What are the differences between 4-String, 5-String, & 6-String Banjos?

It might surprise the true beginner banjo player that there are so many different types of banjos available. Just like guitars, basses, and other string instruments, banjos come built in different models. One way to classify banjos is: 4 strings, 5 strings, and 6 strings.

In this post, we’re going to discuss these three types of banjos and what styles of music are best played on them.

4-String Banjos

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.

Quick links:

Tenor Banjos | Plectrum Banjos | Banjo Ukuleles

Check Out These Beginner 4-String Banjos

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It is a delight to play with its short scale fretboard, slim neck and light weight body. he shorter 17 fret neck reduces the length of the entire banjo to just 32 inches end to end.

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After years of customer requests, we are proud to offer the new Goodtime banjo ukulele! If you are searching for an instrument that is fun and easy to play in literally any setting, then the Goodtime banjo ukulele might be just what you are looking for!

5-String Banjos

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 (clawgrass). 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.

Quick links:

5-String Openback Banjos | 5-String Bluegrass Banjos | 5-String Electric Banjos | Left-handed 5-String Banjos

Check out these beginner 5-String banjos

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The Deering Goodtime banjo produces a vibrant ringing tone from its natural finished violin grade maple rim. Easy to play! Durable and easy to maintain! At only 4 pounds, the weight makes it ideal for both children and adults to play and to travel with conveniently.

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The Deering Goodtime Americana is the first 5-string banjo from Deering to be fitted with their new Grand 12" rim, giving this banjo a stronger bass response and warmer tone. The fullness and warmth of the larger rim is further enhanced by the addition of a 12" Renaissance banjo head which beautifully complements the instrument both visually and sonically.

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Just like its little cousin, the Goodtime banjo, the Deering Goodtime 2 is rich on sound and value. The Goodtime 2 comes built with a resonator that gives it that bright and big bluegrass sound. Made with care and precision, it offers quality and playability in an affordable package for players of all levels.

6-String Banjos

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.

Quick link: 6-String Banjos

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The Goodtime Six is a 6 string, steel string banjo, that tunes like your guitar and features a fast, sleek, and comfortable guitar style neck that feels like an old friend. The Goodtime Six was not designed to replace your guitar, but rather compliment it. As a guitarist, it affords you the chance to play what you already know with unimaginably creative results.

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The new Goodtime Six-R banjo comes hot on the heels of the very popular Goodtime Six open back banjo, but with a few additional features making the Goodtime Six-R ready for the big stage both in looks and in build.

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The Boston 6 String banjo is tuned like a guitar so guitar players can instantly start playing this type of banjo. It has big resonant bass notes that you don't find on a 5-string banjo, and also crisp highs for that beautiful banjo tone.

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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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