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FAQ Selecting your first Banjo

Buddy Wachter Learning Tenor Banjo DVDFAQ Category : Selecting Your First Banjo

  • Which banjo should I buy?
  • What type of Banjo would you suggest to begin with (ie 4 or 5 string)?
  • Lady, gospel singer, Small hands, complete beginner: Is there a small banjo that I can strum that would still have decent sound?
  • The same person above wants a left-handed banjo.
  • I am left handed and have started learning with a right handed banjo, simply because i could not find a left handed one when i purchased my first banjo. now, i don''t feel comfortable when i hold a left handed banjo. Should I purchase a left handed one before i continue learning and, also, does this mean that i will never reach my playing potential if i continue on a right handed one?
  • Here''s a newbie question that I didn''t see in your FAQ:Should I start with an open-back banjo or a banjo with a resonator? I''m more interested in old-time banjo (e.g., Clarence Ashley) than bluegrass, but I like bluegrass as well. Thanks.
  • How many strings does a Standard Banjo have?
  • What is the "feel of the sound" between a resonator and open-back banjo? Which should a beginner go with to find a good bluegrass pickin sound?
  • What banjo (at a reasonable price) would you reccomend for a lefty just begining?
  • My boyfriend is looking to purchase a banjo and I would love to surprise him at Christmas. He is a very experienced self-taught guitar player and is a quick study. I am willing to invest some money in a nice instrument. What would be a really nice banjo that he could learn on but could also grow with him as he progresses?
  • What type of banjo would you recommend for a left-handed beginner?
  • I want to learn to play Battle Hymn of the Republic. What kind of banjo is this best played on? 4 or 5 string?
  • How many strings does a tenor banjo have?
  • Can you recommend a banjo for a beginning student. I do not know anything about Banjos...Brand, price, 5 string versus 4 string.
  • I am interested in purchasing my very first banjo. I''ve been looking at the Learner Packs. Which to choose?
  • Ahhhh! No idea what kind of banjo to look at, how to play, where to get music or what type of music I like better. I'm thinking country... can you help?
  • I am a professional Guitarist looking to upgrade my collection of weapons. I want a banjo almost strictly for Dixieland. However, I want to learn how to pick roots-styled music. Knowing the 4 string and 5 string are used respectively, can I use the 5 string for both? What is the tuning for both?
  • How do you determine the correct size banjo for a beginner?
  • Can I use a 5-string banjo in a New Orleans music?
  • What is the difference between an 18 and 24 bracket banjo? What do you suggest for a beginner?
  • I am very interested in fast music for the banjo, and am thinking of getting a 5-string banjo. I have been told the most banjo players have learned a guitar before the banjo. Should I learn a guitar, or just go straight into the banjo?
  • What''s the deal with brackets!?! Do more of them mean that it''s a better banjo? Do less mean it''s crap? I''m looking for one to buy and the whole 18 brackets, 24 brackets, 30 brackets and so on is REALLY confusing me. What better, or does it really matter?
  • I have no idea what kind of banjo i want...i know there are 4,5,6 string banjo''s...im intrested in playing stuff like Bela Fleck (which i think is considered jazz) some classical (Beethoven), and some bluegrass can i play this on any type of banjo or would i need a 5, or 6?
  • is clawhammer picking any faster that normal picking? as a beginner should i learn clawhammer, or normal picking?
  • I'm particularly interested in the songs of the 1850's and Civil War era. I''m just a novice and at this point I'm rather confused. What type of banjo should I purchase? Also, can you suggest teaching material?
  • My child has set his sights on learning to play banjo. He plays the piano and reads music. Where do we start? What is the appropriate banjo for a young beginner?
  • What should I look for when buying a used banjo?
  • I love the sound of the bluegrass banjo and realize it''s sound is derived from the resonator. So does an electric banjo (like the goldtone on you sell) actually sound like a banjo?
  • I'm left handed. Is there a banjo for left-handed people?

  • If the answer you are looking for is not listed here then please feel free to contact us, 1-877-253-9948 toll-free, or helpdesk@banjo.com.

    Which banjo should I buy?

    Since cost is a factor for most of us, including our family of five, we try to start new hobbies or activities with the lowest possible expense. For example, when our oldest son took up golf, we bought him a starter set. After he demonstrated a passion and a talent for the game, we agreed to upgrade his clubs. We take the same approach with musical instruments. My first banjo cost my parents $59 in 1973, when I was 16. That was my only banjo until my 40th birthday, when my wife and sons gave me a Gibson Mastertone RB-250. That's a long stretch, but that's what we could afford.

    The new beginner banjo packages listed in our catalog start at $259.99, including free shipping. Click here to see our bluegrass banjo beginner packages. Start with the banjo you can afford, then upgrade after you've developed a passion for playing.

    One of our suppliers suggested that we sell banjos by the pound. Sounds silly, right? This ain't chicken or beef! But there is some truth to this approach, because typically the heavier the banjo, the better the sound. Gibson began installing heavy metal tone rings in their Mastertone banjos many decades ago. The resulting sound was clearer and louder. That is the sound made famous by Earl Scruggs and others, and it's the sound most sought after today by banjo players. For the best sound in banjos, look for the words 'tone ring' in the description. Professional-grade models from China, that include a heavy tone ring start at around $1,000.00. Professional models made-in-USA with a heavy tone ring start at around $2,000.00.

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    What type of Banjo would you suggest to begin with (ie 4 or 5 string)?
    That depends on what type of music you prefer. 4-string banjos are typically for strumming, Dixieland "New Orleans" jazz style. Louis 'Satchmo' Armstrong's early music, like "When The Saints Go Marching In" represents this style. 5-string banjos with a resonator (basically a bowl on the back that projects the sound toward your audience) are typically for bluegrass picking. Earl Scruggs is probably the best-known pioneer for the 3-finger picking style, with songs such as "The Beverly Hillbillies" and "Foggy Mountain Breakdown" (theme from the movie Bonnie and Clyde). 5-string open-back banjos are typically played with clawhammer style. It's a much more "folksy", mellow sound than bluegrass.

    We'd suggest choosing the instrument based on the type of music you enjoy most.

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    Lady, gospel singer, small hands, complete beginner: Is there a small banjo that I can strum that would still have decent sound?
    Probably the easiest banjo to play is the tenor. There are three reasons:


    • It has only 4 strings (a guitar has 6 strings) and you can strum it.
    • It has a narrow neck (30-mm wide at the nut); a typical 6-string accousting guitar is (44-mm wide at the nut),
    • The neck is shorter (390-mm in length), making chords easier to reach; compare to a plectrum or 5-string banjo with a 490-mm neck.

    Please visit the 4-string banjo section in our catalog. We have several models in stock. Click here to see one. We would also suggest the Buddy Wachter beginner video.

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    The same person above wants a left-handed banjo.
    We'd still give the same answer, and we thank you for the suggestion. We can reverse the bridge and strings, and move the armrest to the other side of the pot. It would then be a left-handed tenor banjo. You'll notice that all our tenor banjos are now offered as left- or right-handed.

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    I am left-handed and have started learning with a right handed banjo, simply because i could not find a left handed one when i purchased my first banjo. now, i don't feel comfortable when i hold a left handed banjo. Should I purchase a left handed one before i continue learning and, also, does this mean that i will never reach my playing potential if i continue on a right handed one?
    Woah, that's a tough one. If your right-hand and finger dexterity is as good as your left, stay with your right-handed banjo. If you go to a music festival and want to try someone else's banjo, it'll probably be a right-handed model. Does it feel natural when you play right-handed? If not, consider trying lefty. Most string-playing left-handed people we know play a left-handed instrument. A lefty friend way back in 1972 restrung his right-hand Fender guitar so he could play it left-handed. It was that important to him.

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    Here's a newbie question that I didn't see in your FAQ:Should I start with an open-back banjo or a banjo with a resonator? I'm more interested in old-time banjo (e.g., Clarence Ashley) than bluegrass, but I like bluegrass as well. Thanks.
    Good question. The movie 'Oh Brother Where Art Thou' has generated a lot of interest in traditional, or open-back banjos. They've been very popular. Clawhammer-style playing is usually done on open-back banjos, without fingerpicks or thumbpicks, so it's not very loud. Most clawhammer music originates from folk songs, and many banjo players like to sing along. In small groups the banjo doesn't need to be loud. The open-back banjo forces the sound to project toward the banjo player, and some of the sound is muffled by the banjo player's shirt or clothing. Most bluegrass players prefer a resonator because it projects sound toward an audience. It is much louder than the open-back banjo, and can cut through the sound of other instruments when needed. If you're playing for your own enjoyment, the open-back makes more sense. If you're playing for family or for an audience, the resonator model works best.

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    How many strings does a standard banjo have?
    Tenor/plectrum banjos, used for Dixieland Jazz (New Orleans-style), have four strings.
    Bluegrass/mountain/clawhammer/frailing banjos have five strings.
    Guitar/banjos have six strings.

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    What is the "feel of the sound" between a resonator and open-back banjo? Which should a beginner go with to find a good bluegrass pickin sound?
    We will almost always recommend an open-back banjo for clawhammer/frailing, and a resonator banjo for bluegrass. There are exceptions.

    Clawhammer is a soft, slow and gentle style. Volume isn't an issue. Bluegrass is often hard-driving and loud. Bluegrass banjo players need volume to be heard above other instruments; the resonator projects the sound forward.

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    What banjo (at a reasonable price) would you reccomend for a lefty just begining?
    We stock at least a dozen left-handed banjos, from beginner level to professional. Pick the one that best fits your budget. The Savannah SB-100 left-handed banjo is around $260.00. Deering makes an excellent beginner lefty banjo in the Goodtime series, as well as Gold Tone with the CC-100 series.

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    My boyfriend is looking to purchase a banjo and I would love to surprise him at Christmas. He is a very experienced self-taught guitar player and is a quick study. I am willing to invest some money in a nice instrument. What would be a really nice banjo that he could learn on but could also grow with him as he progresses?
    Wow. We hope your boyfriend appreciates your kind gesture! Most of our beginner banjos range from $260 to $350. Intermediate banjos range from $350 to $800. Professional-grade banjos range from $900 and up. American-made professional-grade banjo start at $2,000.

    We assume that you want a banjo in the Intermediate range. Look at the resonator banjo models with starter pack from Deering Goodtime, Gold Tone, Morgan Monroe, Washburn and Recording King. Like most fine instruments, the higher the cost, the better the sound. An addendum for banjos only: typically, the heavier the banjo, the better the sound.

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    What type of banjo would you recommend for a left-handed beginner?
    Our two most popular beginner bluegrass banjos are the Savannah SB-100 (made in China) and the Deering Goodtime 2 (made in USA). Both are available in lefty.

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    I want to learn to play Battle Hymn of the Republic. What kind of banjo is this best played on? 4 or 5 string?
    This patriotic song sounds great on either instrument. If you're planning to learn the banjo, select the banjo based on the type of music you want to play, Dixieland (4-string strumming) or Bluegrass/Mountain (5-string picking). These two instruments are tuned differently, so we recommend one or the other to beginners, not both. Pick the banjo first, then find the sheet music for your favorite songs.

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    How many strings does a tenor banjo have?
    A tenor banjo has four strings, tuned A-D-G-C (1st string to 4th string).

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    Can you recommend a banjo for a beginning student. I do not know anything about Banjos...Brand, price, 5 string versus 4 string.
    Our banjos are priced according to value. As with most goods, the higher the cost, the greater the value. Speaking specifically of banjos, the higher the cost, the better the instrument. If you're looking for the lowest-cost banjo, look at the complete starter packs by Savannah, Gold Tone Cripple Creek, and Recording King brands (made in China). If buying American-made is important to you, look at the Deering Goodtime models. For the best sound, spend as much as you can afford to.

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    I am interested in purchasing my very first banjo. I've been looking at the Starter Packs. Which to choose?
    One of our primary goals is to provide quality products and services at a reasonable price. We strive to avoid warranty issues and product returns because they're costly. That's why we sell only those brands which meet our standards, and we set them up ourselves. If a banjo doesn't pass inspection, we don't send it to a customer. Since our banjos and starter packs are priced according to value, pick the one that best meets your needs and your budget. If you're not sure which type of banjo to order (4, 5 or 6 string), read the other comments in this section, or call us at 1-877-253-9948, or email us at helpdesk@banjo.com.

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    Ahhhh! No idea what kind of banjo to look at, how to play, where to get music or what type of music I like better. I'm thinking country... can you help?
    If you favor Country music, you'd probably enjoy bluegrass banjo best. Look at the bluegrass banjos in the ' 5-String with Resonator' section, and look at the 'Training Center' section for books and videos under ' Bluegrass'.

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    I am a professional Guitarist looking to upgrade my collection of weapons. I want a banjo almost strictly for Dixieland. However, I want to learn how to pick roots-styled music. Knowing the 4 string and 5 string are used respectively, can I use the 5 string for both? What is the tuning for both?
    Bluegrass banjos have 5 strings are are normally tuned to G.
    Clawhammer banjos are normally tuned to C.
    Plectrum banjos have 4 strings and are normally tuned to C. The neck on a plectrum is usually identical to a 5-string neck in length, each having 22 frets.
    We think a 5-string bluegrass banjo with resonator would work best; just loosen or remove the 5th string when you're strumming it plectrum style, and keep it in C tuning (D-B-G-C).

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    How do you determine the correct size banjo for a beginner?
    We recommend child-sized banjos for kids from 5 - 9 years of age. By age 5, most kids have matured enough to understand the effort reguired to play a banjo. There are exceptions, and we know of at least one 3-year-old who takes his banjo everywhere he goes. Any player 10 years and up should be on an adult-sized banjo, unless he/she is a bit small for his/her age group.

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    Can I use a 5-string banjo in a New Orleans music?
    We're purists. 4-string banjos are for New Orleans 'Dixieland' music, and 5-string banjos are for Clawhammer and Bluegrass. You can tune a 5-string like a Plectrum banjo and strum it, but you'd need to loosen or remove the 5th string.

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    What is the difference between an 18 and 24 bracket banjo? What do you suggest for a beginner?
    For beginners, the 18-bracket banjo will do. The more brackets, the more evenly the head is tensioned, and typically the better the sound. The 30-bracket aluminum-pot banjo is an exception. We're not enamored with aluminum-pot banjos, so the extra brackets are a moot point.

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    I am very interested in fast music for the banjo, and am thinking of getting a 5-string banjo. I have been told the most banjo players have learned a guitar before the banjo. Should I learn a guitar, or just go straight into the banjo?
    We recommend learning to play both guitar and banjo, but not at the same time. It just gets confusing for the beginner. Pick one or the other and become proficient at that first. The reasoning for learning both instruments is simple enough--when you're jamming with other musicians on a new song, seeing the guitarist form chords can help you play the correct banjo chords. Just watch the guitarist and see which chords he/she is playing. If you see a G chord, play a G chord on the banjo. Since your passion is banjos, we suggest devoting an hour per day for the first six months exclusively to the banjo. After six months, add twenty minutes per day for the guitar. Playing the guitar is fun, too!

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    What's the deal with brackets? Do more of them mean that it''s a better banjo? Do less mean it's crap? I'm looking for one to buy and the whole 18 brackets, 24 brackets, 30 brackets and so on is REALLY confusing me. What better, or does it really matter?
    Generally, the higher the number of brackets, the better the quality of the banjo. More brackets means that the banjo head (the drum head) is tensioned more evenly across the head, giving the banjo a better sound. We are not fond of 30-bracket banjos with an aluminum pot.

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    I have no idea what kind of banjo I want...i know there are 4,5,6 string banjos...I'm interested in playing stuff like Bela Fleck (which i think is considered jazz) some classical (Beethoven), and some bluegrass can i play this on any type of banjo or would i need a 5, or 6?
    Bela Fleck, considered the most versatile banjo player ever, plays a 5-string bluegrass-style banjo.

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    Is clawhammer picking any faster that normal (bluegrass) picking? As a beginner should i learn clawhammer, or bluegrass picking?
    Clawhammer is much slower and more mellow than bluegrass. You 'pick' with your index finger and thumb. Bluegrass tends to be very fast. You pick with fingerpicks. You'll need to decide which style of music you enjoy most, clawhammer or bluegrass, and begin with that style. After you learn one, you can learn the other, if you wish. You can see and hear the two styles by watching these two videos: Clawhammer and Bluegrass.

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    I'm particularly interested in the songs of the 1850s and Civil War era. I'm just a novice and at this point I'm rather confused. What type of banjo should I purchase? Also, can you suggest teaching material?
    You probably want a traditional banjo (open-back), as these were the style played during the Civil War. Most are played clawhammer style, also called frailing style. We have more than a dozen to choose from. If you want a banjo that's completely made-in-USA for under $500, look at the Deering Goodtime series. For traditional songs, please visit the Training section of our catalog, then Clawhammer.

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    My child has set his sights on learning to play banjo. He plays the piano and reads music. Where do we start? What is the appropriate banjo for a young beginner?
    It depends on how young. We have the Plucky which is a very small banjo that would be good for someone up to 7 years old. After that a CC-Mini or the nicer BG-Mini would be good from 7 years to about 10 years old. After 10 years old, they should be able to handle a regular size banjo.

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    What should I look for when buying a used banjo?
    You should look for the condition, playability, check for cracks on the neck, make sure the neck is attached properly to the pot assembly, check for cracks or holes, check for fret wear, and make sure the tuners are working correctly. Also, make sure the strings are close to the neck. If the strings are more than 1/4-inch away from the frets on the neck, does the banjo have coordinator rods or a truss rod for adjustment? If not, it may require too much work to get it playable.

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    I love the sound of the bluegrass banjo and realize it's sound is derived from the resonator. So does an electric banjo (like the Gold Tone on you sell) actually sound like a banjo?
    Actually, the unique banjo sound comes from the bridge sitting atop a drum-type head. The resonator just makes it project that sound forward, toward the audience. Electric banjos like the Gold Tone GT-500 and the Deering Crossfire use an internal pickup system that amplifies the banjo sound. It still sounds like a banjo, the same way an acoustic guitar with pickup sounds like a louder acoustic guitar.

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    I'm left handed. Is there a banjo for left-handed people?
    Sure! There are plenty of banjos that are made for left-handed people. Here's a link to our left-handed models. You'll find all of our left-handed banjos there. If there is one that you would like that we don't carry, feel free to call us and we'll see about getting it in.

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