The Parts of a Banjo

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 these

Banjo Nomanclature


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