I’ve heard good reviews about Recording King, and they seem to be affordable for most people. They were still out of my budget when I started out (and still are).
I started out my banjo playing with a bottom-of-the-line Fender FB300. It ran me about 100 bucks, but it got me started and I learned to do a great deal of picking on her. Sure, you don’t see Ben Clark puttin’ on a concert with the Purple Hulls whilst pickin’ a FB300, but I wasn’t about to perform any concerts either.
While I was learning and falling in love with the banjo, I scoured through ebay almost daily just waiting for a deal to come my way. I knew how much I had to spend, and I would bid and bid and bid and lose almost every auction I started. Then, one day I snagged a Washburn B19 for a very decent price. It’s still no top-of-the-line banjo, but it was a huge upgrade from where I started and I’m still very pleased with it.
I currently have a money jar going. If I ever get Christmas, birthday, etc. money, I throw it in that jar and put it out of site and out of mind. When I get about $5,000 in that jar, I’m going to drive to Hendersonville, TN and talk to Steve Huber about building me a custom Huber Roanoke ( huberbanjos.com/roanoke/ ).
In all that I’m trying to say: buy what you can for now, pick it, and love pickin’ it. Then, save up and do what you can as time goes on. You might even be able to trade up or straight across someday. It’s part of the fun.