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Banjo/Beginner Banjo Purchase


I would like to learn to play 5-string Bluegrass banjo. Can you recommend a decent brand and model that I can learn on and one day play with other Bluegrass musicians? Something respectable but one that won't put me into the poor house. :)

Thank you in advance for any advice you can give.

Hi Robert -

I can't call myself an expert in this particular area, but I can help point you in the right direction.  Ross Nickerson at offers a few beginner packages, which feature Gold Tone banjos - that's a decent brand, from what I hear.  They'll cost a bit more than what you might find in a pawn shop, where a lot of us got our first instruments (and which I can't recommend, because you really don't know what you'll be getting).  At the very least, find something made of the real materials - wood for the neck and pot, metal hoop and brackets, and plastic (or hide, which you probably won't find) head.  My first cheapie was Asian-made, with I think a plastic resonator and a metal head, which was weird, I now know.

For a beginner, it doesn't really need to have a resonator; in fact, another very decent beginner-type banjo, the Deering Goodtime, doesn't have one, and it sounds just fine, plenty loud.  That's the one Pete Wernick (Dr. Banjo) usually recommends.  I think it's around $600 or so, but it's worth it if you're at all serious, and can somehow afford it.

If you'd like to check around for more opinions/insights, check out the Banjo Hangout if you haven't already.  Tons of help for the beginner, and free!  Forums, advice, and many many resources.  Welcome to the club, and best of luck.


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Patrick Dunn


I can answer most general questions on bluegrass banjo (3-finger, or "Scruggs" style; basics of playing, major figures associated with the style (mostly older, or "traditional" practitioners, not so much the contemporary players). I can deal with basic music theory as applied to the 5-string banjo, plus tunings, techniques, and associated styles (melodic, single-string). I've never been an instructor, but I've taken enough lessons and collected enough instructional material that I'm sure I could help out beginning students. I'm good with tablature, less used to classical notation; I've attained a pretty broad knowledge of bluegrass in general - the songs, players, and history, but I don't have such a refined ear that I could differentiate one person's playing style from another just by listening, like some can. I can also answer questions regarding "jamming" procedure and etiquette, since that's what I've tried to focus on lately in my own playing. I don't regard myself as any kind of expert on banjo construction or banjo makers. I also do not perform on stage, so I have little knowledge of the procedures of equipment related to that area.


I've played 5-string banjo, on and off, since around 1978, though with greater intensity the past several years. I've had many private lessons, have attended numerous workshops and bluegrass festivals, and have done quite a lot of self-teaching with the aid of many books, videos, and cd materials collected over time.

Northern Nevada Bluegrass Association, California Bluegrass Association

Library Journal, NNBA Newsletter, Desert Survivors newsletter (The Survivor)

BA - English - Washington State University MLS - Library Science - Columbia University

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