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Banjo 101: Shopping Tips For Your First Banjo Purchase

posted Mar 25, 2011, 1:18 PM by Jared Libby
You know you want one. You love the sound. It feels right when you hear it. You want to buy one and learn how to pick. You're now ready to expand your knowledge of banjos before you invest in your first one. Here are some facts about about banjo types and styles to get your shopping trips off to a well informed start:
There are 4 basic types of banjos:
A frailing or clawhammer banjo has 5 strings and an open back. The strings are set a little wider apart and and the action a little higher for the percussive old timey clawhammer banjo style.
5 string Bluegrass banjos look much like the old timey banjo, except they have resonators on the back to make them louder. The strings are set closer together and the action is set a little lower for bluegrass 3 finger picking styles. These banjos are usually played with two fingerpicks and a thumbpick.
Tenor and Plectrum banjos have four strings, either open or resonator backs, and are played with a flatpick. Plectrum banjos have a longer scale neck than the Tenor. Many people flatpick Irish or Jazz styles on these models.
There are also the hybrids--fun, quirky banjos like the banjo-uke, banjo-bass, guitjo, piccolo banjo, banjo-mandolin, electric banjo......the list goes on!
Consider these important points when buying that exciting "first love" of a banjo:

1. Musical Style
2. Number of strings
3. Weight
4. Volume
5. Tone Quality
6. Tuneability
7. Playability
8. Quality of construction
9. Price
10. Do you love this instrument?

Many commercial instrument builders turn out decent and affordable new banjos--search on line for banjo companies, and surf around their sites. You'll get lots of information about banjos from doing this. There are also excellent private banjo craftspeople and vintage instruments sellers to consider.
The banjo you get should suit the music you want to play. If you'd like to explore different music styles, then I suggest you start with an open back 5 string frailing or clawhammer banjo, and you splurge on the best quality instrument you can afford.
Experienced pickers can make a mediocre banjo sound OK, but I believe beginners need and deserve comfortable, responsive, tuneable, playable, good sounding instruments. Making music is a priceless activity--You won't regret buying the better quality instrument!
I hope this brief introduction helps you start your fun banjo shopping trip and exciting musical oddyssey. Good luck with your search, and let me know how you do!