We’ve already covered the best banjo brands to look into, but what’s the real use if you’re unaware of which banjos are truly worth the money. Not all banjos are equal, so in this article, we’ll try to inform you of the best options on the market from low-budget choices to high-end purchases. There’s a lot to tackle here, so let’s jump right into it.
These are the best banjos to buy:
1. Rover RB-20
The best open-back on a budget
When it comes to open-back banjos, the Rover RB-20 is the perfect choice for beginners or musicians on a limited budget. For under $300, these banjos are extremely durable and sound great.
The design of the RB-20 is fairly reminiscent of the Harmony banjos back from the 50s and throughout the 70s. It has a beautiful rosewood, 5-string neck with 22 frets as well as an adjustable tailpiece to help you fine-tune the sound of the instrument. As far as starter banjos are concerned, this one here showcases the greatest value for its cost.
2. Gold Tone WL-250 White Ladye
One of the most popular open-backs
Gold Tone’s reputation often precedes itself. Since the early 90s, the company has been crafting beautiful-sounding instruments, from banjos to guitars and everything in between. So, it should come as no surprise that they’re making an appearance on our list.
The Gold Tone WL-250 is easily the most popular open-back banjo that the company has to offer. An interesting note about this model is that it showcases a highly accurate replica of the highly sought-after Whyte Ladye tone ring, giving the banjo its name. At $1000, its elegant design and high-end sound make this instrument well worth the price.
3. Ibanez B50
The best resonator on a budget
Ibanez’s B50 5-string is hands down the best closed-back banjo for the money. It’s one of the most popular options for aspiring musicians, and at only $300, who can complain?
While Ibanez is mainly known for its guitars, the company has actually had its hand in the banjo arena for a few decades at this point. They have several models to choose from but the B50 is a particularly solid choice for beginners who want to hit the ground running with their banjo playing. You won’t receive all the bells and whistles or high-quality build as you would with a banjo from Gold Tone, but it’s a great choice regardless.
4. Deering Goodtime 2
The best resonator under $1000
Deering’s line of Goodtime banjos was specifically designed for beginners on a budget. While the price point of the Goodtime 2 is significantly higher than the Ibanez at around $700, the quality of the instrument is far greater in terms of both sound and playability.
The Goodtime 2 is exceptionally loud and has a rich, bright tone to help it cut through during sessions and gigs. As with many of Deering’s products, the banjo comes with a 6-year warranty and a reliable gig bag. With all of this, the Goodtime 2 is undoubtedly the best resonator banjo you can find for under $1000.
5. Recording King RKO-3S
The best value for your money
The RKO-3S stands within Recording King’s Dirty 30’s line, which strikes the perfect balance between authentic design and sound. Currently priced at $200, these banjos are well suited for beginners and intermediate banjoists alike.
In pure Recording King fashion, the RKO-3S has been built to echo and expand upon proven designs from the Dust Bowl era. These banjos are ideal for players looking for more of a vintage sound out of their instrument. Delivering a classic twang along with a nice satin finish and maple neck, the RKO-3S has the best value for any musician with a limited budget.
6. Gold Tone CC-50
The best banjo for beginners
If you were interested in what the RKO-3S had to offer but wanted something a bit sturdier, the Gold Tone CC-50 might be exactly what you’re looking for. Designed with beginners in mind, the CC-50 delivers great sounds and effortless play all while being extremely affordable.
This banjo is nice, plunky, easy to travel with, and especially well-suited towards old-time frailing and folk. It’s an incredibly versatile instrument, equally as capable of holding its own in bluegrass settings as well. All in all, the Gold Tone CC-50 is the best banjo for beginners, and for under $500 we can’t recommend it enough.
7. Jameson 5-String Banjo
The best all-around banjo
Oftentimes, buying banjos for under $300 can lead to issues in regards to the instrument’s action and intonation, but this isn’t the case with the Jameson 5-String Banjo. RW Jameson has a solid reputation for crafting quality banjos and guitars, and this banjo is no exception.
The banjo is a 5-string resonator with a mahogany top and maple neck. Perfect for bluegrass and country, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a banjo that beats the Jameson for its price point. It’s one of the best-selling banjos for beginners, and it’s an all-around great instrument that won’t break the bank.
8. Deering Sierra
The best high-end banjo
Greg Deering has personally named the Sierra as the flagship of the company’s entire line. It shares all the same features as each of their models up to the Gabriela, with only a few exceptions that have made it a best-seller among top-rated players.
This banjo is arguably one of the most beautiful banjos on the market, not to mention it being one of the best-sounding. It’s the most expensive banjo featured on our list resting at $3000, but there isn’t another banjo that offers the same quality in sound and design. For those of you willing to buy the best banjo on the market, the Deering Sierra is hands-down the only option deserving of your attention.
There are so many great banjos out there that including them all on our main list would be nearly impossible. Here are two honorable mentions to consider before making your final decision.
Deering Goodtime Blackgrass
The best stylish high-end banjo
If you’re looking for a banjo with a little more style and edge, look no further than the Goodtime Blackgrass. This is a banjo that has a lot more to offer than its entirely black finish.
The Goodtime Blackgrass offers the same caliber of performance as their other top-rated models while catering to players who tend to lean more on the non-traditional side of playing. Its style isn’t quite enough to make it on the definitive list, but it certainly deserves an honorable mention.
The best cheap banjo
Owned by Sunbo and based in South Korea, Rogue is a company known for making low-budget guitars, banjos, and mandolins. For those who are just looking for something cheap, the Rogue B30 might be a worthy candidate for your consideration.
Let’s preface all of this by saying that in general, $250 for a 4-string isn’t terrible, but for a 5-string the instrument’s performance can be at stake. While the Recording King RKO-3S is in the same price range, it delivers much more for what it is than the B30. This is a banjo usually bought for its affordability and not much else.
While this isn’t a definitive list, we hope our considerations prove to be beneficial in your decision-making.
Ultimately, there isn’t such a thing as the best banjo. The best banjo is simply the instrument that serves your wants and needs and nothing else.
There might even be a banjo we didn’t list on here that’s the best choice for you, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t purchase it. This list is merely meant to act as a guide, not the be-all-end-all of your journey as a musician.
Do your research, trust your gut, and have fun playing the banjo.