If you’re in a hurry and want to know our top pick, it’ll be the Jameson, as it has an impressive balance between an affordable price and high quality!
Banjos are among the most exciting musical instruments to play, although this makes it more of a challenge to pick the right one to buy. If it’s your first time buying one, we’ll help you find the best beginner banjo out there.
If you want to explore different brands and compare them, I’ll walk you through everything you need to know.
Top Beginner Banjo Picks
After thorough research of every noteworthy beginner banjo in the market, here’s a roundup of the best picks. They have a wide range of features and we made sure they covered various budgets.
The Jameson is a closed-back banjo that has superior quality. It’s ideal for you if you want to hear an excellent sound. It includes a geared 5th tuner that’s similar to a guitar tuner. It helps make an accurate tone by keeping the 5th string tuned.
The high-quality banjo has 24 brackets and an armrest plated with nickel. Moreover, It’s designed elegantly with a maple slim neck and a mahogany tone. The Jameson offers both right-hand and left-hand models; its rim is three-ply mahogany, and the bridge is maple. Additionally, its back is made out of mahogany and its nut width is 1.25’’.
Banjo users all agree that the Deering Goodtime model is among the best out there with its action and playability, especially for beginners. It offers you all the qualities you need to get started. The model has an impressive intonation up and down the neck that improves the music tune.
It’s lined with 22 frets and has a maple slim neck that provides you comfort while holding it. The frets are installed into the maple neck directly, not on a fretboard. Goodtime’s weight is low compared to other models. Moreover, it includes a steel coordinator rod that allows you to adjust the neck in any way you like.
Some users find the Deering Goodtime a bit quiet compared to other banjos; it’s mostly because of the lack of a tone ring. Despite its relatively high price, it’s the right choice for you if you want to start with great sounds. The banjo comes with a 6-years guarantee; its most impressive quality is its durability.
The Oscar Schmidt resonator banjo deserves all the recognition it gets. The impressive instrument features a mahogany resonator and a rosewood fingerboard. It includes 22 frets and 30 brackets, which is more than the usual 24 in other brands. It helps even out the tension across the head. Furthermore, the geared 5th string tuner helps the sound stay in tune.
This banjo has an aluminum tone ring and a rosewood fretboard. It’s known for its loud sound, affordable price, and durability. You can also remove the resonator if you want to try a different form.
The Gold Tone AC is among the ideal banjos for beginners. It has easy playability and a high-quality sound. Geared tuners that help the tune stay put are among its features. It also has an adjustable tailpiece and two coordinator rods.
This model, in particular, is on the expensive side of the market. Its value qualities make up for its high price, though. The AC in its name refers to the Acoustic Composite that the body is made of. It has better strength than wood, and it’s much lighter in weight. At less than 4 pounds, this models’ lightweight is its most remarkable quality.
The intonated bridge on the banjo improves the intonation up the neck. You’ll also notice the neck is slim and comfortable to play. The AC is quieter than other banjos and has a less punchy tone. This might be an advantage or a disadvantage for you, it depends on what you prefer.
The Deering Goodtime 2 is the resonator or closed-back version of the previously mentioned Deering Goodtime. The resonator provides more sound projection, it’s one of the few banjo resonators made in the USA. At 6 pounds, the Goodtime 2 weighs nearly the same as a guitar.
Furthermore, the banjo is covered with a blond maple finish to ensure protection and good looks. It works great for bluegrass music, and it has high durability. The Goodtime 2 has a birch and maple rim, and its neck is suitable for fast playing with all its geared tuners. It’s pretty easy to maintain and play.
5 Things to Consider When Buying a Banjo
These 5 points are your main concerns before purchasing. If you got them covered, you’re good to go!
Open-Back or Closed-Back?
That’s probably the most critical feature of the banjo; it defines the way it works and the sound of its music.
Closed-back banjos have a wooden resonator on them. It helps brighten the sound and make it more alive. It also raises the sound of the music, which can come in handy if you’re playing in public. Some banjos come with a removable resonator, which is an advantage for beginners. If you’re a bluegrass player, then you should consider the Oscar Schmidt OB5.
Open-back banjos have an open sound chamber, unlike closed-back ones that come with a back cover. You don’t need picks to play with it; it has a soft sound usually used for creating traditional music. Open-backs are also lighter in weight than closed-backs. The Deering Goodtime is one of the best open-back banjos for beginners.
Short Neck or Long Neck?
Short-neck banjos are the better choice for beginners; they feature 19 frets which makes them comfortable to play. They’re also light in weight so they’ll not cause you nuisance while playing.
Long-neck banjos usually have 22 frets; they offer you a lower tuning and an extra range which makes the sound more interesting. Experts recommend this type once you get a hold of how to play the banjo. The faster you transition from short necks to long necks, the better. If you want to start with long necks, the Jameson would be the one for you.
Banjos either work with a friction tuner or with a geared one. If you own a banjo with a friction tuner, it’ll be a challenge to adjust the accuracy of the tune. Friction pegs come in two types; tapered and champion pegs. Geared ones are more common on the market.
The tapered ones are similar to violin tuning pegs. The peg and the hole match accurately and the contact on the side keeps the peg in place and the line in tune. These are not as durable as the champion pegs; they’ll not live for a long time.
Champion pegs, on the other hand, work by a mechanical clamping action. They come with an adjustable screw for the tension. Although tapered ones are more accurate, champions pegs are much easier to deal with if you’re a beginner.
Geared pegs on banjos work the same as the ones on guitars. They come with gear and buttons on the headstock. This type is popular for keeping the tone steady; it’s generally easier to use than friction tuned ones.
How Many Strings?
Although all the previously mentioned types are 5-string banjos, you should be aware of all available types. 5-string banjos are more common among users, but 4-string and 6-string banjos have their fans.
4-string banjos aren’t similar to base instruments; they’re played in chord melody, single string melody, and duo style. There are two types of 4-string banjos; Plectrum banjo and Tenor banjo.
Plectrum banjo is played with a pick; it’s mostly used for creating jazz music. Whereas Tenor banjo comes with a short neck and short scale frets. It’s usually used for chordal playing.
Manufacturers originally created banjos with 5 strings. The 4-string ones came later on. 5-string banjos feature an extra string that’s shorter and controls the tuning pitch. Furthermore, they sound more original than the other types. This type is the right choice for you if you’re clawhammer, bluegrass, classic, or folk player.
6-string banjos are composed the same way as guitars. If you’re converting from guitar to banjo, this type may be useful for you. However, it’s not the best choice for beginners because it takes time to master. It’s generally harder to use than the other two types.
What’s Your Style?
You see the words clawhammer and bluegrass here and there on banjo-related news, but what are they? Here’s the thing, every banjo player adopts a playing form for their music. If this is your first string instrument, you ought to choose one too. Let me walk you through the three most common styles.
This style is close to drop thumb and frailing techniques; it’s mostly popular among singers. You don’t need thumb picks for it; the third or first finger plays the four main strings.
Banjos used for clawhammer music usually feature removable frets and fingerboards. This helps with picking and releasing the 5th string. This style requires open-back banjos; the Deering Goodtime would make good clawhammer music.
Bluegrass players use the three-finger picking style, which works by fitting a thumb pick and two fingerpicks to the hand that plays rolls. This method needs a resonator banjo that has a powerful sound. The Jameson would be perfect for it.
This style combines clawhammer and up-picking music. It doesn’t require finger picks; folk players mix melody playing with chords to produce the music. Long-neck banjos are ideal for this music because of the lower tuning. Folk music works on both open-back and resonator banjos. The Gold Tone would be a good choice for that style.
Picking a musical instrument can be a bit overwhelming in the beginning, especially with a unique one like the banjo. The Jameson is our top pick for beginners due to its high quality, durability, and affordable price. Its qualities are unmatched. It also works well for all the music techniques mentioned previously.
The Deering Goodtime comes close behind with its higher price and impressive sounds; if you’re going for an open-back, this is the one for you. Our third favorite is the Gold Tone, due to its lightweight and exceptional playability.
I hope all this information makes it easier for you now to pick a favorite!