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The 4 best budget banjos for beginners in 2024

Want to learn the banjo but can’t spend too much money? You’ve come to the right place.

In this article, I’ll be walking through a handful of budget-friendly options for you to get started on your banjo journey.

Quick recommendations

After playing a range of entry-level instruments, I think the Jameson 5-String is the best banjo for beginners on a budget. It’s well-constructed and extremely versatile in tone.

Whether you plan on strumming along to some Pete Seeger tunes or exploring different fingerpicking styles, the Jameson is an amazing banjo for very little money.

For those who are a bit more serious about learning, the Rover RB-20 is the best budget open-back. It delivers a warm sound and a timeless design, ideal for clawhammer or bluegrass styles.

It’s easy to find used for cheap, and buying new shouldn’t go above $300 unless you intend on buying a gig bag to go along with it.

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

I’m a multi-instrumentalist with a penchant for strings, the banjo being one of my favorites in particular.

As a seasoned musician with over a decade’s worth of experience under my belt, I’ve had my fair share of encounters with low-cost instruments, whether that be through running over to the local pawn shop or, in the long format, buying, re-selling, and buying again.

The importance of finding an instrument that performs well without breaking the bank, as well as one 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 novices find their bearings, hopefully, you can trust the validity of my opinions.

Open-back vs resonator (closed-back)

When you’re first venturing into the world of banjos, deciding whether to buy an open-back or closed-back (resonator) banjo might be the toughest hurdle to overcome.

As far as beginners are concerned, the differences may seem rather inconsequential. However, to the more trained ear, the contrast in sound is staggering.

Closed-back banjos have a wooden bowl attached to the back of the body of the banjo, projecting the sound outwards, whereas open-backs do not, as their name would suggest.

open-back and resonator banjos
Open-back banjo and resonator (closed-back) banjo

For a frame of reference, it might be important to note that traditionally, bluegrass is played on a resonator (closed-back), while old-time style would be performed on an open-back.

So, I advise you to let your tastes guide the decision-making here.

Resonators tend to be much brighter and louder than their open-backed counterparts. So, if you happen to find yourself more inclined towards the muted plucking of frailing style banjo, then open-backs will be a perfect fit for you.

On the other hand, if you’d like to have more of that plucky resonance associated with bluegrass and country, I recommend you look into closed-back banjos.

Truthfully, if you’re a beginner, either style will work, but it is something to consider.

How I chose the banjos for this list

Before we get started, I should warn you that investing in a banjo for less than $300 can oftentimes be risky due to the low quality of the instruments.

This isn’t the end of the world though, as there are several options to look into. The only caveat is that there are only a handful of banjos in this price range that are truly worth the money.

However, 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.

Here are all the banjos I recommend for beginners on a budget:

Best under $200: Jameson 5-String

Jameson 5-string banjo with a gig bag
Jameson 5-String with a gig bag | Image: Jameson Guitars

Coming in at under $200, this Jameson five-string resonator is one of the best banjos to learn on.

It’s one of the best-sounding banjos in this price range, and its excellent cost-to-value ratio has made it one of the most popular choices for beginners.

The banjo is incredibly well constructed. The body features a maple neck, mahogany resonator, 24 chrome brackets, and a geared fifth tuning peg.

This Jameson banjo is perfect for bluegrass and country with an incredibly bright and punchy sound, and because of how durable it is, it makes a great instrument to take out on the road.

At every point of inspection, this five-string banjo is perhaps the best-value cheap banjo on today’s market.

What I like

  • Bright sound.
  • Well-constructed.
  • Great value for money.

What I don’t like

  • Nothing for the price.
See current price at: AmazonTarget

Best budget open-back: Rover RB-20

Rover RB-20 open-back banjo
Rover RB-20 open-back | Image: Saga Music

The RB-20 is one of the best open-back banjos you can find for around $300. It’s great for beginners as well as aspiring musicians on a budget.

The sound of this Rover banjo is quite mellow, beckoning back to designs from the 40s and 50s. It’s quite versatile as well and can be used for clawhammer, three-finger style, or even bluegrass.

For beginners looking for a durable and flexible first banjo, the Rover RB-20 is a stellar budget choice.

What I like

  • Warm sound.
  • Classic design.
  • Easy to find used.

What I don’t like

  • Prices may vary depending on where you look.
See current price at: AmazonSaga Music

Best budget resonator: Ibanez B50

Ibanez B50 resonator banjo
Ibanez B50 resonator | Image: Ibanez

As far as entry-level banjos are concerned, the B50 might be one of the best options for those of you looking for a decent resonator banjo for several reasons: namely, for its sound, build, and playability.

Resting at $300, the Ibanez B50 is not all that different from its more expensive sibling, the B200. Its sound is slightly more muted, but it’s still able to project quite well.

The banjo comes completely set up once you make your purchase, although you may want to change the strings when you take it home. For its price point, however, you won’t be able to find much better.

What I like

  • Good-quality sound.
  • Well-built.
  • Good cost-to-value ratio.

What I don’t like

  • You might need to change strings right after purchasing.
See current price at: AmazonGuitar Center

Best all-around: Recording King RKO-3S

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

If you’re looking for a cheap, beginner-friendly banjo, few instruments will sound better than the RKO-3S for the price.

Modeled after the designs of earlier Harmony and Kay banjos from the ’50s, this open-back banjo offers both a classic sound and a historic design that’s hard to beat.

The RKO-3S is an incredible banjo, considering its affordability. Priced at merely $250, this banjo suffers very little of the common side effects that other low-budget models on the market do.

However, both in terms of sound and durability, the RKO-3S delivers far beyond what one might come to expect from a cheap banjo.

Surprisingly, many people have said they prefer them to higher-end models from brands like Deering or Gold Tone, which is no small feat.

Recording King struck gold with their Dirty 30s line, and I can’t recommend it enough.

What I like

  • Timeless, historic design.
  • Great sound.
  • Affordable.

What I don’t like

  • Nothing for the price.
See current price at: AmazonGuitar Center

Honorable mentions

While the four banjos in the main list above would undoubtedly be my personal go-to options, here are two other models that are worth checking out.

  • Rogue B30. While this banjo is rather budget-friendly, it does lack the quality of sound and build of other models mentioned on this list. Definitely suitable for casual players and complete beginners, but professionals would most likely want to upgrade.
  • Pyle PBJ60. This could make a totally awesome Christmas gift for your youngest at home, but not for someone more serious about their playing. It sounds great for $180, but with all things considered, that’s about the most I can say about it.

Recent updates

  • April 26, 2024: I’ve updated the text for clarity and moved the Rogue B30 and Pyle PBJ60 to the Honorable mentions.
  • April 25, 2024: I’ve updated the article to the new standard by adding more details and explaining the picking criteria.
  • May 26, 2021: I published the original selection based on my experience with the instruments in the $200 to $300 price range.

Final thoughts

That just about sums everything up, and I hope you walk away from this article with a better understanding of what’s available to you.

If you find yourself with any one of these banjos, then be assured you’ll be buying wisely. Of course, the most important thing when making these decisions is to buy the banjo that gives you the tone, look, and price that’s best for you.

Nothing else matters here other than what’s best for you, so good luck and happy banjo playing!

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