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FAQ Selecting your first Banjo

FAQ 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.

    Which banjo should I buy?
    If cost is no object to you, please disregard this section. What follows is for the rest of us. :-)

    As a family of five, we try to enter 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 wife and sons gave me a Gibson Mastertone RB-250, on my 40th birthday. That's a long stretch, but that's what we could afford.

    The new beginner banjo packages listed in our catalog start at $260. 'Traveler banjo' series from Deering Goodtime (made in the USA) start at $329, and from Gold Tone (assembled in the USA) start at $399. 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 the one most sought after today by banjo players. For the best sound in banjos, look for the words 'brass tone ring' in the description.

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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 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).

    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)
    • 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. We would also suggest the Buddy Wachter beginner video:

    http://banjo.com/ProductDetails.asp?ProductCode=89

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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. Does it feel natural when you play right-handed? If not, consider trying lefty. Most string-playing lefty's 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 banjo playing is usually done without fingerpicks or thumbpicks, so it's not very loud. Most clawhammer music originates from folk songs, and many like to sing along with the banjo. In small groups it doesn't need to be loud.

    The open-back banjo forces some of 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; 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 just $229.00. 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 $149 to $350. The next range of Intermediate banjos range from $350 to $800. Advanced banjos range from $800 to $2,000. Expert banjos are $2,000 and up.

    We assume that you want a banjo in the Intermediate range. Look at the resonator banjo models from Deering Goodtime, Gold Tone, Iida, Morgan Monroe and Washburn. 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). Click on either of the links below:

    http://www.banjo.com/Savannah_SB_100_5_String_Banjo_Starter_Pack_p/218x.htm

    http://www.banjo.com/Deering_Goodtime_2_5_String_Banjo_Starter_Pack_p/spdegt2.htm

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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.

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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 Johnson and Rover brands. For banjos between $200 and $1,000, look at those from Deering (Goodtime), Gold Tone, Morgan Monroe, and Washburn. 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 Learner 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 learner 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.

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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 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. Some songs are better played in C or D tuning.
    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.
    But we're purists. We'd suggest selecting just one style, and after you become proficient on that one, then try the other.

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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 mute 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. The reasoning is simple enough--when you're jamming with other musicians on a new song, the guitarist can help you play the correct chords. If you're not sure which chords to play, you can 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.

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    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?
    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 picking? as a beginner should i learn clawhammer, or normal picking?
    Clawhammer is much slower and more mellow than bluegrass. You 'pick' with your fingers. 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 ordering two of our best-selling videos: Clawhammer from Scratch, and Pickin' 101.

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    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?
    You probably want a traditional banjo (open-back), and most are played clawhammer style. We have more than a dozen to choose from. If you want a banjo that's completely made-in-USA for under $300, 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 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 to the pot assembly, check for cracks or holes, check for fret wear, and make sure the tuners are working correctly. If you are unsure of the used banjo always ask for more information.

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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 goldtone 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.

    Internal pickups are installed to help a banjo increase the volume dramatically. 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. Visit our online catalog and click on "left-handed" under banjos. 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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