Getting started with banjo
Some basic considerations when getting started with banjo. What type of banjo? What materials are helpful, etc.
Short version: Get a Deering Goodtime banjo, some fingerpicks, a cheap good tuner, and the classic Earl Scruggs 5-string banjo book.
Long version: There are a variety of considerations when getting started with banjo. The first choice is what kind of banjo. There are a few basic options: 5-string, tenor, plectrum, and of course those 6-string banjos for guitarists who need to fake the occasional banjo riff.
The most popular banjo-type is the 5-string banjo. This is the instrument you hear in bluegrass, and most bluegrass-influenced modern rock (Mumford and Sons, Avett Brothers, etc).
So, assuming that you are on-board with a 5-string banjo, the next choice is open-back vs. closed-back. Open-back banjos tend to be favored by clawhammer players (an old-time style). Folks in the bluegrass tradition usually like the louder, more ringing sound of a closed-back banjo. You can play bluegrass on either style (open vs. closed), so it’s also a matter of taste. Open-back banjos are a lot lighter – something to consider, if you intend to be a wandering minstrel.
The main thing is to just get a decent, inexpensive 5-string banjo to learn on. Then later, when you are a pro, or win the lottery, you can pick-up one of those beautiful gold-inlay models. These days, I’d recommend buying an instrument right off of amazon. They have a great return policy, and deliver right to your door, lickety-split. Two recommendations:
A) The best banjo for beginning/intermediate students: Deering Goodtime – open-back or closed- back
B) A well-liked and very inexpensive banjo: Gold Tone. A great value, but quality won’t be on par with the Deering, but a decent instrument at a very inexpensive price (approximately $200).
Naturally, it would be a good idea to pick up a case. Here’s a nice “gig bag” for approximately $25. “Gig bags,” are light and inexpensive – like a backpack for your banjo – great for an entry level instrument. If you get a high-end instrument, or plan to take it on an airplane, you’d want to invest in a hard shell case that fits your specific banjo.
The next thing you’d want to do is get basic essentials, all of which are quite inexpensive. a) strings – eventually you’ll break one, or it’ll be time to change them) b) fingerpicks c) a cheap, good tuner, and lastly d) The classic Earl Scruggs Banjo Method.
Now all you need is a great teacher. Red Pelican Music offers terrific banjo lessons online, as well in-person banjo lessons in the Los Angeles area 🙂
By Brian Robbins