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The 6 best banjos for intermediates to professionals 2024

Are you on the hunt for the perfect banjo? Well, you’ve come to the right place!

Whether you’re an intermediate or professional, your choice of banjo can make a world of difference in your playing.

In this article, I’ll go over some of the best banjos available on the market in 2024. Let’s get started.

Quick recommendations

After playing a wide range of instruments, I think the Deering Goodtime Two is the best resonator banjo for most intermediate to advanced players.

It’s one of the most popular banjos on the market, and for good reason: the sound quality, build, design, and price point are all spectacular.

For those looking for an open-back, the Gold Tone WL-250 is my best recommendation. Reasonably priced, it sounds great and feels premium.

Finally, the Deering Sierra is my best high-end banjo pick. While this is a more expensive option, the old idiom holds true: you do get what you pay for. This is one of the best-sounding and best-looking banjos available.

Contents

Use these jump links to navigate to the desired section of the review.

Why you should trust me

Brandon Schock, writer at Higher Hz

As an avid guitarist and banjo player, I’ve had my fair share of time playing a number of instruments with varying quality. Over the years, I’ve built a strong sense of what makes an instrument worthwhile.

The importance of finding an instrument that performs well and that provides durability and a good sound, is something I’m intimately aware of.

Having a sharp eye for cost-to-value ratios, as well as a deep-seated dedication to helping others find their bearings, hopefully, you can trust the validity of my opinions.

How I chose the best banjos

Aside from looking at popular opinion amongst professionals and enthusiasts alike, each pick went through careful consideration amongst a few key factors.

Special interest was given to the instrument’s playability, durability, cost-to-value ratio, design, and quality of build and materials.

Through meticulous research and testing, I’ve been able to pick some standouts that offer high-grade sound and playability.

With that being said, this will be a short list, but I hope you find it helpful.

These are the best banjos for intermediate to professional players:

Best open-back: Gold Tone WL-250

Gold Tone Mastertone WL-250 open-back banjo
WL-250 open-back | Image: Gold Tone

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 my best banjos list.

An interesting note about this model is that it showcases a very accurate replica of the highly sought-after White Ladye tone ring, giving the banjo its name.

At just over $1000, its elegant design and high-quality sound make the Mastertone WL-250 the best-value open-back banjo on today’s market.

What I like

  • Great sound quality.
  • Premium craftsmanship.

What I don’t like

  • Higher price point.
See current price at: SweetwaterAmazon

Best resonator: Deering Goodtime Two

Deering Goodtime Two resonator banjo
Goodtime Two resonator | Image: Deering

Deering’s line of Goodtime banjos was specifically designed for beginner to intermediate players on a budget.

While the price point of the Goodtime Two is around $700, the quality of the instrument would make you think the price was far greater in terms of both sound and playability.

The Goodtime Two 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 six-year warranty. With certain bundles, you also get a reliable hard case.

With all of this, the Goodtime Two is undoubtedly the best resonator banjo you can find for under $1000.

What I like

  • Loud and bright sound.
  • High-quality materials.
  • 6-year warranty.

What I don’t like

  • Still quite expensive.
See current price at: Guitar CenterAmazon

Best budget: Recording King RKO-3S

Recording King RKO-3S banjo
RKO-3S open-back | Image: Recording King

The RKO-3S stands within Recording King’s Dirty 30s line, which strikes the perfect balance between authentic design and sound.

Currently priced at around $250, this one-back banjo is 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. It’s 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.

What I like

  • Vintage-inspired design.
  • Excellent sound.
  • Affordable.

What I don’t like

  • Nothing for the price.
See current price at: Guitar CenterAmazon

Best under $500: Gold Tone CC-50

Gold Tone CC-50 open-back banjo
CC-50 open-back | Image: Gold Tone

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.

While 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 wins my recommendation as the best banjo under $500. It’s great for beginners to intermediate, and I can’t recommend it enough.

What I like

  • Easy to play.
  • Versatile tone.
  • Affordable.

What I don’t like

  • Nothing at this price.
See current price at: SweetwaterAmazon

Best high-end: Deering Sierra

Deering Sierra 5-string resonator banjo
Sierra 5-string resonator | Image: Deering

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 Gabriella ($33k banjo), 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 this 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 5-string is hands down the only option deserving of your attention.

What I like

  • Great sound quality.
  • Feels premium.

What I don’t like

  • Not the most affordable option.
See current price at: SweetwaterGuitar Center

Best tenor: Deering Goodtime 17-Fret

Deering Goodtime 17-fret tenor banjo
Goodtime 17-fret tenor | Image: Deering

The Goodtime 17-fret open-back is possibly the best tenor banjo available for the price.

For under $600, the violin-grade maple construction of this instrument delivers an incredibly bright and snappy tone that’s perfect for any style of playing.

The short scale of the instrument, at 17 frets, is also beneficial for fast playing.

What’s more, the sealed-back design of the banjo’s tuning machines ensures that the strings keep their intonation over long periods of time by fighting off dust and humidity.

If you’re interested in Irish or Celtic styles, this instrument can quickly be converted into an Irish tuning by changing the gauge of the strings.

What I like

  • Bright, snappy tone.
  • Quality construction.
  • Value for money.

What I don’t like

  • Might need some careful tuning.
See current price at: SweetwaterAmazon

Honorable mentions

There are so many great banjos out there that including them all on the main list would be nearly impossible. Here are two honorable mentions to consider before making your final decision.

  • Deering Goodtime Blackgrass. If you’re looking for a banjo with a little more style and edge, look no further than the Goodtime Blackgrass. It offers the same caliber of performance as other top Deering models while catering to players who tend to lean more on the non-traditional side of playing.
  • Nechville Comet. If you’re interested in an electric banjo, the Comet is the top of the line. Designed to play like an electric guitar and plug into an amp, this banjo is incredibly resistant to feedback and perfect for live gigging. The banjo has two passive hot rails pickups and a solid but lightweight body.

Recent updates

  • May 7, 2024: I’ve added the Deering Goodtime 17-Fret as my “Best tenor” pick and moved the stylish Goodtime Blackgrass to the Honorable mentions.
  • May 6, 2024: I’ve revised the selection, updated the structure, and explained the picking criteria in more detail.
  • January 13, 2023: I’ve verified the¬†accuracy of picks to make sure¬†all the recommended instruments are still widely available for purchase.
  • May 25, 2021: I published the original selection based on my experience playing a wide range of banjos, from budget to high-end.

Final thoughts

While this isn’t a definitive list, I hope my considerations prove to be beneficial in your decision-making. Ultimately, the best banjo for you is simply the instrument that serves your wants and needs and nothing else.

This list is merely meant to act as a guide, not the be-all and end-all of your journey as a musician. Do your research, trust your gut, and have fun playing the banjo.

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