Legend has it that Joel Sweeney used a cheese box for creating the drum-like resonating chamber for his banjo.
Although the banjo was initially used as a prop during minstrelsy performances, the instrument was popularized further by blackface minstrel entertainer, Joel Sweeney during the 1830s. The first shop-made banjos were made by William Esperance Boucher Jr. in around 1848 from Baltimore. Until 2010, Gibson was known as the premier manufacturer of banjos in America. However, Gibson ceased making banjos after their production facilities were destroyed in the May of 2010 flooding of the Cumberland River in Nashville. Fortunately, there is no dearth of quality banjo makers, and from the sound of things, their numbers are growing louder.
♫ Best Banjo Brands
1. OME Banjos
Chuck Ogsbury built the 'ODE', which went on to become a legend in itself. The ODE was the most popular banjo model during the folk revival era and helped influence several people to learn the banjo. Thereafter, he built the OME which was even better than its predecessors. The ODE line had expanded tremendously by 1962 and included 4-, 5-, and 6-string full resonator and open-back banjos. Today, OME continues to manufacture some of the best banjos in the world that are not only held in high regard but adored by their buyers.ø Some of their recent banjos include the Tupelo, Minstrel, Wizard, Flora, North Star, and Southern Cross Bluegrass banjo.
2. Deering Banjo Company
Founded in 1975 by husband and wife duo Greg and Janet Deering, the company is currently the largest manufacturer of banjos in America and the world. Several renowned artists such as Taylor Swift, Billy Lee Cox, Mumford & Sons, and Detroit Brooks are a few of the many loyal customers of the Deering heritage. Its subsidiary companies include Vega, Tenbrooks, and Goodtime banjos.ø Since the last 38 years, Deering has manufactured more than 95,000 banjos!
Epi Stathopoulo manufactured the Recording line of 'The House of Stathopoulo' banjos which sold for USD 125 way back in 1923. By 1927, the company's name had been changed to Epiphone, and banjos were being manufactured for big instrument distributors such as Continental Music Company and Conn-Selmer. Today, Epiphone continues to manufacture high-end banjos that are suited for the needs of both pros and amateurs.ø Epiphone was founded in 1873 and completed its 140th anniversary in 2013.
4. Washburn Guitars
Washburn has been manufacturing banjos since 1800s and has amassed immense respect in the music industry as well as among its huge fan base. The company was founded in 1883 and has since, created some of the best hand-crafted banjos in the world.ø Some of the banjos that Washburn continues to manufacture are B120, B17, B16, B14, B11, B9, B8K, B7, and B6.
Fender Musical Instruments Corporation, more commonly called Fender, has been around since 1946. Before discontinuing their banjo manufacture in the 1980s, Fender was revered for its Concert Tone and Artist Series of banjos. The Allegro, F series, and Leo banjos are considered as classic Fenders today and as collector's instruments. Fortunately, the company resumed manufacturing quality banjos during the late 1990s and came up with FB banjo series that is still in demand.ø Some Fender banjos include the FB-300 Banjo pack for beginners, FB-59, FB-58, FB-55, FB-54, Rustler 6-String, and Rustler Open Back.
6. Gold Tone
Gold Tone is owned and run by Wayne and Robyn Rogers, who founded the company in 1993. The growing demand of their TB-100 Travel Banjo and a favorable review by Banjo Newsletter helped bring the company to limelight. They are credited to have manufactured Gold Tone OT-6, the first true 6-string banjo in over a century. The Gold Tone CEB 5, a 14-inch rim cello banjo was their most successful instrument in 2010.ø Artists such as Béla Fleck, Abigail Washburn, Tony Trischka, and Ricky Skaggs are some of the artists who use the CEB 5.
7. Nechville Musical Products
Nechville Musical Products was founded in the mid-1980s and has since become one of the leading banjo manufacturers in the world. They own the patent for Heli-Mount banjos and have come up with their radical Nechville Flex-Tone banjos that combine the mechanism of the ancient hook and nut banjo pot with an adjustable Nechville neck. The 'Flux Capacitor' neck connection used in the Flex-Tone has been patented by Nechville.ø Alison Brown, Keith Urban, Dixie Chicks, Lady Antebellum, Luke Bryan, Big & Rich, Springsteen's band, and Steve Martin are some of the artists who play Nechville banjos.
8. Stelling Banjo Works
The founder Geoff Stelling has been making improvements in the banjo since 1959. However, it was only in 1974 that Stelling Banjo Works started their banjo manufacturing business. The company is known for its innovative patent design; the wedge-fitted pot which ensured that the tone ring and power did not change because of humidity or temperature variations. Stelling banjos are also popular because of their distinct adjustable pivot-pin tail piece for the strings and Stelling bridge.ø Some Stelling banjos include the Staghorn, Bellflower, Crusader, Golden Cross, Master's Cross, Master Flower, Red Fox, Sunflower, SwallowTail, and Virginian.
9. Sullivan Banjo
The lack of music stores in the late 1960s forced Bill Sullivan to make his own banjo so that he could try his hand at learning this instrument. Thereafter, orders began pouring in from others who wanted replacement parts for their Mastertone-style banjos because they didn't know where or who else to approach. He started his company, 'First Quality Banjo' in 1970 and gradually built his catalog. It was much later, in 2000, that the Sullivan Banjo Company was started with the aim of building their own line of American-made banjos.ø Some of the banjos that are part of their Classic series include Sullivan Greenbrier, Bardstown, and Radcliff. Their historic series has the Vintage-35 which can be found in maple, mahogany, and walnut.
10. Huber Banjos
The founder of the exclusive banjo-only manufacturing company, Steve Huber started off by making the Huber Vintage Flathead tone ring banjo. He founded his company in 2001, where he started building banjos and tone rings. As word spread about the high quality and tone of the Huber banjos, both professional players and amateur artists began sending in their orders. Huber banjos are perhaps the best option for those who wish to compose and play on vintage prewar style banjos.ø The Huber Series of banjos include the Lancaster, The Berkshire, Kalamazoo, The Roanoke, and The Lexington.