Beginner Banjo Buying Guide

Best Beginner Banjo

You want to buy a banjo, but don’t know where to start? Perhaps you’ve played a few months and need direction on where to go next? Let’s help you out!

This is a beginner banjo buyer’s guide aimed at the new student or those who have played a couple of months. Let’s start with a, ugh…….BANJO!

Banjos come in a bunch of different varieties and sizes; the 4-string (tenor and plectrum banjo), the 6-string banjitar, there’s even a banjo uke; however, on this site, we concentrate on the 5-string banjo.

What’s a good beginner banjo?

When it comes to beginner banjos, I highly recommend the Recording King brand. My first recommendation is the RKH-05 dirty 30’s banjo. I think it’s one of the best starter banjos out there. Currently, it’s under $500; the RKH is a beginner instrument that doesn’t have a tone ring; however, it does have a resonator. Since it doesn’t have a tone ring, it’s not as heavy as professional banjo, but it’s good enough to start with (much better than my first banjo!). Trust me when I say to avoid beginner “starter pack” banjos like Fender, Jameson and Oscar Schmidt’s. You’ll quickly outgrow those banjos and they won’t play nor sound good. For example, I’ve had a lot of students buy one of the Fender banjos and the strap buttons on the side almost always break. You don’t need to spend a fortune, but you also don’t want to go too cheap.

If you’ve played for a bit and want to upgrade, or you’re one of those people that go all-in from day one, there’s the Recording King RK-35. It’s a professional level instrument made of the same quality components as higher priced instruments. This is a banjo I often refer my students to that have a year or more experience.

Recording King RKH-05 Dirty 30’s Resonator Banjo

Recording King RKH-05 dirty 30's banjo
Recording King Dirty Thirty’s RKH-05

If this specific model is above your budget, any of the Recording Kings will do. Try to get one with a resonator if you can afford it, unless your goal is to play clawhammer banjo.

I realize not everyone is in a position to afford a $400 banjo. In that case, the best banjo under $400 I can recommend is the Goldtone AC-1.  It’s at the entry level price point of $250 at the time of this writing and beats the alternatives. The difference between this banjo and the one above is it’s an openback banjo.  Without the resonator, it won’t be quite as loud.

Best Budget Banjo – Goldtone AC-1 Open Back banjo

 

Goldtone AC-1 open back banjo
Goldtone AC-1 banjo open-back

I don’t recommend any of the Deering banjos at this lower entry point; I’ve had a handful of students with fingerboard issues on those banjos.  Please Deering, no hate mail 😛


What else do you need besides a banjo?

Fingerpicks

I’ve already went over those in the link below. Don’t worry, it’s simple and cheap. Dunlop metal fingerpicks are a good place to start.

Banjo Fingerpicks

Top Banjo Strap:

This is the Neotech Super Banjo Strap; it’s the banjo strap I’ve settled on using through the years. It’s made out of neoprene. This material stretches and reduces the weight on your shoulders; super important if you’re playing a banjo with a tone-ring. One of the biggest reasons I like it is due to the strap clips. You can click the strap off before putting the instrument in the case. This allows you to store the strap in the middle pocket as opposed to having it folded around the resonator. Here is the link:

black banjo strap
Super Banjo Strap

TAB or Manuscript Book

It’s hard to find a good TAB or manuscript book. They almost always have narrow lines that are difficult to write and read. This blank TAB/Manuscript book is the one I like the most. When I write my original banjo songs, this is what I use. The best news is it’s very cheap!

manuscript sheet music book

Stay Organized!

Over the years I’ve had students lose papers, lose entire notebooks; don’t let that happen to you. Get a binder, get some plastic sleeves and put your material in one of these. You can even use folders to label and divide it into sections. When you have 30 minutes to practice, you don’t want to spend 10 mins trying to find everything you’re going to practice. Get organized.


Banjo Capo

If you are going to play at jams or in different keys on the banjo, you’ll probably want to purchase a banjo capo.  I’m a fan of the Planet Waves Banjo Capo.  It’s only $18 and works great for a budget capo.  I’ve used a bunch of capos over the years, this one and the Dunlop “Victor” capo are the only ones I’ve had that I like.  You’ll want to avoid any capo that doesn’t have an adjustable screw.  Why?  Because it will pull the instrument out of tune.  You only want enough tension on the capo to make a clear sound.  I’m not a fan of the Shubb capos either, as I feel that they mute the tone of the instrument.

 

Banjo Capo

I AM an Amazon Affiliate and do earn a commission off of anything purchased via these links. At the same time, I only recommend things I have personal experience with, things I use here in my studio. If you have any questions about these products please contact me and I will help.

Banjo Tuner

I recently covered banjo tuning apps.   However, it’s good to have a clip-on banjo tuner as well.  I have never personally used this one, but I’m sure it works fine.  I’m not a huge fan of the Snark Tuners that many people use.

electronic banjo tuner

Banjo Strings

I’ve wrote an extensive article on choosing the right Banjo Strings

After you buy a banjo, come back and visit this page for your Beginner Banjo Chords

Jody Written by:

Professional Musician of 27 years. I've performed on the stages of Carnegie Hall, The Grand Ole Opry, and The Ryman Auditorium. I've also played in 6 different countries. All things Banjo and Acoustic Guitar.