We’ve reviewed some of the top instruments made by the best brands, but the very best banjo has to be the Deering Goodtime 2. It’s a standard five-string instrument with a removable resonator, letting you achieve the expected sound you need.
Here are the best banjo models on the market, under trusted brand names:
- Deering Goodtime 2 Five-String Banjo
- Resoluute 5 String Resonator Banjo
- Pyle 5 String Geared Tunable Banjo
- Deering Goodtime 5 String Banjo
- Vangoa 5 String Mini Banjo
- Luna Celtic 6-String Banjo
- Kmise 4 String Banjo Ukulele
- Recording King Tenor Banjo
Reviews of the Best Banjos
Best Banjo Overall
The Deering Goodtime 2 is a five-string banjo with an adjustable tailpiece, which is the part that anchors and angles your strings. This lets you adjust it until the sound is just right for you, making this instrument stand out from others on the market.
Further letting you adjust your sound, the resonator is removable, so you can branch out and experiment with all musical styles and sounds.
The sturdy maple construction is desirable in a banjo. First of all, a slight bang, and it won’t splinter. Secondly, maple is one of the sought-after tonewoods that helps enhance your sound.
Tonewoods are harvested and dried in controlled environments, so experts can make sure it turns out as resonant as it can be. This resonance will boost your sound’s volume and depth.
Not only is the sound important, but so is maple’s sturdy nature. It’s a strong wood, so you know the instrument is built to last.
And even though the construction is strong, the banjo isn’t too heavy. It’s a nice and easy 6 pounds so is comfortable to play, even when standing for hours on end. The comfort remains when you sit down, too, with the included armrest.
Banjo With Best Drumhead
This five-string mahogany resonator banjo weighs 5.5 pounds — below the average of 12–14 pounds, as are all of the banjos reviewed here.
Another consistency between this and the Deering Goodtime 2 — other than low weight — is a neck made of stunning maple, so the tone is magnificent.
The hardness factor of the maple comes into play in producing this sharp, bright sound. Softer woods, like mahogany, tend to absorb some of the tones, but maple lets it bounce right off.
This banjo is also incredibly smooth to play on, letting your fingers glide easily up and down. The maple lets you play faster and eliminates friction between your fingers and the fretboard.
It’s not just the neck that’s high-quality, but the Remo drumhead is, too. Remo is a company dedicated to making excellent drums, some with special intent like the Fiberskyn used in other banjos. The drumhead will give you a satisfying thud when you choose to incorporate it into your music, and it’ll last.
You can twang out all sorts with the help of the accompanying beginner user guide. Never played before? No problem! The book has the chords to get you started.
Once you’ve got the basic chords down, the banjo’s quality is so high it’ll make you sound like a professional in no time. This is because each banjo goes through rigorous testing to make sure it’s up to scratch.
With maple, rosewood, and mahogany, this five-string instrument will look and play pretty. Pyle has crafted an instrument that’ll produce a fabulous tone, which includes the drumhead, made by Remo. This instrument will give you the classic banjo sound you know and love and features a resonator on the back.
This banjo weighs 7.8 pounds, which is below average but heavier than most in this list. Even so, the size gives you the feel and playability you’re used to if you’re a seasoned player.
Users report how much they love the sound quality of this Pyle banjo, which is a testament to the build quality. There’s nothing stand-out about it, but it does the basics very well, allowing for all styles of banjo music to be strummed out to perfection.
Featuring a geared fifth tuner means that you can customize the sound to your liking, which isn’t a feature that all affordable banjos have.
Compared to the Deering Goodtime 2, the original Goodtime banjo has an open back and no resonator. It also produces a softer, lighter tone, thanks to the lack of resonator.
If you’re a Clawhammer player or someone else who prefers open-back play, this is fantastic. That’s the sound you’re trying to achieve. The soft, mellow tone is a highly desirable one that you can’t reach with a closed-back banjo.
The Goodtime banjo weighs 4 pounds—a whole 2 pounds lighter than the Goodtime 2. This is great for comfort, carrying, and for the kids to play on it.
Furthermore, Deering’s Goodtime’s size is nice and manageable. The rim is 12 inches in diameter, but the overall instrument length is 37.5 inches. The neck is 1.24 inches wide at the nut, which is ideal for medium-sized hands.
The construction includes some ebony with the maple. The ebony component is in the bridge, making it incredibly strong. Ebony is one of the stronger woods that’s unlikely to warp with time or age.
Like the wholly maple Goodtime 2, this banjo features an adjustable tailpiece, which offers an easy string replacement.
Best Banjo for Beginners
Here’s one for beginners—Vangoa has created a whole kit to get you started in the banjo-world, in a small size and light weight of 4.5 pounds.
The Vangoa mini banjo is a 26-inch instrument. That’s around 11 inches down from the standard, making it perfect for traveling, creating a higher-pitched sound, or for little arms.
There are still five strings over 12 frets to play with. Even though it’s mini, you won’t be lacking in how many different sounds you can make with this one. The 12 frets are still plentifully musical!
The volume of play won’t be lacking either as it can be connected to an amplifier to crank up the sound or perform on stage. Better yet, this amp-connection doesn’t make the resonator non-removable. Take it away, and you can play this banjo open-back, too. Just don’t expect to plug into an amp while it’s open-back.
The drumhead’s skin is adjustable, so you can tighten and loosen it to meet your preferred sound. In addition, both the skin and mahogany are of a high quality, which is a much-desired feature.
Now we’ve got the banjo out of the way, it’s time to talk about the extras. This banjo comes with:
- Extra strings.
- Allen key.
- Bracket wrench.
Non-Traditional Banjo Models
Thus far, we’ve only reviewed traditional five-string banjos. But there are some other types out there you may be interested in.
Perhaps you’re a player of other instruments, or you want to learn one. Two of these will help you on your journey. The other will help you jam to some 100-year-old tunes.
You’ll notice at once that this banjo has an extra string and one less fret than the traditional banjos we’ve reviewed. This banjo has the scale of a guitar with the feel and sound of a banjo. So if, for instance, you’re a guitarist looking for a new sound, you’re in luck.
EADGBE tuning is used with this instrument — similar to a guitar. All the usual guitar chords are used: it’s basically like a guitar with a resonator, drum head and banjo twang. Perfect for banjo players wanting to learn guitar chords, but on an instrument with a feel they’re used to!
The drum head is by Remo, which is a fantastic company for making drums. The instrument itself is by Luna, a guitar-making company founded by Yvonne de Villiers, an accomplished stained-glass artist.
This six-string banjo, in particular, was designed for use with modern Celtic tunes. This is accentuated by the tasteful trinity pattern on the resonator, visible through the clear drum head. However, it can still be used to twang out a classic tune on grandpa’s front porch while he whistles along into the sunset.
The company has also made a case to slot the banjo into when the sun’s down and the song is done. However, this is sold separately.
If you like the sound of the company but don’t want the extra string, there’s also a 5 string model of the banjo available.
For another banjo-non-banjo, how about that banjolele? This instrument is a combination of a ukulele and a banjo, with four strings tuned to GCEA, which is the standard ukulele tuning.
The instrument is smaller than a traditional banjo, and if you play banjo and you want to learn the ukulele on a familiar instrument, here’s one for you. Or, if you’re a ukulele player wanting a banjo-like sound, here you go!
Kmise has created a stunning banjo/ukulele combo, being a company that makes ukulele and banjos separately and together. It’s a Chinese company with excellent corporate culture, strict staff-management and dedication to the craft.
So naturally, the instrument is well-made, and it also happens to be excellent for beginners. The strings don’t require too much pressure to play. But whether you’re a beginner or a professional, you’ll be able to achieve the same pleasant sound.
Further enhancement to your sound comes when you realise the resonator’s abilities. Like most of the traditional banjos we’ve reviewed, the resonator is removable. So you can uke your way through either common banjo sound. Soft like a ukulele, or hard like the twangiest of banjos.
This one is more like traditional banjos than our last two contenders. It’s a four-string tenor banjo, which is a smaller instrument with one less string than the most common banjos. This is an instrument great in Irish music or New Orleans jazz.
Recording King, a California-based company, offers a range of banjo-like instruments as well as this one. This particular instrument is one of their more solid, made from two fine woods in maple and rosewood.
This tenor banjo, boasting a tuning of CGDA, is great for accompanying orchestral string instruments, and is considered an excellent complementary instrument for strings players.
It’s a pleasure to hold, no matter how you play it, with a clear sound and an open-back design. It features a Remo drumhead, too, for further quality and authenticity. This Fiberskyn head helps you get a period-correct sound — a period in history that came about 100 years ago.
What Are the Best Banjo Brands?
The makers of these instruments are fantastic. Here are the brands responsible for the traditional banjos we’ve reviewed:
Banjos made by Deering are suitable for beginners and expert players alike. Deering is the company making Deering, Vega, Goodtime, and Tenbrooks banjos. It’s one of only two companies on this list most-known for banjos.
Some famous banjo players turn to Deering for their gear — Jens Kruger, Munford & Sons and Keith Urban, to name a few.
On top of that, Deering has the most comprehensive, action-packed site. It even has a section on playing tips, if you’re a beginner or trying to brush up on your technique.
Most, if not all, of the banjo models — Goodtime, Eagle, Golden — use the finest maple woods in their construction. It makes them stunning, strong, sleek, with a bright, desirable sound.
One of Deering’s best banjos is the Deering Goodtime 2. It’s a pinnacle of the company’s high-quality maple construction. The Goodtime range is still popular despite originally being released in 1997, proving it holds up against newer models.
Resoluute has one simple mission: create a magnificently crafted, clean-cut banjo fit for any aspiring musician. The company only made one banjo, after analyzing and testing numerous instruments until perfection was created.
“Perfection” is subjective — but a confident company is one to be admired, just like a banjo that meets the company’s goal of basic, yet beautiful. There’s also focus on being user-friendly, but with all the features expected of a quality banjo such as those mentioned in this company’s banjo’s review.
The thing to note about Resoluute is less about the banjo’s standard features, but the time it dedicates to each instrument. There are plenty of companies who just churn instruments out with few or no tests. Resoluute isn’t one of those, making sure every banjo made is up to scratch.
Resoluute’s banjo, though the only one by the company, is a fine example of TLC put into an instrument. Hence, why we consider it to be the company’s magnum opus.
Pyle is often known as Pyle Audio. The company makes a range of high-end audio-related gadgets and branches out into musical instruments and accessories.
The instruments are highly-rated, well-made, and almost sell out regularly. It’s an organized company selling numerous excellent instruments.
The best is the Five-String Geared Tunable Banjo. It’s a traditional style, while being the only permanently open-back banjo we’ve reviewed, giving it an edge.
The maker of the beginner banjo kit reviewed doesn’t just stick to banjos. It makes an array of instruments. An energetic team of young people, Vangoa is dedicated to making high-quality musical instruments.
As well as creating its in-house Vangoa products, the staff search for other unique, useful Chinese instrument designs. They spread information about these instruments and more on Vangoa’s Facebook page. Vangoa also has a YouTube channel with some short videos on various products.
Vangoa’s mini banjo may be a fantastic product we highly recommend, but it’s the kit included that puts it over the edge. It includes everything a beginner needs, showing Vangoa thinks ahead.
What Other Factors Should You Consider?
Peruse styles, pick out what you want to play, and apply that logic to your banjo-buying.
There are the key features for every playing style, and those are what you look for when making your purchase:
- Open back vs closed back.
All the banjos we’ve reviewed have five strings. That’s because it’s the most popular style of banjo. Unless you have specific interests, you don’t need one with four strings.
Although, you could have the best of both worlds. Some players like to take off the fifth string and only play with four.
Playing this way doesn’t mean you need to re-tune the banjo, either. It’s played in the standard G-tuning, DGBD. Sometimes it’s tuned to CGDB or DGBE.
Though it sounds like some big and fancy attachment, the resonator is just the banjo’s back. It projects sound, providing a solid surface for the sound to bounce off.
The sound holes in the flange allow this to happen. That’s the metal ring the resonator is attached to. You’ll see it on the front of the instrument.
Imagine the resonator and the flange are a guitar. Guitars have that big, hollow body and a hole for sound to escape. The hollow body lets the sound waves vibrate and bounce around, producing a rich, deep tone. Of course, it’s more complicated than that, but you get the gist—it applies to many similar instruments.
Choose a banjo with a resonator if you prefer bluegrass or a finger-picking method. A resonator increases the volume, making it suitable for performing in an ensemble.
You can have the best of both worlds, though, and get a resonator that’s removable, such as with the Deering Goodtime 2 banjo we’ve reviewed.
Open Back vs Closed Back
When the back of the banjo is open, the player’s body absorbs some sound. This results in a gentler, softer tone. It’s mellow and subdued, where a closed-back banjo has a loud, sharp twang.
An open-back banjo is great for solo play or accompanying a vocalist. It doesn’t need to compete with louder instruments. Closed-back banjos play well with others and can hold their own in a band, such as the Pyle Closed-Back Banjo.
Note that some open-back banjos allow you to attach a resonator later, so if you’re after both sounds, then that’s what to look for! The Deering Goodtime 2 is an excellent example of this.
The Different Models of Banjo
Before we get into the things to look for in a great banjo, let’s look at the models available.
Four-String Tenor Banjo
Tenor banjos are predominantly played using a pick but can be played via strumming and scale runs.
This is a banjo used mainly for Irish traditional music or New Orleans-style jazz. It’s often used as a rhythm instrument for jazz bands and played with a resonator. When used in jazz, playing corded melodies is the traditional style of play.
The tuning for this banjo is 4C 3G 2D 1A, which is higher than five-string counterparts.
Four-String Irish Tenor Banjo
The Irish Tenor banjo is much the same as the tenor banjo with one key difference: its neck is shorter, allowing higher tuning of 4G 3D 2A 1E. This is well-suited to the keys of traditional Irish music, often in G, D, A, or E.
Playing with a pick is popular with this banjo, too, and it’s played with or without a resonator. It’s also frequently utilized for rapidly played one-string melodies.
The five-string banjo is the most versatile, most popular banjo available. It’s popular in folk and bluegrass music, and is the easiest to learn. It’s always tuned to the G chord, so you won’t have to learn special chords for different tunings.
Banjo Music Playing Styles
Bluegrass is a musical style that requires a banjo with a resonator and a lot of power. The power comes from hard wood like maple or ebony, but also created by a resonator.
In this style, the banjo is played with two fingers and thumb picking like the legendary player Earl Scruggs.
The Deering Goodtime 2 should be well up to the job in this musical genre. The solid construction and resonator will let you achieve the right sound for it. However, if you’d prefer something where the resonator is non-removable, go for Pyle Geared Banjo.
Clawhammer style is closely related to the frailing and drop thumb styles, which have an old-timey ring. Open-back banjos are used for this finger-heavy style, picking out fiddly tunes. The Deering’s Goodtime is a solid choice to match this.
Sometimes, banjos utilized for this style have a frailing scoop on them. This means part of the fingerboard, and some frets are missing from the lower part of the banjo’s neck. This is so the thumb on the playing hand has easy access as it picks and rests on the fifth string during play.
None of the banjos we’ve reviewed have a frailing scoop, but it’s not a necessity.
Folk-style playing is quite like Clawhammer, with added up-picking. It’s a style once made popular by Pete Seeger and is played without fingerpicks, mixing melody-playing and chords.
This style is often played with or without a resonator—it’s up to the musician. But most often, it’s played on a long-neck banjo that suits lower vocal ranges better than a regular five-string banjo.
All banjos have long necks, don’t they? Yes, but a long-neck banjo has 25 frets rather than the usual 22. This longer neck lets it be tuned lower, to E, giving it that powerful tone you love.
This banjo was designed by Pete Seeger to accompany his low vocals, which people still try to emulate. However, if you place a capo on the third fret, you can still play it as a regular banjo with 22 frets, tuned to G.
There are some less-common types of banjo out there you may be interested in. These are:
- 6-string banjos.
- Banjo mandolin.
- Bass banjo.
- Ukelele banjo.
- Dobro banjo.
These banjos have a traditional long neck, but their tuning is the same as the other instruments in the name. They’re intended for non-banjo players to get that banjo sound without actually learning to play a banjo.
Lastly, there’s the travel banjo, a smaller version of a standard instrument. It may be used on the road or to achieve a slightly higher sound than a standard five-string banjo. An example of a travel banjo is Vangoa’s Mini Banjo.
The Best Banjo
We’re going to have to go with the Goodtime 2 as the pick for best banjo. Whether you want an open or closed back, the Goodtime 2 has you covered. Even if you just play one way, it gives you the option to continue learning your instrument or lend it to friends who play different music.
Of course, more than versatility goes into choosing an instrument. There’s its bright, yet warm sound: two sought-after tones in any music. Have fun with your instrument, and push it to the limit!
The Resoluute Resonator Banjo can’t be ignored in second spot, though. It produces an excellent sound, and we’re excited to see what this quality-focused banjo manufacturer can produce for its next model.