Understanding Banjos

Are there different kinds of banjos?

Yes! There are various different banjos available in a range of styles and shapes. In fact, that’s part of what makes finding the perfect choice such a complicated process. Let’s quickly go over the different kinds of banjos so that you can decide which style will work best for your needs.

5 string Banjos

5 String Type Banjos

6 string Banjos

6 String Type Banjos

Plectrum Banjos

Plectrum Type Banjos

Tenor Banjo Type

Tenor 4-String Type Banjos

Simple 4-String Type Banjos

Simple 4-String Type Banjos

Min Type  Banjos

Min Type Banjos

Examples of Banjo Hybrids

Some Examples of Banjo Hybrids
Banjola --> Banjo + Mandola
Banjolin --> Banjo + Mandolin
Banjitar --> Banjo + Guitar

The 5-String Banjo

Probably the most popular and widely used type of banjo, 5-string banjos have standard fretboards and let you play 5 strings. Notably, they feature that 5th highly pitched rhythm string that is often used to give banjos that twangy rhythmic sound. These banjos are commonly used to play various styles of Indie, Rock, Folk, Jazz, Blues, Bluegrass, and Country Music. Really, if you want to play the banjo in its original format, a 5-string banjo is your best option.

The 6-String Banjo

These banjos can be used to substitute 4-string style banjo playing, for Dixieland music, and are particularly helpful if you need to add tonality to an acoustic ensemble. They’re a lot like 5-string banjos, but with a bit more range. However, these banjos are also a bit harder to play than 5-string banjos. Also, 6-string banjos can have “double-strings” that give them an even more in-depth octave sound and feature 12-strings.

Plectrum or Tenor 4-String Banjos

Most 4-string banjos are tuned in ADGC (counted from the bottom string up) and are usually played with a flat pick. Plectrum banjos can work well for Celtic and Folk music as well. Tenor banjos usually have shorter necks and fretboards than other types of banjos.

Standard 4-String and Mini Banjos

Also used for Celtic music, there are 4-string banjos available that are not technically Plectrum banjos. These variants are often tuned an octave lower than a mandolin in EADG. They’re great for Dixieland-style music. Mini banjos also exist and have high bright tones.

Banjo Hybrids

Finally, there are ukulele and mandolin hybrid banjos. These are great for transitioning from either a ukulele or mandolin to a banjo. Other hybrids also exist with unique setups that are similar to banjos but played a bit differently. These instruments are unique and fun to play and can be used to add range to any number of musical styles.


Banjo Makers:

Who Makes The Best Banjos

Let’s get into specific banjo makers. There are certainly a lot of banjo brands to choose from. The most notable banjo brands include Deering, Washburn, Epiphone, and Fender.

Opinions on banjo makers differ, so we can’t conclusively state who makes the ideal banjos. However, all four of the above makers are at the top of the list.

Also, many agree that Deering banjos rank at the very top. Deering banjos are made with premium materials and tend to create an enchanting and unforgettable sound. Below, we will go over some of the most highly-rated banjo makers in-depth so that you can decide for yourself what banjo brand you should choose.

1st brand

Deering Banjo Company

Deering is without question one of the best banjo makers around. When you’re banjo shopping, you’ll come across a great variety of Deering banjos in all shapes, sizes, and styles. The Deering Banjo Company has been expertly making these instruments since 1975. It was started by Greg and Janet Deering and is located in Spring Valley, CA. Still run by family members, Deering Banjos are known for their premium Deering, Vega, Tenbrooks, and Goodtime banjos. There are a lot of great banjo players who’ve been known to use Deering banjos. Winston Marshal, from Mumford & Sons, for example. Today, the Deering Banjos Company is one of the largest manufacturers of quality banjos in the world.

Washburn Guitars

Since 1883, Washburn Guitars has been making premium instruments for musicians. This American manufacturer crafts banjos, mandolins, guitars, and other stringed instruments. Established originally in Chicago, IL, today, Washburn Guitars is a division of US Music Corp. and is owned by JAM Industries. Washburn banjos are known to be some of the most original and iconic instruments to play. Generally, Washburn banjos are crafted of fine materials and carefully designed to make a signature sound.

3rd Brand


Well known for their guitars, Epiphone is a musical instrument maker that has been creating great banjos for over 100 years! They were founded in 1873 by Anastasios Stathopoulos and are located in Nashville, TN. Gibson guitars actually purchased Epiphone in the late 1950s, so today, Epiphone banjos are made by the Gibson company.

4th Brand

Gibson Brands, Inc.

Gibson is an American instrument manufacturer that is well known for its guitars. However, Gibson also creates a range of other premium instruments, including banjos. Based out of Nashville, TN, Gibson used to craft instruments in Kalamazoo, MI. Gibson has been creating instruments and growing since 1894 and was started by Orville Gibson. In the 1930s, Gibson guitars really started gaining mainstream popularity, and today, they’re one of the largest makers of banjos and other stringed instruments in North America.

5th Brand


A Japanese instrument maker, Ibanez is currently owned by Hoshino Gakki. This company is headquartered in Nagoya, Aichi, Japan. This is one of the first Japanese banjo makers to get a foothold in the United States music market. While they used to make banjos frequently, production slowed down on these instruments for a few years. Recently, Ibanez has started making banjos again, and many players report that their newest banjos are pretty impressive. In the United States, the largest Ibanez shop is located in Los Angeles, CA.

If you are looking for more information on the banjo brand read our Best Banjo Brands guide.

What is the best banjo for a beginner to purchase?

Now that you know what kinds of banjos are out there, what style should a beginner player use? Well, the most ideal banjo for someone learning to play is probably a standard 5-string banjo. This is the most common format of the instrument and will allow you to learn a better range and hone your skills.

Then, you will already be equipped to play most other banjo styles. Or, if you want to improve your skills after learning to play a 5-string banjo, you can easily start learning how to play a 6-string or 12-string banjo.

As far as features go, the best starter banjos will be easy to play, well-made, and have a good acoustic sound. You probably won’t need an electric-acoustic banjo if you’re just starting out. It will be better to choose something with a rich acoustic sound.

You can always add a pickup to your banjo later or purchase another instrument if you’ll be playing frequently on stage. Also, a good beginner banjo will have a design that works well for you as an individual.

For example, if you want to play while traveling, there are open-back banjos available that have lightweight designs. Also, 5-string parlor banjos are great for kids learning how to play because they’re smaller and have shorter necks. Generally speaking, a beginner banjo should have a standard 5-string setup and a design that you feel will enhance your ability to learn and keep you enthusiastic about practicing.

• What materials are banjos made of?

Banjos can be constructed using various materials. Generally, they’ll implement different kinds of wood and metal. The body of a banjo, or “pot”, will usually have a circular rim made of a fine wood like Maple or Mahogany. However, rims can be made of metal as well.

The tension head and neck will almost always be made using some type of fine hardwood.

Nickel, pearl, silver, and even gold have been known to be used for some of the metallic components of a banjo, especially inlays, engravings, and tails. Then, the tuning pegs will often be made with acrylic, metal, and sometimes premium materials like Ivory, Ebony, or Jade. Ebony inlays are common in older banjos.

The drum head of the banjo used to be made of animal skin, but today is made using synthetic materials and plastics.

• What strings should be purchased for a banjo?

The strings you choose for your banjo can have an enormous impact on how it will play. Strings can influence tone, playability, and resonation. There isn’t a specific set of strings that will be best, but Elixir Strings are a real crowd-pleaser.

To choose the right strings, first look at your banjo setup. How many strings will you need? Each string may be made of different materials and designed to go in a specific order

Specific strings are designed for specific banjos, like 5-string, 6-string, plectrum, and hybrid variants. That way, they can match the neck length and tailpiece setup.

Strings can also be made of various materials. These materials include nickel-plated steel, phosphor bronze, stainless steel, and poly web wrapped strings. Phosphor bronze strings make warm tones, stainless steel strings have clean tones and corrosion resistant, and nickel-plated strings offer strong projection and feel smooth.