Today we wanted to talk about a question most people looking for their first banjo ask us; which banjo should I choose?
This depends mostly on your budget. You can find decent beginner openback banjos from about 350$ and you may go for a not so beginner banjo like BG-150F near 700$, but featuring many pro specs that will make the experience of learning easier and more pleasant while will perform better, meaning a longer endurance. It will take more time for you to need an upgrade or even may want to keep your banjo for a lifetime.
We don´t recommend going for less than this prices and buy a banjo from a non specialized banjo maker; normally these are poorly setup or are even impossible to, due to manufacturing and design mistakes. This can cause something very unpleasant for the beginner; too high string action. High strings make chords harder to play. Notes wont come out as clean as in a well setup banjo. You may have the talent and finger the frets as you should, but still don´t be able to find proper speed or cleanliness because of the difficulties on fingering. Hammer-ons will simply sound like one note. Changing chords will be more uncomfortable. It could be frustrating and make you desist from learning, and we don´t want that to happen. We want banjo students becoming banjo players. So don´t make the mistake of going for a 200$ banjo, or you´ll end up like many of our customers; buying another good quality beginner banjo to really start learning and enjoying. Then they notice some chords or sounds they were not able to get from their cheap banjo, come out easily once they´ve got a right one.
Yes, some of this Chinese made banjos are eye catching, cosmetically interesting. It isn´t hard for these factories to do a nice color burst on neck or in resonator and make it look better than other higher grade banjos with a single matt finish. If you want a wall-hanger banjo, go ahead and get it. But if you do really want to start playing, you better think of aiming a little higher. Just a little.
OK, so let´s review then some of the most recommended beginner models:
Gold Tone CC-50: Perfect for the lowest budget. Openback model, so ideal to play clawhammer, classic style, Irish folk…But, considering we are thinking of a low budget, we could perfectly include bluegrass in its possibilities. Yes, resonance wont be as high, but the bluegrass sound will be there. But consider you are a beginner player. Resonator makes the banjo sound louder to compete with other instruments while on stage and make the banjo still sound. As a beginner, you´ll probably don´t need that extra sound so considering you´re practicing at home, an openback will be more than enough. Strings perfectly setup for beginners (not too high for ease of play, not to low to void string buzz). Quality parts (maple neck, ebony fingerboard…) tuners doing their job (tune and stay there). Openback version for CC-50 costs around 360$ and the upgraded version with planet tuners and resonator climbs to 490$.
CC-50 buy in the USA
CC-50 buy in Europe
Gold Tone CC-100R:A couple of steps above CC-50 we find the CC-100R. This model has helped thousands of banjoists to start playing the banjo. Hard maple rim, maple neck, maple resonator and rolled brass tone ring. Again, well setup and string action as it must be. CC-100 line works as a wildcard for Gold Tone, as they feature this model also with all most common banjo configurations: 19 fret tenor, 17 fret tenor, plectrum, travel banjo, mini banjo, openback version…You may also want to remove the back resonator to get a true openback pretty easily. CC-100R sells often for about 510$ with other banjo variations at similar price. There is also a non-reso version for about 470$ (The CC-100 model that for instance, carried Sufjan Stevens)
Buy CC-100R in the USA
Buy CC-100R in Europe
BG-150F: We can´t consider BG-150F a beginner banjo. But being priced only slightly higher than other student models, it is worth to consider. For just a little extra, you get a medium range banjo with some pro-features. Price and quality is one of the main reasons this banjo has become so popular and sells so well. For a little less than 700$ you get a full size 14″ resonator with a one piece flange. If I was thinking of starting to play right now and was close to this budget, I would wait a bit and save a little extra to get this banjo with no doubt.
Some pros even consider BG-150F as a lighter banjo to add to their collection.
Buy BG-150F in the USA Store
Check BG-150F in our Europe Store
Deering Goodtime 2: The Goodtime line from Deering Banjos is their company´s flagship model. All Deerings are entirely manufactured in San Diego, California. For those demanding a fully USA made banjo, Deering is the way to go. Goodtimes are made of hard maple, even though their construction may seem more basic than other similarly priced instruments from other banjo brands, the thing is that Goodtime 2 sounds terrific and distinctive. Goodtime 2 model includes flange and there is also an openback version.
Buy Goodtime 2 Banjo
Buy Goodtime openback Banjo
So, when deciding which first banjo you should buy, how much you should pay is a function of your budget, your commitment to mastering the instrument, the type of music you want to play, and your desire for certain cosmetic features. Try to buy the best banjo your budget allows so you get the best combination of playability, appearance, and sound.
As a general rule, in our store we already filter the brands or models that don´t accomplish with minimum quality standards. We did sell some cheap brands at the beginning of our business that caused us more problems than satisfaction with instruments returned or customers not coming back to our store to upgrade their instrument through us because they were simply not 100% happy with their first purchase. All banjos sold here, no matter their price have the basic demands all future or current banjo players should seek for: tuners staying in tune, string action low but not as low as to cause fret buzz or weird sounds and a real banjo construction (wood rim and tone ring inside and not a single metal pot most cheap manufactures feature). Aesthetics? Yes, it could be important to play a banjo you like cosmetically, but make sure these basic performance rules are covered before entering on aesthetic judgements.
If you have any question, comments or need further assistance on a banjo model for you, write us an email (firstname.lastname@example.org). We´ll be glad to help!