How to Choose a Banjo: Essential Tips for Choosing the Right Instrument for You

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When I decided to pick up the banjo, I was overwhelmed by all the different makes and models available. I had no idea where to start or what to look for in an instrument. I quickly realized I needed to do some research to find the perfect banjo for me. That’s why I wrote this ultimate guide on “How to Choose a Banjo”. With this guide, you will learn the different features of a banjo and how to choose the right one that best fits your needs. By the end, you will be ready to buy the perfect banjo for your playing style.

Considerations Before Buying

Considerations Before Buying

When looking for a banjo, there are several important factors to consider. The type of banjo desired, the quality of construction, and the budget are all important. Choose a banjo that is well-suited to the type of music desired. Consider the tone and volume, as well as the action and neck size. Quality construction is important, so look for a banjo made from durable materials. Consider the budget, as banjos can range from affordable to expensive. Additionally, think about whether accessories, such as a banjo case, are desired. Finally, determine whether a new or used banjo is desired.

Types of Banjos

Types Of Banjos

Type Description
4-String Banjo Most popular and commonly used for folk, old-time and bluegrass music. It has four strings which are tuned in fifths, G-D-G-B.
5-String Banjo Ideal for bluegrass and country music. The fifth string is a short string, the drone string, which is tuned to a higher pitch than the other strings.
6-String Banjo Also known as a guitar banjo. It has six strings, with the bottom four strings tuned in fifths, like a 4-string banjo, and the top two strings tuned like a guitar.
Banjo Uke A hybrid of a banjo and a ukulele. It has four strings and is tuned to G-C-E-A.
Banjo Mandolin Also known as a banjolin. It has eight strings that are tuned in fifths, like a mandolin.

The type of banjo you choose will depend on the kind of music you want to play. 4-string banjos are ideal for folk and traditional music, 5-string banjos are great for bluegrass and country music, and 6-string banjos are great for playing guitar-like music. Banjo ukes and banjo mandolins are great for playing more unique styles of music.

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Price Range

Price Range
The price of banjos can vary widely depending on the type and quality. Entry level banjos start at around $200 and can go up to more than $3000 for professional quality models. Intermediate level banjos usually cost between $400 and $1000. When deciding on a banjo, it is important to consider what you are looking for in terms of features, sound quality, and playability. If you are a beginner, it is best to start with an entry level banjo. If you are an experienced player, you may want to invest in a higher-end banjo.

Player Level

Player Level

  • Beginner – if you are a beginner, you should opt for a banjo with a lower price tag and fewer features.
  • Intermediate – if you are an intermediate player, you should buy a banjo with a higher price tag that has more features.
  • Advanced – if you are an advanced player, you should go for the most expensive banjo with the most features.

Tone and Playability

Tone And Playability

  • Consider the tone of the banjo you’re looking at. You’ll want one that produces a sound you like, with a range of tones and timbres.
  • Test the playability of the banjo you are considering. Look for an instrument with smooth action and easy playability.
  • Evaluate the banjo’s neck and fretboard. Make sure it’s comfortable to play and suited to your style.
  • Listen for any buzzing or dead notes. If the banjo has any of these, it may not be the best option for you.
  • Check the tuning pegs. Make sure they are well-made and easy to use.
  • Consider the weight of the banjo. If you plan on taking it to gigs, look for one that is lightweight and easy to transport.

Size and Weight

Size And Weight

The size and weight of a banjo are important factors to consider when choosing one. Banjos come in a variety of sizes, ranging from small open-back banjos to large, full-scale resonator banjos. The size of the banjo will affect the sound, playability, and overall feel of the instrument. A smaller banjo will be easier to move around and more comfortable to play, while a larger banjo will have more projection and volume. Additionally, the weight of the banjo will affect its playability. Banjos can range from lightweight models to heavier models with metal resonators. Lighter banjos are easier to carry around, while heavier banjos will give the player more stability and resonance.

Brand and Quality

Brand And Quality

Brand Quality
Look for well-known brands, such as Deering, Gold Tone or Gibson. The quality of the banjo is determined by its materials and construction. Look for a banjo with quality tonewoods, reliable tuning machines, and a comfortable neck and bridge.

Where to Buy

When looking to buy a banjo, it is important to shop around. Consider purchasing from a local music store, as they should be able to provide helpful advice and have the instrument available for you to try. If you are looking for a budget banjo, you can find a variety of options online, from second-hand marketplaces to online retailers. Consider reading reviews to make sure you are getting a quality instrument. You may also be able to find a used banjo from a music shop or another seller. It is important to inspect the instrument thoroughly before buying to ensure it is in good condition.

Local Music Stores

Local Music Stores
When looking for a banjo, an excellent place to start is your local music store. These stores often have a wide variety of instruments to choose from, as well as knowledgeable staff who can help you find the perfect banjo for your needs. By visiting a local music store, you can get a hands-on feel for the banjo you’re interested in, and you can ask the store staff any questions you have about the instrument. If the store doesn’t have the exact banjo you’re looking for, they may be able to special order it for you. Local music stores are also a great place to look for banjo accessories and instructional materials.

Online Retailers

Online Retailers
When shopping for a banjo, online retailers can be a great option. Many online retailers offer a wide selection of banjos from different brands and at different price points. Some online retailers also offer discounts and free shipping, which can make buying a banjo more affordable. Additionally, online retailers often have customer reviews, which can help you make an informed decision. When shopping online, it’s important to ensure that the retailer is reputable and that the banjo is backed by a warranty.

Private Sellers

Private Sellers

  • Check the seller’s credentials and research the banjo for sale.
  • Inquire about the condition of the banjo, including any repairs made or needed.
  • Make sure the seller has a return policy.
  • Negotiate the price of the banjo if possible.
  • Ensure the seller is willing to provide a warranty.
  • Review the seller’s feedback and rating.

Test It Out

Test It Out

  • Try out different banjos to get a feel for what you like best.
  • Check the quality of the build by looking at the frets, strings, neck, tuning pegs, and bridge.
  • Listen to how each banjo sounds and how the sound projects.
  • Test different strings to see if they produce the sound you are looking for.
  • Check the action of the strings by pressing down on them. Make sure the strings are not too high or too low.
  • Test out the banjo in different playing positions.
  • Play some chords and scales to test the banjo’s playability.

Care and Maintenance

Care And Maintenance

  • Store the banjo in a dry place away from direct sun and extreme temperatures.
  • Check the tuning pegs and strings regularly to make sure they are tightened and functioning properly.
  • Clean the strings and fretboard with a soft cloth and light oil.
  • Wipe down the body of the banjo with a cloth and light oil to maintain a glossy finish.
  • Keep the banjo in a hard case when not in use.
  • Take the banjo to a professional for any repairs or adjustments.

Recommended Banjos

Recommended Banjos

  • Deering Goodtime 2 – Best Budget Banjo
  • Oscar Schmidt OB5 Banjo – Best Value Banjo
  • Gold Tone Cripple Creek – Best Beginner Banjo
  • Deering Goodtime 5-String – Best Overall Banjo
  • Gold Tone CC-50+ – Best Professional Banjo

Accessories

When buying a banjo, you should also consider the accessories needed to make playing the instrument more enjoyable. Accessories can range from a banjo strap to a pick. A banjo strap will help you keep your instrument in the proper playing position and make it easier to play. A pick is used for picking the strings of the banjo. It should be made of a material that won’t damage the strings and should be of the proper size for your particular banjo. A tuner is also important to ensure that your banjo is in tune. Finally, a banjo case is essential for protecting the instrument when it is not in use.

Frequently Asked Questions

What are the Different Types of Banjos Available?

Banjos are available in four main types: the four-string tenor banjo, the five-string banjo, the six-string banjo, and the plectrum banjo. The four-string tenor banjo is the most traditional type and is usually used in Irish, Scottish, and jazz ensembles. The five-string banjo is the most popular and is used in bluegrass and folk music. The six-string banjo is similar to a guitar, with the five strings plus an extra string that is usually tuned to the same note as the fifth string. Finally, the plectrum banjo has four strings, like the four-string tenor banjo, but is tuned to a higher pitch and has a longer neck.

What are the benefits of playing a banjo?

Playing the banjo offers numerous benefits to the musician, such as improved dexterity, increased creativity, and enhanced confidence. It also helps to develop coordination, timing, and strumming techniques, making it great for aspiring musicians. Additionally, the banjo can provide hours of entertainment with its unique sound and wide range of musical styles. Furthermore, playing the banjo helps to improve memory and cognitive skills, making it a great instrument for all ages.

What should I look for when choosing a banjo?

When choosing a banjo, consider the type of banjo (e.g. 4-string, 5-string, 6-string, or 8-string) and the material of the banjo neck, pot, and head. Different types of banjos may produce different tones and require different techniques to play. Additionally, look for the type of tuners, type of frets, and number of frets. The quality of the construction and materials will affect the sound and playability of the instrument. Finally, take into account the budget and the purpose of the banjo (e.g. bluegrass, folk, jazz, etc.) when making a decision.

How do I determine the size and shape of a banjo that is right for me?

The size and shape of a banjo is an important factor in finding the right one for you. The size of a banjo is determined by the diameter of the head, which is typically between 11 and 13 inches, and the neck length. The shape will depend on the type of banjo you are looking for. Banjos are traditionally round, but there are also oval-shaped, octagonal, and teardrop-shaped varieties. The size and shape of the banjo should also be determined by the style of playing you are looking to do, as well as the size and shape of your hands.

What Types of Banjo Strings Should I Use?

The type of banjo strings you should use largely depends on the type of banjo you have and the type of music you want to play. There are two main types of strings available: metal and nylon. Metal strings are thicker and heavier and produce a louder sound, while nylon strings are thinner and softer and create a milder sound. If you are playing folk or bluegrass music, metal strings are best; if you are playing classical or jazz, nylon strings are usually preferred. Ultimately, the best strings to use are the ones that sound best to you.

Conclusion

Choosing a banjo is a personal journey that requires careful consideration. Based on your playing style and budget, you should now be able to determine which banjo is right for you. Consider the features, sound, and construction of the instrument, as well as the price and warranty. Lastly, use your own knowledge and experience to make a decision. Good luck and happy picking!

References

About the author

Hi there! I’m Jack Little – an avid country music fan with tons of live country performances in the past. I used to play banjo in a country band with my best friend John Peters, who’s a true country harmonica master. Those were great years and I’m still mastering new banjo playing techniques, writing my own country songs and lyrics, and collecting banjos!

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