Anatomy and Design: Understanding the Construction of the Banjo

The parts of a banjo

The banjo might seem to have a simple design on the surface, but there’s a lot more to it than that. Banjos have an intricate design that consists of several parts.

The construction of the banjo can be thought of as two main parts, called the neck and the pot assembly, that both contain several components. The neck consists of the following three sections:

  1. Peghead. Also known as the head stock, the peghead is the part of the neck where the tuners are. The peghead has an overlay, a truss rod cover and a nut made of bone, wood or plastic.
  2. Body. This is the area of the neck that you play on. It contains a truss rod where you’ll find a fingerboard, inlays, frets, strings and spikes.
  3. Heel. This area has hanger bolts that attach the neck to the pot, as well as a heel cut.

The pot assembly part of the construction of the banjo has the following components:

  • Banjo rim. The wood rim is the main part of the pot. Depending on its quality, it can affect the sound the banjo produces.
  • Co-ordinator rods. These steel rods keep the rim stable.
  • Tone ring. The tone ring gives the banjo added volume and dimension.
  • Banjo head. The banjo head is typically made of mylar.
  • Banjo bridge. The bridge’s height should match the heel cut.
  • Tension hoop. This metal rings helps maintain tension in the head.
  • Hooks and nuts. These keep the tension hoop in place.
  • Flange. The flange attaches the resonator, and there are several types available.
  • Armrest. This helps make playing the banjo more comfortable.
  • Tailpiece. The tailpiece maintains tension in the strings.
  • Resonator. This sounding board increases the banjo’s volume.

Visit DeeringBanjos.com for another great resource on banjo construction.

Are some banjos constructed better than others?

Yes. Some banjos will last you a lifetime, assuming they are taken care of and not dropped or left outside and other banjos are going to break when they shouldn’t. 

Rather than name brands to avoid due to low quality materials or craftsmanship, just know that we only sell well-constructed banjos. You’ll notice we mostly sell American-made banjos on out site, well, that’s because Americans build the best banjos. Of course there are some good banjos made abroad, but generally speaking, the best banjos are made here in the U.S.A.

Avoid spending too much money on cosmetics. There are banjos made to look like $5,000 banjos that only cost $1,000. That seems like a bargain until the flange pops off while tuning your banjo. Unfortunately, all the costs of building the banjo went into its looks. The Deering Goodtime Openback looks basic, but it’s made by the same craftsmen, in the same shop, with the same rim as Deering’s high end banjos. The reason it’s affordable is because it doesn’t have a lot of detailing. If you don’t like the blonde finish, check out the darker stain used on the Artisan Goodtime banjos. All Goodtime by Deering banjos come with a 6-year warranty. The Deering and Vega banjos come with a limited lifetime warranty.

We are a banjo shop, not a warehouse

Buying things online is mainstream now, it definitely wasn’t that way when we started. We have always been a banjo shop that will also repair banjos. Why’s this important? When we get ready to ship and banjo, we do all the setup work. We set the bridge in the right spot, set the head tension, tune the banjo, etc. We even add spikes if they’ve been requested. 

Some online stores are really just a warehouse. It’s call a third-party logistics business or 3PL. The manufacturer sends banjos to a warehouse in a box and when an order is placed a banjo is picked off of the shelf and dropped in the mail. It’s never opened and inspected or setup and tuned. 

Our mission is making sure your banjo is playable the day it arrives. We even add in a starter pack that includes video banjo lessons to help you get started. If there are any issues, we are here to help. Our owner Barry Waldrep has been playing banjo almost his entire life so he can answer any questions.

Extras when you buy from Banjo.com

Barry Waldrep
Owner, Banjo.com

The owner of Banjo.com is professional musician Barry Waldrep. Barry has toured professionally for the past 30 years. Raised on traditional Bluegrass, and a forerunner on the Jam Band circuit. He has toured and recorded with many artists such as The Zac Brown Band, Randy Travis, Joey & Rory and also has performed with bluegrass greats like John Cowan, Tony Trischka, Scott Vestal & Tony Rice. Read more.

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Railroad Spikes

We can add these as a free service when you purchase a banjo from us. When you add this banjo to your cart just select that you want the capos. What is this? When you use a standard capo on your banjo fretboard, fretting strings 1 through 4, you’ll need to capo the 5th string separately. The 5th string starts at the 5th fret. If your standard capo is on the 2nd fret, you also need to capo the 5th string two frets higher, at the 7th fret. We recommend installing railroad spike capos on frets 7 and 9 (A and B). We install them on the fretboard just under the 5th string, an idea that was developed and used by Earl Scruggs himself. We use them, and so do most of the professional players we know. When you’re playing, you don’t really notice the spikes because they’re out of the way, but they’re always there when you need them. Simply slide the 5th string under the spike. When you’re done, slide it out.

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