The better question
is what to look for in buying a banjo
First step is to decide
what kind of music you want to play. There are basically,
4 differant kinds of banjos in mainstream banjo playing.Two
kinds of 4 strings, and two kinds of 5 strings. 4 strings
are used for Jazz, Dixieland Jazz , Big Band, and sometimes
Irish Folk. There are 4 string Plectrum Banjos which have
22 frets, and 4 string Tenor banjos which have 17 or 19 frets.
Played in a strumming or 'Plectrum' style. Plectrum style
is basically strumming with a flat pick.
Five string banjos without resonators are most often used
playing in 'clawhammer' which is also known as 'knocking'
or 'old timey' style. Clawhammer is a 2 fingered style and
usually doesn't involve the use of picks.
Five string banjos with resonators are most often used in
playing Bluegrass, three finger style, and this style requires
picks. You can play either type, Clawhammer or Bluegrass on
any kind of 5 string, however these are the prefered choices.
If you aren't sure of what style you want to play, you can
access the "Hear some pickin mine and others" page
on this website. Listen to either myself or Mike Stanger playing
in the three fingered style, bluegrass, and either Hank Schwartz
or Yigal Zan playing in the clawhammer or old timey style.
I dont have any clips for 4 string plectrum but if you go
to the websources and links page look for Jim Costons site
you can sample some there.
Additionally there are also six string banjos, tuned and played
like a guitar, mando banjos, tuned and played like mandolins
and a few other aberations called banjos, but Im not going
to discuss them much on this page, because they are fairly
remote and I want to keep things simple.
After deciding what
music you want to play, the first question you need to ask
yourself, is how committed am I in this venture? That will
help you in deciding the second question, how much money do
I want to spend? Heres the lowdown. Banjos range in price
from about $75 for a real cheapo fixer upper to over $5000.
The differance in price reflects the differance in the quality
of construction and the materials used in building a banjo.
The lower end banjos are made cheaply, they have open faced
gears, (which means they get dirty and worn out easier) they
have friction 5th string pegs ( which have a tendency to slip
and are touchy to use). They dont even have any kind of tone
ring, and the necks and bodies can wobble easy. However despite
all these short comings, set up properly they do a decent
job. If the necks are positioned correctly they play nice,
if not set up correctly you will need to go to the Arnold
Schwartzenagger school for building hand muscles.
During the mid to late
70s there was an explosion of wanna be pickers following the
big success of Dueling Banjos from the movie Deliverance,
the sound track from Bonnie and Clyde by Flatt and Scruggs
and the advent of the tv show Dukes of Hazzard. This big stir
for banjos was met by an onslaught of imported cheap banjos
flooding the market. If you are finding a banjo at a pawn
shop, flea market or cousin Zekes closet and it has no name
on it or just a partial label, its more than likely one of