If you’re looking for the best clawhammer banjos, you’ve come to the right place. Whether for a mainstay of American folk and old-time music or for a connection to the instrument’s African roots, you’ll find the best clawhammer banjo for you below.

I’m Ryan Burns, a folk, bluegrass, and country musician from Chicago, IL. I’ve been picking banjos for 10 years in all kinds of styles, and I personally love the sound and feel of playing clawhammer banjo. So, I want to share some of my knowledge with you.

Quick Look: Best Clawhammer Banjo

#1 Best Clawhammer Banjo Overall: Gold Tone Ladye


So, strap in and take a look with me below at what makes a great banjo, or scroll down to find the specific recommendations.

What Is a Clawhammer Banjo?

Clawhammer banjo is a style of playing banjo using the back of your nails and thumb in a distinctive scooping motion. It’s called “clawhammer” because you’re hammering down on the strings to make the sound and you shape your hand like a claw.

This style of banjo is used mainly for what we call old-time music in America. Early American music was heavily influenced by African music, which included the predecessors to the banjo, so if you’re looking to explore the roots of American music, clawhammer banjo is for you.

A clawhammer banjo on the wall

The instruments used generally have an open back for the body of the instrument, five strings of either nylon or steel, and a long thin neck, often with a scoop near the body. The best clawhammer banjos have a softer, earthier, and “plunkier” sound than what’s used in bluegrass.

Things to Consider When Choosing a Clawhammer Banjo

There are many factors to consider when buying clawhammer banjos, including size, tone production, price, materials, and brand.


Though most clawhammer banjos are roughly the same size, there are some decisions to make among long neck banjos, standard size banjos, or travel/child size banjos. Because they all have open backs, though, they’re all relatively light and portable.

The Overall Tone & Sound

The most important factor in choosing a banjo is finding one that sounds just right. It’s hard to judge this when buying online, but if you want to listen to them, most have demonstration videos on Youtube if you type the name of the model into the search bar.


Obviously, price is a huge factor when choosing any instrument. The very best clawhammer banjos will set you back upwards of $1000, but there are many great models for less money, and I’ll share those below.


To get the best tone from a banjo, you generally want to use solid woods and heavy metal hardware (brass is common), but many other materials can be used to good effect. You also want to consider whether your instrument will have steel strings or nylon strings for a warmer sound.


There are several great brands for banjos. Some of the best brands for clawhammer banjos include Deering, Gold Tone, and Recording King, but there are many others that make good instruments. Try to avoid banjos coming from companies that don’t have a good reputation, though.

10 Best Clawhammer Banjos

Gold Tone White Ladye

  • Parts & materials: Hard Rock maple neck and rim, Planetary tuners, White Ladye tone ring
  • Size & weight: 11″ head, 6.7 lbs, standard length
  • What’s included: Banjo
  • Best for: Serious clawhammer players

The most popular Gold Tone open back banjo, the Gold Tone White Ladye is a professional quality banjo at a reasonable price. With its vintage styling and sturdy modern construction, this banjo is a great option for someone serious about playing clawhammer banjo.

✅ Top notch sound
✅ Great vintage look
✅ Sturdy construction
✅ Good value
❌ Expensive for beginners
❌ None

Why I Recommend It

After I played many of the best clawhammer banjos, the White Ladye really stood out not only for its sound but also for its solid and stylish construction.



Deering Goodtime

  • Parts & materials: Blonde maple neck and rim, guitar style tuners
  • Size & weight: 11″ head, 4 lbs, wide neck
  • What’s included: Gig bag, electric tuner
  • Best for: Beginners

Deering is one of the best banjo makers in any style, and their Deering Goodtime series really stands out as a perfect beginner clawhammer banjo. It’s light, durable, and set to Deering’s high quality standards.

✅ Durable
✅ Affordable
✅ Easy to play
✅ Good sound
❌ No tone ring
❌ None

Why I Recommend It

This is the banjo I recommend to all of my beginner students when they first pick up the banjo because it’s simply the best clawhammer banjo for beginners.


Recording King Dirty Thirties Open Back

  • Parts & materials: Multi-ply rim, maple neck, Presto tailpiece, guitar style tuners
  • Size & weight: 11″ rim, 5.1 lbs, standard neck
  • What’s included: Banjo
  • Best for: Beginners on a budget

With the Recording King Dirty Thirties Open Back, Recording King made one of the best clawhammer banjos for beginners by taking cues from many great vintage banjos from the 1930s. And at about half the price of a Deering Goodtime, it’s great for folks on a budget.

✅ Cheap
✅ Cool vintage look
✅ Solid sound
✅ Light
❌ A bit flimsy feeling
❌ Quiet

Why I Recommend It

It’s a good sounding banjo at a very affordable price.



Gold Tone OT-800LN

  • Parts & materials: Maple neck and rim, Tubaphone style tone ring, Planetary tuners
  • Size & weight: 11″ head, 9 lbs, extra long neck (32″ scale length)
  • What’s included: Banjo
  • Best for: Advanced players looking for deeper notes

A favorite of Pete Seeger, long neck banjos give a player an extra low range below a normal banjo, and the Gold Tone OT-800LN is a great example of this style. A professional-quality build, great sound, and cool vintage look make this a solid buy for anyone interested in this style.

✅ Great sound
✅ Solidly built
✅ Quality parts
✅ Looks great
❌ Expensive
❌ Heavy for an open back

Why I Recommend It

I love playing a good long neck banjo, and this banjo gives that wonderful, deep old-time tone that you’re bound to love.



Gold Tone Maple Mountain Open Back

  • Parts & materials: White Ladye tone ring, 1/2″ maple rim, Planetary tuners
  • Size & weight: 11″ Renaissance head, 6.5 lbs, standard length
  • What’s included: Banjo
  • Best for: Intermediate players

The Gold Tone Maple Mountain model from Gold Tone is one of the best values for clawhammer banjos out there. It has many of the same parts and features of higher-end banjos but comes in at well under $1000. It’s a real steal at this price.

✅ Great value
✅ Rich tone
✅ Classic look
✅ Quality solid materials
❌ Not as well crafted as higher end models
❌ Plain styling

Why I Recommend It

If you want a high-end banjo sound and feel for a bit less money, then the Maple Mountain banjo is a great choice!


Deering Goodtime Americana Series

  • Parts & materials: Maple neck and rim, guitar style tuners
  • Size & weight: 12″ Renaissance head, 4.5 lbs, standard length
  • What’s included: Banjo
  • Best for: A full, rich tone at a great price

The Deering Goodtime Americana Series version of the Deering Goodtime has the same features and good value of the original, but adds a 12″ head for a fuller, richer tone. If you’re looking for an authentic tone at a reasonable price, you really can’t beat this banjo.

✅ Rich sound
✅ Very affordable
✅ Light
✅ Easy to play
❌ No tone ring
❌ Plain looking

Why I Recommend It

The Deering Goodtime Americana takes the proven Deering formula and adds extra depth to the tone for a great playing experience, especially when playing solo.


Gold Tone AC-1 Composite Open Back

  • Parts & materials: Composite neck and rim, guitar style tuners
  • Size & weight: 11″ head, 1 lb, standard length
  • What’s included: Banjo, gig bag
  • Best for: Beginners or travelers looking for durability

If you’re looking for your first banjo, a banjo for kids, or to take on vacation with you, the Gold Tone AC-1 is for you. Its ultralight composite construction makes it durable and easy to carry while still managing to sound pretty good.

✅ Durable
✅ Light
✅ Very affordable
✅ Gig bag included
❌ Can feel a bit cheap
❌ Not the best sound

Why I Recommend It

Though not a banjo I’d recommend for taking to concert halls, the AC-1 is perfect for travel and hard use because of how light, budget-friendly, and durable it is.


Recording King OT-25 Madison

  • Parts & materials: Steam bent maple rim, scooped rosewood fingerboard, Planetary tuners
  • Size & weight: 11″ head, 9 lbs, standard length
  • What’s included: Banjo
  • Best for: Intermediate players

A solidly-made step up from beginner models, the Recording King OT-25 Madison has a classic look as well as a powerful, bright sound. With a solid wood neck and rim and a scooped neck, this feels like a high-end instrument, but at a very nice price.

✅ Scooped neck
✅ Great sound
✅ Solid wood feel
✅ Affordable
❌ Too bright for some
❌ No tone ring

Why I Recommend It

The Madison is a great mid-range banjo for people who are looking for a step up from their first banjo to something more solid.


Rogue Travel/Starter Banjo

  • Parts & materials: Vintage style head, guitar style tuners
  • Size & weight: 11″ head, 6.5 lbs, standard length
  • What’s included: Banjo
  • Best for: Beginners on a budget

An ultra-budget option, the Rogue Travel Banjo is well built with a solid clawhammer sound. Having played a few, I know that it really provides a great value for people looking to start playing the banjo of any style because of its low price and reliable construction.

✅ Ultra-affordable
✅ Solidly made
✅ Decent sound
✅ Light
❌ Low-quality materials
❌ Can feel cheap

Why I Recommend It

Getting a banjo that stays in tune or even stays together at this price can be hard, so getting the sound and construction that the Rogue Travel Banjo has at under $150 makes it one of the best clawhammer banjos.



Vega Long Neck Banjo

  • Parts & materials: Maple neck and rim, bone nut, glued-in frets, Tubaphone tone ring, brass hardware
  • Size & weight: 11″ head, 8 lbs, long neck
  • What’s included: Banjo, hardshell case
  • Best for: Long neck players looking for immaculate sound

The Vega Long Neck Banjo is now made by Deering, so you know you’re getting the best of the best when buying one. This long neck banjo is no exception, and with a solid wood and brass build and an excellent deep tone, you’ll turn heads playing this banjo. But, that quality does come at a steep price.

✅ Fantastic sound
✅ Quality Deering construction
✅ Hardshell case
✅ Professional grade materials
❌ Very expensive
❌ Heavier

Why I Recommend It

I love how the Vega Long Neck sounds and feels, and it’s the best sounding banjo on the list. It’s great for professionals or anyone looking for that rich and deep tone.



Best Clawhammer Banjo Brands

When looking for the best clawhammer banjo brands, you want to find a company that has been around for a while and is known for their consistent quality. Generally, American made banjos are best. Along with the big names, though, there are tons of great artisan builders out there if you’re looking for a custom model.

Gold Tone

Founded in 1993, Gold Tone Banjos are headquartered in Florida and make many great instruments for beginners through professionals.


Deering Banjos is one of the best makers of banjos anywhere. They make some of the most popular professional-level banjos as well as their Goodtime series crafted for beginners. The company was founded in 1975 in California by Greg Deering.

Recording King

They began as the house brand for Montgomery Ward in 1930 and have continued making all kinds of acoustic instruments, including a wide range of banjos, to this day.


A small and new company from Ontario, Canada, Rickard was founded in 2010 by Bill Rickard. They make some of the best unique and custom-made open back banjos around.

Bart Reiter

Bart started selling banjos out of his shop in Michigan in 1987 and continues to sell his open back banjos to this day, including his popular Buckbee models.

Clawhammer Banjo Aesthetics & Build

Unlike more ornate bluegrass banjos, the best clawhammer banjos are often simpler looking without too many flashy inlays or other ornamentation. The quality of an old-time banjo can be told from the solid build and quality materials.


The first thing to look for when buying a quality banjo is solid wood construction. Most are made from maple (a brighter sounding wood), walnut, or mahogany (a darker sound). But you might also find cherry or oak.


Just like with their general lack of elaborate inlays, the best old-time banjos have more of a matte finish, showing off the grain of the solid woods used.


The color of a banjo is usually aligned with the type of wood used, and so the natural tones are emphasized. Certain models might stain the wood to emphasize the model of banjo, though, like the White Ladye being dark brown as a nod to the history of that model.


The metal used for a high-quality banjo should be uniform and high quality, heavy, solid metals. While chrome and gold plated are popular, just like bluegrass banjos, you might also find brass and copper more often in clawhammer banjos.

Buying New vs Used

When it’s time to buy your banjo, one big consideration is whether to buy a brand new instrument or to find a new one. A new banjo will have the reliability of a warranty and a sturdy modern build, but you can find great deals on used instruments and there are a lot of interesting old finds out there.

What’s in the Clawhammer Banjo Box?

When buying a new clawhammer banjo, there are a variety of available packages. Many come with a case, strings, a bridge, and sometimes tuners, straps, or picks.

A beautiful banjo in a box


If you ever want to carry your banjo around, a case or gig bag is essential to protect the instrument and make it easier. These can either be a hard case, which is nice and sturdy, or a gig bag, which gives less protection but is easier to carry.


Almost any banjo will come already strung, but sometimes a banjo will come with a spare set of extra strings in case you break one or they get worn out.


The bridge is the small wooden piece holding the strings off the head, and every banjo should come with this.


A well-fitting strap will help you hold the banjo while sitting down or standing up. Some banjos come with one. There are basically two styles: clip-on or cradle.


A few other things that are included with some banjos are fingerpicks, an electronic tuner, and a cleaning cloth.

Clawhammer Banjo Brands to Avoid

There are many very cheap banjos you can find on the internet. Usually banjos under $100 are poorly made instruments that are all made in one factory and stamped with different names. For instance, brands like Mulucky or Costzon should be avoided.

Frequently Asked Questions:

Here are some answers to commonly asked questions.

How Much Do Clawhammer Banjos Cost?

Banjos can cost anywhere from $100 to $3000 and up. For your first banjo, I recommend looking for one around $200 to $500, and for the best clawhammer banjos, expect to spend over $1000.

What Are the Best Clawhammer Banjos?

Gold Tone White Ladye: Best for Serious Banjo Players

A professional quality banjo with a vintage-inspired build and modern reliable quality, this is a perfect banjo for those looking for an upgrade without breaking the bank.

Deering Goodtime: Best for Beginners

With Deering quality construction at an affordable price, this banjo will last and sound good doing it.

Gold Tone OT-800LN: Best for Long Neck Players

If you want to sound just like Pete Seeger or just want a lower sound out of your banjo, this model from Gold Tone is a fantastic pickup.

Where Are the Best Clawhammer Banjos Made?

Most of the best clawhammer banjos are made in the USA or Canada.

What Is the Best Sounding Clawhammer Banjo?

The best sounding clawhammer banjo is the Gold Tone White Ladye, not only because of the vintage styling and sound, but because of the great value it offers.

Where to Buy Clawhammer Banjos

When buying banjos you have many options, but the main distinction comes down to shopping online or in-store. Both options can be great for different reasons. Online retailers are convenient and inexpensive, while in-store shopping allows you to hear and feel an instrument before buying it.


Buying on Amazon is a great and convenient way to find just about anything, including instruments. With their cheap prices and generous return policies, it’s easy to try an instrument in your home with confidence.

Online Music Retailers

Many other online retailers offer great services, and these include Sweetwater.com, Guitarcenter.com, and Musiciansfriend.com. They offer many of the same incentives as Amazon, and in addition they focus exclusively on music gear and often have more niche instruments and great customer service.

Your Local Music Store

There are tons of locally owned music stores around that have friendly service, and even if they don’t have the instrument you want, they can order it for you to try. Plus, a local store often offers lessons, community events, and opportunities to support other local musicians.

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In Conclusion

Hopefully, now you’re more excited than ever to go out and purchase a banjo. With all of these tools to choose the best clawhammer banjo for you, you’re sure to find the perfect instrument for your needs and then get straight to some great picking.

Above all, thanks for reading and I wish you all the best in your banjo journey. If you have your favorite clawhammer banjos you’d like to suggest or any questions or comments, let us know below!