How to Select a Premium Banjo from a Great Company
Have you been wondering what the absolute best banjo brands are? This is a fair question. After all, if you want a great banjo, you’ll need to be sure that you’ve chosen a quality manufacturer! Luckily, that’s what this in-depth banjo brand buying guide is all about.
Banjos are some of the most enjoyable and entertaining stringed acoustic instruments to play. Banjos have a signature sound that can add depth to any song! Plus, banjos create unique percussive notes and rhythmic patterns which will enhance a live melodic ensemble.
So which banjo brands are best? Who makes the best quality banjo brands? Does the maker and brand of an instrument really matter? Below, we will answer all of these questions and more!
A quick look at our list of the Best Banjo Brands:
About Our Top Banjo Brands Guide
In this comprehensive guide on the best banjo brands, we will cover not only who makes the highest quality banjos and more. We’ll look into some of the best banjo brands on the market for 2021, discuss why these instruments are top-notch, and go over how to select the best banjo brands for your exact needs.
For instance, the best banjo brands beginners will love won’t be the same as those that expert players will appreciate. Alternatively, the best banjo brands for individuals playing on stage might not be what musicians who prefer to play at home will like.
We’ll also take a look at a few different types of banjos, and investigate the history of this fascinating instrument. That way, when it comes time to purchase a banjo, you’ll be armed with the facts!
What We’ll Cover Here
• The Background of the Banjo
• Banjo Styles and Types
• The Best Banjo Brands for Sale in 2021
• FAQ Section: Selecting the Best Banjo for You
The History and Heritage of the American Banjo
Before we can get into the best quality banjo brands, it may be helpful to first give you some history on these instruments. Knowing where instruments originate will help you appreciate the heritage and history of a manufacturer.
Banjos have a special place in American history and represent the heritage, culture, and progression of the early American south.
When you hear a banjo, you’re probably instantly reminded of days gone by. The sound of a well-played banjo is reminiscent of late-night jam sessions or old-timey throwdowns in the prohibition era.
Banjos conjure images of people in the past having a seriously good time, even when the times were rough! Suffice to say, banjos are classic, iconic, and irresistibly unique instruments.
A Bit About Banjos
Not only do banjos sound great, but they can also be incredibly fun to play! Fiddles and banjos are iconic instruments in Old-Time-Style and Folk music. Banjos are also often used in Bluegrass, Irish Celtic, Rhythmic, Soul, Appalachian Mountain, and Country genres. Additionally, you can also find some pretty cool banjo riffs in Jazz, Alternative, Indie, and Rock songs!
The Signature Sound of This Instrument
Carefully constructed banjo accompaniments can be found in songs by the Eagles and Led Zeppelin. Furthermore, infamous banjo riffs can be heard in almost every song from Mumford & Sons and Trampled by Turtles! Really, there’s nothing quite as cool as a perfectly placed banjo solo.
These acoustic stringed instruments have a signature twang and rich resonating sound. Banjos are unique in that they simultaneously create percussion-style rhythms, melodic patterns, and supportive chord progressions.
The Banjo’s Early Days
The first banjos were used by African American immigrants in the deep south. In its earliest form, the banjo can be traced as far back as 1620. Back then, banjos were often made using hollow gourds and animal skins.
The name “banjo” comes from the word “mbanza”, which is a kind of seven-stringed acoustic instrument. These instruments were most likely what inspired the first home-made banjos.
Banjos On Stage
By the 1790s, banjos were often played on stage by minstrels. One of the first-ever famous banjo players was Joel Walker Sweeny. He used the banjo on stage as a traveling minstrel in 1813. In the 1830s, you could also hear banjos in western traveling theaters, classical performances, and many other places as well.
A Banjo Craze Begins
By the early 1860s, the signature sound of the banjo was well known nationwide. Banjos were now found both in the antebellum south and all over the country! As the Civil War progressed, a banjo craze was also in full swing.
Soon, people began crafting their own banjos in bulk. The Dobson Brothers were some of the most active banjo players and makers at this time.
Earliest Banjo Brands
While the Dobson Brothers were known for adding frets and resonators to banjos in the 1870s, the Buckabee Company in New York was one of the first companies to create a shop-made banjo. Prolific banjo maker S.S. Stewart and Boucher of Baltimore also helped to develop the first mainstream banjos. Later in the 1890s-1920s, Vega-Fairbanks Co. and Martin Guitars along with the Gibson company would continue to develop and sell these instruments. By the mid-1920s, many other companies were producing professionally crafted banjos as well.
Banjo Styles and Types
Modern banjos come in an array of sizes, styles, and materials. Different banjos can be used for different styles of music as well. There are four-string (plectrum), five-string, and even six-string banjos. Four-string plectrum banjos are great for Celtic music.
Five-string banjos are the most popular style and come in many different materials. Six-string banjos can be tuned and played similarly to how you’d play the guitar. For intense rhythmic sound, there are also twelve-string banjos that double down on the six-stringed design.
Bluegrass Resonator (Close-Back) Banjos and Open-Back Banjos
Some banjos have open-back designs which make them lightweight and easy to carry. Open-back banjos have a mellow and rich sound. Other banjos have added resonator plates on the back of the pot to project sound and add volume. Resonator banjos are often played in Bluegrass music.
There are many ways to play the banjo as well. Fast and bouncy arpeggiated plucking is often used to create signature melodic rhythms. Banjos have historically been played in a Clawhammer style, which consists of a downward striking of the four main strings while the fifth string is played in a lifting motion. This creates a dual-style sound with rhythm and melody at the same time.
Earl Scruggs is famous for using a two-finger “up-pick” style as well, which is now used in many forms of Appalachian Mountain music. Traditionally, five-string banjos are played using bare fingerpicking or with attached finger picks. Irish and Celtic melodies can be played using single note styles.
Here is a video that will help you understand the differences between the 4 playing styles:
The Best Banjo Brands for Sale in 2021
Since now you know where banjos came from and how they got so popular in America, we can go over some of the absolute best quality banjo brands for sale today. Keep in mind that the best banjo brands in one musician’s opinion might differ from what other people consider to be top-notch. So, as you read our list of impressive banjo brands and makers, use your own tastes and preferences to guide your purchasing decisions.
This list of the best banjo brands in 2021 has been created based on a few key factors. We’ve included top banjo brands known for having impressive real-life musician ratings and historical infamy. We’ve also factored in instrument construction, resonation, overall sound, and material quality.
Finally, we’ve listed each brand under the banjo maker with some history about each company. That way, you’ll know where each brand originates and what makes it a unique option to consider.
Additionally, some popular instrument makers aren’t currently releasing banjos. For instance, Gibson and Fender have crafted some absolutely stunning banjos in the past, but aren’t currently releasing new instruments in the banjo category. Notably, Gibson stopped their banjo production in 2010 after the Cumberland River flooded. So, we’ve left them off of our list.
Washburn banjos are made by the Washburn Guitar Company. There are many impressive banjos available for sale from Washburn today. Washburn banjos are great because they’re well-designed, fun to play, great-sounding, and affordable.
Washburn has been making banjos since the late 1800s. Their instruments were considered some of the most well-designed options on the market from 1890-1985. That heritage of premium craftsmanship can still be seen in the instruments that they manufacture today. As such, both professionals and amateurs praise Washburn for the outstanding tone, build, and value of their banjos.
• Washburn Guitar Company History
Originally, the Washburn Guitar Company was started by George Washburn, in Chicago, IL. He wanted to offer American musicians quality instruments at affordable prices. By 1889, Washburn was one of the largest mandolin and banjo makers in the United States.
By the 1920s, the Washburn company was making various stringed instruments for musicians all over the country. In the 1970s, they pioneered a few all-original banjo and guitar series styles. For over 135 years, they’ve been praised for their instrument design and quality!
• The Best Banjo Brands from Washburn:
Washburn banjos come in many different styles. Their signature series of Americana banjos are available in B7, B6, B17, B11, B10, B8, and B9 variants. The versatile Americana Washburn Banjo series is known for its quality and affordable pricing. Here are some of the best Americana Washburn banjos for sale in 2021!
Popular Washburn Banjos Include…
- The B6 and B7 Series
- Americana Washburn Banjos
- Washburn Signature Custom Banjos
The Washburn Americana Series B11K-A 5 String Banjo Natural
This premium 5-string banjo has a maple resonator and rim with a one-piece flange. It also features a natural mahogany neck and an 11” die-cast tension hoop. With its rolled brass tone ring and traditional tailpiece, it’s a great instrument for just about any level of player. It also features a geared 5th string planetary tuner and comes with a set of premium D’Addario strings.
- Premium Material Construction
- Maple Resonator
- Geared 5th String Tuner
- Includes Premium Strings (Pre-Strung)
Washburn B8 Starter Kit
Washburn is also one of the best banjo brands beginners can enjoy. In fact, there are some awesome Washburn banjo beginner kits available. For instance, with this B8 Starter Kit, you’ll get a premium Washburn Americana series B8 banjo with a gig bag, pitch pipe, instructional booklet, and strap included.
Plus, the B8 banjo is made with a premium Remo head, mahogany sides and back, and a rosewood fingerboard. This is a great banjo kit for anyone who’s just getting started or for professional players who want a decent Washburn B8 with a free soft case included!
- Full Beginner Kit
- Includes Case, Strap, and Pitch Pipe Tuner
- Premium Remo Head
- Mahogany and rosewood construction
The Deering company makes some of the best quality banjo brands of all time. Deering is the manufacturer of the Goodtime, Vega, and Tenbrooks brands. Deering also has a few signature banjos released under their own house brand.
Deering banjos are awesome because they’re very well made, crafted using premium woods, and can create a range of intricate rhythms and sounds. Plus, each of Deering’s versatile brands features instruments with their own distinctive sound style.
• The Deering Banjo Company History
The Deering company has been around since the 1970s. The company was started by Greg and Janet Deering and is currently located in Spring Valley, CA. Greg Deering learned to work with wood and craft instruments at a young age. He wanted to create premium instruments that came at prices that anyone could afford.
Greg Deering also wanted to offer versatile sounds and styles within the instruments he crafted. Today, it’s still in the family and run by Jamie Deering, Greg Deering’s daughter.
• The Best Banjo Brands from Deering:
The most popular brands from the Deering company include Goodtime, Vega, and Tenbrooks. All three of these brands have some amazing banjos to offer. Made with high-quality materials, they all create unique sounds in their own right.
Goodtime banjos are praised for their rich sounds and projection. Vega banjos are finely made with expert attention to detail and affordable prices. Tenbrooks banjos are premium instruments that come in an array of styles.
Popular Deering-Made Banjo Brands Include…
- GoodTime Banjos
- Vega Banjos
- Tenbrooks Banjos
Deering Goodtime 2 Resonator Banjo
This premium Goodtime Banjo from the Deering company produces a lovely resonating sound. It has a premium design and features an 11″ frosted top high crown and a slender blonde maple neck. This banjo also has a 3-ply violin grade rim with 22 pressed nickel silver frets.
The Deering Goodtime 2 resonator banjo also comes with a hard travel case. If you love the rich resonating sound of closed-back resonator banjos, this is a fantastic option to look into.
- Great User Ratings
- Stunning Blonde Maple Neck
- Resonator 5-String Banjo
- Includes a Hard Travel Case
Deering Goodtime Blackgrass 5-String
Have you ever played an all-black natural banjo? Well, maybe it’s time to try. This gorgeous blacked-out banjo from Deering’s Goodtime brand looks like something that the Devil brought to Georgia and played after he lost the fiddle competition. It’s stunning with a black neck, pot, and resonator back.
This banjo is made from premium materials and sounds similar to the premium Goodtime 2 Gold banjo, but with more style and rich mahogany wood accents. So, if you want something super stylish with dark grandeur, this might just be the Deering banjo for you.
- Premium Construction
- All-Black Signature Limited Edition Series
- Gorgeous Look
- Rich Vibrant Sound
There are many more amazing makers and brands out there. We simply can’t mention them all on our list. Ibanez banjos, for example, are really well-made and have great designs with rich sounds. One popular Ibanez banjo is the B200 5-String.
There are also some premium banjos for sale from Recording King. Finally, up and coming brands like ADM, Crossrock, and Gold Tone sell decent banjos at affordable prices.
FAQ Section: Selecting the Best Banjo for You
SO how can you find the best banjo for your needs? Who makes the best banjo overall? What is the best banjo brand to buy as a beginner? We’ll answer all of this and more in our frequently asked question section!
Who makes the best banjo?
Wondering who makes the best banjo, overall? Well, we’d have to say that it’s a tie between Washburn and Deering. Washburn is amazing because they’ve been making banjos for over 130 years. This company knows the business and has what it takes to craft a truly premium acoustic instrument.
Alternatively, Deering banjos are of premium design and made of amazing materials. Plus, Deering offers more sub-brands. Depending on what you want in a banjo, they’re both amazing options to consider.
What is the best brand of banjo to buy?
The best quality banjo brands will sell instruments that meet your needs as a player without breaking the bank. Washburn and Deering both offer banjos that are of great quality and come at fair prices. With that in mind, we highly recommend any banjo from the Deering Goodtime brand. Goodtime brand banjos are well-made and affordable.
This makes them fantastic options to buy if you want to save some money and still access great sound quality. However, if you don’t mind spending a bit more, Deering custom house brands are pretty impressive. There are some custom banjos for sale on the Deering website with hand-made construction and professional-grade materials. Washburn banjos are a standard American classic as well.
What is the best banjo brand to buy as a beginner?
Are you wondering who makes the best banjo for beginner level players? The top banjo brands for beginning banjo players include Ibanez, Washburn, ADM, and Vango. These banjo brands offer instruments that are inexpensive and easy to practice with.
Many banjos from these brands are also available in starter kits. With a beginner banjo kit, you can save money and time while still getting all of your essential equipment in one package. This impressive banjo kit from ADM is pretty awesome.
It comes with an electric tuner, case, high-quality ADM banjo, fingerpicks, strings, a strap, and even a hanging hook. You get all of this at a great value overall value!
Does an instrument’s brand really matter?
Some people say that good sound comes from how well you play and the brand doesn’t matter. We have to disagree! When it comes to quality and sound, an instrument’s brand, material construction, and maker, really does have an impact. While it’s true that how well you play is important, you still need a good instrument.
Even the best banjo pickers and strummers will agree that only a quality banjo can produce a quality sound. Plus, great banjo makers craft long-lasting instruments! The best banjos will utilize premium materials and produce rich vibrant tones.
Not all brands have been created equally, either. Some brands are simply better than others!