Among the many types of banjos, tenors are the perfect choice for anybody looking to start playing an instrument without previous experience, which is why they’re also ideal for beginners.
They’re short in length with narrow necks, so incredibly comfortable and easy to play. Their four strings also mean that these things are easier to master, than say, a six-string acoustic guitar which is harder to get your head around.
Tenor banjos usually come with either 17 or 19 frets and are used to play Celtic folk music, jazz, and popular music as part of an ensemble.
At a Glance – Our Choice Of The Best Tenor Banjos On The Market
- Rover RB-20T Resonator Tenor Banjo
- Deering Goodtime 17-Fret
- Trinity River TRTB1
- Recording King RKT-05 Dirty Thirties
- Gold Tone AC-4
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Table of Contents
Product Round-up & Reviews – Best Tenor Banjos
This moderately-priced tenor has a host of professional features that you’d normally pay a lot more for.
The lightweight composite rim is a nice feature that provides a tone like no other banjo at or near this price point.
The slim, fast neck makes it easy to play, and the lightweight composite rim on the vintage-style bound mahogany resonator sounds superb. The nickel-plated 2 piece flanges are a great touch too.
It has guitar-style tuners with 14:1 ratio gear.
They’ve incorporated an adjustable truss rod into the neck so you can get your string tension set up exactly how you like it.
The Rover RB-20T offers exceptional value for money.
- 11-Inch lightweight composite rim
- Slim, comfortable mahogany neck with adjustable truss rod
- East Indian Rosewood fingerboard with M.O.P. dot markers
- Guitar-style tuners with 14:1 ratio gear
- P-101 Deluxe Vega-type armrest
- P-115 No-Knot tailpiece
This American made tenor has some gorgeous features often found in much higher priced banjos.
The three-ply maple rim and maple neck combined with the maple resonator gives the instrument a bright, clear tone and superb string to string note separation.
The slender four string neck offers superb playability and the all-geared tuning machines make tenor banjo tuning a breeze.
This is a great option for anybody looking to play Irish/Celtic music, Dixieland jazz or folk music.
- Made in America
- Three-ply maple rim, neck and resonator gives the instrument a bright, clear tone and superb string to string note separation.
Trinity River TRTB1
It’s Nato wood resonator resembles a lower-quality mahogany version, but because it’s less dense, it absorbs more of the instrument’s sound.
This means the banjo doesn’t project too well, in comparison to say, a high-quality mahogany version, however, the overall tone it produces is still pretty decent and on the warm side of things. There’s also a coated, plastic Remo head which adds a little extra depth to your tone.
This is an excellent choice if you’re just starting out learning the banjo and you’re on a tight budget. While it’s true the tone doesn’t equally match the higher-end products, for the money, it’s pretty decent.
- Remo head – This gives the instrument a little more beef and depth of tone.
- Gigbag – For the price, it’s generous to get a carry case included here too.
Recording King RKT-05 Dirty Thirties
The RTK-05 is designed to play Celtic and folk styles of music and pulls it off pretty well, thanks to the tonewoods. The neck and rim are both made from high-quality maple, which produces that bright twang you’d expect from a folk banjo. But, interestingly, they’ve also included a rosewood fretboard, so you get a nice touch of warmth alongside all those bright highs.
The neck itself also contains an adjustable truss rod, so you’ll be able to adjust this thing to the exact tension you like.
The RTK-05 comes tuned CGDA which also works really well in Celtic styles of playing and features a Remo fiberskyn head, for a sound as close to animal hide as you can get. Fiberskyn heads sound really warm and full, and work well when used with claw hammer styles of playing. Just remember, they’re slightly quieter than plastic versions, so if you need something loud, this may not be the right banjo for you.
In terms of playability, the neck here is nice and thin, so even if you’re petite, you should have no problem playing it. There are 19 frets in total, marked by black dot inlays.
Overall, we’d say the RTK-05 is an excellent option for anybody wanting to purchase a high-quality banjo to play folk and Celtic styles of music. This thing sounds quite similar to Deering Goodtime’s premium choice option above so you may find you save a little money buying this instead.
- Tonewood – High-quality maple and rosewood give this instrument a really decent sound.
- Fiberskyn head – This is the closest sounding material to real animal skin heads, and it sounds fantastic.
Gold Tone AC-4
The Gold Tone AC-4 is another interesting tenor. One of the best aspects is its African blackwood fingerboard. This gives its overall tone a very rich warmth, similar to Brazilian rosewood, which is a rare find these days.
In terms of playability, the blackwood fingerboard feels very smooth, like ebony, so you’ll have no problem sliding up and down the frets.
This manufacturer has also designed the AC-4 to include a two-way adjustable truss rod, which means you can adjust the instrument’s tension in both directions – towards the body end and the headstock. This is a cool feature if you’re a fussy musician because you get extra scope for manipulating the intonation and string tension to exactly how you like it.
In regards to tone, this thing has an 11” smooth Remo head, so it’ll bring plenty of bright highs into your mix. There’s a composite rim designed to provide a little extra snap, which compliments the bite from the mylar head nicely.
They’ve also given the AC-4 a professional-looking satin black finish, which will be sure to blend in with most styles of music and ensembles. The company has been quite generous here and included a convenient gig bag, which considering the price, is good value and will save you some cash in the long run.
So, overall, I’d say this banjo is a great option for beginners shopping on a budget. This thing even arrives at your door with a professional set up so you won’t be needing to spend any extra cash getting it adjusted in a music shop.
- Comes setup – This saves you a lot of time and money initially.
- Tonewood – The AC-4 features a quality blackwood fingerboard, which is smooth on fingertips.
Buyer’s Guide – Key Considerations
So, how do you decide if you go for an instrument with 17 or 19 frets? Well, neither is inherently better of course, but they do have their differences.
Tenors with 17 frets tend to be used to play Celtic and folk styles of music and are tuned to GDAE, in ascending order. This is great if you want to play traditional folk music specifically, but it can make it harder for players to transition over to a 19-fret banjo.
19-fret models are tuned to CDGA, so they will play completely differently in regards to banjo chord shapes and scales. They often used to play Dixieland jazz or pop music, so they are a great choice if you want something with a little more sonic versatility.
–> Check out our guide to tenor banjo tuning to learn more.
Before you buy any old tenor banjo, make sure you check the product description specifics, as some more affordable options don’t come ready to play. For example, often, the bridge isn’t set up, and the strings will not be in place or tuned. So, beginners may struggle to get everything up and running and may even damage the instrument trying to set everything up.
Even if you do manage, chances are the action won’t be exactly how you like it, which means the strings may feel uncomfortable to play, and the instrument’s intonation may be incorrect. But don’t worry, this is all fine because you can always ask a music shop to set it up for you – remember it’ll cost you, so factor in the extra chunk of cash when you make the purchase.
So, Which Should I Choose?
Our top pick is the Rover RB-20T. With its lightweight composite rim, its slim, comfortable mahogany neck, and the gorgeous rosewood fingerboard – it’s a superb tenor at a decent price.
Our premium pick is the Deering Goodtime. This Made in America tenor has three-ply maple rim, neck and resonator that gives the instrument a bright, clear tone.
The best budget tenor banjo is the Trinity River TRTB1. 19 frets, nato resonator, Remo head, open tuners and a custom fit gig bag.