In this article, we’ll be taking a look at the best bluegrass banjos you can buy. Banjo has become a critical part of almost any bluegrass band because it adds that distinctive twang.

When I say bluegrass banjo, what I specifically mean is a closed-back, resonator banjo with five strings. Although other kinds of banjos are sometimes used in bluegrass music, this is the kind most often associated with bluegrass.

Quick Look: Best Bluegrass Banjo

#1 Best Bluegrass Banjo Overall: Deering Sierra


My name’s Ryan Burns, and I’m a musician from Chicago, Illinois. I have a BA in Music from the University of Illinois. I’ve been playing and teaching banjo for 10 years, and I attended Bela Fleck’s Blue Ridge Banjo Camp.

Banjos By Music Type

What Is a Bluegrass Banjo?

Bluegrass banjo is a style of playing perfected and popularized by Earl Scruggs in the middle of the 20th century. It’s played with three fingers in a fast, loud, and virtuosic style. This style is most often played with fingerpicks on closed-back five-string banjos.

Like any banjo, it’s a descendent of African instruments brought to America by enslaved people and was incorporated into much of early American folk music. The development of the bluegrass banjo is young by comparison, only around for about 80 years.

A bluegrass banjo

Physically these banjos range in materials, construction, and weight, but they have a few common elements. They have slender wooden necks that are attached to a solid wood rim. A drum head is stretched over the rim with heavy metal hardware, and the strings are suspended above the head with a small wooden bridge.

Things to Consider When Choosing a Bluegrass Banjo

There are countless factors you need to balance when you’re choosing an instrument to buy. Some of the most important to consider are the style, price, build quality, materials, weight, and of course how it sounds, the tone.


In this article, I’m focusing on the best bluegrass banjos, so make sure you pick a five-string resonator banjo.

Build Quality

Banjos are complicated instruments, with hundreds of parts that must fit together just right to get a great sound. Because of this, pay close attention to who made it and where it was assembled, and read reviews before you buy.


When buying a banjo, you want to look for instruments using the best materials. For the best bluegrass banjos, this means a solid hardwood rim and neck, heavy metal hardware, and a brass tone ring.


Because of the solid wood and heavy bell brass hardware, most professional quality banjos are often 12-15 lbs or more. Many small makers are making lightweight pro banjos, but in general the heavier it is, the better it will sound.

The Overall Tone & Sound

The sound that you’re looking for in the best bluegrass banjos can be subjective, but most share a few qualities. These instruments all have the loud, distinct banjo twang and in addition, most have qualities described as “pop” and “growl.”


Bluegrass banjos range from around $200 for a beginner instrument all the way up to $2,500 and more for a solid professional banjo. Some vintage banjos from before 1940 cost hundreds of thousands of dollars.

10 Best Bluegrass Banjos

Deering Sierra

  • Parts and materials: Deering ’06 bell brass tone ring, mahogany neck and resonator, 3-ply rim
  • Weight: 12.25 lbs
  • Style: Resonator
  • What’s included: Banjo, hardshell case
  • Best for: Professionals and advanced players

The Deering Sierra is a workhorse banjo for professional players everywhere. With great bluegrass sound up and down the neck and a reliable build, it’s one of the best banjos on the market.

Deering is one of the top banjo producers in the world, and the Sierra is their flagship instrument and most popular model. Countless professional musicians rely on the Sierra for that authentic bluegrass twang.

✅ Fantastic sound
✅ Professional-grade parts
✅ Solid build
✅ Great setup
❌ More expensive
❌ Heavy

Why I Recommend It

I’ve owned a Deering Sierra for a while, and it’s my go-to banjo for live performances. It’s a little on the heavy side, but it feels great in your lap and is well-balanced if you play standing up. The neck isn’t too wide or too narrow, but just right.

The Sierra is a little on the expensive side, so it’s not for beginners who may not stick with the instrument. But if you’ve already got some bluegrass banjo skills and are looking to upgrade to a professional instrument, I can’t recommend the Sierra enough. It sets the standard for all modern professional banjos today.



Recording King RK-35 Madison

  • Parts and materials: Maple neck and resonator, bell brass cast tone ring
  • Weight: 11.4 lbs
  • Style: Resonator
  • What’s included: Banjo
  • Best for: Intermediate players

On the cheaper side of things, the Recording King RK-35 Madison is a real steal of a banjo. Coming in around $1,000, not only is it a good value, but with a bell brass tone ring and other quality parts, it’s a excellent investment for a banjo that will last most players for years.

The high quality materials and craftsmanship of this banjo means that it’s loud, which is necessary for bluegrass jam sessions. With tasteful inlays and a subdued gloss finish, it has elegant looks that are a good match for its warm and even tone.

✅ Great sound
✅ Excellent value
✅ Quality parts
✅ Mastertone style look
❌ Ok build
❌ Heavy for beginners

Why I Recommend It

A good friend of mine and fellow bluegrass picker owns this banjo, and I’ve had the opportunity to play it many times. It has a bright and punchy tone, and it sounds much better than other banjos in its price range.

This is a great banjo to pick up if you want a solid, authentic-feeling bluegrass banjo at a fraction of the cost. Even if you progress to an advanced level on the instrument, like my friend, you may continue to use this banjo for years to come.



Gold Tone BG-150F

  • Parts and materials: Rolled brass tone ring, maple neck and rim, mahogany resonator
  • Weight: 8 lbs
  • Style: Resonator
  • What’s included: Banjo
  • Best for: A step up for beginners

A dedicated bluegrass banjo, the Gold Tone BG-150F is another instrument with great value. It’s a bit lighter than a professional bluegrass banjo, but it has a full and powerful sound. The banjo’s light weight brings some benefits too, as it’s easier to play standing up for long periods of time or to take along traveling.

Gold Tone put extra thought into the looks of the BG-150F, designing it to resemble a classic pre-WWII banjo. It has fretboard inlays of hearts and flowers, and it contains other nice details like an engraved armrest. It’s truly a banjo that looks as good as it sounds.

✅ Very solid build
✅ Looks great
✅ Good sound
✅ Lighter
❌ Lacks a bit of pop
❌ No case

Why I Recommend It

A student of mine recently arrived to her lesson with the BG-150F. She asked me how much I thought it cost, and I answered around $1,500. I was astonished to learn that this banjo goes for nearly half of my guess. That’s how good it sounds.

Any beginner or intermediate player would be more than happy with this banjo, and I suspect that professionals like me would also find something to love about it. If you’re looking for a solid instrument with great value that’s a step up from a cheap, “beginners-only” style banjo, this is one to consider.



Washburn B-8K

  • Parts and materials: Mahogany neck and body, guitar style tuners
  • Weight: 4 lbs
  • Style: Resonator
  • What’s included: Banjo, gig bag, pitch pipe, strap, picks, instruction book
  • Best for: Beginners

For beginner players, it can be very helpful to get all the accessories needed to start playing right off the bat. That’s why the Washburn B-8K is such a great choice. It’s a solid, if unexciting, banjo at an affordable price with all of the extras you’ll need.

It may be inexpensive, but the sound quality is fine thanks to a mahogany resonator. The rosewood fretboard is easy to play on, and its overall quality will encourage new players to stick with the instrument. Plus, it’s always a good idea to buy from reliable companies like Washburn, which has been making fretted instruments since 1883.

✅ Lots of accessories
✅ Great value
✅ Light
✅ Sounds decent
❌ Cheap materials
❌ Inconsistent build

Why I Recommend It

Over the years, several of my students have begun their banjo journey on a Washburn. It’s much better than other beginner banjos in its price range, and it saves beginners the time and confusion of choosing extras like a gig bag and picks.

This is a good choice for a first banjo. There’s no reason for an intermediate or advanced player to buy it, and although it’s on the higher end of quality for a beginner banjo, there’s no reason to buy it as an upgrade from another beginner banjo. But if you’re looking to start out on banjo, or want to give a gift to an aspiring banjoist in your life, you can’t go wrong with this package.



Deering Goodtime II

  • Parts and materials: Violin grade maple neck and rim, guitar style tuners, 11″ head
  • Weight: 6 lbs
  • Style: Resonator
  • What’s included: Banjo
  • Best for: Beginners

If you’re a beginner looking for a more solid banjo that’s extremely playable, the Deering Goodtime II series is as good as you can get. Built to Deering standards with high quality maple, this banjo is a great way to get started.

It’s lightweight too, about as heavy as an acoustic guitar, but the sound projects loud and full. The light blonde maple with black trim on the body and neck of the instrument really makes it stand out, and the satin finish protects it from scratches.

✅ Very solid build
✅ Light
✅ Excellent sound
✅ Easy to play
❌ More expensive
❌ No accessories

Why I Recommend It

Look around a bluegrass jam session, and you’ll see lots of Deering Goodtime IIs. I’ve played many of them in all kinds of situations: jams, student lessons, jams, in music shops. The Goodtime isn’t quite at the level of the Sierra (#1 on this list), but if you’re beginning to play the banjo and have a bit more of a budget, the Deering Goodtime II is an excellent introduction to bluegrass banjos.

It costs about twice as much as the Washburn and doesn’t come with any extras, so this is a good choice for beginners who are certain they want to stick with the instrument, especially musicians with some experience on other instruments, like guitar. The Deering Goodtime II is good enough to be played well into the intermediate stage of learning banjo.



Recording King RK-75 Elite

  • Parts and materials: Mahogany neck and resonator, 3-ply maple rim, Mastertone style tone ring and flange
  • Weight: 14 lbs
  • Style: Resonator
  • What’s included: Banjo, hardshell case
  • Best for: Advanced players

Recording King has been making banjos for a long time, and the RK-75 Elite is the product of many years of making fine banjos. It has a hard-driving bluegrass sound, and it feels great in your hands.

The looks of the RK-75 Elite were inspired by the Mastertone banjos of the 1930s, which give it a vintage flavor. It’s a beautiful instrument, with flying eagle inlays and a dark mahogany resonator with a gloss finish.

✅ Classic Mastertone look
✅ Excellent sound
✅ Great feel and setup
✅ Good value
❌ Heavy

Why I Recommend It

Recently, as I tried out all the banjos in my local music shop, the RK-75 first jumped out at me for its classic design. Picking it up, I noticed how heavy but well balanced it was. I played some bluegrass runs and was impressed by the clear and bright sound.

Then I looked at the price tag. Based on its design and quality of sound, I could easily imagine this banjo costing three times as much. This is a great value banjo for any intermediate player who’s approaching advanced level, and indeed it wouldn’t be out of place in a professional setting like a stage or recording studio.



Gold Tone CC-100R

  • Parts and materials: Maple neck, rim, and resonator, rolled brass tone ring
  • Weight: 6.5 lbs
  • Style: Resonator
  • What’s included: Banjo
  • Best for: Beginner to intermediate players

Beginners who love the classy design and powerful sound of Gold Tone banjos should check out their Cripple Creek series. Comparable to the Deering Goodtime II, the Gold Tone CC-100R is also made of quality light blonde maple and comes in at a very affordable price.

It’s a top choice for beginners, particularly those who are interested in more styles than bluegrass. The resonator can be easily removed, making the sound of the banjo more suitable for styles like clawhammer. The price is on the lower end, but the banjo still features expert construction and first-rate materials.

✅ Solid sound
✅ Good setup and low action
✅ Excellent value
✅ Quality build
❌ Cheap look
❌ Not the best materials

Why I Recommend It

For a very good sound at a very good price, the CC-100R really shines as a banjo for beginner or intermediate players. I’ve played them many times over the years. They’re excellent student models that can still hold their own in a bluegrass jam session.

It also comes in a left-handed model, which is great for the southpaws out there. With its short string on the top of the neck, banjo isn’t like guitar, which you can simply turn over and re-string. You’ll need a banjo that’s specifically designed for lefties.



Recording King RKH-05

  • Parts and materials: Multi-ply rim, maple neck and resonator, guitar style tuners, plate flange
  • Weight: 5 lbs
  • Style: Resonator
  • What’s included: Banjo
  • Best for: Beginners

Another banjo with a price far lower than it should be, the Recording King RKH-05 is a fantastic value for any beginner. It’s got a great classic banjo look and a solid sound while still being lightweight and easy to play for banjo newbies.

Dubbed the “Dirty Thirties” because of its resemblance to classic banjos from the first half of the 20th century, this banjo has a vintage style that somehow seems right for bluegrass. The maple neck and resonator with the satin finish really shine, and they provide a lovely full sound.

✅ Lightweight
✅ Classic look
✅ Good sound
✅ Well built
❌ Cheap materials
❌ Just OK setup

Why I Recommend It

Many of my students have arrived to lessons with this banjo, and I’m always impressed by its looks. The sound is great too. Although it’s not quite loud or full enough to compete with professional-level banjos, it’s a really great option for beginner players on a budget who want a classic look and sound right off the bat.

Its light weight also makes it convenient for taking to lessons or traveling. Indeed, once you learn enough banjo to want an upgrade, I’m certain that you’ll want to keep this banjo for playing around the campfire or shoving into the overhead compartment of an airplane.



Rogue B30 Deluxe

      • Parts and materials: Nato resonator and neck, guitar style tuners
      • Weight: 8.2 lbs
      • Style: Resonator
      • What’s included: Banjo
      • Best for: Beginners on a tight budget

At around $200, the Rogue B30 is the cheapest option on this list. It can be hard to find a banjo at that price that’s worth playing, but the Rogue B30 isn’t bad at all. For the price, you’re getting a solid build and a pretty decent bluegrass sound that’s much more reliable than banjos at a similar price.

The banjo is made of nato wood and has an aluminum rim, two reasons the cost is so low. They aren’t the best materials out there, but the banjo sounds surprisingly good for using those cheaper materials. Rogue didn’t skimp on other parts, at least, as the banjo has a chrome armrest and a genuine Remo head, which is the standard for banjos.

✅ Very inexpensive
✅ Good sound
✅ Very light
✅ Durable
❌ Cheap materials
❌ Unreliable setup

Why I Recommend It

I wouldn’t want to bring this banjo to a jam session, much less up on stage, but for lessons and home practice, it’s hard to beat for the price. The sound is perfectly decent for a beginner, loud and full enough to keep you motivated to continue learning.

The design is quite simple and plain as well, but if you’re just starting out, that may not matter. Basically, for those on the tightest of budgets, the Rogue B30 is a solid banjo to get started on.



Gold Tone OB-250

  • Parts and materials: Maple neck, rim, and resonator, bell brass cast tone ring, Planetary tuners
  • Weight: 13 lbs
  • Style: Resonator
  • What’s included: Banjo, hardshell case
  • Best for: Professionals and advanced players

The Gold Tone OB-250 has been around since the beginning of Gold Tone banjos. It’s one of their more popular models because of its great look and professional sound. You can also preorder the OB-250+ with an upgraded tone ring or with a Tony Pass machined rim.

Gold Tone calls it the staple of their bluegrass banjo line. It’s a gorgeous looking banjo with heart and flower inlays, and it has a warm, rich, and powerful sound to match. It also comes with a hardshell case, which is certainly necessary for protecting such a quality instrument.

✅ Great value
✅ Reliable and solid build
✅ Excellent sound
✅ Looks great
❌ Heavy

Why I Recommend It

I love the sound of this banjo, and for only around $1,500, it’s a steal. Any intermediate and even advanced player would enjoy playing this banjo. Its twangy yet clear tone is made for bluegrass, and it has the volume to stand out in large jam sessions.

Best of all, it has a very accessible price for a professional-sounding bluegrass banjo that’s great for intermediate to advanced players. It’s a banjo that will last you a lifetime.


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Best Bluegrass Banjo Brands

Below I’ll describe the best brands making bluegrass banjos today.

A close up of a Bluegrass banjo


Deering, founded in 1975 by Greg Deering in California, builds some of the best professional banjos, and its line of Goodtime banjos is great for beginners. They have grown into a big organization but still have an incredible eye for detail and innovation. I play a Deering Sierra and have been happy with it from day one.


Gibson was founded in Michigan in 1902 and used to be one of the premier makers of banjos and string instruments. Their vintage banjos are the most sought-after banjos out there. 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 makes some of the most popular banjos for beginner and intermediate level players. Their Cripple Creek series is an affordable choice for beginners, and their OB-250 is a quality banjo for intermediate and advanced musicians.

Recording King

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

Artisan Builders

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

Bluegrass Banjo Aesthetics & Build

Most bluegrass banjos have a certain look and feel, and they are really a complex machine built of often hundreds of parts. To build the best bluegrass banjos, the best wood, metal, and composite parts are needed to get the right look and sound.


The rim, neck, and resonator are the most important parts for the sound and look of a banjo. Most are made from solid hardwoods. The most popular are maple for a bright sound and mahogany for a darker sound, though sometimes cherry, rosewood, walnut, or others are used.


Dozens of metal parts go into the making of a banjo, and because of this each needs to be meticulously machined and assembled. On top of that, to get the best sound, companies prefer to use heavier metals like brass, copper, or steel, which makes them more resonant.


Banjoists generally have their own preferences for the finish on the wood of their banjo, such as matte, glossy, or unfinished. This is an aesthetic choice that doesn’t affect the sound.


The wood on a banjo is generally stained to a natural wood color ranging from light or yellowish maple to dark and red-tinted mahogany. The metal hardware is most often chrome, but can also be gold, copper, or brass.

Buying New vs Used

Buying a new banjo is often a very fun and fulfilling experience, and they include a warranty and other perks. But, buying used is a great way to find good banjos on a budget. When looking for a used banjo, you want to do a lot of research into what you’re getting. You’ll have the option to try it before you buy it.

What’s in the Bluegrass Banjo Box?


Many banjos come with either a hardshell case or a gig bag, which is a soft fabric case for lighter duty travel.


When you’re playing standing up, a banjo strap is essential, and many players use one sitting down, too. Often banjos come with one that clips onto the tension hooks on the side of the rim.


Electronic tuners are a convenient and essential way to get your banjo in tune, and many beginner instruments come with one included. But if yours doesn’t, don’t fret, because you can download a tuning app to almost any phone.


To get a proper bluegrass banjo sound, you need to play with fingerpicks and a thumb pick on your picking hand. Some banjos come with these included, and there are many low-cost options from Dunlop or National as well.


Almost all new banjos come with strings and a bridge included and already installed, and many also include a spare set for when they get too old or break.


Other extras that may be included or that you should consider buying are a capo, a metronome, a banjo stand (different than guitar stands), and cleaning cloths.

Bluegrass Banjo Brands to Avoid

Many low-budget banjos are made in factories with poor quality standards and are just stamped with different names after being built. You should avoid companies like Mulucky or Costzon.

Frequently Asked Questions:

Here are some answers to commonly asked questions about the best bluegrass banjos.

How Much Do Bluegrass Banjos Cost?

A bluegrass banjo can cost anywhere from about $150 for a bare-bones instrument to $2500 and up for a professional-grade banjo.

What Are the Best Bluegrass Banjos?

Here are my favorites based on my personal experiences. I’ve played all three of these banjos in a variety of settings, including on stage, in jam sessions, in music shops, and while giving lessons.

Deering Sierra: Best for Professionals

The Deering Sierra is a workhorse of a banjo used by professionals and advanced players around the world, including myself. I love my Deering Sierra and wouldn’t trade it for anything (well, maybe a priceless vintage banjo…).

Recording King RK-35 Madison: Best for Intermediate Players

Coming in around $1000 but with the parts and build of a much more expensive banjo, the RK-35 is the best for anybody looking for a step up into some serious bluegrass picking. High quality materials, including a 3-ply steam bent maple rim, give it the volume and tone you’ll need to play bluegrass with other musicians.

Washburn B-8K: Best for Beginners

With its low cost, quality Washburn build and lots of extras included, the B-8K is a great option for somebody’s first banjo. It’s a complete and quality package from one of the world’s top banjo makers.

Where Are the Best Bluegrass Banjos Made?

Almost all of the best bluegrass banjos are made in America, and the builders making them are spread out all over the country. There are also some great banjos being made in Japan, Canada, and even the Czech Republic.

What Is the Best Sounding Bluegrass Banjo?

The best sounding bluegrass banjo is hands down the Deering Sierra, which is capable of playing hard-driving bluegrass or sweet and powerful melodies up the neck. I use it for more than bluegrass, but also folk, country, and even pop songs.

Where to Buy Bluegrass Banjos

There are a lot of ways to buy banjos nowadays, and the biggest decision for anyone is to choose between online or in-store shopping. Online offers convenience, low prices, and easy returns. On the other hand, shopping in person lets you play multiple instruments before buying, ask experts for advice, and meet others in the local music community.


Amazon has some of the best prices out there, and with free two-day shipping, easy returns, and a huge selection of products, it’s hard to argue with shopping on Amazon for anything. That includes banjos.

Online Music Retailers

Online retailers like,, or offer many of the perks of Amazon while also being dedicated to just music gear. Some added perks of these sites include more niche products, a selection of used instruments, and more comprehensive descriptions.

Your Local Music Store

If you’re lucky enough to have a local music store, they can be a great place to buy your banjo. By shopping there, you can support small businesses, get expert advice, take lessons, and meet other people passionate about music in your area.

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In Conclusion

When looking for the best bluegrass banjos, it can be tough sorting through all of the noise out there. I hope that with this guide I clarified what to look for and gave you some good banjos to look at as a starting point. And remember that no matter where you are in your banjo journey, there’s something out there for you!

Thanks a lot for reading, and I hope you’ll come back and learn more about banjos and other instruments soon. If you have any questions, comments, or your own favorite bluegrass banjos, please leave a comment below.