Today, let’s take a look at the best banjos and best banjo brands of 2021. There’s a huge variety of banjos to choose from, and I’m here to help you sort through them and find the best of the best.

Banjo is an often misunderstood instrument, and there’s a huge variety of them out there, so it can be a bit confusing to figure out which one to buy. That’s where I come in!

Quick Look: Best Banjos

#1 Best Banjo Overall: Deering Sierra 


I’m a musician who’s been playing banjo for 10 years and teaching it for 7 years. Through my experience, I’ve tried out countless banjos at camps, shops, and concerts, and I’m going to use that experience to help you find the right banjo for your situation.

What Is a Banjo?

A banjo is a stringed instrument with a long neck and a taut membrane stretched over a metal, wood, or gourd frame. When the strings are played, the sound waves vibrate the membrane and create that distinctive “twang” that banjos are known for.

Banjo on a table

Banjos, or similar instruments of a different name, originated in Africa and were brought to the Americas through the slave trade. Because of their distinct sound and loud volume, they were an integral part of early American folk music, which originated in slave communities.

In modern times, they have come to be used in a wide variety of genres from the obvious bluegrass and old-time music to jazz, rock, classical, and experimental music.

Types of Banjos

As the modern banjo evolved, it took on many shapes, sizes, and forms. Many of these have been lost to time or are only novelties now, but many are still in widespread use today.

Bluegrass Banjo

The most common and identifiable type of banjo, a bluegrass banjo, has a closed-back, five steel strings, and heavy metal parts around the head. It’s played with fingerpicks and, while most commonly used in bluegrass, can be found in jazz, classical, old-time, etc.

Clawhammer Banjo

The clawhammer or open back banjo doesn’t have a resonator and has five strings of either steel, nylon, or natural materials. This type of banjo is closer to what traditional instruments would sound like, is used primarily for old-time and traditional folk music, and is played in the “clawhammer” style.

Tenor Banjo

Tenor banjos have closed backs and four steel strings. They’re a bit shorter than other 5-string banjos. They were wildly popular in the early 20th century when they were used for early jazz music before being replaced by electric guitars.

Tenor Banjo

Plectrum Banjo

When banjos were brought from America back to Europe (especially Ireland), they developed into what’s known as a plectrum banjo. Very similar in construction to a tenor banjo, they’re played melodically with a pick.

6-String Banjo

Often called banjitars, 6-string banjos are essentially a 6-string guitar neck attached to a banjo body. Originally used in the early 20th century for jazz, they’re used in modern music by guitar players who want the distinctive timbre of a banjo without learning a new technique.

Ukulele Banjo

This is a small banjo with an open back and four nylon strings tuned the same as a ukulele. It was popularized in the early 20th century (notice a pattern?) when banjos and Hawaiian culture were both en vogue.

Mandolin Banjo

This is a combination of a mandolin and banjo. It has eight steel strings and a closed back. It’s sometimes called a banjolin. It’s played like a mandolin but has a similar timbre to a banjo.

Electric Banjo

Electric banjos were first developed in the 1980s by the Deering Banjo Company. They generally have five strings and a smaller head that’s set in a solid wood body and pickups similar to electric guitar. They’re often used for folk-rock, for progressive bluegrass, and by jam bands.

Gourd Banjo

A growing movement of instrument builders have come to embrace traditional African and early American methods of using dry, hollowed-out gourds and natural materials for the head and strings. They’re played similarly to a clawhammer banjo and often have a fretless neck.

Long Neck Banjo

Pete Seeger is the most famous banjo player to use a long neck banjo. They’re similar to old-time open-back banjos, but with a longer neck so that you can reach lower notes.

Things to Consider When Choosing a Banjo

When purchasing a banjo, you should consider many factors, including your level of experience, the overall sound, the size, weight, price, materials, brand, color, condition, and parts included.

6-String Banjo

Level of Experience

Banjos come in a huge variety of qualities and prices, so first you should consider the level of banjo you want to buy.

Beginner Banjos

Banjos for beginners are cheaper, lighter, and less durable than your typical instrument. Many of these are foreign made by unknown brands, but you can find better quality instruments from brands like Deering, Ibanez, and Washburn.

Intermediate Banjos

Intermediate banjos have well-manufactured parts that last and are made by reputable builders and brands. They’ll be heavier, have some minor ornamentation, and start to list individual parts. (More on these below.)

Professional Banjos

A professional banjo will not only look good but sound and feel good in your hands. Almost all professional quality banjos are made in the USA (there are good Japanese builders, though) and will often have heavy ornamentation, solid wood and metal parts, and a detailed list of who made them and what went into them.


Most banjos are roughly the same size, but the size can vary quite a bit depending on the type of banjo (see above) you’re looking for. But within each type (say, a bluegrass banjo), there’s not a lot of variety in sizes.


One of the most surprising things about first holding a professional banjo is the weight (often nearly 15 lbs). Banjos with solid wood and heavy metal parts are usually higher in quality, but there are options for lighter professional banjos, like Nechvilles.

The Overall Tone & Sound

Any banjo has some twang, but certain other sounds are good to look for. For traditional bluegrass, look for a powerful pop or growl (literally feel it in your belly when playing). You can also listen for a “sweet” sound, especially when playing up the neck for more lyrical music.


This is the big one for most people. We all have different budgets to work with, so make sure you’re getting the best banjo for your price range.

Budget Banjos ~$100-500

When buying a budget banjo, try to avoid what I would call “no-name” banjos. Many of these are manufactured in the same factory, but are stamped with different names and resold online for cheap. Look for a reputable instrument maker who put their name on it.

Midrange Banjos ~$500-1500

This price range is where you can find some really great deals. You can find banjos that are nearly as good sounding as top-end banjos and for a fraction of the cost, but maybe without the nice inlays and a big name on the headstock. This is a good place to find a “keeper.”

Top-End Banjos $1500+

Once you start getting to this range, you’re looking for a professional quality banjo. These can be from a big name company or an individual builder with a solid reputation, and they should look, sound, and feel like a solid banjo that will last a lifetime.


I’ll get more into specific brands in just a bit, but this basically breaks down into four categories in order of desirability: “no-name” banjos, guitar brands who also make banjos, reputable individual makers, and big-name banjo brands.

Banjo Full Width

10 Best Banjos Overall

There are a few things I’m looking for when picking the best overall banjos, like build quality, a clear strong tone, and a good value. In addition to that, though, the best banjos bring something unique to the table that others can’t.

Deering Sierra

  • Parts: Violin grade 3-ply maple rim, Deering 06 bell brass tone ring, mahogany neck and resonator
  • Weight: ~11 lbs
  • Accessories included: Hardshell case
  • Best for: Intermediate to professional players looking for the best sound

After playing countless banjos, I can say that the Deering Sierra has the best sound, feel, and build quality of any banjo I’ve played. It’s what all bluegrass banjos aspire to be: loud, easy to play, and solid as a rock.

✅ Amazing, powerful sound
✅ Top-notch craftsmanship
✅ Hard shell case included
✅ Quality parts and materials
❌ Expensive
❌ Heavy

Why I Recommend It
This banjo is a must if you want an authentic bluegrass banjo made by one of the best banjo makers anywhere. If you’ve got the budget for this banjo, I can’t recommend it enough. It’ll last you a lifetime.



Gold Tone BG 150F

  • Parts: Maple neck and rim, rolled brass tone ring, maple bridge
  • Weight: 8lbs
  • Accessories included: None
  • Best for: Intermediate players

If you want a banjo with many of the features of a professional banjo, but that’s a bit lighter and less expensive, Gold Tone makes a great one with the BG 150F.

✅ Good bluegrass sound
✅ Affordable price
✅ Lighter
✅ Beautiful inlays and overall look
❌ No accessories
❌ Inconsistent build quality

Why I Recommend It
Gold Tone makes some high-quality banjos, and this is a perfect one for when you’re looking to upgrade from your first beginner banjo to something more substantial.



Deering Goodtime

  • Parts: Violin grade maple neck and rim, hardwood inlays, guitar style tuners
  • Weight: 4.5 lbs
  • Accessories included: Padded gig bag, Truetone tuner
  • Best for: Bluegrass or old-time beginners

Deering is one of the best companies out there, and their Deering Goodtime series is the perfect jumping-off point for any banjo player. And with many models to choose from, you can always find one that fits just what you’re looking for.

✅ Lightweight
✅ Solid, reliable build
✅ Easy to play
✅ Great sound for any style
❌ Not very loud
❌ Slightly different size than average

Why I Recommend It

This is the quintessential beginner banjo for any player. I’ve played quite a few of them, and they always come with a great setup, so playing not only sounds good but feels good on your fingers.



Recording King RKH-05

  • Parts: Multiply rim, maple neck and resonator, one piece flange
  • Weight: ~5lbs
  • Accessories included: None
  • Best for: Bluegrass beginners

The Recording King RKH-05 is a real steal in quality and price. The “Dirty Thirties” is designed and modeled after banjos from the prewar era. For an affordable price, you get a solid look and feel of a bluegrass banjo.

✅ Classic look
✅ Punchy bluegrass sound
✅ Affordable price
✅ Solid build
❌ No case
❌ No tone ring or other extras

Why I Recommend It

It’s one of the best low cost resonator banjos you can find. The RKH-05 shines above other similar banjos below $500.



Gold Tone WL-250

  • Parts: 1/2″ maple rim, hard rock maple neck, 3-part White Ladye style tone ring
  • Weight: 6.7 lbs
  • Accessories included: Nothing
  • Best for: Intermediate and advanced clawhammer players

The Gold Tone WL-250 is modeled after classic White Ladye old-time banjo models. This banjo more than lives up to its predecessor’s name. With a smooth and plunky sound perfect for any old-time jam, this is a great banjo at an affordable price.

✅ Great old-time sound
✅ Classic look
✅ Quality parts
✅ Good value for the price
❌ No accessories
❌ Not very versatile

Why I Recommend It

The WL-250 is the perfect banjo for those who are serious about playing old-time folk music. It’s affordable and durable with beautiful styling.



Rogue Travel/Starter Banjo

  • Parts: 18 bracket rim, vintage style head, open back, satin finish
  • Weight: ~4lbs
  • Accessories included: Nothing
  • Best for: Curious beginners

The Rogue Travel Banjo is a great banjo for those looking to try out the banjo without breaking the bank. It also works great for someone who wants an extra, affordable banjo for traveling.

✅ Lightweight and durable
✅ Affordable
✅ Portable for travel
✅ Fun to play
❌ Low-quality materials
❌ Quiet

Why I Recommend It

This banjo is a great place to start for any beginner before committing to a more expensive instrument in the future.



Recording King RK-R36 Select

  • Parts: Mastertone style tone ring, one piece flange, mahogany neck and resonator, 3-ply maple rim
  • Weight: 13.8 lbs
  • Accessories included: Nothing
  • Best for: Intermediate to advanced players

Modeled after the classic Gibson Mastertone banjos, this banjo has everything you could want in an instrument for a bluegrass ensemble. It’s loud and punchy and has a classic style that’ll stand out in any environment.

✅ Vintage styling
✅ Solid high quality parts
✅ Good bluegrass sound
✅ Affordable for quality
❌ Inconsistent setup
❌ Heavy

Why I Recommend It

For an affordable price, you can get a banjo that almost matches the great banjos of old, some of the most sought after instruments in the world. For high quality without breaking the bank, the RK-R36 is a perfect place to go for a rich, full sound.



Gold Tone EB-5

  • Parts: Tuned 8″ head, contoured mahogany body, slimline maple neck, Planetary tuners
  • Weight: 6 lbs
  • Accessories included: Tuner, padded gig bag, stand
  • Best for: Players looking for loud amplification with authentic banjo sound

An affordable version of their Gold Tone EBM-5 electric banjo, this is a great way to get into experimenting with amplified banjo sounds. I’ve had a lot of fun playing with effects on this and other electric banjos. It’s a great option for going beyond pure bluegrass.

✅ Great amplified sound
✅ Unique look and feel
✅ Solid build
✅ Slender playable neck
❌ Thin acoustic sound
❌ Need amp to take advantage

Why I Recommend It

While higher-end electric banjos can go for several thousand dollars, this is a great way to get into the game with a solid, affordable, and great-sounding option by Gold Tone.



Deering Goodtime Banjo Ukulele

  • Parts: 11″ Renaissance head, blonde maple rim and neck, 17 frets
  • Weight: 4 lbs
  • Accessories included: Aquila Nylgut strings
  • Best for: Ukulele players looking for a unique sound

With a Deering quality build and a unique 11″ head, you’ll get a solid and beautiful sounding banjo ukulele with this Deering Goodtime Banjo Ukelele.

✅ Solid build
✅ Quality Deering parts
✅ Unique full sound
✅ Convenient size
❌ Expensive for a ukulele
❌ No case

Why I Recommend It

For anyone looking for a unique, twangy, yet full sound for your ukulele playing, look no further than this Deering Goodtime Banjo Ukulele.



Vega Long Neck Banjo

  • Parts: 3-ply maple rim, extended maple neck, Deering rolled tone ring, brass hardware
  • Weight: 8 lbs
  • Accessories included: Hardshell case
  • Best for: Low singing banjo players

Pete Seeger was the first to play a long neck banjo, which allowed him to play in a lower key than with a standard banjo neck. For a deep, full old-time and folk banjo sound, this Vega banjo is a great if expensive option.

✅ Great deep responsive sound
✅ Solid feel
✅ Classic look
✅ Quality handmade parts
❌ Pricey
❌ Long neck inconvenient for some

Why I Recommend It

Though not for everyone, if you’re interested in a full and low sound to your banjo and want a quality that’s second to none, this Vega Long Neck is the best banjo for you.



Best Beginner Banjos

A first banjo can be an intimidating prospect, so when buying them you should try not to be intimidated by all the noise out there. Don’t fall for the too-good-to-be-true prices of some of the “no-name” brands. You want something cheap and playable that you’ll enjoy playing.

A musician playing the best beginner banjo

  • Deering Goodtime: This Goodtime banjo was made specifically for beginners. It has an easy-to-play setup and a light but solid construction. It’s a perfect and long-lasting first banjo.
  • Recording King RKH-05: A real steal, especially if you’re looking for a banjo with a bluegrass sound and style at a reasonable price. This is the one for you.
  • Rogue Travel Banjo: If you’re really on a budget, Rogue makes some great low-cost instruments, and their open-back travel banjo is no exception.
  • Gold Tone CC-100R: For a little more than the others, you can get a CC-100R and have a real bluegrass sound in your hands because of its maple construction and brass tone ring.

Best Intermediate Banjos

Upgrading from your beginner banjo to an intermediate banjo is a big step in any banjo player’s life. Because of this, you’ll want to look for an instrument you can grow with and stick with for the long run.

  • Gold Tone BG 150F: A real step up to the look and feel of a bluegrass banjo with a maple rim and brass tone ring for a fraction of the cost of similar banjos
  • Deering Artisan Goodtime II: The Artisan Goodtime II combines the light weight and playability of their other Goodtime models with a punchier sound, a 3-ply maple rim, and extras like “railroad spikes” at the 7th, 9th, and 10th frets.
  • Recording King RK-R36: A banjo modeled after the Gibson Mastertone down to its bell brass tone ring, this banjo has the feel and tone of a professional banjo.
  • Used Banjos: I often encourage students to look for used banjos for their second instrument. Sometimes the best banjos for the price are waiting for you to find in a thrift store, garage sale, or online classifieds!

Best Banjos for Professionals

Real professional banjos are a big investment, coming in at around $2000 at the low end (not to mention how heavy they can be). But with that investment comes a powerful sound due to the brass tone rings, solid 3 ply rims, heavy metal hardware, and professional hand assembly.

A banjo put together properly won’t only sound fantastic, but will feel solid and play easily up and down the neck.

  • Deering Sierra: The industry standard for professional touring banjo players. I’ve played many of them and their Deering tone rings, maple or mahogany rims, and slender and solid necks never disappoint.
  • Gold Tone OB-250+TP: The Orange Blossom Special (OB) banjos from Gold Tone are high-quality banjos in their own right, and for this model, they add on a Tony Pass maple rim that makes this banjo sing.
  • Recording King The Elite Traditional Banjo: The top-of-the-line banjo from Recording King is a great option for a professional sound at a bit less than some other big-name brands.
  • Deering Calico: A step up from the Sierra, Deering’s Calico adds intricate inlays, a tapered resonator for a stronger sound, and other features for better playing and easier maintenance.

Best Cheap Banjos

When you’re starting out playing banjo and still haven’t figured out whether you’re going to stick with it, a cheap banjo can really help you out. So, to get the best banjo for your buck, look for reputable brand names and a solid look and feel. Avoid anything that looks flimsy.

  • Rogue Travel/Starter Banjo: This is probably the cheapest banjo I’d buy that still feels and looks solid. Many of my students buy Rogue starter banjos, and they’re a great option for starting out.
  • Ibanez B50: Ibanez makes some great guitars (I’ve owned a couple), and their starter resonator banjo is no exception. It’s got a basic look but plays and feels fantastic.
  • Recording King RKH-05: A little more expensive than the previous two, the “Dirty Thirties” is a real steal at only around $350.
  • Deering Goodtime: At just under $500, this banjo is on the high end of what you’d call cheap, but they’re the best banjos out there and my students and I always love playing them.

Best Kids Banjo

Lots of brands have smaller travel or kid size banjos available for younger players looking to start out. You still want to find solidly constructed instruments, but at a smaller scale than an adult sized instrument.

  • Gold Tone Plucky Travel Banjo: A great option for young kids learning to play for the first time, with a small body and a short scale, but the tuning is higher than a standard banjo.
  • Gold Tone AC-Traveler: Slightly larger than the Plucky, but tuned to standard banjo tuning and with a sturdy and light composite resonator for travel or heavy use with young children
  • Deering Goodtime: The Goodtime banjo, at a slightly smaller size than standard, is a great banjo for young players. It still has a solid blonde maple construction and the feel of a full size banjo.

Best Open Back Banjo

Open back banjos are ideal for old-time and folk banjo players in the clawhammer style (but can still be played with picks if you want). For the best sound, look for a solid wood construction and heavy metal hardware.

  • Deering Goodtime Banjo: One of the best and most playable beginner banjos out there, the Goodtime banjo has solid maple Deering construction with lightweight but solid hardware. It’s a banjo I recommend to all of my first time students.
  • Gold Tone WL-250: The White Ladye model is a professional-quality old-time banjo with a scooped neck, a rolled brass tone ring, and star and dot inlays.
  • Recording King Dirty Thirties Open Back: A great low-cost old-time banjo with a solid construction and a full, folky sound
  • Recording King OT-25 Madison: With a scooped neck, an attractive dark-stained look, and a powerful old-time sound, this is a great mid-range clawhammer banjo.
  • Deering Goodtime Americana SeriesAlmost identical to the original Goodtime banjo, but with a larger head for a more full and deep sound

Best Bluegrass Banjo

These are the instruments you think of when you think of the banjo. They’re played fast and loud, so you should look for a solid construction that can carry a full sound throughout your playing without sounding too thin or tinny.

A bluegrass banjo

  • Deering Sierra: A top-of-the-line bluegrass banjo that can compete with banjos at any price. It has a mahogany or maple construction and a heavy bell brass tone ring. This is one of my favorite banjos in the world to play.
  • Gold Tone OB-250: A professional-quality banjo at a great price with Planetary tuners, a brass tone ring, and great looking inlays
  • Recording King RKH-05 Dirty Thirties: At a relatively low cost, the RKH-05 looks and sounds like a solid bluegrass banjo despite not having a tone ring.
  • Recording King RK-36: With a similar look and feel to the Dirty Thirties, this mid-range banjo improves on the sound with a bell brass tone ring, mahogany rim, and brass hardware.
  • Rogue B30 Deluxe: For the aspiring banjo player on a budget, the B30 is a great place to start out with its lightweight aluminum construction and low cost.

Best Electric Banjos

The best banjos equipped with pickups can compete with other electric instruments on stage or plug straight into your recording rig. Pay attention to whether you want a pure electric sound or something that sounds almost exactly like an acoustic banjo.

  • Gold Tone EB-5The unique look and sound of this solid body electric banjo will cut through any band while still keeping its banjo flavor with an 8″ pre tuned banjo head.
  • Deering Boston 6-string Acoustic ElectricThis banjo comes equipped with Deering’s special Kavanjo banjo head equipped with a humbucker pickup, which can be installed on any of their banjos and sounds great. (I know from personal experience.)
  • Gold Tone Dojo DLX: An interesting addition to your banjo lineup combines banjo tuning with a dobro body, all with acoustic-electric pickups for those experimenting with interesting combinations.

Best Banjitar

If you’re already a guitar player, a 6-string banjo is an easy way to get that banjo sound without learning a new technique. Look for solid wood rims and heavy metal hardware for the best sound.

  • Gold Tone GT 500: With a maple rim and steel tone ring, the GT 500 is a solid and great sounding 6-string banjo for beginners or advanced players.
  • Dean Backwoods 6: A great beginner banjitar with a resonator at a low price point
  • Deering B6: A top-of-the-line banjitar with the pop of a bluegrass banjo thanks to a violin grade maple rim and bell brass tone ring
  • Washburn B6-A Americana Series: An open back 6-string banjo with a solid maple build for a softer sound and a lower price

Best Banjolin

With a banjo head and four pairs of strings like a mandolin, a banjo mandolin has a very unique sound. There aren’t as many new options for these, but you can find many vintage and used instruments.

  • Gold Tone MB-850+: A solidly built mandolin banjo with a maple body and full-sized head for a strong, punchy sound

Best Banjo Uke

For those looking for an easy and fun instrument to play with just a little bit of that banjo twang, a banjo ukulele is the perfect instrument. They come in many sizes and styles, so there are lots of choices.

Banjo Uke

  • Kmise Concert Size Banjo Ukulele: An excellent, low-cost beginner model complete with  gig bag and tuner for those looking to start out without breaking the bank. It looks and feels great. I got one for my nephew and he loves it!
  • Kala 4 String Banjo UkuleleA well put together ukulele with a black satin finish. It also comes with a gig bag.
  • Deering Goodtime Ukulele Banjo: A unique banjolele with a full 11-inch banjo head, which means this banjo has a loud full sound when compared with other banjo ukes.
  • Gold Tone Little Gem Uke: A durable banjo uke with an acrylic rim that comes in a variety of colors. It has a great sound plus a fun unique look.

Best Tenor/Plectrum Banjo

If you’re looking to play early jazz or Irish folk music, look no further than a tenor or plectrum banjo. The two styles only have four strings, and while plectrum banjos are the same length as most 5-string banjos, tenors have a shorter scale. Both are ideal for flatpicking or strumming.

Best Long Neck Banjo

Long neck banjos are rarer, and because of this, they tend to be more expensive than other comparable open back banjos. But, if you’re really looking for those extra low notes, here are some great options:

  • Gold Tone OT-800LNA great no-frills long neck open back banjo with a solid maple body and Tubaphone style tone ring
  • Vega Long Neck BanjoTop-of-the-line option with violin grade maple, a Vega style Tubaphone ring, and polished brass hardware

Best Banjo Brands

As I said before, one way to know a banjo is high quality is the brand name. What you’re looking for in a brand is one that’s established that focuses mostly on banjos and has high-profile and trustworthy clients and ambassadors.


Deering, founded in 1975 by Greg Deering in California, builds some of the best professional banjos. Its line of Goodtime banjos is great for beginners. They’ve grown into a big organization, but still have an incredible eye for detail and innovation.


Gibson was founded in Michigan in 1902 and was one of the premier makers of banjos and string instruments. Their vintage banjos are the most sought-after banjos out there, and they’ve discontinued making new banjos, so they’re only available used.

Gold Tone

Gold Tone Music Group was founded in Florida in 1993 and is now a great company to look for entry-level banjos. Though not the place to look for a high-quality professional banjo, Gold Tone sells solid, reliable entry and intermediate-level instruments.

Recording King

Recording King, founded in 1930 by the Montgomery Ward company, sells great mid-level banjos and other instruments at affordable prices. Their intermediate banjos are a great bridge between budget banjos and professional instruments.


A family-owned company, Ome was founded in Colorado in 1970. Ome banjos have a unique look and a sweet, full sound. They’re always made to perfection.


Nechville Banjos, made in Minnesota and founded in 1986, are the most innovative banjo company out there. If you’re looking for a unique sound, interesting engineering, or a lighter and easier-to-maintain banjo, Nechville is the place for you.

Artisan Builders

When you’re looking for a high-end banjo at a mid-level price, an artisan builder can offer great value for a bit less. Some of my favorite banjo makers are: Sullivan (KY), Yates (NC), Bishline (MO), and Stelling (VA).

Banjo Brands to Avoid

I told you earlier to avoid what I call “no-name” brands, and I’ll say again here to avoid some of the cheapest brands like Costzon or Mulucky, which stamp their name on low-quality instruments. Another couple of brands that are outshone by similar but higher quality products are Oscar Schmidt or Morgan Monroe.

Banjo Craftsmanship

Banjos these days are made of many different materials, and below I’ll cover what most banjos are made of and why you might want to consider these materials when shopping for the best banjos.


The type of wood used for a banjo has a big effect on the sound and look. Maple has a brighter, punchier sound while mahogany has a richer, fuller sound. Walnut is somewhere in between.


Aluminum or iron are used for lower-end banjo parts. For a better looking, more solid feel and a better sound, look for stainless steel or brass (especially a brass tone ring).


Steel or nickel wound strings are the standard for most types of banjos. For clawhammer, gourd banjos, or banjo ukuleles, look to see if they’re metal, nylon, or natural material strings, as they’ll have a big effect on the tone.


The finish on the wood of a banjo is mostly an aesthetic choice, so a lacquered or natural finish is often more of a personal preference. Many find that a natural finish can make maneuvering the neck smoother, but it will require more attentive care.


Most banjos come in traditional wood stain colors in shades of brown or red, and this is usually related to the type of wood (maple is a lighter finish, mahogany darker). Metal parts come in a gold or silver finish and with different color heads (white, black, or clear).

Buying New vs Used

It’s always fun to get your new banjo from the box, and they come with extras and a manufacturer’s warranty. But if you’re willing to dig and wait for the right opportunity, a used banjo can get you a professional sound for a mid-range price, the route I usually go.

What’s in a Banjo Box?

Most new (and sometimes used) banjos come with a few things that’ll help you start your banjo journey and keep your instrument in tip-top shape.

A beautiful banjo in a box


Soft or hardshell cases are a necessity if you want to bring your banjo from place to place without causing any damage. And though not all banjos come with one, most do come with some sort of case.


Picks for your fingers aren’t essential for every style of playing, but are necessary if you want to play traditional bluegrass. These are often not included in the package, so you want to check beforehand if you need to buy them separately.


A capo is a device used to change the pitch on your instrument and is very useful for any string instrument. Banjo may require a second type of capo called a 5th string capo for some songs, which will almost definitely not be included.


If you want to play standing up or to keep your instrument steady while sitting down, a well-fitting strap is essential. Higher-end banjos don’t often include one (advanced players want fancy ones anyway), but beginner packages often do.


Beginners packages often also come with a small tuner you can attach to the headstock of the banjo and leave clipped on there for whenever you need it. Being in tune is important, but this isn’t always the most essential accessory now that you can do this with a phone app for free.


Your new banjo might not come with everything you’ll need. Because of this, some extras you may want to consider buying are a case, a capo, a strap, extra strings, a cleaning cloth, a tuner, a metronome, fingerpicks, and a stand.

Banjo Parts & Accessories

The banjo is made up of quite a few different parts. Getting to know the different parts and accessories of your banjo may help you to better shop for the best banjo for you.


One big distinction between banjos and other string instruments is that banjos are often made up of hundreds of little parts, so knowing what some of these are can help in buying a banjo.

Tone Ring

The tone ring in a bluegrass banjo is the power plant that gives a good banjo its punch as well as its sweet bell-like tones. The best rings are made of 5 pounds of heavy bell brass and are fitted on the wooden rim.


There’s a whole world of banjo bridge makers out there who scour old gym floors or antique pianos to find the right wood to make these tiny bits of wood that hold up your strings. While small, the size and materials of these can drastically change a banjo’s sound.


The rim is the wooden ring on the body of a banjo that’s the core of a banjo’s structure. There are many construction methods, but you generally want to find a thick, solid wood rim made of maple, mahogany, or walnut.


The type of wood of the neck often mirrors the rim, but that’s not always the case. (Plus, you can switch them out if you want.) Different thicknesses, widths, and lengths will fit different player’s preferences.


The tailpiece is the part of the banjo that holds one end of the strings on the body. It comes in a few styles, which can affect the sound, playability, and ease of changing strings.

Flange and Resonator

The flange and resonator are the wood shell on a closed-back banjo and the metal hoop between the rim and the resonator. While they do affect the sound somewhat, they’re a big part of the aesthetics of the banjo. The heavier and more solid, the better.


To get the most out of your banjo and play everything you want, there are a few accessories you can use.


A well-fitting strap can make your playing much easier and more comfortable. These come in two varieties, either a clip-on strap (which clips onto the hardware) or a cradle strap (which is strung through tension hoops and cradles the body).


When you want to play along with other instruments in different keys, it pays to have a capo. But banjos are tricky because of the short fifth string up the neck and will need a normal capo and a fifth string capo to function.


Every banjo you purchase should come with a bridge, and a bridge is also a part that you can easily swap out for a new one if you’re looking for a new sound without breaking the bank (usually around $20).

banjo bridge


If you get an acoustic banjo, you can still play it through a sound system if you attach a pickup to it. A pickup is either a piezo-electric or microphone based system that will plug into an amplifier and make it so you can compete with other electric instruments.

Frequently Asked Questions:

Here are some answers to commonly asked questions.

How Much Do Banjos Cost?

Banjos can range anywhere from $150 to $500 for a beginner, $500 to $1500 for an intermediate instrument, or $1500 to $4000+ for a professional banjo. No matter what your budget and experience, there’s a banjo for you. If you can’t find one new, used banjos are great, too!

What Are the Best Banjos?

Below are the three best banjos from my list above.

Deering Sierra: Best for Professionals

The Deering Sierra is the flagship model from one of the best companies around. It has a powerful sound, and it’s solidly built and easy to play.

Gold Tone OB-150: Best for Intermediate Players

Banjos from Gold Tone like the OB-150 have the sound and playability of more expensive banjos but at a fraction of the cost. It includes a flathead tone ring and a one-piece flange for an authentic bluegrass banjo look and feel.

Recording King RKH-05 “Dirty Thirties”: Best for Beginners

While most banjos below $500 can look and feel cheap, the RKH-05 has a solid build, a great look, and it sounds as good as much more expensive instruments.

Where Are the Best Banjos Made?

The majority of the best banjos are made in America, but there are many great instruments made in Japan and South Korea.

What Is the Best Sounding Banjo?

The best sounding banjo is the Deering Sierra. You’d be hard-pressed to find a better sounding banjo anywhere short of shelling out tens of thousands of dollars for a pre-war Gibson.

one of the best banjo

Where to Buy Banjos

There are a variety of places to buy the best banjos, including Amazon, Guitar Center (online or in-store), online music retailers like Musician’s Friend or Sweetwater, or your local music store.

When buying online, you have unlimited variety, quick shipping, convenience, and often cheaper prices, but in-store you can really experience the sound and feel of an instrument.


We all love buying on Amazon for its convenience and low prices, and that applies just as much to banjos. They’ve got great variety, amazing reviews, and a generous return policy.


Sweetwater offers a great online buying experience. They have variety, reviews, a 30-day money-back guarantee for returns, and free shipping.

Online Music Retailers

Guitarcenter and Sweetwater are a great place to find musical instruments without having to wade through the other items from Amazon. They’re convenient and often have great sales and fair return policies. They offer more specialty musical items with your banjos.

Your Local Music Store

Visiting your local music store is a great way to support local businesses and try out banjos in person. On top of that, you can often find teachers for lessons, instructional books, accessories, and other members of your musical community.

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In Conclusion

As you can see, if you’re looking for the best banjo, you have a lot of fantastic options to consider. Above all, remember that no matter where you’re at in your banjo journey, there’s a banjo out there for you!

Thanks for reading and taking the time to consider what you’re looking for in your best banjo. Feel free to share and comment if you’ve played any of these banjos or have your own favorite banjo!