Best Banjos for Beginners – Buying Guide and Reviews

man playing banjo outside

The banjo is the unsung hero of string-based music, often overshadowed by its bigger brother, the guitar.

It is, however, an immensely fun instrument to play and can be used for both traditional and contemporary music. They are also one of the easiest to learn.

There are several types of banjo to choose from, from the resonator to open-back to hybrid varieties, and in this article, we guide you through how to find the best beginner banjo.

At a Glance: Our Pick of the Best Banjos for Beginners

Note: Clicking the above links will take you to further information, current prices and customer reviews on Amazon.

Product Round-Up & Reviews – Best Banjo for Beginners

1

ADM 5-String Banjo

Best Beginner Kit

If you’re looking for the perfect starter banjo, this package from ADM offers outstanding value.

First, the banjo. A mahogany fingerboard and bridge with sapele back and sides. The 24 brackets offer a nice and stable top, with a decent quality Remo drum head. The geared 5th tuner is a nice touch too, and helps with both tuning and playability.

You can set it up as a resonator or open-back banjo by detaching the back of the banjo. With the resonator attached, it produces a mellow, soft sound. With the open back, a brighter sound.

Along with the instrument, you get a ton of swag including a cushioned bag, strap, tuner, extra strings and picks.

If you stick with the banjo you will at some point outgrow it, but as an affordable ‘test’ instrument to see if you get the bug, it’s amazing value for money.

Yes, ADM is yet another mass producer of instruments, but for beginners wanting to dip their toe in the water, it’s hard to beat this kit.

Features:

  • perfect starter banjo for beginner students
  • the option of open back or attaching a resonator
  • stable top from 24 brackets
  • mahogany body, maple bridge and Remo drum head
  • geared 5th tuner
  • adjustable truss rod for setting up the banjo (correcting action etc.)
  • chrome-plated arm rest
  • comes with bag, 3 picks, strap, digital E-tuner, hanger, and extra strings, etc.

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2

Deering Goodtime 5-String Banjo

Best Mid-Range

Made by the Deering Banjo Company in Spring Valley, California, the Goodtime is an open-back banjo that packs one helluva punch.

The Goodtime features a slender, rock maple low-profile neck that offers superb playability and is comfortable whether you have large or small hands.

The natural, blond maple is finished in elegant satin and the metal parts are nickel plated.

The rim is made of 3-ply natural maple, that is finished in a nice-looking satin with a steel tension hoop and high crown Remo head. The metal and ebony bridge sits on an 11″ top frosted head. All the metal parts are nickel-plated as well.

Setting up the Goodtime is pretty easy too. A single coordinator rod makes small adjustments straightforward enough.

It looks great too, with a 22-fret rock maple neck with hardwood bow tie inlays looks the ticket

Features:

  • open-back banjo
  • constructed in the U.S.
  • weighs just four pounds, so ideal for travel
  • slender, low-profile neck for better playability

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3

Washburn B10 5-String Banjo

Best High End

Washburn have been building banjos since the late 1800s, so they know a thing or two about making them.

Their 5 string B10 banjo is a great example of the work they do.

Firstly, it packs a closed back mahogany resonator and neck with a 22 fret rosewood fingerboard (featuring pretty pearl inlays). The quality Remo head supports the gorgeous ebony-tipped maple bridge, and the chrome armrest adds a touch of class (as well as playing comfort).

The hardware is supremely good too, with chrome die cast tuners (with pearloid buttons) for smooth tuning.

Overall, this one is perfect if you’re willing to pay that bit extra for something of quality. It’s built by one of the most reputable builders of the banjo.

Features:

  • Excellent craftsmanship from one of America’s oldest banjo manufacturers
  • Mahogany and rosewood used here to give it a rich, warm tone
  • Superb articulation, great for bluegrass
  • Elegant styling and traditional design

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4

Jameson 5-String

Also Good

RW Jameson are based in Nashville that makes quality guitars and banjos at a fair price. This 5 string banjo has a great reputation and considering the price, it’s got a lot going for it.

Maple neck and mahogany top, back, and sides. The maple allows the notes to sustain well and produce a nice bright tone.

There’s also a removable resonator back, for that extra amplification if you’re in a band. Other design features include 24 brackets and a stylish chrome plated armrest.

There’s a geared 5th tuner, so you’ll be able to adjust it to just how you like it. There’s also an adjustable tailpiece (that’s hinged) and truss rod, so you can set up the neck and action how you like it.

Overall, it will suit any adult novice looking to learn traditional bluegrass or jazz styles. The overall tone it produces is very nice considering the budget price.

Features:

  • Maple neck and mahogany top, back, and sides
  • Geared 5th tuner
  • Adjustable tailpiece (that’s hinged) and truss rod

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5

Vangoa 5 String Banjo

Also Good

If you’re after a complete beginner package, then Vangoa’s bundle is something you should consider.

Here you get accessories such as a tuner, gig bag, pick up, strings and the instrument all for a great price.

In terms of tonewood, the neck, back, and sides are made from mahogany. This produces a warm, rich tone while remaining reasonably tough and durable – which is great if you’re going to be traveling a lot with it.

The neck itself has an adjustable truss rod built-in, which means that you can adjust the string height to your liking with little difficulty. Unlike some models, this version comes with step-by-step instructions that describe how to set it up and how to adjust the tension safely.

You can also detach the back of the banjo so it can sound like an open back or a resonator. So, tone-wise, this thing is pretty versatile and should meet the styles of both folk artists and bluegrass banjo players.

Overall, it’s a great option for musicians that want to have the option to learn different styles of music. With its additional 5th drone string and removable back, you won’t miss out on anything, and for this price, you get a lot of quality material and equipment.

Features:

  • Versatile – Having a removable back and an extra 5th string means you’ll be able to play most styles of traditional and modern music.
  • Price – This bundle is value for money considering the equipment and quality tonewood provided.

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6

Trinity River

Also Good

If you’re looking for a four-string tenor banjo with a resonator, check out the Trinity River.

It’s two standout features are the Nato resonator, which works wonders at amplifying the instrument’s sound, and the Remo head, which provides that classic bright, twangy tone.

Put both these components together, and you get an instrument that cuts through a mix with no issues, making it a great option if you’re going to be playing in an ensemble regularly.

Just be aware that there are 19 frets across the neck and that the frets are pretty wide. This longer scale size shouldn’t be a worry if you’re a larger adult, but kids and more petite builds may find this a bit of a stretch to play comfortably.

There is an adjustable truss rod in the neck however, and a set of open tuners, so you can set the intonation and action up just the way you like it so that it’s more comfortable.

Features:

  • Tenor banjo (4 string) with resonator
  • Fantastic traditional tone, which sounds excellent used in bluegrass and folk styles.
  • Nato resonator allows this thing to boom out melodies.
  • 18 brackets, Remo head, open tuners, and comes with a gig bag

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7

Recording King Dirty Thirties

Also Good

Another tenor banjo, the Recording King Dirty Thirties has a bit of old-world charm that’s worthy of checking out and is great for Celtic, folk, and 30’s style Dixieland jazz.

Another cool thing is that the neck and rim are made from maple for that bright twang, with plenty of sustain.

There’s also a rosewood fretboard, for that extra smoothness and a touch of warmth – this works well with the bite you get from the maple neck. It’s worth mentioning that the neck itself has an adjustable truss rod, so you can set up the intonation to meet your needs.

In terms of playability, the instrument’s scale length is 23,” and there are 19 frets, so most builds of musician should find it comfortable. As well as this, there’s also a marked fretboard, so you can visualize where to place your hands for chords and scales.

This one is a good choice for beginners that want something simple using a high-quality instrument. Having four strings will make it easier to grasp the basics like simple chord shapes and arpeggios; however, remember that you won’t be able to learn drone technique without the 5th string.

Features:

  • Produces a bright, twangy tone, perfect for folk and jazz styles.
  • 4- strings makes it a little easier to learn.

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Buyer’s Guide – Key Considerations

Resonator vs Open Back

The first decision most beginners needs to make is whether to go for a resonator or open back model.

Closed-back resonators have a metal plate attached to their back, which, as the name suggests, helps to resonate the instrument’s sound. Bluegrass musicians especially favor them for their extra projection.

The open back type has an exposed back which does not project sound nearly as much, giving you a much mellower tone altogether. They’re popular with folk musicians, especially those who play the clawhammer technique as opposed to plectrum.

resonator vs open back

Number of Strings

The second most important consideration is how many strings you want.

Unlike the guitar – which in most cases has six strings – banjos vary from four to six. Many beginner models have just four, and to a great extent it’s advisable the beginner starts with one of these.

Five-string models include a fifth ‘drone string,’ which lets you play traditional bluegrass or jazz styles.

Six-string banjos are more familiar with guitarists for obvious reasons, and they don’t have the drone string.

Wood Type

The rim and the neck are the most important in terms of wood type. High-quality rims are made from multiple layers (or ‘plies’) of wood that produces a nice resonant sound. Cheaper models are often made from porous wood or, in the case of many rims, aluminum.

So what types of wood are the best? Well, for the neck and body, mahogany or maple tend to be the material of choice – maple is slightly brighter than mahogany, which tends to be on the ‘softer’ side. Sapele wood is popular too, giving you a well-balanced sound with not too much twang.

As for the fretboard, the best ones are made from extra-tough hardwood such as ebony or maple (ebony is considered superior). For the bridge, maple is a popular choice.

Amplification

At this stage in your buying journey, it’s wise to ask yourself if you plan to gig with your banjo.

The models we review below are all of the acoustic variety, but you can find electric models but they tend not to resonate as well. You can amp up a banjo using an aftermarket banjo pickup.

So, Which Should You Choose?

If you’re starting out and want something that’s decent enough to learn on, but won’t cost a fortune, then go with the ADM 5-string. For the price, it’s hard to beat.

If you want a tenor, the Recording King Dirty Thirties or Trinity River are good too.

A great mid-range banjo is the Deering Goodtime, and if you’re willing to pay that bit extra, the Washburn B-10 is a first rate banjo for beginners.

Whatever you decide, I wish you every success with your playing.

Good luck!