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How to Buy a Banjo for Beginners

Snehal Motkar May 12, 2019
So, you have decided to learn how to play a banjo but, do not know what to look for while buying your first one? Here is a write-up telling you, how to buy a banjo for beginners.
What made you choose a banjo as your favorite instrument? Is it the pleasant music it creates or the types of banjos available? Actually, both these aspects are equally important when it comes to a banjo. So, let us learn something about the instrument before looking at its features, that will be helpful to you in choosing your first banjo.
There are several theories about the name of the instrument. Some theories say that the name 'banjo' originated from the name of a music professor, Steven Banjo whereas other theories say the name may have come from the Senegambian term for a bamboo stick that is used for the instrument's neck.
Moreover, this instrument is associated and greatly influenced by the Africans. The instrument occupied a central place in African traditional music and still plays a major part in classical, folk and country music.
Now, after learning about the background of the banjo we will study the features of this instrument which will help you in selecting the most suitable one for you as a beginner.

Tips to Buy Your First Banjo

As you are about to buy your first banjo, you need to be very careful about the types available, their sizes and features, quality and overall sound effect. In the next section, we will explore these factors in detail to enable you to buy a perfect instrument for yourself.

Size

The size of the banjo will be different for a child and an adult. A child below 10 years will need a small or child-sized banjo as it will be convenient to hold and play. All other beginners can have an adult-sized banjo. Beginner banjos are available in both right and left-handed models so there is no need to adjust to the one that is not suitable for you.

Types and their Features

Selection of a right type of banjo will be dependent on the kind of music that you want to play on the instrument. There are different types of banjos designed for specific music styles.
  • Tenor Banjo (4 string) : Dixieland Jazz, Irish Folk and Big Band
  • Plectrum Banjo (4 string) : Plectrum music style
  • 5 string Banjo : Clawhammer/ Old Timey Style - 2 fingered style
  • 5 string Banjo : Bluegrass - 3 fingered style
You may have noticed that there are two types of each banjo. The first type of 4 string Tenor banjo comes in 17 or 19 frets whereas 4 string Plectrum banjo has 22 frets. When we consider the 5 string Clawhammer banjo, it is without a resonator and the Bluegrass has the resonator.
Another type that is not mentioned earlier is the 6 string banjo which is equal to a guitar. It is tuned like a guitar and also played like a guitar. It is more suitable for one who knows how to play a guitar, but wants it to sound like a banjo.

Quality

This is the most important factor to be considered when buying a beginner's banjo. Quality includes the basic construction and set up of the instrument. You must have an idea about the construction before you buy the product. There are four basic models of banjo:
  • Aluminum Construction - It is the best model to produce a loud and crisp sound and a perfect overall tone and volume. The flange, rim and tone ring are made of cast iron and they are combined into one part. It is affordable if you cannot buy a banjo with a separate tone ring.
  • Wood Rim with no Tone Ring - It is not a very good choice neither for amateurs nor for professional banjo players. It does not have a tone ring which is the most important part of a banjo. It is least expensive as well as least pleasing sound producer.
  • Wood Rim with small Tone Ring- This type is supposed to be the ideal banjo for beginners as it has the small brass tone ring which produces the desired crisp and loud sound. It is worth investing for this type as it gives you a lot against your expense.
  • Heavy Wood Rim with Regular Tone Ring - As the name suggests, this is the heaviest of all types of banjos and is mostly used by professionals. It has a large brass tone ring which produces great volume. There is also an alloy tone ring pattern in this type but, it is not much preferred.

Tone and Overall Sound Effect

It is very important to consider the tuning of the instrument from the beginning, because what you play and hear initially will form the foundation of the instrument's tone.
If you buy a banjo that has a cheap tone and a cheap sound effect it will affect your sense of hearing and you won't enjoy the real good tone and sound of it. A cheap instrument will be difficult to tune and to maintain the tuning for long.
Hopefully, this information has given you a fair idea about the important factors to be taken into consideration while buying a beginner's banjo and you can get ready to learn how to play the banjo. Do not think much about the budget because if you compromise at the initial level you won't achieve success. So, take the correct first step, and progress.