Best Banjo Reviews: Here’s a beginners guide to understanding the banjo, a fun instrument to play, with similar qualities to its more popular siblings – the guitar and the bass. Played in the finger picking style, banjos are commonly used in folk bands and even used for strumming tunes at home.
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What is a Banjo?
Banjo is a string instrument that is commonly used in music styles such as bluegrass, folk, country, and other traditional music (Irish, African American, etc). Musicians who play this string instrument are also known as banjoists.
Banjo has been around for decades, but seem to have been rediscovered lately with several bands using the instrument. Bluegrass legend Earl Scruggs is believed to be the man responsible for making the instrument popular. He was a self-taught musician who developed a three-finger style of playing which became known throughout the world as “Scruggs-Style Picking.
Banjo – Iconic Symbol of Appalachia
Appalachian music is one of the best-known manifestations of Appalachian culture (Appalachia is a cultural region in the Eastern United States that stretches from the Southern Tier of New York to northern Alabama, Mississippi and Georgia.) Traditional Appalachian music is derived primarily from the English and Scottish ballad tradition and Irish and Scottish fiddle music.
African-American blues musicians played a significant role in developing the instrumental aspects of Appalachian music, most notably with the introduction of the five-stringed banjo— one of the region’s iconic symbols— in the late 18th century. (Source – Wikipedia)
So pick up a banjo and get in touch with the Appalachian Tradition!
Bulbul Tarang – The Indian banjo
If you’re from India (or the Indian sub-continent), you would be aware of the Indian banjo (folk instrument), commonly known as the ‘Bulbul tarang’ in India. However, its design is different and its meant to be kept on a flat surface and played. The Indian banjo is made of a number of strings passing over what resembles a finger board. However, instead of directly fingering the keys, the strings are pressed via a series of keys. In some models the keys are similar to a piano keyboard, but most models will have keys that resemble the keys on a typewriter. The ‘Bulbul tarang’ is commonly used by folk musicians and its very cheap.
Factors to Consider when Buying a Banjo
A banjo should have the sharp classic banjo twang, whether picked or strummed (clawhammer style). Here are some of the things to look for when buying a well made banjo:
- Woods: Popular wood used are hard maples and mahogany for the head, hard maple for the neck.
- Closed, geared tuning pegs, made of high quality metals are the best. Closed gear pegs keep them clean and allows for free turning. Geared tuning pegs prevent the strings from slipping and this going out of tune.
- 5th string closed gear on the neck. Make sure this is geared, or you will have trouble keeping it tuned, and with the correct tension. Non-geared often cause broken strings, and have to be adjusted frequently.
- Go in for a slim neck as its easier to play (for all sized hands)
- The metals used be of the best alloys and secured well so that there is no irritating “humming” vibrations while playing.
- 12″ diameter heads, the standard.
- Dual wood bridge is the best, ebony top (string side) the best, maple below.
- Adjustable player controls allows the tail piece to be adjusted for sharpness, and an adjustable bridge for string clearance height (called “action”).
- Multi-layer rim construction. The rim head should have at least 3 layers for the best true banjo tone.
Open Back vs Closed Backed Banjo
Banjos are available as open or closed (back) versions. So what’s the difference?
- Closed back banjo comes with a resonator that provides a louder sound, suitable where there is no amplification available (when performing for an audience). Most Bluegrass players tend to prefer the closed back banjo.
- In case of Open backed banjos, you can add a “pick up” to the banjo (as in an guitar) which can be connected to an amplifier, to get a louder sound.
- In most cases, the resonators can be removed as well.
So, if a closed back banjo is priced higher, its not necessarily because of better quality, its because more materials have been used in the making.
Buying a Banjo
Banjos are 5-stringed instruments that come in a variety of designs as well as colors. Expert players can opt for the deluxe versions. Popular banjo brands include Jameson, Carrion, Deering, Oscar Schmidt, Epiphone. Gibson and Gold Tone offer expensive products for the more accomplished banjoists.
Having a good instrument, something that you love to play, is important if you want to become a successful banjo player. A wide range of banjo’s are available, suited for every need, from beginner to professional, finger pickers and clawhammers. You don’t have to pick one from Gibson or a Gold Tone right away; you can choose the more affordable banjos from the other brands. You do get reasonably priced, well-crafted stringed instruments as well.
Like guitar and bass, you may need to replace the strings of your banjo as per your tastes (and even due to wear and tear).
Useful Accessories for a Banjo
Here are some useful accessories that you will need for your Banjo:
- Banjo Tuner: Snark and Korg make good tuners. The Snark is a clip on tuner, very popular and also cheap. The Korg is for the more old school folks.
- Banjo Strings: You can choose nickel/steel alloy for its tonal qualities and smooth consistency, ideal for all styles of banjo playing.
- Banjo Strap: Essential to keep the banjo in place as you play, its very comfortable.
- Banjo Bag or Case: You can get a padded gig back or a hard case
- Assortment of Banjo Picks
- Beginners Banjo Instruction Books
How to Set Up and Tune a Banjo: Videos
Checkout these videos on how to Tune a Banjo
Watch: How To Adjust a Truss Rod on a Banjo
Figured out what your needs are and how much you’re willing to spend on a banjo? Feel free to pick up your instrument from these best-selling banjos. You can choose a banjo that not only matches your skill level, but your personality as well. Beginners can start learning to play this 5-string instrument right at home, using the various learning tutorials, how-to books and accessories that are available for you to use. You may also need useful banjo accessories such as banjo cases, strings, metal finger picks, etc.