pick banjos as well as hopefully answering all your questions about picking up best banjos for the money.
Open Versus Closed (Resonator) Back
As we said before, not all banjos are the same, and one difference you will find is with the type of back of the banjo. There are both open-back and closed-back banjos to choose from, and although they may have the same basic design, the two types can sound very different. An open backed banjo has no back cover and therefore has an open sound chamber. This is the norm for a classic and original light banjo design.
However, the open back means that the volume from your instrument will also be low. An open banjo doesn’t require fingerpicks and is usually played in a claw hammer style. It’s the ideal choice if you are looking for a traditional mountain style sound that is soft and mellow.
A closed-back banjo, also known as a resonator back banjo has a wooden bowl that covers the sound chamber. This allows for sound to be projected towards the audience, providing a much louder volume than that of an open-backed instrument. The closed-back banjo is a heavier instrument and is the preferred choice of bluegrass players. It has a bright and twangy sound and can be played with fingerpicks. The strings are generally located closer to the fretboard than in open-back banjos.
Different Types of Banjo:
4 String Banjos
A four string banjo is not a bass instrument and doesn’t need to be played as such. They are actually played as chord melody, tremolo, single string melody, duo style, and chordal accompaniment. There are two different types of four string banjos, the first being the plectrum banjo. This instrument is often used with a pluck and is used for jazz music. The other four string banjo is the tenor, this instrument having a shorter neck and is generally used for chordal accompaniment, its popularity starting in 1910.
5 String Banjos
This is the most popular type of banjo and is recommended for beginner use. It’s easy to play and for this reason it’s really popular amongst all players, experienced and beginners alike. The 5 string banjo dates back to 1830 and features a unique string that was shorter in design. This allows the banjo to be tuned to an open pitch that is higher.
When you choose the 5 string banjo it will ensure that you choose an instrument that plays its trademark sound. The five-string banjo is the perfect choice for classic and folk playing, frailing and clawhammering alike. It’s versatile and the perfect choice for anyone who wants to learn to play the banjo.
6 String Banjo
If you are looking for a banjo that behaves in the same way as the average guitar, the 6 string version could be the best choice for you. The 6 string banjo is composed a lot like a guitar in terms of its strings, yet it still sounds twangy and bright like a 4 or 5 string banjo. 6 string banjos are available with both open and closed backs variations, and you can even opt for a 6 string electric banjo. The 6 string banjo is not recommended as a beginners’ instrument if you have no prior knowledge of stringed instruments.
Best Banjos for the money : Choosing the Best Beginners banjo
If you are thinking of buying your first banjo, it’s not something that you should rush into; it really pays off to get the specifications correct first. There are many features that you should look for when choosing your first banjo, including:
As a beginner, it’s probably better to opt for a banjo with geared tuners. These allow for easy tuning and will prevent your instrument from falling out of tune.
This ensure that the forward curvature of the neck is stable
Multiple Coordinator Rods:
This is a feature that you should look for as it facilitates a tone that is of high quality.
The sound you produce with your banjo will differ, depending on the type of wood that it’s made from. A mahogany banjo will offer a warm tone, whereas maple will produce a sharp tone. If you are looking for somewhere in the middle, walnut is a good compromise.
Brass Tone Ring:
As a beginner, a good tone rung won’t make a huge amount of difference, but as you progress, you will start to notice the benefit of a good tone ring.
This will make a big difference to the sound you produce when you play
4 (Four) of the Best Banjos for The Money
1. Jameson 5 String:
Priced at around $299, the Jameson is a relatively cheap banjo but one that boasts some excellent features. It boasts a mahogany resonator, adjustable tailpiece, and geared 5th tuner. As one of the best banjos for beginners that is not too expensive, it’s our top pick for those on a budget. The 3 ply maple rims and bridge and glossy finish are indeed features that you wouldn’t normally find on a banjo that sells for less than $300. It’s a great starting instrument and has some fantastic reviews.
2. Deering Goodtime Banjo:
With a price tag of around $579 this 3 ply maple rim banjo is a middle-of-the-price-range instrument that boasts some excellent features. It is lightweight and has an adjustable tailpiece and geared tuners. The 11 inch maple rim of this banjo produces an excellent quality of sound, Deering being a highly reputed Banjo brand. This model is perfect for beginners due to its accurate fret work that allows for great playability and intonation.
3. Epiphone MB-200 Banjo:
This banjo can be found for sale online from around $400, making it an affordable option as a beginner’s instrument. It features a rosewood fingerboard and mahogany body, as well as geared tuners. It’s hard to go wrong with this beautiful instrument. It looks great and it’s easy to play, the banjo boasting stylish floral inlays and a vintage look.
4. Gold Tone CC-100R:
This banjo is the perfect choice for those with a higher budget, the model having a selling price of $559, 99. Key features of this gold tone banjo are the two-way adjustable tailpiece, the maple body and resonator, and the truss rod. It offers a terrific sound quality and is a perfect choice for both beginners and advanced players. Although it is more expensive than other models on our list, it is excellent value for money. The banjo boasts two coordinator rods, a tone ring, geared tuners, an adjustable tailpiece, and much more
Best Banjos For The Money: FAQs
1. Is the Banjo Hard to Play?
There is not one specific answer to this question, as there are 3 main different types of banjo; the 4 string tenor, the 5 string bluegrass, and the 6 string banjo-guitar. Each different model requires a different approach. Learning the 4 string with a pick is relatively easy and you will be able to play a few melodies quickly; it will take longer to learn the 5 or 6 string banjos, especially if you have no prior experience with stringed instruments. How hard it is to learn the banjo also depends on who is teaching you; some learn to play by themselves, others need a teacher that is strict and makes sure you are constantly practicing between lessons.
2. How long does it take to learn the banjo?
Once again, there’s no one answer to this question. On average I would say that it takes six months to learn to play, but again, it depends on a few variables. Do you have experience with other stringed instruments? How often do your practice and who is teaching you? It is relatively easy to learn the basics, most especially with the 4 string banjo, but perfecting your playing will still take a lifetime.
3. What is the Difference Between a 4 and 5 String Banjo?
In terms of sound, the difference is that you are playing a smaller banjo when you choose a 4-stringed instrument. The tenor banjo is shorter in scale length than a plectrum. The plectrum is the same scale as a five stringed banjo, but it is played with a flat pick.
4. Do I Need to Wear Finger Picks When Playing?
The metal picks used to play the banjo are nothing more than an extension of your fingers, so they are not essential for playing. Especially in the beginner, when you are getting used to the feel of the strings, it is best to pluck without; they will feel prosthetic. As you become more confident you may like to introduce them, or alternatively, play with long nails.
5. Should I Buy a Banjo Online of in store?
This depends on if you have someone who can guide you with your choices or not. If you are looking to save money, the best bargains are found online. However, if you are going to purchase online, do so only from an original website. This way, you will be sure that you are not paying out for a cheap fake. Buying in store is almost always better for beginners, as you can try out the various instruments they have for size and listen to how they sound.
6. Do I Need a Teacher to Learn the Banjo?
Not everyone needs a teacher to learn the banjo; nowadays many people simply follow tutorials that they find online. However, we recommend that you have at least some beginners’ lessons with a teacher that will allow you to get started in the right direction. The only time we would say that it is not necessary to have a teacher would be if you are already an advanced guitar player or play another stringed instrument such as the violin or ukulele confidently.
Buying your first banjo should be a positive experience, but one that needs some research and homework. You will have quite a few decisions to make such as well as deciding on how much you wish to spend. The main decisions will of course be whether to choose an open-back or closed-back version, and whether to choose a banjo with 4, 5, or 6 strings. As a beginner we highly recommend the Jameson 5 string, both for price and sound quality. But, as we mentioned, each banjo produces a different sound.
So, the best place to buy your new musical instrument is in a store where you can try out all the different types and models until you find one that you love the sound of and are comfortable playing with. Ensure that you pick a model that is well-made, and has the features that you are looking for. Geared tuners really are a must for beginners, and a five string model will bring you that trademark sound that you are really wanting to recreate in your own home, at a festival, or wherever you choose to play.