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May 19, 2016

Getting started with banjo

getting started with banjo - Red Pelican MusicSome 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