Best Bluegrass Banjo: Buying Guide & Reviews

Are you looking for the best banjo for bluegrass music? This article will layout exactly what type of banjo you need as well some helpful tips on what other indicators to look for.

Understanding what to look for in a bluegrass banjo is key to getting the perfect sound.

Let’s dive into the details.

Best Banjos For Bluegrass Music

#1 Deering Goodtime 2 Resonator – Best Bluegrass Banjo

The Deering Goodtime 2 banjo is absolutely the best for bluegrass music especially for the price. Deering is well known for being at the top of it’s class when it comes to manufacturing banjos made in the USA. Whether you are a beginner or pro this is the best banjo for bluegrass.

#2 Washburn Americana B10 – Runnerup

The Washburn Amwericana B10 banjo is our runnerup for multiple reasons. This handcrafted 5-string banjo comes with mahogany finish and 22 frets with pearl inlays. Washburn has making banjos for centuries and it shows. The B10 is a great bluegrass banjo.

#3 Pyle 5-String Banjo – Budget

If you need a bluegrass banjo without the hefty price tag like premium banjo go for then the 5-string from Pyle is your best option. It has everything you need for the bluegrass sound and is quite stunning for the price (link).

What To Look For In a Bluegrass Banjo (Buying Guide)

If you’re considering learning how to play the banjo, you have probably had some exposure to the distinct and wonderful sounds of the Appalachians in the United States, the twangy fast paced sound known as bluegrass music. 

Having been exposed to this incredible music may even have left you the desire to learn how to play it, but may have left you wondering which banjo would then be the best choice for you, knowing that once you build up your musical abilities you may want to expand your capabilities to include bluegrass. 

Key Features

What are the key features that give bluegrass banjo that sound, a sound that resembles almost nothing else in music? What materials should the banjo be made out of? How many strings should your banjo have?

Resonator/Tone Ring

Two of the most important and defining features of a banjo that has been built for bluegrass are the tone ring and the resonator. 

The tone ring gives the banjo a rich tone, brightening up the sound of the instrument. It can be made of wood or metal, but regardless of the construction material, it’s generally preferred by bluegrass banjo players to have this brighter tone. 

A banjo may or may not have a resonator, but if you plan to play bluegrass, you should definitely select an instrument that has one. 

A resonator is at the back of the banjo, and adds a considerable amount of volume and brightness of tone to the overall sound of the instrument. 

Bluegrass banjo players almost always choose instruments that have both a tone ring and a resonator, two key features necessary to give the instrument the tonal qualities and volume needed for the distinct sound of bluegrass music.

Deering is a popular American banjo manufacturer which is well known for making high quality instruments with tone rings and resonators which are well suited to bluegrass music.

Quality/Material

Aside from the tone ring being made of wood or metal and ensuring the banjo has a resonator, the rest of the materials used to make the banjo are not critical to affecting the sound as far as bluegrass is concerned. 

It is important to choose an instrument made from good quality materials though, as you’ll want the banjo to last many years, and you’ll want it to continue to be playable throughout those years. 

There are some great entry level models available from domestic manufacturers, but be wary of really low end inexpensive brands. 

Price

You may find playing a cheap instrument to be more frustrating than it is fun, and a poor quality banjo may not last very long, which could make the savings on the price not worthwhile at all.  

Be selective when shopping, try many different models, and don’t settle for a less expensive model just to save a few dollars because it will cost you in the long run.

Strings

The last factor in selecting a banjo built for bluegrass music is the number of strings

Some banjos have only four strings, and some have five. It is the five string banjo that is most commonly used for bluegrass. 

The additional fifth string, which is shorter than the rest, is essential to this style of music. Listen to a few bluegrass recordings, and you’ll hear the fifth string being played as a drone. 

During bluegrass rolls, you’ll hear this happening. 

This extra string most often connects to a tuning key at the fifth fret of the instrument, and is the same gauge as the first string. 

Since this string is shorter, it can be tuned to a higher pitch, and when you listen to bluegrass, you realize that this string is necessary in order to be able to play in this style of music.

Conclusion

The selection of a musical instrument is always very exciting, and is of course at the discretion of the musician, but anyone interested in learning the banjo for the purposes of playing bluegrass music would be wise to consider the qualities mentioned in this article.

Namely having a resonator and tone ring, ensuring the quality of the materials and construction are sound, and most definitely ensuring the instrument has a fifth string for droning during bluegrass rolls. 

Once you have your banjo, there are some great resources available on the internet to get you started on learning this classic country style, started in Appalachia in the 1940’s, and is now loved around the world for it’s off beat, fast paced unique sound, famous for incredibly fast fingered musicians and unusual chord changes.

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