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It might surprise the absolute beginner that there are different types of banjos available. Just like guitars, basses, and other string instruments, banjos come built in different models: 4 strings, 5 strings, and 6 strings.
In this blog post, we’re going to discuss these three types of banjos and what styles are best played on them.
Even though they come with four strings, four-string banjos aren’t typically played like bass guitars (bass banjos do exist, though). Instead, some of the most common 4-string banjos are built like ukuleles and play exactly like them. The only difference, of course, is that you’re basically playing a smaller banjo in terms of sound.
Other instruments under the four-string category include the tenor banjo and the plectrum banjo. The main difference between these two is that the tenor banjo is shorter in scale length than the plectrum banjo; the plectrum banjo is the same scale as the 5 string banjo, but played with a flat pick.
Both of these banjos do share a bright sound, and are normally played in Dixie Land jazz ensembles.
These are the most common type of banjos, and are the standard build in every series. You’ll find these banjos played in more traditional styles, such as bluegrass and frailing. 5-string players also use many different techniques when playing, including picks, clawhammer style, or the rapid 3-finger picking style (“Scruggs style”).
Some banjos come built with a resonator, while others are built with a standard open back: openback banjos are better-suited for frailing style-playing, while resonator banjos sound best with bluegrass. Each picking style also makes the banjos sound different with each style.
You can even find 5-string electric banjos, but we’ll talk about those in a minute.
With six-string banjos, you’ll have the fluid versatility of the guitar, plus the speed and twang of a banjo rolled into one great package. Like its cousin-the 4-string ukelele banjo-it plays exactly like a guitar, but with the sound of a banjo.
Many six-string models are built as standard openbacks or with resonators for bluegrass. But for those who want to turn things up, some six-strings come built with pickups like electric guitars. Like electric guitars, most of the sound comes from the pickup and amplifier, giving these banjos a powerful sound that’s sure to electrify your audience.