What is a banjo
Like a guitar, a banjo is a plucked string musical instrument. Both share almost the same parts, except for some elements that come in smaller quantities or are made of different materials.
One example is the soundboard, which in the banyo combines metals, PET patches and woods. The guitar, on the other hand, uses only wood. Likewise, while a guitar has six strings, the banjo can have six, five, four or ten.
In addition, in five-string models, one of the strings is shorter than the rest, usually the fifth string. These are made of metal, as in acoustic or electro-acoustic guitars.
History and evolution of the banjo
The banjo is a young musical instrument compared to the rest of plucked strings, and its origin dates back to the African-American culture in the United States of America. During the 19th century, African-American musicians experimented with harmonic and rhythmic functions that led to the creation of modern bluegrass.
The most significant stages in the history of the banjo are:
- 1880 – 1890: dixieland adopts the bass as a basic melodic instrument for all its compositions.
- First decade of the 20th century: it no longer has a hollow bottom and a wooden resonator is incorporated. This way you have more volume, sustain and reverb.
- 1910: it becomes the ideal instrument to develop bluegrass.
- 1930 – 1940: several luthiers experiment with four and six string banjos, as well as with different types of materials and woods to diversify the sound.
- From 1950: it becomes part of American folklore, especially in the states of Mississippi, Arizona, Appalachia, New Jersey, Virginia, Louisiana, Missouri, Indiana, North Dakota and South Dakota.
- Béla Fleck: this stage was the one that culminated in projecting the banjo as an instrument in almost every corner of the world. The important banjoist Béla Fleck and his band, including bassist Victor Wooten, were responsible for spreading banjo music as a melodic base and bringing the instrument to an increasingly younger audience.
Parts of the banjo
The banjo is considered the “Frankenstein” of musical instruments, because it's made up of an almost unthinkable variety of parts that belong to other musical instruments. It turns out to be an interesting mix between acoustic drum roll and guitar arm. And it's thanks to this combination that it has become one of the most important folk instruments of the present century.
Its parts are grouped into two main areas: the body and the arm.
- Harmonic top: it's like the typical drumhead of an acoustic drum kit and, in fact, the most used ones are manufactured by REMO. This part is in charge of creating the fundamental resonance cushion for the characteristic sound of the banjo.
- Shell: this is a hoop like the shell of a drum kit and even allows the drum head to be adjusted by means of tensioners that are tightened or loosened with a wrench similar to the one used to tune an acoustic drum kit.
- Saddle/bridge: like that of a guitar, this piece holds the strings on the top of the soundboard. At the same time it allows to adjust the distance for the correct harmonization of the musical notes.
- Tone ring: it has a rounded shape and can be made of metal or some type of wood.
- Back: it's the only part of the openback banjo and it's the one that gives the most traditional sound of this instrument.
- Tailpiece: it's the piece that holds the strings at their lower end.
Basically, its body is like a typical piccolo snare drum of an acoustic drum kit. The difference is that the banjo may or may not have a lid on the back.
This part is the most similar to a guitar or bass, as it consists of the following parts:
- Mast: it's the main part of the arm that allows to join all its parts with the body.
- Fingerboard: consists of a piece of wood that is the basis for the fingering and to obtain the notes.
- Frets: are the metal bars that divide the fingerboard to achieve the musical notes and scales.
- Shovel: this is the wooden base where the tuning pegs are contained.
- Headstock: these are the tuning keys where the strings are adjusted to reach the desired musical notes.
- Web rod: consists of a steel bar that runs through the mast to prevent the mast from bending. In many cases, it's also used to adjust, so that the height and curvature relationship with respect to the strings is ideal.
The tuning of the banyo will always depend on three factors: 1. the type, 2. the number of strings and 3. the interpreter's preferences. However, some of these tunings are as follows:
- Tenor type: tuned in the notes C, G, D, A. It's the most used for jazz compositions.
- G, D, A, E: this banjo tuning is part of Irish folk songs.
- D, B, G, C: widely used for tonic, subdominant, relative minor and seventh progression compositions.
- re, si, sol, re: it's widely used for tonic, relative minor, subdominant interpretations.
- A, D, G, C: it's used in treble clef for pieces in G major and thus facilitates the realization of the arpeggios in the air.
- re, si, sol, si: it's one of the most used tunings to play pieces in re major. This is because it facilitates the realization of arpeggios and chords that have a harmonic base progression.
- mi, si, sol, re: usually used for compositions whose tonic is the harmonic base of G major.
- F#, B, E, A: generally used for performances with harmonic base in A major or its minor sixth which is F#.
- D, B, G, B, B, A: used for more complete counterpoint in the key of major and in harmonic function involving dominant.
- re, si, sol, re, sol: it offers wider counterpoints for the key of re and with harmonic function of tonic, minor sixth and subdominant.
- G, D, G, B, D: results in a tuning with greater extension to interpret pieces in G major and facilitates the harmonic progression in tonic, dominant, dominant seventh.
- G, C, G, G, B, D: this is more suitable for tonic, subdominant, seventh and dominant progressions. Specifically within the key of G major and E minor.
- A, F#, B, E, A: this is a more complete tuning for compositions in A major or its minor sixth F#.
- mi, la, re, re, sol, si, mi: just like the tuning of a guitar with six strings.
- la, re, sol, si, mi, la: it's equal to the tuning of a requinto.
- fa#5, fa#4, si5, si4, mi, la: not very popular because it limits the banjo harmonically.
Because of the wide variety of tunings that exist, concert players often have more than one banjo on stage. In this way, they overcome the time constraints involved in constantly changing the tuning.
Types of banjo
This instrument can be classified according to the body and the number of strings. According to the characteristics of the body, it can be:
- Openback: this means that there is no cover on the bottom of the soundboard. It's most commonly used for traditional dixieland compositions and styles originating in Louisiana and Mississippi.
- Closeback: refers to the fact that it has a lid at the bottom. It's the most used in modern and fusion music.
Another way to classify it is according to the number of strings:
- Four: within this group are the tenor banjo, plectrum and double bass. These are the most commonly used in the folk music of the southern United States.
- Five: it's the most used in modern music. Banjos with five strings are the resonator, the openback and the long-neck, the latter being the least popular.
- Six: these have the same classification as the five-stringed ones.
There are not many novel techniques that differentiate it from other instruments such as the guitar. It's true that with the banyo many counterpoint possibilities have been explored, but it's also true that in the guitar and any other instrument these harmonic and melodic progressions have already been reached.
That is why, basically, the technical difficulty of this instrument is not in the techniques you must learn, but in the constant speed that the arpeggios maintain. Some of the most commonly used banjo techniques are:
- Arpeggio: this is the basis of almost everything played on this great instrument. The difference between this arpeggio and the guitar is the speed and the use of the fingers. In the guitar, progressions such as thumb, index, middle and ring are used. On the banjo the ring finger is omitted while the speed is a constant, which would be quite difficult for guitarists of any level. However, the omission of the ring finger is present in the four and five string banjos, but in the six and ten string banjos this finger is used.
- Slide: this is a technique widely used in all plucked string instruments. It consists of sliding the finger over a given fret to start from a base note to a higher or lower note, as required. It's called slide when it goes to a higher note, while it's called slide glissando when it goes to a lower note.
- Dumping: one of the most popular forms of accompaniment on the banjo. The idea is to accompany melodically and based on a basic chord progression. But following a meter shape or with accentuation like doing a 2/4, even if you are in a 4/4.
- Pull off: well known by guitarists and bassists, it's a technique that is performed with the fretboard hand. It consists of pulling the string on a given note to let an earlier or lower note sound.
- Frailing: this is a complicated move for guitarists with no previous banjo experience. It consists of three movements with the right hand if you are right-handed. The first is with the index finger striking downward on a string. The second movement is a descending rasgueado with the middle, ring and little fingers. For the third is to press with the thumb on the fourth or fifth upper string of the banjo.
However, it's important to remember that the player of this instrument does not use his own fingernails but steel plectrums on the arpeggio fingers. These are placed as prostheses to make the sound more powerful and traditional.
Best banjo brands
- Harley Benton: this is one of the brands created by Thomann to build good quality instruments but intended for beginner musicians, so they are very affordable.
- Dean: this is a brand that specializes in the manufacture of guitars but has an excellent selection for banjos.
- Recording King: is an American brand that specializes in the manufacture of stringed instruments. Their banjos are excellent and enjoy great acceptance.
- Deering: another U.S. company that has some of the best banyo models on the market. Among its ambassadors are many of the world's best players, such as Béla Fleck.
- Gold Tone: after Deering, this is perhaps the second best banjo brand in the world. Their instruments are not the cheapest, but they are the best sounding.
- Fender: this company has a tradition of excellence in the manufacture of guitars but also has some wonderful banjos.
- Gibson: is another specialist in guitars and with great banjos.
- OME: if any brand offers unique banjos, it's OME. Its products have an innovative construction and excellent finishes.
- Morgan Monroe: offers a mid-range selection but with many high-end features.
- Stelling: is a company that has good banjo-playing ambassadors. Their electro-acoustic models are some of the best we can find on the market.
- Orpheum: this company gives a lot to talk about because their models for beginners are excellent. But they are also expensive, not to mention the middle and high ranges.
Great banjo players
Thanks to the popularity that this instrument has acquired, today we can find an impressive number of interpreters who are excellent and worth listening to. Some of them are:
- Béla Fleck: we must admit that we have a preference for this banyist, as he has an excellent balance between interpretation and composition. His work with the band Béla Fleck and the Fleckstone has catapulted this instrument to almost every corner of the world.
- Peter Seeger: he was one of the great promoters of American folk music and also of the defense of human rights. Although he played many traditional instruments, he was phenomenal on the banjo and his compositions have a richly nuanced harmonic structure.
- June Madrona: with this performer, music never stops evolving and the banjo is one of the means to express it. His works are a blend of tradition and modernism that you will undoubtedly enjoy.
- Dock Doggs: his influence lasts through the ages thanks to a rich technique and impressive speed. Among his most important contributions is the dissemination of traditional Appalachian music and African-American blues.
- Sufjan Stevens: he is one of the great banjo players and his unique style has led him to successfully try his hand at electronic music. Undoubtedly, it's quite a feast to listen to his compositions.
- Abigail Washburn: her music and interpretation are beautiful. She has a fresh style and rich harmonies.
- Jordan O'Jordan: is an important composer and bass player who enjoys great recognition thanks to his total mastery of the banjo technique.
- Tony Trischcka: is one of the most important banyologists of our time. His style is traditional and focused on bluegrass.
- Alison Brown: she is often compared to Béla Fleck as her style is dynamic and unique. She is undoubtedly one of the best of our time.
- Harley Benton BJO-35Pro 5 String Banjo OB
- Harley Benton BJ-65Pro 6 String Banjo
- Harley Benton BJU-15Pro Banjo Ukulele
The best banjos for beginners
In this section, we will explore three options for beginners that you will surely love. Not only do these banjos have excellent construction, but their sound ranges from acceptable to great, and they have great value for money.
Harley Benton BJO-35Pro 5 String Banjo OB
Inexpensive and has an excellent construction.
The sustain is not very good. The strings leave much to be desired.
- Materials: maple, nato, granadillo, mahogany, steel, chrome, PET.
- Sound: 7/10 .
- Type: openback.
- Number of strings: 5.
- Scale: 67 cm.
- Weight: approximately 4 kg.
Harley Benton does justice to its commitment to offer good quality products for beginner musicians. The BJO – 35Pro has several excellent features that we will describe in this review.
Four types of wood are used in this banjo: maple and mahogany for the soundboard, nato for the neck and grenadilla for the fingerboard. These materials offer excellent resistance to breakage. However, maple and mahogany are laminated, so they are more elastic than the other woods, although they offer less acoustic quality than nato and granadilla.
Now, the shell or hoop and the support rod for the case are made of stainless steel. This seems to us to be an excellent option since this part suffers a lot from stress and tends to bend easily when it's made of common iron. Also, we found that the tensioning screws are made of chrome, a fairly good material. But if you don't maintain them properly, the screws will seize up because chrome gets more dirt and grease from your hands than stainless steel.
Finally, the resonator patch is made of white PET, which has an excellent expansion coefficient. This will be quite useful when the student is learning tuning, because the material withstands great stresses and doesn't tend to break easily.
We find it rather curious that the company classifies it as a bluegrass banjo. The banjo case is open back, which is contradictory because the ideal bluegrass banjo is a resonator or close back with a closed case. It has also been conceived as a five-string banjo.
As far as the scale is concerned, it's 67 cm long, the standard for five-string banjos. The nut width is 32 mm and the fingerboard has 22 frets in total. The string height is 3.8 mm, which produces a slightly tense feel, but can be considered normal for this type of instrument.
For the hull or hoop part, a diameter of 35 cm has been used and it has 18 tensioners that allow tuning with medium tension. At the same time, the company created a partnership with the manufacturer Remo to integrate a low-end Weatherking series resonator.
Finally, the tuning pegs are from the Deluxe series and users have reported that they respond very well in holding the tuning for quite some time.
There is quite a lot to say about the sound. In terms of volume, it's powerful, and has enormous projection. The open back type case usually limits this factor, but Harley Benton has been able to overcome it thanks to the quality of the Remo patch.
However, the sustain is average and leaves something to be desired due to the four-ply laminated maple body. This type of material is rubberized and the glue prevents the sound from being retained for a longer period of time. Nevertheless, the reverb is of acceptable quality and is what is most appreciated in this model.
Another element that contributes to a stable sound with good harmonics is the REMO drumhead. If you tune it with a high tension it will offer an acceptable sound. What we don't like are the strings because they sound more tense than they should. That is why we recommend replacing them with higher quality, medium tension strings, such as Elixir Polyweb 010.
We believe this is one of the best options in banjos for beginners because the value for money is very good. However, it doesn't offer the best sound and the deficiency in sustain can be uncomfortable for professional musicians. However, this is a banjo for beginners, and for that it's perfectly adequate. Find the best price at Thomann.
Another good option is the Harley Benton BJ-55Pro 5 String Banjo, which differs from the BJO – 35Pro because the former has a close back box. The body is all mahogany and has 24 tension screws. This makes sustain problems disappear and results in a better sound for bluegrass.
Harley Benton BJ-65Pro 6 String Banjo
Solid woods. Excellent sound for its price range.
- Materials: maple, nato, granadillo, PET, steel, chrome, graphite.
- Sound: 9/10 .
- Type: resonator or close back.
- Number of strings: 6.
- Scale: 67.5 cm
- Weight: approximately 4.3 kg.
This Harley Benton banjo exceeds our expectations because its features are excellent. Both its extension, as well as the woods used for its construction, do a great job to result in a sound that complies with the model.
This instrument uses maple, nato and granadilla woods, all of them solid and class AA. The body is made of maple and, being solid, its mechanical characteristics are the best we can find in this range. Both in strength and elasticity, this wood offers this banjo an exceptional quality for the price.
The nato is a rarely used material and only Yamaha had taken advantage of its capabilities. But Thomann, through Harley Benton, found that this wood offers a strength close to ebony but with a different and better acoustic quality in certain respects.
Both the clamp and tensioning bolts are made of chrome instead of steel. As the hoop or shell is also made of chrome, its resistance is lower and it tends to bend when the proper tuning experience is not available. However, by having a white Remo PET patch, tuning will be gentler and easier to achieve.
This is a six-string banjo from the bluegrass series. Unlike the five-string Harley Benton dBJ-35Pro, this six-string does have a closeback soundboard and thus overcomes the weaknesses of its predecessor.
Aesthetically, there are several details that stand out, such as the mother-of-pearl heart inlays and an inlay on the headstock. In addition, the tuning pegs are Harley Benton's Deluxe series and feature 22 frets and 24 tensioning screws for tuning that will make the process easier, while adding the strength that is sacrificed with chrome shells.
The scale is 66.5 cm and the capo width is 4.3 cm. This makes the touch hard and the chords will not be easy for beginner musicians. However, this is a banjo for semi-professionals who want an inexpensive instrument with good quality and sound capabilities.
Finally, it has a graphite capo that causes a more natural vibration on the strings. While the saddle is a combination of maple and grenadilla (Pinus radiata), along with a gloss finish throughout the instrument.
Let's get to the sound, and the truth is a pleasant surprise for a banjo this affordable. The volume has a great balance throughout the entire length of the instrument and this makes the transition between the notes have a great balance between each one. This quality of volume produces an enveloping reverb that is enhanced by the sustain, which is sustained and allows you to enjoy the pleasant harmonics of this fine banjo.
Its six strings allow you to explore contrapuntal possibilities if you develop fast and audible arpeggios. Likewise, in the rasgueado you can find a great harmonic complement that is enriched by the natural harmonics of the instrument. In general terms, we can say that the sound of this instrument is round and each of its parts preserves a good sonorous balance.
Few inexpensive banjos are of such good quality and it's for this reason that we recommend it for beginner, intermediate and advanced players who want to buy a quality banjo for a low price. It really is a great choice because, with its six strings, you can explore your creativity and take advantage of it to create your own musical lines. Interested? Find the best prices at Thomann.
Harley Benton BJU-15Pro Banjo Ukulele
High quality construction and sound. Good feel.
The sound is slightly lower from the tenth fret onwards. The reverb is not the best.
- Materials: maple, granadillo, graphite, chrome, steel, PET, nylon.
- Sound: 9/10.
- Type: ukulele banjo.
- Number of strings: 4.
- Scale: 39.2 cm
- Weight: 1.6 kg
- The Harley Benton brand never ceases to surprise with its selection and this time offers a ukulele banjo that borders on excellent. Its sound capabilities are ample and it has a construction with some aesthetic details that we will discuss below.
- This banjolele has a maple wood construction for the body and neck. This material has a density of 630 kg/m3, which makes it a semi-rigid wood with a modulus of elasticity of 105,000 kg/cm2. The fingerboard is made of grenadillo (Pinus radiata), which has a hardness comparable to Indian rosewood. But its elasticity is higher, so it responds better to different sound frequencies.
- As for the hoop or hull, it's made of stainless steel for greater durability. Its tensioning screws are made of chrome to avoid jamming and reduce manufacturing costs. On the other hand, the capo is made of graphite, a somewhat fragile material but with an excellent sliding cover that benefits the vibration of the strings.
- It has four concert model nylon strings, which provides a pleasant design that also responds well to the touch. The box is of type close back, Its scale is 39.2 cm, while the nut width is 3.5 cm and it has 19 frets along the entire length of its fingerboard.
- The Harley Benton BJU-15Pro has a very pleasant feel that allows for gentle movements throughout its range of tessitura, which gives it a softness that is so desirable in full-size banjos but so hard to find. At the same time, it provides fast tuning because it's almost perfectly harmonized.
- As for the drumhead, it's a Remo Ambassador for banjo, which is 8 inches in diameter. It has ten tensioning screws and vintage-style chrome tuning pegs that respond very well to tuning, and a traditional dark natural wood finish with dotted inlays across the fingerboard. These inlays are especially for learners who still need to get used to the location of musical notes.
- We dare say that this is the best banjo in this price range on the market. Due to its small size, one might think it doesn't have a large volume. But the truth is that the open back resonator box does an excellent job of projecting the sound. The Remo drumhead also provides a traditional sound that is diversified by the design of the case.
- As far as note transitions are concerned, we did find some disparity when going below the tenth fret and we believe this is something Harley Benton needs to improve upon. However, this is a minor detail that only a well-trained ear can notice.
- As for the sound properties, they are very good. The attack is powerful due to its small size, while the reverb has certain deficiencies due to the small size of the box. Nevertheless, the sustain is good and with it you can play modern and romantic compositions in the style of Jason Mraz's I'm Yours.
- The banjolele is becoming more and more fashionable because modern musicians have found in it an excellent option to achieve sounds rich in nuance. That's why the Harley Benton option is by far the best in its price range and can be used both live and in your studio sessions. Its quality has been tested and it passed with flying colors.
- Follow this link to find the best price at Thomann.Now, if you want other banjo options, you also have the Harley Benton BJU-10 Banjo Ukulele in a black color and open back body. With it you will find a more traditional sound, with less volume and less audible harmonics. This is a nice option to vary the compositions within the dixieland style. But it can also give you a dull, nasal sound to diversify more modern compositions.
Each of the described banjos has very particular characteristics, but the best of them is the Harley Benton BJ-65Pro 6 String. Its build quality is on a par with its sonorous capacity and every musician of any level will find in it a companion for every occasion.
However, if you're looking for a five-string banjo, the Harley Benton BJO-35pro is a proposition you shouldn't overlook. Similarly, if you already own a banjo but are looking to diversify your sound and inject a touch of modernism and versatility, then the Harley benton BJU-15pro open back ukulele is what you need without hesitation.
The best banjos for intermediates
In the category of mid-range banjos we have two that are of great quality but at the same time different from each other. We are referring to the Dean Guitars Backwoods Pro 2 and the Recording King Dirty 30s. Let's take a close look:
Dean Guitars Backwoods 2 Electric 5-String
An electric banjo with a great sound. Very soft touch.
The electronic system limits the configuration.
- Materials: mahogany, black walnut, chrome, steel.
- Sound: 8/10.
- Type: electroacoustic, closeback resonator.
- Number of strings: 5.
- Scale: 67 cm.
- Weight: approximately 4.5 kg.
- Dean Guitars is an important brand specialized in the manufacture of electric guitars. But it also explores new horizons by offering modern banjos that have a good quality in both construction and sound. This is an instrument with good performance for concert musicians and with some excellent features that we will describe in this section.
- The woods used in this instrument are not those usually used to make banjos. The neck and soundboard are made of mahogany (Swietenia macrophylla). The fingerboard, on the other hand, is made of walnut (Juglans nigra), one of the most used woods for intermediate level instruments.
- Due to this configuration of the woods, it can be considered the Gibson of banjos, as their breaking strength, elasticity and acoustic properties are very similar. Stability is the great strength of this five-string banjo. For the hull and tuning keys, Dean used stainless steel with a chrome finish. Thus it has a higher strength combined with a high quality metallic sheen.
- An important variant in this model is the Remo transparent PET resonator head. These heads have the characteristic of being more elastic than the Smooth White and are an ideal combination for the mahogany sound response.
- It has five strings and a close back box. This characteristic makes it ideal for bluegrass, country pop and country rock, which are modern genres. Aesthetically, it features beautiful pearlized inlays and vintage open-mechanical tuning keys with pearlized knobs. It's finished in the natural color of mahogany with a three-layer glossy polyurethane coating.
- The scale of this banjo is slightly longer than the standard, with 67.32 cm in length and 21 frets in total. This produces a softer feel and brings it closer to that of an acoustic guitar. The strings are softer and the touch is better on the lower frets, while the arpeggiated grooves allow you to play with slide and pull off techniques.
- Finally, what we like the least is the microphone system, which consists of a DMT series humbucker pickup. This is a major limitation because we only have volume control. Although we must say that the resistance of this mic is a total blast, because it has 17.3K of response and this makes it a sound bomb.
- The sound is really good both natural and connected to an amplification source. When used unplugged, it has excellent volume thanks to the closed soundboard. Its response towards the mid frequencies is wonderful and it has a great stability in the transitions of low, mid and high notes. As a result, its sound is round and rich in sonic nuances.
- The disconnected sustain is by far the best thing we have found in this level. The same goes for the reverb, which adds impeccable and explosive punch to traditional bluegrass. The reverb is much better and more audible when using the glass slide, although with a metal slide the volume is much better.
- The electronic system is the only drawback we found because it only has a volume control to adjust the settings. There are no tone controls or anything like that and this could be improved because the price is right. However, the quality of the DTM humbucker pickup is exceptional and if you thought that the unplugged sound couldn't get any better, then run it through an amplifier and you will feel your sense of hearing perceive a shower of sensational harmonics.
If there is any electric banjo that we recommend with a closed eye, it's the Dean Guitars Backwoods 2 because it has everything a gigging musician needs. The price is exceptional, the build quality is impeccable, and the sound is extremely balanced and rich in nuance when amplified or unplugged.
That is why if you are a beginner you should aim to have it as your first or second instrument. But if you are a semi-professional or professional, this is definitely a necessary addition to your instrument rack. Interested? Find the best prices at Thomann.
Recording King Dirty 30s Open Back Banjo
The most traditional and powerful sound in this range.
The body is laminated and this detracts harmonics from the sound.
- Materials: maple, ebony, revebond, nickel, PET.
- Sound: 9/10 .
- Type: openback.
- Number of strings: 5.
- Scale: 67.8 cm.
- Weight: 4.2 kg approx.
- Recording King is a brand that manufactures banjos that exude tradition in both design and sound. The Recording King Dirty 30s Open Back is made to 1930's standards and will give you an insight into how the old banjo luthiers forged these impressive musical instruments.
- The body, neck and part of the bridge are made of maple. A type of material called revebond, a type of laminated wood, was used for the fingerboard. This combination of woods provides the same strength in each of the parts, but beyond that, they were so configured to achieve traditional banjo acoustics.
- The hull is made of iron, because it's the material that was available to the luthiers of that time. Closed system tuning keys and hardware are nickel-plated iron. The finish is a novelty, as it's nickel-plated. This gives the material shine and also greater resonance.
- Another novelty is the Remo patch of the King Head degraded series. In the 1930s there was no Remo brand and patches were made of treated animal skin, but this patch is a real effort to achieve the punch of that era.
- This is a five-string open back banjo, the original design for New Orleans Dixielan music. In addition, it has 16 tensioners for slightly open tuning and low tension.
- The design of the soundboard is called multilayer not because it's a plywood like the modern ones, but because each of its layers has been bonded with animal glue. This type of glue is not used cold but hot, so its adhesion is maximum and doesn't affect any acoustic aspects.
- The scale of this instrument is 67.31 cm, very close to the standard, while the width of the capo is 3.5 cm. This gives it a feel that is hard, but the extra tension is what produces a dry and not very vibrant sound. Finally, the finish is satin but quite neat.
- This is an instrument designed to replicate the traditional banjos of the 1930s. That is why it doesn't have many harmonics and the reverb is light, as well as the sustain and volume. However, this dry sound is characteristic of bands such as Potato Head Jazz Band, Barba Dixieband or Madrid Hot Jazz.
- The open-shaped, laminated body produces a leaky sound, but has excellent punch and the arpeggiated grooves take on a good body. The Remo King Head degraded drumhead offers a rough sound reminiscent of the 1930s.
- This is an excellent banjo for lovers of traditional jazz. We therefore recommend it for those who wish to become familiar with the sounds of yesteryear and be part of bands with a high level of harmonic complexity. Find the best price at Thomann.
- Now, you also have another excellent option in the Recording King Dirty 30s Resonator Banjo. This one differs from the open back we have presented in that it overcomes all sonic deficiencies, has 24 tuning tensors and is ideal for 1930's bluegrass.
Without a doubt the best banjo in this section is the Dean Guitars Backwoods Pro 2 5 String. In addition to being electric, it offers an excellent unplugged sound. It also has a great construction that takes care of the smallest details and has an excellent six-string version, the Dean Guitars Backwoods electric banjo 6-S.
The best banjos for advanced players
We have the highest expectations from these banjos that we consider a transition between the intermediate and high range. This is due to their characteristics and to the fact that users have expressed the greatest satisfaction in each of the aspects they possess. Let's meet them!
Deering Goodtime Banjo
The sound is excellent.
- Materials: maple, birch, chrome, steel, PET.
- Sound: 10/10.
- Type: openback.
- Number of strings: 5.
- Scale: 67.8 cm.
- Weight: approximately 2 kg.
Deering offers the Goodtime Banjo, a combination of modernity and tradition, to the banjo market. The truth is that it turned out to be one of the best news in musical instruments for this year. These are its characteristics:
The materials used are maple and birch in three layers and gummed with animal glue. The neck is solid maple, as is the fingerboard. In this respect, birch is a wood incorporated to overcome the deficiencies of harmonics. Maple, on the other hand, is a semi-rigid wood. This configuration is intended to produce the characteristic sound of vintage banjos. However, thanks to some design aspects, it also offers modernity.
The hull is made of stainless steel with a chrome coating for rigidity and a high-gloss finish and high torsional strength. The patch is made of Deering's patented high-density PET for greater durability.
It has five strings and an open soundboard, which also has a double rod. This stainless steel rod not only provides much needed strength, but also offers a more linear acoustic capability. The neck design is of a thin rock design for a very pleasant feel, compensated by a scale of 67.8 cm.
In addition, it features 16 tensioners and Deluxe Deering series tuning peghead keys. The headphones has a lowered upper edge to give it a higher quality aesthetic touch. There is also something that catches our attention and that is its weight of only 2 kg. We don't know why, but we are aware of how comfortable it is to play it.
Its sound quality is superior and, although Deering classifies it as a mid-range instrument, for us it's a transition to the high end. The sustain is quite full-bodied and enveloping, as is the reverb. Despite the open back type box, this banjo has a large volume. In addition, thanks to the configuration of birch with maple and the animal glue gumming, it has optimal harmonics.
The sound of the phrases is great and on the higher notes you can feel an explosive punch. The arpeggios are an aural delight and the neck design allows for an agile sound for the grooves.
The Deering Goodtime Banjo is one of the best mid-to-high end options you'll find on the market. We are aware that there are proposals that exceed two thousand euros. But this banjo, despite being affordable, lacks nothing compared to the more expensive ones that only justify their price for the luxury in many of its components. Find the best price at Thomann.
Other options from this Deering brand include the Deering Goodtime Two Banjo, which has a closed case and overcomes some sound issues. The Deering Goodtime Banjo Starter Package is a five-string Goodtime Open Back pack that includes picks, strap, study DVD and protective case.
Gold Tone CC-100R 5 String Banjo
The sound is amazing.
- Materials: maple, granadillo, ebony, brass, chrome, steel, PET, ABS.
- Sound: 10/10.
- Type: closeback, resonator.
- Number of strings: five.
- Scale: 66.5 cm.
- Weight: approximately 4.5 kg.
- Gold Tone offers this impressive banjo with enviable features. As we describe it, you will notice that it's completely different and goes beyond the classification given by its manufacturers. Find out what we mean in this review.
- The body, sides and neck are made of solid maple, so its quality is unquestionable. The fingerboard is made of grenadilla, one of the few woods that compete with Indian rosewood. This is thanks to its class 6 hardness on the Chaláis Meudon scale.
- The ring is made of laminated brass, a cheap material that generates distrust due to its low durability. However, this company has put all its expertise into the manufacture of this ring and users have not reported any complaints about it.
- As far as the drumhead is concerned, it's a Remo from the LC Frosted series, one of the best mid-range drumheads on the market. Its elastic capacity is one of its great strengths and contributes even more to the sound, and we also have a double core rod made of stainless steel. As aesthetic details, it has ABS bindings that not only embellish the instrument but also contribute to the sound.
- This is a resonator banjo, i.e. open back type with five strings. It has 18 tension hooks on its hoop with a flat finish for better vibration distribution. It also features Gold Tone Modern series tuning keys.
- Some really nice details are the mother-of-pearl inlays, real bone nut, maple bridge with ebony saddle, a Terminator series tailpiece and two-way web. These aspects, more than aesthetic, are fundamental elements that help to achieve a more refined sound.
- Regarding measurements, it has a 66.5 cm scale, with a 3.2 cm capo and a total of 22 frets. This scale is a little shorter than the standard and gives it a feel that we consider more solid and that greatly improves the sound. It's finished in natural color with three glossy polyurethane coatings.
- The first thing that stands out are the harmonics, as they are of exceptional quality and are fully audible. When you perform a chord and strum or arpeggiate it, you can feel a series of hidden notes that sound fully in tune. Likewise, the sustain is balanced in the arpeggios, while in the strumming it combines with the reverb to achieve a first class musical solidity.
- Thanks to the closed soundboard, the volume is powerful and remains balanced throughout. Although it may diminish a little when the higher notes are played in arpeggio. Overall, it has one of the best sounds you can find in this price range. You can listen to it HERE.
- The Gold Tone CC-100R 5 String is by far the best banjo that any musician of any level should aspire to own. Their sound capacity and impeccable finish are well worth it. Whether you are a beginner, intermediate or advanced player, do not hesitate and make this your main instrument. Interested? Find the best price at Thomann.
- Gold Tone also has another excellent option, the Gold Tone AC-4 Openback Tenor Banjo, which is a four-string tenor banjo. In addition, it differs from the CC-100R 5 in its composite soundboard, 19 frets, 16 rim hooks, 57.5 cm scale and a more opaque sound.
We have described two excellent instruments with high-end features. But if we have to choose, then we would go for the Gold Tone CC-100R 5, as it's modern, dynamic and we love the feel.
Technical Characteristics Banjos
|Harley Benton BJO-35Pro 5 String Banjo OB||5||4 kg||67 cm||openback||maple, nato, blackwood, mahogany, steel, chrome, PET|
|Harley Benton BJ-65Pro 6 String Banjo||6||4.3 kg||67.5 cm||closeback, resonator||maple, nato, blackwood, PET, steel, chrome, graphite|
|Harley Benton BJU-15Pro Banjo Ukulele||4||1.6 kg||39.2 cm||banjo ukelele||maple, blackwood, graphite, chrome, steel, PET, nylon|
|Dean Guitars Backwoods 2 Electric 5-String||5||4.5 kg||67 cm||electroacoustic, closeback resonator||mahogany, black walnut, chrome, steel|
|Recording King Dirty 30s Open Back Banjo||5||4.2 kg||67.8 cm||openback||maple, ebony, revebond, nickel, PET|
|Deering Goodtime Banjo||5||2 kg||67.8 cm||openback||rce, birch, chrome, steel, PET|
|Gold Tone CC-100R 5 String Banjo||5||4.5 kg||66.5 cm||closeback, resonator||maple, blackwood, ebony, brass, chrome, steel, PET, ABS|