Buying your first instrument can be a daunting task because it’s potentially the most important one you will ever buy. Your decision needs the same amount of consideration that a professional would give to spending thousands of dollars on high-end equipment.
The reason we suggest this is because it plays a pivotal role in your development as a musician. Making the wrong choice as a complete beginner could lead you to give up playing, so let’s get it right.
Choosing the best beginner banjo is even more of a daunting task because it’s not as common as the guitar or piano, etc. Banjo players are few and far between when compared to guitarists, but that’s more reason to pick one up.
We can help you choose the best beginner banjo for you by helping you understand what you should be looking for in your first instrument. Banjo’s feature mostly in genres like Dixieland jazz, bluegrass, and folk, but it’s great for modern music too.
We think this is the best banjo for beginners for a few reasons. First of all, it’s affordable, and secondly, it has some unusual features. (Click here to check the price)
The high-quality craftsmanship that comes with this banjo is hard to find in budget-friendly instruments. It is a 24 bracket banjo with a closed solid back and a mahogany resonator. A super-smooth 7-ply maple neck offers excellent comfort and playability. The build/image is topped off with a high-gloss finish that’s worthy of a more expensive instrument.
Jameson has fitted this banjo out with a maple bridge and an adjustable hinged tailpiece. The geared fifth tuner is very reliable and keeps tune far longer than most beginner banjos.
The Jameson 5-string banjo is perfect for practice or playing to an audience. It has a sweet, mellow tone making it ideal for bluegrass, folk, or country music. This banjo has a resonator, which is partly responsible for the excellent volume. The resonator can be removed, which will alter your tone slightly, and the closed solid back adds resonance and depth to the sound. This banjo has a more versatile sound than most other beginner models.
The Jameson 5-string banjo is our overall number one choice. The combination of its sweet sound and its well-balanced construction makes it great for beginners. The materials used, like the mahogany resonator and maple bridge, are fantastic value for money.
This banjo is Deering’s flagship open-back model and one of the most popular choices for beginners. (To check the price, click here.)
This banjo has a 22-fret maple neck with hardwood bow tie inlays that are as pretty as they are practical. The rim is a very durable 3-ply maple design that oozes quality. The low-profile neck is comfortable for newbies to get their fingers around. The open-back design adds some color to the tone while making the instrument much lighter. Wrapping up the build quality is a gorgeous satin finish that looks amazing and helps the wood to age well.
This banjo is slightly more expensive, which means you can expect quality hardware. The geared tuners are dependable and hold tune better than any other on our list. The maple/ebony bridge is a custom Goodtime design, as is the adjustable tailpiece. The tailpiece is adjusted via the coordinator rod, ensuring maximum playability.
The build quality plays a massive part in how this banjo sounds. The Deering Goodtime 5-string banjo has a lovely mellow tone. The mellow tone is typical of open-back banjos, but not all have the dynamic range of this one. Despite not having a resonator, it still delivers plenty of volume and expression.
The Goodtime 5-string banjo is a bit more expensive than most beginner banjos with good reason. It comes with geared tuners, a 3-ply maple rim, and a very reliable build quality. Some beginner instruments come with inconsistencies, but there’s no such problem with this one. The reliability and longevity you get here are worth the extra cost.
The MB-100 is Epiphone’s entry-level open-back banjo. It has been designed based on Epiphone’s first-ever patent for an improved open-back banjo. If it’s not broke, don’t fix it! (Check Price Here)
Quality materials have been used to construct the MB-100. It comes with mahogany back, side, and neck with a rosewood fingerboard. Epiphone designed this one with beginners in mind, which is fantastic. The 26.25″ scale fingerboard has 22 frets and is very comfortable to play. Being an open-back banjo means it has a lightweight body, suitable for travel.
The MB-100 features a traditional rosewood floating bridge. The tuners are premium nickel with white buttons, and they hold tune pretty well.
The mellow tone you expect from an open-back banjo is present. Warmth is added by the mahogany body and neck, rounding the tone nicely. That classic banjo brightness can is also present thanks to the rosewood fingerboard, and Epiphone’s patented open-back design.
The MB-100 comes from an extremely reputable manufacturer, but it’s at the low-end of their range. Being at the low-end means there is nothing truly outstanding about this instrument. Although, in the context of beginner banjos, there is nothing terrible about it either. Due to its low price, the manufacturer’s reputation, and warm tone, we feel it’s worthy of our list.
The PBJ60 is a 5-string banjo that delivers more than you’d expect from its low price. (Check Price Here)
This 5-string banjo has mahogany back, sides, and neck, with a rosewood fingerboard. The rosewood fingerboard and super-light construction make it very comfortable for new players. The PBJ60 is well built, traditional-style binding, and a lovely high-gloss finish will help preserve the wood.
The first thing to say about the hardware is that it needs to be set up. You have to install the maple bridge manually after purchase; it’s not a huge issue, but it’s certainly not a positive. The tuners have jade key pegs, and while the fifth tuner is handy, it’s a little flimsy.
Despite not having the highest quality hardware, this banjo still produces a good sound. It has a deeper tone than most beginner banjos, and that gives it some individuality.
The PBJ60 is a good buy for any beginner despite a few hardware issues. Installing the bridge will put some people off, but it’s more of an inconvenience rather than a difficult task. It has a distinctive sound and a sweeter tone than you’d expect from the price range.
Ibanez has a history of making gorgeous looking instruments, and the B50 5-string banjo is no exception. (Check Price Here)
The Ibanez B50 is a very well built banjo with mahogany back, sides, and neck. The mahogany body is naturally resonant, and that helps the tone a great deal. The slimline rosewood neck is easy to get around even for a beginner. Being an Ibanez instrument, it looks fantastic with a natural high-gloss finish.
The hardware is where we find out it’s not just about good looks. The B50 has some very desirable components. None more so than the vintage-style open-gear tuners that are incredibly reliable. An excellent mahogany Ibanez bridge adds to that stellar intonation.
This banjo has a lovely natural resonance, thanks to the mahogany body. There isn’t anything too distinctive that screams Ibanez B50, but if you want that classic bright, bluegrass twang, you’ve got it.
We wouldn’t advise placing too much value in the aesthetics of an instrument, but in this case, it matters. It’s not the cheapest banjo, and it doesn’t have the most exciting tone. However, it’s very competent in all areas, and the fact it looks so good means you are likely to stick with it longer.
The OB5 5-string bass by Washburn is a great looking affordable banjo. (Check Price Here)
The OB5 has a mahogany body and a Nato neck with 22 frets. It’s easy to see this is a well put together instrument. The rosewood fingerboard is very smooth to play and looks fantastic with a multi-inlay design. One of the most noticeable build features is the cast aluminum tone ring. It doesn’t look like a beginner banjo, but it most definitely is.
Even the hardware looks great on this one with a chrome finish. The machine heads are die-cast with a geared fifth string tuner. Everything is designed to be dependable with very minimal fuss. There is a removable mahogany resonator that adds volume and lets you shape your tone to some extent. The OB5 comes with a glossy finish befitting a high-end banjo.
Due to the cast aluminum tone ring, the OB5 has a bold and articulate tone. The body and removable resonator boost the natural reverb for a balanced sound.
The OB5 is one of the best-looking beginner banjo’s you will ever see. From the cutout headstock to the multi-inlay fretboard, it all looks top-class. The tone ring gives it a robust and bold tone, and overall, this feels like a more expensive instrument.
The Gold Tone CC-100R banjo leans towards the mid-priced range, but if you have the extra cash, it’s an excellent buy for beginners. (Check Price Here)
Maple is the word with this banjo; it has a maple body, neck, and multi-ply maple rim. There is a flat bar tension hoop, and Gold Tone engraved armrest, adding a touch of class. The 13″ maple resonator is another sign of what the extra money is going. The neck is a little thicker than most beginner banjos, which may provide a steeper learning curve, but over time, it could benefit your playing.
It comes with a maple bridge with an ebony cap, another lovely touch. Adjusting the neck alignment is simple with a two-way adjustable truss rod. The machine heads are guitar-style tuners, not the most solid but easy to tune and do a pretty good job. Lastly, the bone nut is just another sign that this banjo is aiming high.
Gold Tone has captured the perfect bluegrass sound with the CC-100R. It sounds sweet, crisp, and articulate tone. The resonator creates that boost in volume, making this banjo ideal for performance.
The value in this banjo is in its longevity. It’s priced higher than most beginner banjos, and that’s why it’s not in the top half of our list. Having said that, if you choose this model, you won’t outgrow it for some time (if ever). So a little extra investment now could go a very long way.
For the sake of versatility, we wanted to add a 4-string tenor banjo to our list. If you like the idea of a 4-string banjo, the Rover RB-20T is one of the most suitable for beginners. (Check Price Here)
The RB-20T has an 11″ composite rim, which is relatively standard for this type of banjo. The rim blends nicely with the slimline mahogany neck that is extremely beginner-friendly. It comes with a smooth, and very pretty, rosewood fingerboard with mother of pearl dot inlays. It has an open-back design and the same sweet/mellow tone that you’d get from any open-back 5-string banjo.
The hardware found on this banjo is pretty basic but decent quality. There is a tone ring, which is a lovely touch, adding some brightness to the soft tone. An adjustable truss rod also adds some versatility to the sound when needed. The standout area when it comes to hardware is probably the Golden Gate guitar-style tuners. They hold tune very well and shouldn’t cause you any problems.
The sound of this banjo is very versatile due to the straightforward design of the instrument. It does have a mellow tone, but it doesn’t favor any particular style. It’s a bit of a jack of all trades, master of none, but for a beginner, that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
If you want a 4-string banjo, we suggest you start with the Rover RB-20T. It’s incredibly comfortable to play thanks to its slim design. Nothing about the build or the hardware is top-notch, but it’s all at a good enough level. The thing we like most is that the versatile sound will encourage you to find your path rather than take a predetermined one.
Since we have a 4-string on our list, it’s only fair that we add a 6-string. The Jameson 6-string banjo is the best-selling 6-string banjo on the market, so there’s no better place to start. (Check Price Here)
Jameson built the 6-string banjo with a maple neck and mahogany resonator. The combination of the two tonewoods adds a nice touch to the sound. It comes with a rosewood fingerboard and has a 26.5″ scale length. It’s constructed with guitarists in mind. It’s a beautiful instrument too, with a high-gloss finish if that matters to you.
There is some set up required when you buy this banjo, so but it’s just a case of tightening and tuning the strings. It has die-cast tuners, and the headstock is as it would be on a guitar. The important thing is that, like a decent guitar, it holds tune very well. Even with some aggressive playing, the robust machine heads stand their ground.
This banjo has a rich and warm tone. The fact it has a sixth string makes a discernible difference to the overall sound. However, it’s the more subtle things like the combination of maple and mahogany that create a charming tone. It’s vibrant and bright from the mahogany resonator, while the maple adds a little sweetness.
The best thing we can say about this banjo is that it’s the best selling 6-string banjo available. The value speaks for itself, if you want a 6-string banjo, look no further.
This starter pack from Rogue is an ideal introduction to the banjo for absolute beginners. (Check Price Here)
The construction of this banjo is as basic as it gets. It’s an open-back style banjo, so it’s nice and light for traveling. The materials used in construction aren’t of the highest quality, but it’s durable and will survive the sometimes rough treatment of a beginner player.
Again, there isn’t too much in the way of high-quality components here. The tuners aren’t as robust as you’d like them to be, and they do need a little attention. The bridge doesn’t come set up, but it’s pretty straightforward to install. The bundle consists of the banjo, a padded gig bag, a chord book, and an instructional DVD.
Despite everything we just said about the build and hardware, this banjo still delivers that open-back, mellow tone.
We haven’t made a convincing case to say why you should consider buying this bundle yet, but it’s on our list for a reason. There are two ways to go when choosing your first banjo. Think long term and make an investment or think short term and buy something cheap. If you want to try out the banjo to see if it’s for you without breaking the bank, you should check out this bundle.
As a beginner, you must understand the different types of banjo before parting with your money. Open-back and closed-back banjo’s look very similar, but they can be very different in how they feel and sound. Let’s take a look at the main differences between the two.
Banjos can come with four, five, or six strings, and there are reasons to consider each of them.
The 4-string banjo is probably the least popular these days, but it still has a lot to offer. There are two distinct types of the 4-string banjo, the plectrum banjo, and the tenor banjo.
The plectrum banjo, as the name suggests, is played with a pick and is often utilized in jazz playing.
The tenor banjo has a shorter scale and is fantastic for chordal accompaniment.
Despite only having four strings, these banjo’s remain remarkably versatile and don’t limit your creativity. The argument for a beginner buying a 4-string banjo is that it has fewer strings, and that might seem less intimidating.
The 5-string banjo is the original, and some say best, design. The fifth string might look odd to a beginner because it’s shorter than the other strings. The reason the fifth string is shorter is to allow tuning to a higher, open pitch.
The 5-string banjo is the most utilized in the Clawhammer and Bluegrass playing styles. It’s also seen as the most versatile (due to the shorter fifth string) by most folk musicians.
Many people suggest that a beginner should always start with a 5-string banjo because it is the most traditional. If you have been watching banjo performances online and it’s made you want to have a go, chances are most of them were 5-string banjo’s.
If you have any experience in playing the guitar, a 6-string banjo is a familiar place to start. It gives you all the familiarity of a guitar with the bright twang you can only get from a banjo.
You can even get an electric 6-string banjo if you want to stay even closer to your guitar roots.
As a guitarist, the downside to choosing a 6-string banjo is that while it’s a more natural transition, you will still be no better off if you decide to move onto a 4-string or 5-string banjo.
For anyone who doesn’t already play guitar, we suggest going for a 4-string or 5-string banjo.
Whatever style of banjo you choose, there is going to be a learning curve. You won’t sound like a pro straight away, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t understand the different playing styles.
Clawhammer is a traditional style of banjo playing, and one of the most popular styles. The mellow nature of the playing is why it works so well on open-back banjo’s. The Clawhammer style involves down-picking movements with the index or middle finger and popping the fifth string with the thumb. Playing this way puts the hand in a claw shape, which is where the name comes originates. Clawhammer is a favorite style of solo performers because it involves a lot of harmony and melody as well as rhythm.
The bluegrass style was introduced in the mid-1940s and was a revolutionary way to approach playing. It’s a three fingerstyle that requires the use of fingerpicks. Bluegrass is played mostly with a fingerpick on the index and middle finger. A thumb pick is often used on the thumb too. Since its introduction, the Bluegrass style has become a vital aspect of fast-tempo gospel and bluegrass music.
The Dixieland jazz style is the closest to a typical guitar style and is performed most on 4-string banjo’s. It was hugely popular from the late 1800s to somewhere around the 1930s. The Dixieland style is usually played with a guitar-style flat pick and involved more strumming than some other techniques.
This traditional Irish playing style is also played mostly on 4-string banjo’s. More specifically, it’s often performed on 17 frets shorter scale banjos. I this style, the banjo would be tuned the same as the fiddle and mandolin. Players would use a guitar-style flat pick, and just like the Dixieland jazz style, it involves more strumming.
Choosing an instrument is a personal thing; the right choice is whatever feels best for the individual. There are some things that you should always consider to stay on the right track.
Thinking about your budget doesn’t just mean spending whatever you can afford. The budget you set plays a huge part in determining what type of banjo you end up choosing. That sounds obvious, but let’s break it down a little.
If you have $1000 to spare and you have your heart set on learning the banjo, it’s reasonable to think spending all of it will get you the best instrument. Technically that’s true, but the best banjo doesn’t automatically mean the best banjo for a beginner. More expensive instruments are generally aimed at more advanced players and can be difficult for a beginner to get to grips with it. In this scenario, many beginners get frustrated and give up playing, leaving them with an expensive and unused instrument.
There is no harm in spending a little more to buy a banjo that will stay with you as you develop as a player. The key is to let common sense prevail if your budget is $300 and you end up spending $400, that’s fine. Don’t get carried away though, the idea that it’s just $100 more can extend from $400 to $500 to $600, you get the idea.
You should always look for geared tuners if possible. Playing the banjo is quite an energetic feat, which is why it is so enjoyable to perform or watch. Energetic or aggressive playing can take your banjo out of tune faster, so anything that helps maintain intonation is a godsend. Make sure the machine heads are robust and reliable, anything flimsy will have you re-tuning every five minutes.
You want to find a banjo with the best quality materials that your budget will allow. The banjo’s body and rim should always be wooden or good-quality metal. The materials used don’t just affect the weight of the banjo; they also affect the sound.
The most commonly used woods for beginner banjos are maple and mahogany. Maple is known to have a sharper clarity of tone while mahogany lends itself to a warmer, more resonant tone.
As well as quality materials, a banjo has to be well built. Some banjo’s, even popular models, have inconsistencies in the production process. Production inconsistencies will play havoc with your sound and make your banjo uncomfortable to play.
A truss rod stabilizes the curvature of the neck and lets you make small adjustments that help shape your tone.
A banjo with a tone ring will have a brighter sound than those without. Banjos with a tone ring are generally preferred by players with a fingerpicking style while banjos without are often preferred by players with a Clawhammer style.
It’s perfectly acceptable to buy a banjo without a tone ring, but we suggest you listen to both and try both if possible. You could find that it helps you choose a banjo that better suits the style of player that you want to be.
The main job of the tailpiece is to anchor your strings. Anything that touches the strings plays a part in the overall sound of the banjo. An adjustable tailpiece lets you alter the action slightly and sculpt your tone to some extent.