Overview

If you’re looking for the perfect beginner banjo then congratulations, there has never been a better time to start learning.

A new wave of cool, funky banjo inspired music is upon us thanks to artists such as Mumford and Sons, Led Zeppelin and even Taylor Swift. Incidentally, if you are more of an intermediate banjo player or just want to see some slightly higher spec banjos then visit my article on the Best Banjo Under $500.

There is also a plethora of new guides and information online which can help transform you from a banjo beginner to a pro in no time at all.

However:

The mountain of information on the web concerning the best way to start playing the 5-string banjo for beginners is a confusing minefield of information that can leave you feeling queasy.

Luckily for you, I have put together the ultimate guide to picking the best beginner banjo for you. Whether you are starting a new hobby, diversifying from the guitar or just love the banjo the are numerous details that need to be considered:

The below article provides simple steps to identifying the best 5 string banjo for you:

  1. Summary Table
  2. Open V Closed Back
  3. Banjo Types
  4. Banjo Anatomy
  5. How to Choose
  6. 4 Best Banjo Reviews
  7. Our Top Pick
5 string banjo reviews 1

1. Summary Table

NameImageTypePriceRatingComment
Jameson 5 String   Resonator $ 4.6 Cheap option with great features (Geared Tuner)
Deering GoodTimeOpen-back$$4.7Reliable, Popular, Well made
Epiphone MB-200  Resonator $$$ 4.5 Light Weight, Reputable Brand, Good Features
Gold Tone CC-100RResonator$$$4.8Amazing Features for the price. Suitable for beginners through to pro's

 

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2. Open vs Closed (Resonator) Back

Before choosing your ideal beginner banjo you should be aware of the differences between Open-back and Closed-back banjos. Although the basic design is very similar, they both sound very different and produce varied volumes.

Open-Back Banjo

  • No Back Cover, open sound chamber
  • Low Volume
  • Classic, original Banjo design
  • Light
  • Usually played Clawhammer style
  • Fingerpicks are not required
  • Soft, mellow sound for traditional, mountain style
openbackbanjo

Closed-Back (Resonator) Banjo

  • Wooden 'bowl' resonator covering the sound chamber
  • Projects sound towards an audience (Loud)
  • Heavier than open-back
  • Preferred Choice for Bluegrass players
  • Twangy, bright sound
  • Fingerpicks can be used
  • Strings usually placed closer to the fretboard
closedback

3. Banjo Types

4 String Banjo

Despite what you might think, these banjos do not need to be played as a base instrument. They are in fact played in the following styles: Chord melody, Chordal Accompaniment, Tremolo, Single string melody and Duo style!

There are two types of these perhaps unorthodox banjos:

One is the Plectrum Banjo which as you may be able to guess is played like a guitar with a pick and has been utilised for jazz.

The other is the Tenor Banjo which has a shorter neck. Popularised in 1910 this banjo has short scale frets and is mainly used for chordal Accompaniment.

 

tenorbanjo

5 String Banjo (Recommended)

This is suggested as the best beginner banjo due to its popular design, playability and tradition.

The 5-string banjo is the original. It was made popular in the 1830's and featured a specialised, unique string which was shorter in design and allowed the banjo to be tuned to a higher, open pitch.

In addition, the five-string banjo will allow you to elicit the trademark, popular sound that this instrument has brought to the world.

It's a favourite for Clawhammer, Frailing, Bluegrass, Classic and Folk players and provides plenty of versatility.

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6 String Banjo

Six-string banjos behave in a similar way to your average guitar in terms of playability. Therefore, they could be a good option for converts!

The main difference is that whilst they are composed a lot like a guitar in terms of the strings, the six string banjo still sounds exactly like a banjo (twangy and bright).

They are offered in open or closed back variations and there are even electric banjos for sale with 6 strings. A word of warning though, if this is your first strung instrument, they will take longer to master than your average 5-string banjo.

6stringbanjo2

4. Banjo Anatomy

Please do not let your head explode looking at the below diagram. It is simply provided for reference so that you can learn about the construction and parts of a banjo if you would like to.

It is important to gain a baseline amount of knowledge before buying the best beginner Banjo for you.

banjo diagram

If you're more of an audio visual-learner, I have provided a video walk through of the parts of the Banjo courtesy of VideoJug below:

5. How to Choose the Best Beginner Banjo

Spending some time identifying the correct specifications of a banjo for beginners can really pay off.

The following list is designed to help you to come to terms with what exactly makes a Banjo 'good':

Key Features to look for:

 

Tuning - Geared Tuners are best for beginners as they allow for easy tuning and can prevent the Banjo falling out of tune

Multiple Coordinator Rods - This can facilitate a high-quality tone

Truss Rod - This stabilizes the forward curvature of the neck

Wood - Maple can produce a sharp sound clarity while Mahogany offers a warmer tone, Walnut is an alternative option that produces a sound somewhere in the middle

Brass Tone Ring - A good tone ring can make a modest amount of difference to a Beginner Banjo

Adjustable features - These are a bonus as they allow you to customise the sound to a certain degree

Multi-layer Rim - This can make a big difference to the sound

6. Best Beginner Banjo Reviews

Key Features:

  • Cheap Banjo with not so cheap features
  • Geared 5th Tuner
  • Mahogany Resonator
  • Adjustable Tailpiece

If you're on a budget then this is the best banjo for beginners. Not only is it very affordable but it comes with a host of great features.

It has a; geared 5th tuner, mahogany resonator, adjustable tailpiece, 3 ply maple rim, a maple bridge and glossy finish. These are top quality features.

The Jameson 5-string banjo has received top notch customer reviews and is a great starting instrument for you to come to terms with.

jameson-banjo

Key Features:

  • 3 ply Maple rim
  • Adjustable Tailpiece
  • Lightweight
  • Geared Tuners

Deering is the highest rated reputable Banjo brand. They also make their Banjos in the USA.

This Banjo backs up their high-quality status due to its clear, bright sound that is produced in part by its 3 ply 11 inch maple rim. To add to this, it's perfect for beginners because of its accurate fret work allowing for great intonation and playability.

With top notch reviews and stunning build quality, this Banjo is bound to serve you well as you progress.

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Key Features:

  • Mahogany Body
  • Rosewood fingerboard
  • Geared Tuner
  • Sounds great out of the box

An all-round great Banjo for beginners. Coming with a US Remo head, Mahogany body and geared tuners it is hard to go wrong with this beauty.

The specs are complimented nicely with stylish floral inlays and a vinatge, refined look. The Banjo is adjustable enabling you control over the sound. Users have said that it sounds like a banjo should and requires minimal setup due to its manufactured settings.

epiphone-mb200

Key Features:

  • Maple Resonator and Body
  • Two-way adjustable tailpiece
  • Maple Tone Ring
  • Truss Rod

This Banjo has been built by highly by Gold Tone who have a great reputation with their banjos. The CC-100R can accompany you throughout your climb in ability thanks to its remarkable specs. Its terrific sound and playability allow for a status as a great banjo for beginners.

This Banjo is incredible value for money with its adjustable tailpiece, geared tuners, tone ring, two coordinator rods and more. Its the most expensive on the list but appears undervalued considering its specs.

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7. Top Picks - Best Beginner Banjo 2017

Deering Goodtime

Best open-back banjo for beginners

Jameson 5 String

Best Cheap Resonator Banjo for beginners

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