Thinking about buying a Banjo.

arlum

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I've always wanted to add a banjo to the instruments I play and, having just passed my 67th birthday, started thinking if I'm ever going to do this I'd better get it done. I've been researching everything I can about banjo brands, models, dealers, lessons, maintenance, etc. Because I don't have the time it took to climb through the build quality from beginner to professional of the banjo like I did with guitars, keyboards, etc. I've decided a good middle tier model would be the way to go. One banjo. Bought new. Never needing to be upgraded. So ..... I'm interested in the 5 string resonator "bluegrass" banjo.
I fell in love with this instrument way back in the early '60s when "The Dillards", a Missouri ozark band, accepted the role of "The Darling" family on the Andy Griffith Show. Doug Dillard played the banjo and impressed the heck out of me. Over time I got into Earl Scruggs, Don Reno, Pete Seeger, Roy Clark, Carl Jackson, (check out Carls banjo playing when he teamed with Glen Campbell to do "Dueling Banjos"), Tony Trischka and Steve Martin.I've been a follower / listener for a long time.
I've pretty much narrowed it down to the brands Gold Tone, Deering, Recording King and Gold Star. A lot of guitar brands also make banjos but I figured since the banjo wasn't their primary focus and banjos being so different of a build that I would stick with brands that made the banjo their #1 product. I've found a handful of dealers on the internet and have had discussions with three of them. I've played a number of banjos in local stores but most of those are pretty low tier. Ibanez, Oscar Schmidt, Epiphone, Fender, Deerings "Good time" range, etc. Out of those the Deerings are the best of the lot in my opinion. In the middle range I've played a couple of Gold Tone and Recording King. They are definitely a step up and probably something I'll end up purchasing if I go through with this plan. I found a couple of middle tier Deerings but, in Deerings world, middle tier starts in the low to mid $2000 range. When I ask about "pro" level banjos all of the online dealers use the Deering Sierra line as the starting point. They run in the upper $2000 to lower $3000 range. They're supposed to be the most popular of the professional banjos too. Still ...... that's pretty pricey. Then again, you'd probably be surprised that the majority of the professional tier "production banjos, (not custom or boutique), range between the mid $3000s to lower $7000s. I think production banjo makers and production truck makers might be in cahoots.
Anyway ..... any thoughts or advice would be appreciated. I'm sure there's got to be a nest of banjo players embedded in a Telecaster forum. Maybe in a tavern backroom, church basement or horse barn? :)
 

Wrighty

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Swapped a bike for one once, 25 years or more ago. Sold it and bought a bike. Not for me, no problem with listening to ‘em but struggled to get enthusiastic about playing one.
 

Milspec

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I thought about it once, until I realized how heavy they are....stayed with light guitars. Might try mandolin some day, but guitars are challenging enough for me.
 

Teleguy61

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Just a word of warning--
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WingedWords

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I love my banjos, but play clawhammer on open back and know very little about bluegrass resonator banjos. You might get help reading through the buying advice forum Banjo Hangout.


The brands you mention are all good places to start if you buy from a specialist store like Elderly Instruments in Lansing Michigan. You can be sure of getting something well set up and playable from them, whatever your budget.

I'm sure others more knowledgeable than me will be along shortly.

Good luck!
 

elihu

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Arlin- it sounds you’ve found a worthy endeavor. I don’t have much to add except try to find the brand and models you’re interested in used. I see banjos on Craigslist that sit a long time without interest. It’s definitely a niche market.
 

MarkieMark

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I love the banjo. Dont mind telling that. 😁
I gravitate more toward classic open back clawhammer and two finger styles though. With a rag stuffed inside to mellow it out a tad...

I think you are on the right track.
Gold Tone makes a pretty good entry level instrument for the money. You can get an instrument completely suitable for exploring and learning for well under $1k. I have a (something)100 that is their entry level offering. Perfectly acceptable for its intended purpose. (I removed the resonator and stored it away, and like I said, stuffed a rag/towel inside... Other than some fresh strings, It has needed nothing.)
Deerings Good Times line is a nice step up from that and worth the extra money if you choose. Personally I want to add a Deering Americana to my own collection. A Sierra is a very nicely appointed premium instrument for the money, but as you point out, well out of what I would consider a student or occasional hobbyists budget range. I dont really need gold plated hardware and hand inlayed eagles I reckon.
Nor can I justify the going rate for vintage classics.

Lessons, like any other instrument, I suggest checking some online tutors out, see if one seems to "click" with you. I have studied several good ones. If the "step by step" approach works for you, I recommend checking out Josh Turknets "brainjo" method for one. Patient and personable. You may discover one that better suits you. Also browse around the Banjo Hangout site for tons of content and links.

Maintenance? I change the strings when they get rusty, if thats what you mean. 😆
Its no big deal really. for example I have a ~60 year old Kay Tuxedo with the original head and hardware. New strings, set up the action and play it.
 

Willie Johnson

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I feel like I make musical sounds whenever I mess around with one, but I'm not sure I'd put in the work to become really proficient if I had one. A 6 string set up with a high e entrant string would be kind of cool to mess around with.
 

985plowboy

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I had the banjo bug a few years back.
I bought a used Deering Good Time ll with the resonator.
I paid around $350 including the strap, capo and gig bag.
I was learning Scruggs style and was getting passable at it.
The Good Time was Incredibly loud and very lightweight.
As a bonus it made me a better finger picker when switched back to guitar.
I eventually traded it towards my Martin.
 

arlum

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Thanks my friends. I too hope that playing bluegrass banjo will make me a better finger picker on my acoustic guitars. The Scruggs banjo style looks to have a lot in common with Travis style picking on the guitar.
It's just a vision I've had of myself one day retired and sitting out on the covered porch with a banjo in my hands and the great grand kids joining in singing and dancing. When I was 4 or 5 my family used to spend a lot of time doing that with a couple of my parents friends. It was always Frank on pedal steel, Henry on banjo and Clarence on guitar. Maybe I want to go back as the old adult this time. It just feels so down home cool. I'll check out Banjo Hangout too. I think I've already been there when cruising banjo sites but didn't know it was such a well thought of site for information. I'm thinking TDPRI for banjo players? :)
 

Texicaster

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If you've not heard it there's a GREAT Fretboard Journal Podcast with Bill Evans talking about JD Crowe! Lots of great banjo talk!

 

Mandocaster68

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My feeling is that even a bottom of the price sheet Deering Goodtime Two is going to be a far better musical investment than any of the imports.

That Goodtime line has the same philosophy as the Fender Telecaster. Simple, rock-solid build without a lot of unnecessary adornment. Made to play out of the box.
 
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GeneB

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Did you know the banjo got it's name back in biblical times? Here's the legend:

A carpenter named Joseph had sawed a small bucket in half cross wise and wondered what to do with the wooden ring that was left over. He looked around his workshop and saw planks and ... cat gut used for rope making and pegs and ... well he made a crude but effective musical instrument. And it sounded like cats singing in heaven. So Joseph took his instrument to the temple, where he played 'be bop a bu la' to a Mediterranean beat. The elders were horrified by both the noises it made and the arrogance of the young man playing it. So they decided to Ban Jo from the temple. :D
 

Cpb2020

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I’ve got an open back, so can’t help on resonators other than to say I’ve spent enough time on banjohangout to say that you’re headed the right direction with all of the brands you named.

I’ve got a thing for Bishline’s Cimarron resonator banjos, but can’t justify one.
 

WingedWords

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Thanks my friends. I too hope that playing bluegrass banjo will make me a better finger picker on my acoustic guitars. The Scruggs banjo style looks to have a lot in common with Travis style picking on the guitar.
It's just a vision I've had of myself one day retired and sitting out on the covered porch with a banjo in my hands and the great grand kids joining in singing and dancing. When I was 4 or 5 my family used to spend a lot of time doing that with a couple of my parents friends. It was always Frank on pedal steel, Henry on banjo and Clarence on guitar. Maybe I want to go back as the old adult this time. It just feels so down home cool. I'll check out Banjo Hangout too. I think I've already been there when cruising banjo sites but didn't know it was such a well thought of site for information. I'm thinking TDPRI for banjo players? :)
A lot of good people have stopped posting on Banjo Hangout over the last few years. I look in about once a week and easily keep up with anything of interest. It's OK, but it's no TDPRI.
 

Dan German

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As you can see, the most important part of banjo ownership is learning to let the bad jokes slide off your back. I only rarely haul out my banjo now, and my skills are… well they weren’t really ever that skillful, but now…

I have a Deering Intermediate from the first year of production. It’s brilliant. If I were shopping today, I would be looking at Deering if I had the coin, Goodtime if I didn’t. Out of the others mentioned, I have played Gold Tone, and they seemed like good bang for the buck. Haven’t tried a Recording King banjo, but was impressed with the value of their guitars I’ve seen. I’ve played a total of one each of Epiphone and Fender, and neither seemed all that great. Might have just been the ones I tried.
 




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