If you’re looking for a challenging and enjoyable hobby that isn’t a guitar or bass, why not consider learning the banjo? It’s one of the easiest stringed instruments to learn, and a joy to play. But first, you’ll have to choose the right instrument for your musical journey. To help, here’s everything you need to know about today’s top seven best banjo brands, including how to choose between them.
What to Look For in Banjo Brands
There are multiple things to consider when you’re evaluating the different banjo brands. But some very specific factors separate good (and mediocre) banjo brands from the best banjo brands. Here’s what they are.
The first and arguably most important factor to consider in a banjo brand is the build quality of the instruments they produce. High-quality banjos are built from sturdy, durable woods like walnut, mahogany, or rosewood. They always feature necks made from a single solid piece of hardwood. If you went looking for the cheapest banjo you can find, you’d likely find its body made of aluminum and its neck of a composite or laminate material.
Availability of Products
Another thing to consider in a banjo brand is the availability of its products. So while the best banjo in the world might come from a small shop that builds twenty instruments a year, the best banjo for beginners is always going to be the one they can actually find in a store.
Even though a relative neophyte can build a great banjo, instrument production is a field where experience counts. That’s why most of the top banjo brands in the world have long and storied histories, and excellent reputations to match. And when you’re buying something where slight deviations in design and quality can alter its sound and performance – you want a brand with a reputation for peace of mind.
Last but not least, when you’re evaluating banjo brands, you have to consider the price range of the instruments they sell. This is because an excellent instrument that’s outside your price range does you no good. So you’ll need to balance the other factors against price if you want to end up with the best starter banjo you can afford.
What Are the Best Banjo Brands?
There are some brands – like the aforementioned Huber and Stelling – that professional banjo players acknowledge as being tops in the industry. But because they’re hard to find and typically out of the price range of beginners, you won’t find them on this list. Here are the seven best banjo brands that meet all of the above criteria.
Many of the brands on this list make a variety of string instruments. But not Deering. Launched in 1975, they make banjos and nothing else. That singular focus helps them produce top-quality instruments built to meet the needs of demanding banjo players. Although some of the models they sell are on the higher end of the spectrum, they make several mid-market models that are an excellent fit for beginners.
Their most popular mid-market model is the Goodtime 5-string banjo. It features an 11” violin-quality blonde maple rim, lending the instrument a clear and full-bodied tone. It also features geared tuners, pressed-in nickel frets, and a slender rock maple neck. It’s the kind of instrument that’s at home in the hands of seasoned professionals and beginners alike.
2. Gold Tone
Although Gold Tone only has roots dating back to 1993, it’s a brand with some real credibility in the industry. Founded by folk musicians Wayne and Robyn Rogers, the company began life making nothing but a single model of travel banjo. It was a hit that led the company to branch out into other stringed instruments – and today they make mandolins, guitars, bass guitars, ukuleles, and of course, banjos.
One of their most popular models for beginners is the CC-50 Cripple Creek banjo. It’s a beautiful instrument made from rosewood and maple and features an open-back design for a classic banjo sound. But because it’s built with beginners in mind, the Gold Tone CC-50 banjo sounds great, easy to play with, all while being relatively affordable.
In short, a perfect banjo for beginners.
3. Oscar Schmidt
Like Gold Tone, Oscar Schmidt is known for making a variety of stringed instruments. And they’ve been making them a long time – since 1871, in fact. These days, they’re a subsidiary of well-known instrument maker Washburn. But that hasn’t stopped them from continuing to be a top-notch banjo manufacturer.
And their OB5 model is one of the most popular beginner banjo models in the world today. It features a mahogany body and a neck built of sturdy nato hardwood – which cuts its overall cost significantly.
A brand that needs no introduction in the music world – Fender – also makes banjos that live up to their impressive reputation. They’ve been building industry-leading stringed instruments since 1946, and have poured their expertise into a line of banjos that are as good as any you’ll find elsewhere.
Beginners are especially fond of the Fender Banjo that features a mahogany construction and rosewood fingerboards. They’re lightweight, durable, and produce a crisp, warm sound. The trouble is that Fender isn’t actively producing them anymore. But because they built so many of them in the past, it’s still possible to find them through most music retailers.
5. Recording King
Recording King owes its nondescript name to its roots – having started off as an instrument house brand for mail-order giant Montgomery Ward back in the 1930s. But they have grown to become a well-known and well-respected instrument manufacturer. And, Recording King Makes banjos that more than qualify it to be on the list of today’s best banjo brands.
Their most popular model is the RKT-05 Dirty Thirties Tenor Banjo. It features maple construction, an open-back design, and natural C-G-D-A tuning that’s a great fit for beginners who want to focus on folk, Celtic, and Dixieland music. Add in a narrow 19-fret neck and you’ve got a great beginner banjo.
If you’ve never heard of the Japan-native Hoshino Gakki company, you’re not alone. But there’s a much better chance you’ve heard of Ibanez – its world-renowned instrument-making subsidiary. The brand is known primarily for building electric guitars favored by the likes of Steve Vai and Joe Satriani, but they also make exceptional banjos.
Most beginners favor the Ibanez B50. It’s a 5-string banjo that’s quite unlike any others on the market. That’s because it’s built with a combination of a Sapele body and an Okoume neck. Both are African hardwoods that compare favorably to mahogany, but at a far lower price. And it also features a Purpleheart bridge and fretboard, giving it a unique, bright sound.
Epiphone is one of the oldest instrument brands – they started as a small, family-owned instrument repair shop in 1873. And, they’ve been making banjos since 1923. Today, as a subsidiary of the well-known Gibson guitar company, they continue to turn out quality acoustic and electric guitars – and their banjos continue to impress.
Epiphone’s MB-100 banjo model is one of the most affordable banjos on the market today, but it doesn’t cut corners. It sports a mahogany body and neck, an open-back design, and a rosewood fingerboard. Its sound is best described as warm and plucky – and it’s lightweight enough to travel with. It’s perfect for beginners and will stand up to years of practice and playing.