The banjo has a long and somewhat tumultuous history — modern origins have been traced to the Caribbean during the 17th century, believed to have been brought there by enslaved people taken from West Africa. In North America, the first written references to the banjo begin to appear at the start of the 18th century, and since then it has become an essential instrument in American bluegrass, country, dixieland jazz, and folk music. The twang of a modern banjo can be bright and playful or dark and melancholy, but either way, it is easily identifiable. Artists and bands like Taylor Swift, Mumford and Sons, and even Led Zeppelin have brought the banjo into the 21st century, and it continues to grow in popularity.
If you’re interested in becoming a beginner banjo player, then keep reading to learn what the best banjo is to start your journey.
The Key Areas to Focus on For a Beginner Banjo
Like any instrument, there are dozens of variations, if not more, to choose from. There are open back, resonator-equipped — also known as closed back— and fretless banjos. You can choose between 4-, 5-, 6-, and although not as common, 12- string banjos. While most banjos have metal strings, there are some with nylon strings — which produce a mellower sound. So where do you begin when it comes to choosing your beginner banjo?
Not all banjos are created equally, and the price range between a beginner banjo and that of a professional performer will vary. While the quality and material of a higher-end banjo is alluring, you don’t want to invest too much money into your first banjo. Start with a simple yet well-crafted beginner banjo, and make sure to get it covered with a warranty.
As mentioned earlier, you can choose between different numbers of strings when buying a banjo. Not only does this impact how many notes a banjo can play, but also the type of music it produces. A 5-string banjo is most commonly used for a variety of traditional music styles, and it is a great place to start for a beginner banjo.
For a beginner banjo player, it’s going to take a while to figure out how to hold a banjo properly. Spend some time finding a position that is most comfortable for you and focus on your posture — upright and relaxed. It can also help to look for a beginner banjo with a slimmer neck as this makes it easier to handle while you develop the muscle memory to play.
Since it will take some time for a beginner banjo player to get comfortable holding their instrument, weight should also be taken into account. While a ‘closed back’ banjo is preferable for bluegrass players, they are quite heavy, which can make learning to play while standing difficult for a beginner. Although not as loud as a closed back banjo, an ‘open back’ banjo is lighter and easier to learn with.
In summary, the best beginner banjo is one that’s affordable, well-made, and fits the style of music that one desires to play.