Also commonly referred to as a plectrum or tenor banjo, a 4-string banjo is most famous among classic jazz players.
Usually, players use the pick plectrum, thus its name.
It offers two playing methods whereby players can either choose to use strum chords as a backup or use the melody notes just as they would when playing guitar.
The standard 4-string banjo comes with 19-frets. But you can also find a 17-fret one, which is referred to as the Irish Tenor banjo in the professional world.
The two can easily be mistaken as 5-string banjos.
Also, there are some longneck and short-neck banjos. The latter tends to be more shallow-pitched, while longneck is deeper pitched.
The small 4-string banjos are what we call banjo ukuleles they operate pretty similarly like the tenor banjo.
And although the turning of these types of banjos vary, players usually have few tuning options, so there isn’t much difference.
Because of the fret spacing of the short banjos, they are the easiest to play.
The 5-string banjos are characterized by 22-frets and 5th string tuning.
The standard 5-string banjo usually comes with a resonator and is great for playing folk music and is ranked as part of the bluegrass banjo family.
But it can also be used by clawhammer players, only that they will have to remove the resonator to achieve a softer sound with top-notch quality.
Players of bluegrass banjo normally use thumbpicks and metal fingerpicks to play.
On the other hand, those playing clawhammers prefer using fingernails or specialized plastic picks positioned over their nails.
Like the 4-string banjo, the 5-string can also have a long neck, which gives it a total of 25 frets.
And because of this, it produces lower sounds as compared to their 22-fret counterpart. Thus the reason why it’s more acceptable among folk music players.
The best way to describe the 6-string banjo is as a guitar residing in a banjo’s body.
It’s tuning and manner of playing is identical to that of a guitar. So, this makes it favorable for experienced guitar players as it’s easy to pick from where they know.
But even as it’s played like a guitar, its sound quality remains top-notch like that of a high-end banjo.
Which Banjo To Choose For A Beginner?
Now that you have understood how each of these banjos works, it’s time to examine the best piece for a beginner.
First, we would like to state that the type of banjo you need greatly depends on the type of music you want to play.
That said, you should know that the 5-string banjo is the most famous among the three and it suits numerous music genres as compared to the other two banjos.
From bluegrass, classic music, folk music to country music a 5-string banjo will do you great justice.
And contrary to popular assumptions that the 5th string is hard to play, the opposite is actually true as you won’t have to fret down.
Besides, they’re normally tuned to an open- G plus the chords, which makes it pretty easy to finger as compared to the guitar.
On the other hand, the 4-string banjos aren’t that famous as the 5-string ones.
They’re most popular among Dixieland jazz and Jamaican Mento music, which makes them complementing rhythm instruments, unlike the 5-strings.
And although they sound pretty cool as Tenor and Plectrum (we explained above), they aren’t as good as the 5-strings. Thus, favorable for beginners who aren’t thinking of playing banjo professionally, at least not at the moment.
Further, the 60string banjos are famous among country and rock players. This is because they can easily be tuned and then be played like guitars. But, for a quality banjo sound.
And because of this, they are most suitable for pros/advanced players, with a great knowledge of guitar performances.
So, if you want to learn banjo and are planning to carry it on as a professional, then 5-string banjos make a great pick to start with. They’re comfortable, easy to pick and will give you immense satisfaction.
Open Back vs. Closed Back Banjo
The open back and closed back (resonator) banjos come in similar designs.
However, the major difference lies in the wooden bowl-like covering that the closed-back banjo comes with. It’s this “bowl” that helps players project various sounds towards their audiences.
On the other hand, the open banjo contains no bowl. So, its strings are positioned spaciously as compared to their closed counterpart. This is to allow easy playing.
Because of their “bowl” covering, the closed-back banjo is a preferred choice among bluegrass players.
It produces a louder and classier sound than that of an open back banjo, which produces softer and mellow sounds.
So, players using the open back banjo can opt for an amplifier to increase volume as they play.
Because of their nature, the open-back banjos tend to be cheaper as compared to the closed-back ones, which also tend to be heavier, due to the materials they’re made of.
So, if you don’t know which one to go for, it’s better to pick a closed-back banjo as it offers users a lot of flexibility.
Things to Consider When Looking For The Right Banjo For Beginners
This applies to both the wood in the neck and rim of the banjo as they largely contribute to the nature of the sound produced.
For instance, maple is great for a brighter sound, while mahogany produces a warm sweeter sound. And if you want a balance between warm and bright, then walnut breaks the deal.
Ensure the banjo you pick contains geared tuners instead of friction ones.
This is because the geared tuners are more stable, hence they can withstand the pressure as you play. And as you select, a banjo with a tuner ratio of 14:1 is not only a great pick but also offers ease of play.
First it’s important to understand that not all banjos have a tone ring. But those which have should sit above and down the rim.
Banjos with tone rings made up of steel, brass, and bronze, offer brighter sounds than wooden ones when combined with the wooden rims.
Fret wires have different heights. You will have to press the strings over the frets to achieve crispy clear sounds.
Therefore, avoid narrow frets as they are difficult and uncomfortable to play. Instead, go for taller ones, which are easy to press on, hence ease of play.
It should be easy for you to get service from your banjo’s manufactures. So, ensure they have contact details for easy access. Also, they should have a warranty as a guarantee.
The ideal banjo for a beginner should have a slender neck, which is easy to reach around and fret. You can try them out at the showroom and pick the most comfortable.
Almost every company has an online presence. So take time to search for reviews and see what other buyers are saying. It should give you a clue of what to expect.
FAQs About Best Banjos for Beginners and Intermediate Players
Is It Hard to Learn to Play the Banjo?
Playing banjo, like any other musical instruments depend on consistency and dedication.
But if you’re following the correct procedures, then you should have learned all the standard basics by the 6th month.
Afterward, it will be all bout perfecting the art and moving with revolution. And that takes a lifetime!
Remember, it’s always better to be playing an hour each day than a few more hours once per week.
What Is A Good Cheap Banjo?
I would say with confidence that the Oscar Schmidt OB5 makes the perfect pick.
How Do You Play the Banjo for Beginners?
Tune your banjo using an electric tuner. And for this, ensure the strings should be tighter for a higher pitch.
Achieve a perfect posture with your shoulders up and backward.
Hold your banjo at an angle of 45-degrees, with its bottom side facing slightly upward for a clear view. Ensure you have a banjo strap for easy positioning.
Let your right hand rest on the strings close to the bridge and the left on the neck.
Your pinky finger should be on the head of your banjo, together with your ring finger.
Now try picking by sweeping downward with the nail of your thumb/ index/ middle finger (whichever is comfortable for you.)
Practice some standard banjo-picking patterns in the 8th
Practice the rhythm
Learn complex music and keep practicing.
Here’s a video for a better explanation;
How Much Does A Decent Banjo Cost?
A decent mid-range banjo should cost you around $300-$425. And a lower-end model for beginners should be $150-$300.
How Long Does It Take to Learn Banjo?
As mentioned above, it should take you up to 6 months to learn all the standard basics, no matter the kind of music you want to learn.
Banjo is a popular musical instrument in the mainly in American musical scenes. It produces great sounds, which complement jazz, folk, contrary and other similar genres.
So, if you have been planning on learning banjo, as your first instrument or second, the above information should help you make the perfect pick.