There are couple of things together quintessentially American together the photo of a player sit in a rocking chair ~ above the front porch strumming on a banjo. One of the vital instrumental voices in American bluegrass, country, dixieland jazz, and folk music, the banjo is numerous fun to play, and also mastering it can offer a life time of satisfaction. The bright and articulate tone is reasonably easy come produce, and also the banjo’s percussive rhythms add bounce and also drive to plenty of different music styles. In its contemporary form, a instance can it is in made the the banjo is amongst the few musical instruments that’s purely American-bred.

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Artists such as Béla Fleck have actually taken the banjo far past its musical roots by utilizing it in classical, jazz, and fusion contexts. Contemporary acts consisting of Mumford and Sons, The Carolina coco Drops, and also The Avett Brothers have helped rekindle attention in play banjo among younger players. Wherein it was once thought of together a strictly hillbilly instrument, the banjo is enjoy it newfound popularity today.

In this buying guide we’ll go you with the basics the banjo history, assorted playing techniques, banjo species and your construction, and also the resources that will assist you obtain started playing banjo.

Table the Contents

How lot Should I figure on Paying?A Brief history of the BanjoBanjo playing TechniquesParts the the BanjoBanjo construction Methods and MaterialsAssessing a Banjo’s QualityModern Banjo TypesModern 5-String BanjosModern 4-String, 6-String, and also Hybrid BanjosBanjo AccessoriesGetting began Playing the BanjoSumming Up

How lot Should I figure on Paying?

As with many things, you gain what you pay for. You’ll discover no-frills, mass-produced student banjos that are made in Asia and priced from approximately $150 come hand-crafted professional instruments through deluxe appointments and the highest grade materials that bring serious price tags. In between those extremes space dozens of moderately priced banjos, many of which are an extremely playable and also tonally satisfying. Even the lowest-priced models room usually quite playable and offer the student with minimal funds a worthy arrival to play the banjo. Exactly how much you should pay is a duty of her budget, her commitment come mastering the banjo, the kind of music you want to play, and also your desire for details features. Together a general preeminence of thumb, to buy the ideal banjo her budget enables to get the best mix of playability, appearance, and also sound.

Reading reviews by both experts and fellow client on Musician’s Friend’s website can assist narrow your choices.

Check out the huge selection of banjos in ~ Musician’s Friend.

The Banjo—A brief History

The beginnings of the banjo as we know it are unclear. It has actually some resemblance to West African tools such as the kora v its plucked strings and also skin head extended on a gourd body. However unlike the banjo, the kora has a rod neck and metal loops that function similarly to frets.

The more quickly banjo-like tools to rotate up in the Americas likewise used a gourd because that a body, pet skin because that a resonator, and also a an easy stick neck. They had various number of strings that usually included one that developed a drone.

By the 17th century at an early stage prototypes the the contemporary banjo starting appearing in the Caribbean. These tools with their fingerboards and tuning pegs confirmed the affect of various other western stringed instruments.

These faster versions that the modern banjo were played through slaves, and it wasn’t until the 1830s that a white Virginian minstrel musician, Joel walker Sweeney, took up the instrument. His banjo had four full-length strings, a shorter fifth drone string, and had a drumhead-like body. The banjo soon developed an audience ~ above both sides of the Atlantic together Sweeney took his minstrel act come England whereby his banjo ended up being a staple of music-hall instrumentation.

The banjo enjoyed ongoing popularity beyond the minstrel era largely thanks to Charlie Poole and also his trio, the north Carolina Ramblers. As the an outcome of a baseball injury come his hand, Poole embraced a three-finger picking technique that’s come to be known as classic or finger-style banjo. With their bluesy fiddle and also melodic and intricate guitar and also banjo parts, the Ramblers and also their popular 1920s records came to be a prototype for modern-day bluegrass. Influenced by Poole’s technique, other North Carolinian Earl Scruggs, the banjo player in invoice Monroe’s groundbreaking Blue Grass Boys, identified the sound of contemporary bluegrass banjo in the 1940s.

As miscellaneous banjo playing approaches evolved, new forms of the instrument were occurred as fine see.

Banjo play Techniques

The earliest layout of playing banjo, and still an essential one, is called the clawhammer technique. The name comes from the clawlike positioning of the hand, and most contemporary playing styles prospered out that it. Clawhammer requires striking the 4 main strings in a downward motion using the table of contents or center fingernail. Simultaneously, the much shorter fifth drone cable is played with the thumb using a lifting motion. Complicated melodies deserve to be played v the addition of techniques such as “drop thumb” and “double thumbing”.

While clawhammer is mainly aimed at producing driving rhythms, variations of the technique allow the player come sound single-string melodic notes, strum harmonic chords, and also produce every sorts that percussive effects on the banjo’s head. A whole variety of brushing and also picking impacts gives the banjo the capability to play a command instrument role, quite than simply being one accompaniment to other instruments.

Traditional Appalachian banjo affiliated a style called two finger up-pick. As listed above, banjo player Earl Scruggs refined and also popularized a three-finger format that has become the communication for modern bluegrass banjo technique, and is regularly referred to as “Scruggs style.” Even people uninterested in bluegrass ended up being familiar v the fast, very arpeggiated style Scruggs arisen thanks to his “The Ballad the Jed Clampett,” the theme track for TV’s "The Beverly Hillbillies."

There are a variety of other bluegrass playing formats that have been popularized by the banjo players for whom they’re named. Keith style, called for invoice Keith emphasizes melodic figures. Reno layout is a three-finger technique with considerable single-string choose that’s named for Don Reno. As with Scruggs style, they’re played using finger picks and also all such styles feature rolls—repeated trends of eighth note that are played in eight-note patterns while the player’s left hand chords. By differing the rolls transparent a song, the banjo helps to produce rhythms that work within the overriding beat to protect against bluegrass from sounding mechanistic.

Parts of the Banjo


For purposes of illustration, we’ve provided a modern five-string banjo.

Banjo construction Methods and also Materials

As you can see indigenous the over diagram, a many parts walk into building a banjo. We’ll focus on the most far-reaching components here.

Peghead/tuners » also called the headstock or simply the head, the peghead is wherein the strings connect to the tuners. Deluxe banjos often have elaborately inlaid decorations ~ above the peghead. The tuners, also called tuning pegs or tuning machines, may have actually planetary gears or be of the friction-peg type. Some players feeling the planetary-gear tuners often tend to be an ext reliable.

Neck/fingerboard » Most frequently made of maple, the neck usually includes a steel truss stick that enables adjustments come intonation and also provides rigidity. Better-quality banjos usually have actually necks made with a solitary piece of hardwood while an ext affordable models may have actually a laminated neck make of several glued pieces. The fingerboard is glued come the neck and holds the frets that space pressed right into place. Fingerboards space usually make of ebony ~ above better-quality instruments, or maple. Higher-end banjos often have inlaid design in the fretboard that offer as both decoration and also position markers.

Nut » do of bone, hard plastic, or wood, it’s placed at the base of the peghead and also has slots through which the strings space routed down the fretboard. It works in conjunction with the tailpiece to organize the strings in place.

Rim » The hoop the encircles the banjo’s human body or “pot,” modern rims are usually do of many plies that maple or comparable woods. Larger banjos may have metal rims. Along with the tone ring, the rim has a far-reaching influence on the volume and quality of the banjo’s sound.

Tone Ring » Positioned above the rim and also below the head, that affects the banjo’s tonal selection and dynamics.

Head/Bridge » contemporary players greatly use mylar heads that resemble drumheads and also are impervious come weather and humidity changes. A couple of players like calfskin because that its mellower sound. Once banjo strings room plucked, the vibration is sent v the bridge to the head, which in turn causes the rim and also tone ring to vibrate, developing the banjo’s sound. The head’s thickness is an additional influence on the banjo’s in its entirety tone. The leg is make of wood and also sits top top the head. Similarly to violin bridges, the banjo bridge “floats,” held in place by the strings’ tension. The bridge’s height is one further aspect in creating the banjo’s tone through heavier, denser bridges generally creating a sweeter sound.

Resonator » As provided below, not all banjos are equipped through this metal plate that’s mounted to the back of the banjo and also projects sound forward.

Tailpiece » it holds the strings in place and also under tension. Ideally the tailpiece need to be adjustable to tweak the sound the the instrument, and be vibration-resistant so together avoid adding ringing tones to the banjo’s output.

Assessing a Banjo’s Quality

Even a newbie have the right to make some judgments about a prospective banjo.

Test the action by pressing down on each string follow me the size of the fingerboard. The strings need to make contact with the frets easily without hurting her fingers.

Strum and pluck the strings individually and also together. The sound should be pleasant and clear without buzzes or rattles.

Tuners should have their instrument enclosed and also operate smoothly. Top top 5-string banjos, a geared 5th-string tuner is preferred by many players together friction-based tuning pegs might not host their song as well.

The existence of a tone ring shows a better-quality instrument.

Modern Banjo Types

Today you’ll discover 4-, 5- and 6-string banjos and less typical forms prefer the 12-string and fretless banjos. The said, the modern successor to Sweeney’s 5-string banjo is by far the many popular type today.

There room both open-back and resonator-equipped version of most of the more common banjo types. Resonator banjos have actually a plate it is fastened come the ago of the body, or the “pot” as it occasionally called. This resonator plate’s purpose is to assist project the banjo’s sound forward, giving the instrument an ext volume and punch in ensemble settings. It is therefore that many bluegrass musicians, and also many other banjoists opt for resonator-equipped banjos.

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Open-back banjos create a softer, mellower sound and work well in quieter settings. Because of their less facility construction they weigh less and also often cost less than their resonator-equipped counterparts. Open-back 5-string banjos are popular with fans of American old-time music, and are commonly played making use of variations of the clawhammer technique.