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Choosing Your First Banjo

Choosing Your First Banjo

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Choosing your first banjo can be quite overwhelming, so we are here to help! In this passage, we will cover some of the details that you should consider when choosing the right beginner banjo.

What is my budget?

As with any purchase, budget will be an important factor to consider when making your decision. Luckily, Gold Tone has selections that cater to both the mild and wild side of budgeting. From our beginner-level AC series instruments to our professional Mastertone series, it is important to know that all our instruments go through the same rigorous inspection and setup procedures. Our highly skilled in-house luthiers will inspect and setup your instrument at our Titusville, Florida location prior to shipment. So you can have peace of mind knowing that no matter which instrument you choose, it will be set up and ready to play when you receive it.

What style of music do I like?

It is important to know what style of music you would most like to play on your new instrumental journey. The banjo has one of the most recognizable voices in all of music history and complements the sound of many different genres. A few of these genres are Bluegrass, Old-Time, Newgrass, Traditional Irish, Americana, Ragtime, Folk, Outlaw Country, Modern Country, and Jazz. Even the Classic Rock band, Guns’N’Roses, has utilized it in some of their music. The genre you like the most may and should affect your decision when choosing your first banjo. It’s important to take this into consideration when making your purchase. Going a bit deeper into this subject, you will find that different genres often use different styles of banjo.

I’ve chosen my genre. Now what?

Now that you have chosen your genre or genres, it may still be difficult to identify which style of banjo is right for you.

Bluegrass, Newgrass, Country

If you have chosen Bluegrass, Newgrass, or Country, you may want to consider a 5 string banjo with a resonator. The most unmistakable playing style associated with the banjo is “Scruggs Style”, a.k.a. “Three-Finger Picking”. This style is usually played on resonator banjos with a bluegrass-style pot assembly and neck.

Old-Time, Folk, Americana

However, if you choose Old-Time, Folk, or Americana you might consider an openback banjo with no resonator. Old-Time is typically played using the “Clawhammer” technique and sometimes the “Two Finger Thumb Lead” technique. Open-back banjos are a slightly more diverse instrument. Usually, open-back banjos can come with a variety of tone rings, (rolled brass, White Ladye, tube-a-phone, Dobson etc.). They also come in different rim diameters – 11” and 12” being the most common. We will delve into the different varieties of open back banjo in another article.

Traditional Irish Music

Another genre that the banjo is prevalent in is Traditional Irish music. Trad Irish musicians almost exclusively use Irish Tenor banjos which have 4 strings instead of 5. Tenor banjos used for Trad Irish are usually tuned like a Mandolin or Fiddle. However, alternate tunings do exist for this genre. It is important to note that Irish Tenor banjos usually use a heavier gauge string to allow for the tunings used in Trad Irish music.

Ragtime, Jazz

Ragtime and Jazz musicians also utilize the Tenor Banjo and Plectrum Banjo. Tenor Banjos have a shorter neck than a Plectrum but both instruments have 4 strings. The tunings and string gauges differ from the Irish Tenor.

Country, Rock

Some musicians who play Country and even Rock use electric banjos. Electric banjos are not limited to these genres. They serve as a valuable tool to bring diversity into many genres of music.

How heavy is a banjo?

Another thing to take into consideration when choosing your first banjo is the weight of the instrument. I’ve been to several jam sessions where folks have talked about how heavy their instrument is and that they wish they had one that was lighter. Lets face it, we all get older and as the years go by sometimes a full weight banjo is a bit much for us to manage. So take this into account when choosing your instrument. Gold Tone has some great banjos that don’t tip the scales, the lightest being our AC-1 and AC-4 banjos which weigh less than 4 lbs. Check out our “Banjo By the Pound” article for a full breakdown of all our instrument weights in easy to compare table format.


All things considered, your first banjo purchase should reflect what YOU want. Our goal at Gold Tone is 100% customer satisfaction. If you have any questions about one of our instrument models please feel free to contact our customer support via email or telephone and they will do every thing they can to answer and questions you may possibly have! Welcome to the wild and wonderful world of banjo!