In this article you will find a list of some of the best clawhammer banjos that are currently on the market today and an in-depth review for each instrument.
Whether you’re just starting out or looking to upgrade your current instrument, there’s something for everyone here!
Now let’s get to it and diver deeper into the details and learn a bit more about these banjos and what you need to look for to get the best one for you.
5 Best Clawhammer Banjos
#1 Best Overall – Deering Goodtime 5-String Banjo
When you want to have the assurance that you are truly getting top of the line in regard to a new banjo that is perfect for the clawhammer style of playing, then you will be highly pleased with the reliable and top quality Deering Goodtime 5-String Banjo.
This banjo is crafted of beautiful curly maple that is finely finished with a walnut stain that is undeniably luxurious.
This banjo is further regarded as having distinctive white binding that is accompanied with trim that is black and white. The fingerboard is done in top quality ebony.
Many musicians appreciate the slenderness of the neck for easy playing.
This fine Deering Goodtime 5-String Banjo comes with twenty-two frets that are crafted from a combination of nickel and silver.
The truss rod is adjustable for ultra convenience.The brass notched tension hoop allows for exquisite sound when you play your favorite songs.
The vintage satin finish adds to the elegance of this wonderful banjo that you will surely enjoy playing for a long period of time.
#2 Best Budget Option – Rover RB-20 Open Back 5 String Banjo
If you’re on a budget but still want rock solid sound then the Rover RB-20 is for you.
The Rover is a relatively slim banjo. The inlays are crafted of reliable acrylic that will not easily crack or break.
This 22 fret open back banjo is made with a beautiful mahogany neck and rosewood fingerboard.
Extra solidarity you crave in the neck of the banjo that offers a better grip during playing time.
Indeed, this is an impressive style banjo that is great for people on a budget but still want a great sounding banjo.
The good news is that this banjo offers you amazing projection for the sound that it puts forth as you play.
#3 Best Value – Kmise 5-String Banjo
The Kmise 5 string banjo is for people who are on a budget but still want a good quality banjo with all the accessories you will possibly need. This is a full size banjo coming in at 39 inches and comes with 18 brackets, 15.1 tuning pegs and stainless steel strings.
This banjo also come with an extra set of strings, banjo strap, gig bag, polishing equipment, tuning wrenches, picks of course but the big value is in the digital clip-on tuner that comes with it.
This banjo is definitely one to consider if you really want to start learning and is a good clawhammer starter.
The Goodtime Americana is a wonderful quality banjo that has five strings. It is fitted with a grand rim of twelve inches.
This results in the banjo providing a richer tone and a bass response that is stronger.
It provides real warmth for the music you love to play. In addition, the twelve inch renaissance head truly complements the banjo both in appearance and in sound.
This is a top quality banjo that is proudly made in America.
You can have real assurance that this banjo is crafted with the philosophy of providing the best value. This banjo is blond in color and provides a distinct elegance in appearance.
The amazing thing is that this banjo comes with tuners that are done in guitar style for optimal tuning every time. This provides you with the guarantee that your banjo will play great music every time.
The neck of the banjo is crafted with top quality rock maple. The hardware has solid nickel plating. In addition, the inlays are pleasingly made of hardwood that is durable.
The neck is slender to allow for a good grasp and comfortable playing.
This banjo comes with twenty two frets to allow for many different note options for all those wonderful songs you are eager to play on your new Goodtime Americana banjo.
The Oscar Schmidt OB3-O-U is one of the best mid level clawhammer banjos. The price ranges well within the budget option and the best overall Deering banjos but has all the benefits from each.
Lower cost with most of the high quality features. With a choice of Ovankol or Rosewood fretboards you can’t go wrong. It comes with 18 brackets of course and is super lightweight.
This 5-string open back banjo is great but you may want to go the cheap route or just go all in on the best.
Buying Guide: What Makes a Good Clawhammer Banjo
Clawhammer banjo tunes have a unique sound all on their own, and this distinct sounding character is a result of a couple of different factors.
The first is of course the style of musicianship, which can include the rhythms and plucking style.
The second, and perhaps slightly less important factor is the type of instrument used.
Clawhammer is very often played on banjos which lack a key part found more commonly on bluegrass instruments, namely the resonator.
We’ll take a closer look at what makes a good banjo specifically for the clawhammer playing style, and we’ll also find out what the difference is between open back banjos and resonator banjos.
Features To Consider
First things first, if you’re just starting out and you’re looking for your first banjo, you’re probably wondering how much money you should spend on an instrument so that you can start learning to play clawhammer style.
The truth is, much like other musical instruments, quality is a necessary consideration. You’ll want to find an instrument made from good quality materials, and you’ll want the craftsmanship to be of the highest caliber as well.
Since the sky’s the limit in terms of how much you can spend to get started playing clawhammer banjo, the best advice would be to spend as much as you can afford to on a new banjo.
Used banjos are a great way to save some of your budget and possibly get a more expensive instrument for a little bit less money, but you’ll want to know what you’re looking for, and only purchase an instrument that has been well cared for.
Next, the style of banjo played most commonly for clawhammer is an open backed banjo. The good news here is that without the resonator, open backed banjos tend to be slightly less expensive than resonator banjos.
This quality aside, you can play in the clawhammer style on both four and five string banjos, though five string instruments are most common, and if you go this route you’ll be able to play bluegrass as well.
Remember that no two types of banjo are ever really alike, and so you should take some time to explore the different options available to you to find the right fit for your playing style, whether you want to focus on bluegrass, clawhammer, or simply picking up some of the basics.
What’s the Difference Between Open Back Banjos and Resonator Banjos?
As previously mentioned, price is one of the differences most people notice immediately.
Resonator banjos tend to be more expensive, and this is because they have a resonator, which resembles a kind of wooden or metal bowl at the back of the body of the banjo, also known as the sound chamber.
This is commonly known as “the pot”. This directs the sound from the instrument outwards, towards the people you are playing for.
Given the fact that there is a significant additional physical part, resonator banjos tend to weigh more than open back banjos.
The result of this physical difference is an affect on the overall sound of the instrument.
Bluegrass players tend to prefer banjos with a resonator, since the sound is louder, and has the distinct twang associated with that type of music.
Clawhammer players tend to prefer open back banjos, since clawhammer is a style of play more commonly associated with being played alongside other instruments, meaning it doesn’t need the added loudness provided by a resonator.
The end result is of course the main difference between open back banjos and resonator Banjos, that being the overall sound and tonal qualities of the instrument.
Many beginner banjo players wonder if you can play in the clawhammer style on a resonator banjo, or even if you can play a bluegrass tune on an open backed banjo, and while you’re definitely able to, once you’ve acquired an ear for these two types of music you’ll probably find that the sound of open backed banjos is better suited to clawhammer.
Best Clawhammer Banjo Brands
Here is a list of some of the top brands in the Clawhammer, open back banjo market:
- Gold Tone
- Recording King
You’ll also find that resonator banjos are better suited to bluegrass, so you’ll want to give some consideration to the type of banjo you purchase.
Perhaps you’ll find yourself in the same situation as many banjo players before you, and start with one type of banjo for playing clawhammer, only to find yourself building a collection of instruments suited to both bluegrass and clawhammer.
Either way, you’ll have fun playing this amazing instrument!
Image from flickr creative commons Adrian Scottow