Picking out the perfect banjo can be really tricky whether or not you’re a beginner or a bona fide expert. We know how much there is to consider. So, to save you from information overload, we’ve created a list of the top 5 banjo brands to consider while making your purchase.
These are the best banjo brands on the market right now:
1. Gold Tone
The best all-around maker
Originally named Gold Tone Banjos, this company creates fantastic instruments for musicians at all levels. Known for being innovative, yet rooted in proven vintage designs, Gold Tone Music Group has continued to grow and expand since their beginnings in 1993.
While this article will remain concentrated on banjos, Gold Tone also makes many other new and exciting hybrid instruments. From banjolas, banjitars, to cello banjos – the company remains on the forefront of “folkternative”, offering a huge variety for musicians looking for fresh sounds.
The Gold Tone CC-50 has been frequently called the best choice for any beginner, and while it’s priced at $399.99 on their website, the quality of the instrument’s make can be sold for much more.
Like the CC-50, all of Gold Tone’s instruments are designed to play effortlessly, and sound great. There is a great attention to detail and craft that is apparent in every product Gold Tone has to offer.
There isn’t much more to say about this amazing company, and for this they deserve our award for being the best all-around banjo maker.
- High quality sound.
- Immaculately built.
The best high-end brand
Deering Banjo Company makes all kinds of wonderful instruments, but as their name would suggest, banjos are its forte. The company has been around since 1975 and throughout the years they’ve earned themselves a reputation for creating great sounding, high-quality instruments.
Many of the top banjo players, such as Tony Trischka and Bela Fleck among others, have come to trust Deering themselves to always deliver well-made, quality products. The company is family owned, and all of their instruments are still hand-made in California where Deering was initially founded.
While most of its models tend to range on the pricier side, the folks at Deering do offer several popular models for beginners and musicians with a limited budget. The Goodtime banjo is modestly priced at $579 from their site, which is an incredible value for what you would receive. The banjos are quite durable, easy to maintain, and they come with a 6 year warranty.
Deering takes great care of its customers and even offers lifetime warranties for purchases beyond their beginner lines. With all this said, Deering gets our award for the best high-end banjo brand.
- High quality sound.
- Well crafted.
- Great customer service.
- High cost.
3. Recording King
The best historic brand
Born out of the dust bowl era, Recording King has an unmatched legacy when it comes to crafting beautiful acoustic instruments.
A lot of great musicians, such as guitar legend John Fahey and indie-star Soccer Mommy, have put their trust into this company throughout the years and it’s not hard to understand why. With years of experience under the company’s belt, they’ve mastered the art of guitar and banjo-making.
More specifically, Recording King specializes in creating vintage-style instruments with new modern twists. For beginners, it might be worth checking out the RKO-3S open-back banjo. Part of Recording King’s Dirty 30’s line, these banjos carry the perfect balance between historic design and classic sound. Listed at only $199.99, the RKO-3S is a great option for beginners and intermediate players alike.
The company has many other options to choose from with varying price ranges. For the more experienced players, Recording King also has their Elite line, with their Elite Traditional Banjo priced at $1799 from Guitar Center.
Almost all of Recording King’s instruments have been modeled to emulate and enhance the original designs from the 30’s and 40’s, and have been handcrafted to share the same sound and feel as those vintage pieces.
For those of you who are interested in having a banjo with vintage vibe, look no further than Recording King. They get our award for the best historic brand.
- Affordable for beginners.
- High quality sound.
- Well crafted.
- The vintage vibe may be too niche for some.
Perfect instruments for aspiring musicians
Ibanez may be a familiar name to many musicians. Over the past decades the company has slowly risen through the ranks of guitar manufacturers, giving titans like Fender and Gibson a run for their money. Although the company is best known for its guitars, Ibanez also has a great selection of banjos to choose from.
The most popular model the company has to offer is the Ibanez B50 5-string banjo. It’s rather inexpensive at $299.99, and it would make a great choice for any aspiring banjoist. Another option could also be the B200, which is a little more expensive at around $449.99, however the build of the instrument is that much more durable.
Comparing the two, the B50 comes with less frills than the B200, but the quality in sound doesn’t suffer. They’re both great options to choose from, and Ibanez holds a phenomenal reputation for making great sounding instruments at low costs.
Beginners can’t really go wrong here, the only drawback being that banjos aren’t Ibanez’s specialty. You won’t get the same level of craft as you would with a banjo from Deering or Gold Tone, but you’ll be off to a great start nonetheless.
Ibanez gets our award for offering perfect instruments for aspiring musicians.
- Good sound quality.
- Machine built (expects issues in quality control).
5. Oscar Schmidt
Perfect budget instruments
Oscar Schmidt is comparable to Gold Tone in that they offer a large selection of instruments other than the banjo. Better known for its guitars, the company has tried its hand in the banjo market to some success as well.
Competitively priced, one of the most popular choices is the OB5. The make and build of this instrument isn’t as flush as you’d find with other brands, but it’s perfect for a beginner. One of the interesting features of the OB5 is that it has the capability to be transformed into an open-back banjo, giving you an option of sound that most banjos don’t offer.
While this option of sound is unique, and saves beginners the headache of deciding whether to buy a resonator or open-back banjo, the truth is that Oscar Schmidt has yet to put out a banjo that’s more high-end. Furthermore, whether or not you’ve decided on taking the resonator off, the sound quality of the instrument leaves a bit to be desired.
However, if your budget is limited or you’re just looking for something to experiment with, an Oscar Schmidt banjo is a perfectly respectable choice. They earn our award for selling the perfect budget instruments.
- Interesting designs.
- Mid quality build.
- Adequate sound quality.
Each brand here makes quality instruments at affordable prices, and sticking with them will help you dismiss the lower grade products you might find elsewhere.
As an added benefit, most of the manufacturers here offer a wide variety of banjos, giving you the freedom to decide how many strings you want, and whether you’d like an open-back banjo or a resonator.
At the very least, this list will act as a good jumping off point when you make your first venture into the world of banjos.
There’s no blueprint when it comes to starting out, but if you stick with these brands there’s no doubt that you’ll find your money well spent.