Differences Between Open Back & Closed Back Banjo

Differences Between Openback and Closed Back (Resonator) Banjos

There’s something about the cheery twang of a banjo that makes it a fun instrument to hear and to play. The snappy notes that flow from a 5-string make us think of lively bluegrass music, and so many songs would not feel complete without it. However, not all banjos were created equal, so if you’re getting ready to invest in the ideal instrument for you, you may need to spend some time acquainting yourself with the differences between openback and resonator banjos. Here are a few basic differences between these two varieties of the instrument:

DesignOpenback and resonator banjos are very similar in design. The main difference is that a resonator banjo has a wooden “bowl” mounted to the back of the sound chamber (the “pot”), which projects the sound toward an audience. The openback banjo has no back; there’s nothing there to cover the sound chamber. With the extra wood on the back, the resonator banjo weighs a little more. Usually, the strings of an openback banjo are positioned with a little more distance from the fretboard because of the way it’s played, clawhammer-style, without fingerpicks.

Goodtime Openback vs. Goodtime 2 (Resonator)

SoundResonator banjos are by far the preferred choice for bluegrass players, as the sound of the instrument is louder and twangier than the open-back banjo. When picked bluegrass-style with fingerpicks, the resonator banjo produces a very bright sound. The openback produces a more mellow, softer sound, and since the sound chamber rests against the player, some of the sound is absorbed into his clothing and player’s body, which lowers the banjo’s volume. Clawhammer-style on an openback banjo is preferred in traditional and mountain music genres, where the sound does not need to compete with the volume of other instruments. For those who need higher volume, a pickup can be installed on almost any banjo and used with an amplifier.

Cost – Openback banjos are typically the less expensive of the two options due to their more simple design. However, any genre can be played on any 5-string banjo, so if you’re not sure which one is right for you, the resonator banjo may be the better choice because it provides more flexibility.

With this in mind, you can always visit Banjo.com and listen to our instrument demo videos, or visit us in person and try them yourself, and see how the openback vs. resonator models sound for your style of playing. For more specific information, call us!

Looking for more information? Read about the anatomy of the banjo.

New to banjos? Check out our Beginner Banjo Buying Guide.

Popular openback banjos

If you’re just getting started and want to keep costs down, the Goodtime Openback or Goodtime Americana are good options. If you want a dark stained banjo, you’ll want to look at the Artisan Goodtime series. The Artisan Goodtime Openback or Artisan Goodtime Americana are great openback options.

If you are a more advanced player, the Deering Sierra Openback is a popular choice as well as the Bishline Okie. We have a wide selection of 5-string openback banjos, if you have questions, please don’t hesitate to reach out.

Popular Resonator (Closed Back) Banjos

Again, of you are new to banjos and looking for an affordable instrument to get you going, look to the Goodtime by Deering series or Artisan Goodtime series. The Deering Goodtime 2 is extremely popular for beginner players who want to play bluegrass and so is the Goodtime Special

The Deering Sierra is an upgrade from the beginner banjos all though plenty of players start with this banjo. When shopping for a banjo with a resonator on a larger budget, you’ll have more brands to choose from. Nechville and Bishline are two American companies producing phenomenal banjos. 

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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