Best Banjo Brands (2020)

If you’re a beginner at the banjo then you might be wondering what the best brand is. After all, buying from a respected brand can help get rid of some of the anxiety about purchasing a new instrument. You want to make sure you’re getting the best quality, and there can seem to be unlimited options when it comes to which banjo is the right choice, buying from a brand you know you can trust makes it all a bit easier.

But of course, there are so many brands - how can you know which one is going to be the best option for you? Luckily, this handy guide will take you through the top brands, and their top products, plus a buyers guide showing you some of the things to look out for when you’re buying your banjo.

The Best Banjo Brands - The Top 5 Reviewed

Now let’s get down to business and review some of the best banjo brands. Please know we only considered the highest rated banjo brands for this list:

  1. Rogue 
  2. Ibanez 
  3. Epiphone 
  4. Fender 
  5. Deering ​

We used consumer reviews and our own research to compile this list. These are unbiased reviews designed to help you pick the best possible brand to buy your first, second or maybe third banjo from.

1. Rogue 

Rogue Learn the Banjo Starter Pack

Our rating:

If you’re looking for something that’s not going to break the bank, but is still going to be a solid instrument then Rogue is an excellent choice. They use designs from other brands, then develop low-cost ways of building inexpensive instruments on a large scale. They build everything from guitars to ukuleles and using them is a great way to start playing something new without worrying about the budget.

With some of the lowest prices Rogue’s quality control is not always up to the same standard as some other brands, but a beginner will find them perfect for trying out something new without spending a lot. The quality for beginners will be absolutely fine, and it is only as you progress to a higher level than you’ll have to think about switching to someone new.

If you’re just starting out, the Rogue Learn the Banjo Starter Pack is a great way to get started with all the accessories and extras you need to help you find your feet. The actual banjo itself comes with a gig bag, a book of chords, and an easy how=to guide which is great for supplementing lessons, or learning alone. The price means that it’s easy to try out the banjo, get everything you need to get to grips without paying too much. After all, if you decide this is the instrument for you then you’ll have the opportunity to upgrade as you get more skilled.

The banjo itself is of surprising quality considering the price, and it’s a great instrument to learn on and to get to grips with the technique and you won’t feel like you’ve wasted your money because when you do replace it you’ll be ready for something much more advanced.

Pros

  • A great way to get started without spending lots of time worrying you won’t stick with it

  • A good quality level at this price

  • Nice tone on the instrument making it a good one to learn on

  • Comes with everything you’ll need to get started

  • A great practice instrument

Cons

  • This isn’t going to be the banjo you make your performing debut with. The sound quality and projection just won’t do for a large audience. But for a learner, it’s pretty perfect

Rogue Learn the Banjo Starter Pack
  • Rogue Travel/Starter banjo:
  • 18 brackets
  • High-quality head
  • Open back
  • Satin finish

2. Ibanez 

Ibanez B200 5 String Banjo w/Basswood Rim

Our rating:

Ibanez was founded in 1957, and since then they’ve gone from strength to strength within the mid-level market. They’ve been making banjos for a long time and they’ve made some great instruments. They’re definitely a step up, and if you’ve decided that you want a banjo to learn on that will last you for a while then Ibanez is a good brand to go to. They’ve got a pretty extensive range so you’re sure to find something you’ll like.

One of their top picks is the Ibanez B200 5-String Banjo. This is a banjo that can pack a pretty solid punch in terms of sound mostly because the resonator is so good. With vine shaped thorny inlays, you’ll catch people’s eye wherever you’re playing and with the sound to back up its looks it’s a great option.

Made from mahogany it is slightly less refined than maple and it’s definitely a bit heavier than other similar banjos, but the quality of the sound is wonderful and if you’re a beginner starting to make the move up to intermediate than this is a banjo that you can take out with you performing and know it’s not going to let you down.

Pros

  • Excellent design making this a stand-out instrument visually

  • A great powerful sound, that’s guaranteed to do well in a band or solo

  • Built from good quality mahogany, a durable banjo that should last you as your skills grow

  • Good resonator

  • Great balance between sound and visuals

Cons

  • Heavier than other similar banjos, making it a bit harder to carry especially for beginners

Ibanez B200 5 String Banjo w/Basswood Rim
  • Type of banjo: 5-string banjoCoodinator rod: DoubleRim: Basswood block rimResonator: MahoganyNeck: MahoganyFretboard: RosewoodResonator binding: ABS-MultiInlay: Acrylic pearl block inlayTuning machine: Friction banjo tunerNumber of frets: 22Armrest: Chrome with etchingBridge material: Rosewood and mapleTailpeice: Chrome clamshell tailpeiceFinish - Rim: GlossFinish - Resonator: GlossFinish - Neck back: Gloss
  • Old-timers may recall Ibanez was quite enamored with banjo-building, having even collaborated on an artist signature model with the late great Earl Scruggs
  • Now, with the Ibanez B200 you get a sweet 5-string closed-back banjo at a price that wont break the bank
  • It features a basswood rim with 24-lug configuration, a rolled brass tone ring and mahogany resonator
  • The mahogany neck has a rosewood fingerboard with mother-of-pearl inlay

3. Epiphone

Epiphone MB-200 Banjo, Red Brown

Our rating:

Epiphone has an excellent reputation among instrument builders and is especially known for their balance of quality and price. Coming from bluegrass roots in Nashville Tennessee, Epiphone knows their banjos and they’re designed with their customers in mind. Their instruments are excellent quality and sound great. They’re normally perfect for all levels of skill, but if you’re an aspiring bluegrass player then you’re not going to get better than their MB-200.

The MB-200 is a resonator banjo with a full rich sound that you’d expect from such an instrument. Unlike the previous banjo with a resonator above this is a comparatively light model at just 5 pounds making it an instrument you can play for a long period without getting tired. It has a lovely floral inlay, so you know you’ll look great as you play. It’s a banjo that will grow with you even as you progress, so while you may start out on this model even as you get better it’ll stay with you and keep delivering.

Pros

  • A great rich sound because of the resonator 

  • Much lighter than other similar-sized banjos, making this a great one for taking on the road or long performances

  • A banjo that’ll grow with you even as your skills improve 

  • Unbeatable quality at this price

Cons

  • Might take a little bit of time to get used to the tuning

There are other more expensive banjos, but if you’re trying to get the best banjo on a budget, this is a great one to look at.

Epiphone MB-200 Banjo, Red Brown
  • Mahogany body
  • US Remo Head
  • Rosewood fretboard
  • 26.25 scale

4. Fender 

Fender Concert Tone 54 Banjo, Brown Sunburst

Our rating:

A giant in the industry Fender is known for quality in all of its instruments, and the banjo’s it creates are no exception. Fender is not one to skimp on quality materials and designs, so you know that should you choose them they’re going to deliver. Getting a Fender banjo is a leap up simply in terms of brand recognition, but the jump in price is worth it for the highest quality and the instrument you buy is all but guaranteed to be incredible.

You can’t go far wrong with the Fender Concert Tone 54 Banjo whose ancestors come from the height of folk revival in the 1960s. This is another resonator banjo and is priced very reasonably considering the quality you’ll get from a Fender banjo. Beautiful geometric inlays are just the tip of the iceberg with this banjo, as there is also a sunburst finish on the back making this one of the best-looking instruments around. You know you’ll look good from every angle with this model, and that confidence will come through in your performance. Fender isn’t one to sacrifice sounds for looks, and this banjo carries off that promise. A steel tone ring means that tonally this banjo is up there with the greats, and the results are clear in the crisp sound it produces. For a resonator banjo it’s relatively lightweight, making it another good option for performance. This banjo is made of a maple and mahogany mix and while a single piece body would improve the tone, the difference really is marginal in the quality of the sound you’re getting from this model

Pros

  • A beautifully crafted instrument made from quality maple and mahogany

  • A crisp sound due to the steel tone ring

  • Wonderful geometric inlays on the front and sunburst pattern on the back make this banjo a joy to look at

  • Lightweight and great to perform with

  • A great banjo for all skill sets

Cons

  • Would have a better tone if made from a single piece of wood

Fender Concert Tone 54 Banjo, Brown Sunburst
  • Achieve a rich powerful tone inspired by the strikingly beautiful Mahogany resonator
  • The brass tone ring is rolled rather than cast, which produces clearly ringing tone with great volume and brightness, and doesn't weigh a banjo down too heavily
  • Value meets beauty in elegantly stylized white pearl and blue green abalone inlays that impart a touch of stylish sophistication to the fingerboard and headstock of this finely appointed instrument
  • Enjoy the crips sound of a rolled steel tone ring
  • Enjoy additional peace of mind due to Limited Lifetime warranty that is included with purchase

5. Deering 

Deering Goodtime 5-String Banjo

Our rating:

Yes, the world famous guitar brand Fender also makes ukuleles. Over the years their brand has expanded and they now offer a variety of stringed instruments.

With such a big brand name it's not surprising that Fender came out with the Montecito tenor ukulele.

It is a good quality ukulele that would be considered in the mid range price range.

Pros

  • Made out of Koa wood, which is the traditional wood used to create ukuleles in Hawaii.
  • Features a Fender telecaster style headstock which gives it that rock and roll feel.
  • Wood quality gives it a beautiful tone.
  • Has that one of a kind Fender design.
  • Available in multiple colors.
  • Has a no-tie bridge which makes it super easy to change the strings.
  • Has a solid top giving it a resonant tone.

Cons

  • Users have complained about it going out of tune fairly often.
Deering Goodtime 5-String Banjo
  • Low-profile, 22-fret rock maple neck with hardwood bow tie inlays
  • Sealed, geared tuning machines, including fifth string
  • 5/8-Inch maple/ebony Goodtime bridge with adjustable Deering tailpiece
  • Six-year warranty
  • Three-ply, 11-inch maple rim with steel tension hoop and high crown head

Final Thoughts

Deciding to play the banjo is a great choice, and now you know a little bit more about the best brands you can start to make a decision, but there are some things worth knowing and thinking about before you make a choice about which to buy. Think about what sort of music you want to play. Banjos are great for jazz, bluegrass, and of course folk. They’re great either solo or as part of a group so think about what you’re looking to get out of your instrument and what sort of context you’ll be playing.

Really think about how much you want to spend. The banjo, like pretty much every other musical instrument, comes in a wide range of budgets, so there is something for everyone as long as you’re willing to have a look around. Most beginners spend a couple of hundred dollars, but there are also options if you’re looking to spend more or less. Professional instruments can cost a couple of thousand dollars, and it is worth thinking about what you are spending your money on. If you want something that will last you then consider spending a bit more. But if you’re just starting out and want to see if the banjo is right for you then there’s nothing wrong with looking at some cheaper instruments.

Most beginner banjos are factory-made in Asia, but that doesn’t mean you should avoid them. A benefit for choosing to go with a large brand is knowing that they’ve spent time and effort developing instruments at all levels, and with a little tweaking there are some pretty great instruments at low prices. If you’re just giving playing the banjo a try then these are a really great option, just don’t expect them to last forever.

Different banjos are good for different things, and the type of music you want to play should determine which you want to buy. It’s not a good idea to do it the other way around because you might end up being stuck with an instrument that can only really play a genre of music you hate. So really think about what you want before you make the leap.

5 string banjos have a longer neck, and as the name suggests, five strings. One of these strings is shorter and known as the drone string, which ends at a tuning key in the upper side of the neck. This is what makes this banjo perfect for clawhammer style, which is a kind of bluegrass finger-picking style of play, and the most traditional frailing technique. Check out Earl Scruggs if you’re unsure what this looks like

5-string banjos are also known as resonator and open-backed types of banjo, which basically means the same thing. A resonator is the back of a banjo, and favored for bluegrass or other fingerpicking styles of music, because the back of the banjo (the resonator) increases the volume, making this a great option in groups and ensembles. Without a resonator the sound can be partially absorbed by the player's body which affects the sound, dampening it and making it more ‘clunky’. Those with a resonator are typically more expensive than those without.

4 string and tenor banjos have, you guessed it, 4 strings. Their neck is also shorter than a five-string and they’re normally played with a pick and used for jazz. If you want a jazzier sound then this is where you should be looking.

The banjo is a great instrument for all ages, and if you’re thinking about picking one up then it’s a good idea to get to grips with which brand may be right for you. Ultimately the most important thing is that you end up with a banjo you love to play, so get out there and start plucking!

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