New to the Forum; Would Love First Banjo Recomendations


#1

Hi!

I’ve been looking to get into banjo playing and learn the crafts and I feel like I want to do that soon! I am a guitar player and have played for 25 years but never a banjo (aside from plucking at a local Guitar Center).

Could you be kind as to recommending me a banjo type and a brand for a beginner banjo player?

Thanks so much!


#2

If you want to play bluegrass, you want a 5 string resonator banjo. A lot of popular music is played clawhammer which is usually played on an open back. So first you have to decide what kind of music you want to play. That said, a 5 string banjo is a 5 string banjo and you can play clawhammer style on a resonator or bluegrass on an open back. It just won’t quite sound the same is all.

Unlike electric guitars where Fender seems to be able to slap a couple of pieces of wood together and sell a workable instrument for $100, a banjo is more difficult to make and therefore more expensive.

Here are my 5 string bluegrass banjo suggestions.

I would stay away from budget banjo from names you’ve heard of like Fender, Epiphone and Washburn. Gibson is very good but they no longer make banjos and they never made budget models.

The two most popular ‘beginner’ banjos are the Deering Goodtime and something by Recording King (the RK35 is considered a serious instrument but I think is about $700 used. The RK 20 is the budget model). A Deering Goodtime or RK20 will both sound okay and should play fairy well. They should not hinder your progress.

For me, a long time guitar player, banjo had a pretty steep learning curve (I did not play fingerstyle). The right hand took several months before I felt even partways comfortable with it. So you should consider resale value of your banjo. The Goodtime and the RK20 will always attract resale interest if the price is right (I think a used Goodtime would be in the $250- $400 area, so quite a bit less than the new value).
Other generic no name banjos might not even get a bite so that’s one reason to stay away from those.

Of course, if you have the budget, get the best you can. A Gibson, Huber, Yates, (the right) Stelling or Sullivan will always attract buyers but these will be +$2000 instruments.


#3

Ah thank you so much! Now i feel like I know what to look for and begin the process. Seems like not too many banjo lovers here in northern california as I see nothing of sort on craigslist… But I will keep on searching.


#4

BTW, how are Savannah banjos?


#5

Just so you know where my advice is coming from.

I have two pretty expensive banjos. I have only really ever played these two banjos. I once played a cheap bottlecap in a pawn shop and the 5th string tuner would not go to pitch. I played a couple of notes on some cheap Guitar Center banjos once. And I had an old cheap asian tenor for a while.

So my actual experience is pretty limited. I’ve read a lot of stuff on the internet and heard the advice of others but that’s it.

So most of what follows is from what I’ve read on the internet and not personal experience.

I would not buy a banjo from Amazon.com. Savannah, Alabama, Morgan Monroe, Tradition, Fender (not vintage), Washburn (budget models), Epiphone… these are all the same banjos, made in the same factories with different names put on them (like old style House brands).

Recording King has their own factories in China (except for the low end models, like the RK20) which were set up and supervised by former Gibson manager Greg Rich. This is why they have such a good reputation.

One of the reasons my first banjo was a very expensive Nechville banjo was because it was easy to set up. Set up means adjusting the neck angle (with shims or shaving the heel) and adjusting the head tension (like on a drum). This seemed intimidating to me so I went with a hi-tech banjo that was really easy to set up (not the route I would suggest). You can be pretty sure that a banjo from Amazon or even Guitar Center will probably not be set up, nor play very well out of the box.

If you become one of Ben’s students, then check out the Steve Huber Banjo maintenance lesson. This will demystify a lot about banjo setup and will enable you to do it yourself.

Be patient. In budget banjos, look for a Deering Goodtime, and check out reviews of Recording King and Goldtone and Goldstar models you may come across.

You CAN get by with anything else, even a cheaply made bottlecap (so called because the flange, which holds the tension hooks look like a cap from an old style Coke bottle) but when it comes time to upgrade (which you will do if you are serious) or time to sell (if you find that the banjo is not for you) you may be stuck with giving it away.


#6

You also might want to check out banjohangout.org. This is one the banjo forums and they also have a used banjo section. For instance, today, someone posted a Goodtime for $375.


#7

— Begin quote from "solafive"

Hi!

I’ve been looking to get into banjo playing and learn the crafts and I feel like I want to do that soon! I am a guitar player and have played for 25 years but never a banjo (aside from plucking at a local Guitar Center).

Could you be kind as to recommending me a banjo type and a brand for a beginner banjo player?

Thanks so much!

— End quote

I bought a Deering Goodtime 2 from banjo.com. They’re local to me so I got to go up there and sniff around and pick. I really enjoy it and the fact it’s made in the US appeals to me. I’m sure a used one would be a great instrument

Here’s one with some upgrades and maybe a case

banjohangout.org/classified/49776


#8

I started out with a Fender FB300 that I found on Amazon for cheap. It wasn’t the best, but it sounded like a banjo and it got me started. I didn’t want to spend mega dinero on something I wasn’t sure I would stick with. It’s what I could afford, and I’m still pleased with that route.

Once I figured out that I was sticking with the banjo, I started saving my money and bought a Washburn B19 off of ebay. Some think Washburn banjos are junk banjos, I would stand up and argue my case on that one. No, it’s not a Huber, Gibson, or Stelling, but they aren’t priced like them either. I still have my B19 Bomber, and am still pleased with it.

I also heard good things about the Goodtime series by Deering, so I saved up and bought one. It’s the non-resonator model, but I still play bluegrass banjo with it and really love it’s ability to travel anywhere I want it to go. For the price, I think Deering has nailed it in regard to banjo quality vs price.

I’ve also heard Recording King makes a great banjo, but I haven’t been able to afford one to date. I’ve picked some at Guitar Center and always walk away with a hankering to buy one.

Have fun with the search!


#9

thank you guys! I really appreciate all the tips and sharing experiences. I am still trying to be patient and searching, waiting for something come up.

Anyone have any experience with Blueridge banjos?


#10

Also, are Morgan Monroe banjos good quality?

Found one on craigslist for $500


#11

Blueridge is a trademark of Saga Music and while their guitars have gotten some good reviews and their Kentucky line of mandolins are top notch, I have a feeling their banjos are going to be generic Chinese models as are the Morgan Monroe.

You’ll have a better chance of getting a good banjo if you stick with Goldtones, Goldstars, Recording Kings or Deerings. However, finding these at inexpensive prices is more difficult (but not impossible) as they are more sought after and can fetch higher prices.

This is not to say that a Blueridge or Morgan Monroe might not be okay or good enough. However, as you don’t play, it will be difficult for you to judge the quality of the instruments. I think that the chances of finding a Blueridge or Morgan Monroe that you will keep for a while (or be able to sell easily) will not be as good as with the other makers I noted.