Best Banjos for Beginners in 2019 – Reviews of 5-String Wonders

The banjo has a fascinating history with African roots. This instrument is versatile and offers you a world of opportunities. You can use it to enrich your sound in any genre of music.

But to master the banjo, you need to learn some theory and go through a great deal of hands-on practice. It can be daunting to decide where to start. How many strings do you need? What else should you pay attention to?

I’ve prepared a short list of affordable banjos that can help you out. Any of these can be a great choice for a beginner, even if you’re not sure of your preferred style or genre yet. There is also a quick look at some questions that you might have about this instrument.

9 Best Beginner Banjos - Five-String Wonders

My top choices are all sturdy five-string banjos with a powerful sound.

Jameson Guitars specializes in folk and acoustic string instruments. This company sells reasonably priced banjos that don't seem to be built while compromising sound quality or durability.

This five-string banjo comes with a geared 5th tuner. This gives you more accurate tuning due to an internal gearing mesh. Using this tuner is no different than using a guitar tuner and it also keeps the fifth string tuned.

This model has a closed mahogany back with a nut width of 1.25’’. Mahogany creates a warm tone. Like in most five-string banjos, there are 24 brackets.

The Jameson 5-String has a nickel-plated armrest. The seven-ply mahogany and maple neck is slim and elegant. The rim’s made out of three-ply mahogany, while the 5/8’’ bridge is made of maple.

The glossy finish makes this a beautiful instrument. It is easy to use, and you can choose between right-hand and left-hand models.

  • Affordable but produces a rich and clear sound
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    Elegant mahogany design
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    Clear instructions
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    Right-hand and left-hand models
  • If you remove the resonator, the banjo will look rough and unfinished
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    The quality of the frets don’t match the overall quality of the instrument
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    The strings aren’t very durable

This is an affordable option with a geared 5th tuner. Unlike the friction tuner you get with most banjos, this tuner is very accurate and keeps all five of the strings tuned for a long time.

The design of this instrument honors the musical tradition of the early 20th century. It’s a high-gloss model with a rich wood finish. All the hardware is chrome-plated and sturdy.

While the bridge is maple, the fingerboard is rosewood. It’s a closed-back unit with a mahogany resonator.

Despite the modest price, every component of this instrument is precisely constructed. The tuner key pegs are white jade. There is a Remo M1 drumhead as well.

It’s equipped with a universal adjustable truss rod, which you can use to alter the sound of your banjo. You get a truss rod adjustment tool to go with it.

  • Affordable and elegant
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    1-year warranty from Pyle
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    Adjustable truss rod
  • Shoulder strap issues
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    Loose fifth peg, you might need expert help to keep it in place.

This US-made banjo is a considerable investment. However, the sound quality makes up for the price.

This banjo is designed with durability in mind. If you like staying with one instrument for a long time, this could be the banjo for you. Deering also offers a generous 6-year warranty.

The neck and the resonator are both blonde maple with a satin finish. The finish is resistant to scratches and the usual wear and tear of daily practice.

It comes with a three-ply maple rim, 11 inches in diameter. The 5/8’’ bridge is made of ebony and maple. The tuners are all sealed and there is a geared 5th string tuner included.

  • Amazing durability, US-made
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    6-year warranty
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    Right-hand and left-hand models
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    Sharp sound from the maple resonator
  • Might be too expensive for a beginner’s instrument
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    The flange might be too wide for the resonator

If you’re looking for ease of playing, this could be the right model for you. It arrives fully assembled, with an informative booklet included. The booklet features chord charts and it’s written with absolute beginners in mind.

This Resoluute banjo is affordable but it produces a strong and crisp sound. The resonator’s made of mahogany, and it is removable. If you want to experiment with different musical genres, this might be the best banjo for you.

The fingerboard is maple and the banjo has 24 brackets. You can use the geared 5th tuner to achieve the best pitch. The Remo drumhead improves the acoustics and creates a loud and sharp sound.

  • Affordable
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    Easy to use, with a clear instruction booklet
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    Arrives fully assembled and securely packaged
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    Loud, crisp sound
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    Removable resonator
  • Low-quality strings
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    Needs frequent tuning
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    Adjusting the resonator might be difficult
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    You may need to tighten the screws before you start playing

This is a 30-bracket banjo with a glossy and modern look. Oscar Schmidt by Washburn specializes in affordable but professional-grade string instruments.

While many banjo manufacturers use zinc for the tone ring, the OB5 has a tone ring of cast aluminum. There is a geared 5th tuner and a Remo drumhead. The fretboard’s made of multi-inlay rosewood.

In spite of the modest price, this model is durable. It has great acoustics and you can remove the resonator for a different sound.

  • Long-lasting
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    Visually impressive design
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    Moderately priced
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    Removable resonator
  • It’s up to you to install the bridge
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    You’ll need to invest in picks and a strap

The Luna Celtic 5-string banjo is not something everyone can afford. However, for beginners, you would be hard-pressed to match its level of sound quality and feel.

The resonator is perfectly designed to create a loud and clear sound. This makes the banjo not only beginner-friendly but also a good transitional instrument for when you’re ready to play live. It’s a long-term investment if you will.

The Celtic motif gives this 24-bracket banjo a timeless look. What’s perhaps even more surprising to see is that there’s also a 6-string model available for the same price. To make things even easier for you, the banjo is also equipped with a geared tuner.

  • Mahogany resonator
  • Chrome hardware
  • Clear and loud
  • Geared tuner
  • There are cheaper banjos for beginners

If you know your musical instruments manufacturers, then you know all about the level of quality that Ibanez maintains. This closed back banjo might be just what you need to start learning and transition into live performances.

The resonator is surprisingly loud. The mahogany neck only has 22 frets, which should make it easier to master. The pearl inlay on the neck and headstock screams Ibanez and it gives the banjo a very modern look.

The Ibanez B200 is lacking in one department. It comes with a friction tuner. This increases the chance of your 5th string going out of tune if you’re playing fast. It also demands more maintenance and the purchase of friction peg lubricant.

  • Great aesthetics
  • Short neck
  • Durable build
  • Loud resonator
  • Friction tuner

Washburn has a history of producing quality and affordable instruments. Just as you would probably think about a Washburn guitar if you were just starting out, you probably want to take a look at its 5-string closed back banjo.

The Remo head helps you achieve a fairly loud and sharp sound. What’s even more impressive is the cast aluminum tone ring. Most manufacturers stick with zinc, even for considerably pricier banjos.

The B9 also comes with a truss rod. And to make it even more versatile, Washburn made it so that you can easily remove the resonator. This will cause your volume to drop but it will also give you a richer and very different sound.

  • Closed back design
  • Removable resonator
  • Truss rod included
  • Affordable
  • Strap hooks may rattle
  • On the heavy side

If you’re on the market for a complete set built around the best beginner banjo, this ADM banjo comes with everything you need and more. If you’re short on cash, this set has accessories galore at no extra cost – strings, straps, carry bag, cleaning cloth, digital tuner, extra picks, and replacement strings.

Unless you also want it to do the playing for you, you can’t ask for more. The fretboard has 24 frets. This allows you to play complex and genre diversified music. The mahogany resonator is good quality. However, it’s not as loud as what you might get from more high-end manufacturers.

The banjo also features a geared 5th tuner. This will help keep it in tune for longer. Aesthetically speaking, the combination of white on natural wood is just ideal for traditionalists.

  • Affordable
  • Geared 5th string tuner
  • Many accessories and spares included
  • The resonator is not as loud as other mahogany resonators

Important Banjo Facts You Need to Know

Getting started with a new instrument is always a little daunting.

While some mistake the banjo for a simple instrument, it has gone through a complex evolution. It is a part of Caribbean musical culture. Today, this stringed instrument is particularly well-loved in the South.

Various artists have left their marks on the development of this instrument, including big band and classical musicians. The banjo shares some major traits with the acoustic guitar and the ukulele. But violin and viola players have also left their mark on its sound and construction.

Here are a few questions you might have about this instrument.

Do You Want an Open-Back Banjo or a Closed-Back One?

My top picks are all closed banjos. Some of them have a removable resonator.

But, what’s the difference between open-back and closed-back models? Which is better for a beginner?

Closed-back models come with a resonator made of wood. If you’re planning to play your banjo in front of an audience, a resonator will make it easier to make yourself heard. In addition to increasing the volume, a resonator can make your sound brighter and more vivid.

If you enjoy bluegrass, you should opt for a closed-back banjo.

On the other hand, open-back banjos have their upsides as well. You can use an open-back model to play in clawhammer style, which is also called frailing. This is a good choice if you want a gentler tune.

Some banjos come with a removable resonator. Since many beginners aren’t sure of their style, this is a good choice for a novice. Removing the resonator is a simple process, as all you need to do is to loosen some screws.

How Many Strings Do You Need?

In the seventeenth and eighteenth century, banjos had four strings. But over the course of the nineteenth century, a fifth string was added to this instrument. This addition is attributed to Joel Sweeney, who also developed resonators for these amazing instruments.

While some artists prefer the simplicity of four-string banjos, most modern musical genres require five strings. The fifth string has a different pitch than the other four because it starts at the fifth fret. This adds to the unique sound of the instrument.

Some musicians like using six-string banjos instead. If you know how to play an acoustic guitar, you might find it easier to use a six-string unit. But if you’re an absolute beginner, it’s easier to master five strings at first. This is why I pick only five-string models when it comes to recommending the best banjos for beginners.

What About Tuning?

Tuning a banjo can be similar to tuning a violin. Many models use simple friction tuners, and it can be a challenge to tune them to the accuracy you need.

The friction pegs have two designs. They are either tapered or champion pegs. Tapered friction pegs resemble a violin tuning peg. The concept relies on the peg and hole matching perfectly and making contact on the sides to keep the peg in place, and the string in tune.

This, however, has a minor flaw. It doesn’t exactly stand the test of time. No matter how much lube you use or abrasive substances you add. The cool thing about these pegs is the wide range of materials used, including bone.

In contrast, champion pegs rely on a mechanical clamping action. They feature a screw at the bottom which allows you to adjust the tension. They’re a lot easier to maintain and deal with than tapered pegs but they’re not more precise either.

Geared banjo pegs are more similar to what you see on guitars. They feature worn-gear and buttons on the sides of the headstock. This type of tuner won’t spin loose. It may be difficult to use at first if it’s of poor quality. However, it still keeps the strings in tune a lot better and it’s generally cheaper too.

This is why it’s better to go for geared tuning when possible. Models that come with this feature are also less likely to fall out of tune.

How to Check the Quality of the Build

Reading reviews is one thing, but how can you tell if what you see on paper translates into the real world? Here are a couple of things to check for.

Check the action of the strings. Press down across the entire fretboard. There should be no uncomfortable pain while trying to make contact with the frets.

You should also start strumming or plucking the strings. Don’t worry about chords or melody here. You’re only checking for sound clarity. No string should have a buzzing or rattling sound when plucked. If you hear that, know that it’s a sign of poor tuning and string height adjustment.

Last but not least, always check to see the quality of the tone ring. Is it made of a good material? Is it rugged? Its mere presence might indicate better acoustics but not all tone rings are equal.

How Much Should You Pay?

As it is with any other instrument, at one point or another you have to factor in the price. Even though there are various cheap banjos on the market that perfectly suitable for beginners, ask yourself how much are you willing to sacrifice in terms of quality?

Not all expensive banjos are amazing. But the more you pay, the better the chances that the banjo will serve intermediate players too. Maybe even be loud and clear enough to use in live gigs. If you’re sure that you or someone you’re buying it for is serious about pursuing the banjo, then I’d recommend getting a high-quality instrument from the start.

A Final Thought

The banjo had a major role in the development of country music as we know it. Jazz ensembles make use of this instrument as well, and it has a place in alt-rock and in the work of various indie performers. Amazingly, the banjo can even be used in pop or classic metal.

Becoming proficient at this instrument will take a while. Finding the right instrument is only the first step. But if you get an easy-to-use model with a clear sound, you will find it much easier to keep working on your new passion.

Gavin Whitner
    Gavin Whitner
     

    A guitar player, songwriter, composer, and also the lead editor of MusicOomph, Gavin is one of the four musician friends behind this site. Outside of music, he's an avid sports fan and hardly misses anything from football (soccer) to F1.

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