Best Banjos for Beginners in 2018 – 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 the banjo.

Five-String Wonders: Best Banjos for Beginners

My top five 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 banjo 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 banjo 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 banjo with a mahogany resonator.

Despite the modest price, every component of this banjo 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 banjo 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 banjo 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

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, the banjo 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 banjo 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 banjo 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 banjo resonators.

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 banjo.

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 banjo. But if you’re an absolute beginner, it’s easier to master five strings at first.

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.

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

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

Gavin Whitner
    Gavin Whitner
     

    A guitar player, lyricist, 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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