Buying your first bluegrass banjo


Q. What kind of banjo do I need? 

A. You need to get a five-string model, as opposed to one with four strings. It is simply not possible to play "Scruggs style" banjo with a four sting model.


Question: I want to buy my first bluegrass banjo to learn on. Do I need one with a resonator or tone ring?

    A. No, If you want to learn, get yourself a cheap banjo to start with. A resonator(the round wooden back that reflects the sound towards the audience)  and a heavy tone ring is not needed to start. In other words, you can learn on an inexpensive lower cost "open-back" banjo. Think about spending under $500 for your first banjo. 

What's most important at first is not how fancy or expensive the first banjo is but accepting the fact that in order to learn how to play you must practice every day if possible, for at least a half an hour. You do not need an expensive banjo to start. After a year or more of real picking, after you have made a real commitment to the instrument, then you can think about spending big bucks on a "good" banjo(now around $2000, or more). 

If you are looking around at new beginner models, consider a Deering "Goodtime" or Goldtone "Cripple Creek", or the  Recording King "Madison" all open-back banjos under $400. Go to

Make sure that whatever banjo you start out with is adjusted properly. Even high priced banjos can leave the manufacturer completely out of adjustment. Ask the person who is selling you the banjo to make sure it is set up before you receive it.


Q. Why are some 5-string banjos so heavy?

    A. A good bluegrass banjo has a brass or bronze "tone ring", over which is stretched the plastic "head". A good tone ring is very heavy, which accounts for the weight of the expensive banjos. 

Reputable on-line dealers of banjos include Turtle Hill Banjos, Janet Davis, Elderly Instruments, and Curtis McPeake.

Back to home page for learning Bluegrass Banjo 


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