Inexpensive Banjos

All instruments that aren't guitars (or bass guitars).
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StevenO
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Inexpensive Banjos

Post by StevenO » Wed May 01, 2019 11:13 am

Anyone know of any cheap but good banjos out there? Been thinking about picking one up.

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Larry Mal
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Re: Inexpensive Banjos

Post by Larry Mal » Wed May 01, 2019 11:14 am

I mean, how cheap is cheap?
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Re: Inexpensive Banjos

Post by Telliot » Wed May 01, 2019 11:21 am

Yes, I also want one pretty badly. And a pedal steel guitar, even though I’ve heard they’re really hard to learn.
The cool thing about fretless is you can hit a note...and then renegotiate.

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Re: Inexpensive Banjos

Post by my bloody television » Wed May 01, 2019 12:23 pm

Telliot wrote:
Wed May 01, 2019 11:21 am
Yes, I also want one pretty badly. And a pedal steel guitar, even though I’ve heard they’re really hard to learn.
sorry to derail but pedal steel is awesome! It is hard to learn at first but with some time it is not too difficult to get enough knowledge under your belt to "fake it". It is nothing like a dobro or lapsteel which is what I presumed.

I got a Stage One Pedal Steel to start on and it's been great. It is a bit of an investment but as far as a starter instrument it is way over engineered and has never given me any issues which is great for such a complicated instrument.

Wish I could give some banjo info but I know nothing about banjos

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Re: Inexpensive Banjos

Post by StevenO » Wed May 01, 2019 1:35 pm

Larry Mal wrote:
Wed May 01, 2019 11:14 am
I mean, how cheap is cheap?
$10-$400, let's say.

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Re: Inexpensive Banjos

Post by DesmondWafers » Wed May 01, 2019 2:04 pm

The deering banjos in that price range are very nice. You could easily get a resonator one for that price.

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Re: Inexpensive Banjos

Post by Larry Mal » Wed May 01, 2019 3:42 pm

I’ve owned a couple of Deering Goodtime 2 banjos, it’s a natural place to start.

The Gold Tone banjos are made in China and good value for the money.
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Re: Inexpensive Banjos

Post by Larry Mal » Wed May 01, 2019 4:02 pm

So, with getting a banjo, you want a five string banjo almost certainly. There are four string banjos and the difference is night and day between them, four string banjos are great instruments and all but are usually played with a pick for chordal accompaniment, and are rare. The five string banjo is what you've heard most of your life, and that's where you get the Scruggs style playing and all the cool stuff.

You might know this already but I'm throwing it out there.

There is also a six string banjo- fuck that thing. We're not even going to discuss that. A banjo isn't a god damn guitar. You're only cheating yourself if you don't learn any new techniques with the thing.

The banjo market is a little weird in that there are a lot of student level instruments, and then there are expensive professional ones that cost a lot of money. There's not a lot of intermediate priced instruments, sadly. So when I outgrew my Goodtime 2, then I had to make a considerable jump up (I got a Deering Standard for $600- not something you see each day).

Buy a resonator banjo- that's the kind with the wood in the back of it. Open back banjos are cool but you can just take the resonator off if you need that. If you aren't married to the open back frailing sound, then get the most versatility.

There's a lot of cheap banjos out there, like I say, but you will outgrow them and that's expected. The main reason is that they don't have a tone ring in them. The banjo is basically a drum head stretched over a hoop, on cheaper banjos you have the drum head stretched right over the wood of the drum but on better banjos you have the drum head stretched over a metal hoop.

Now, it's not just any metal hoop, that's where great banjos live. Companies like Deering have different alloys that bring out different sounds. Gibson has some legendary things also- the tone ring is where it's at.

There are some student level priced banjos with a tone ring in it. The Goodtime 2 does not have a tone ring. The Goodtime 2 Special does have a tone ring in it.

If I was going to recommend anything it would be that you try and get a banjo with a tone ring in it- if you can swing the Goodtime 2 Special, that's a great banjo, and a better place to start than the Goodtime 2. Problem is, the Goodtime 2 Special is more expensive and kind of rare, Deering hasn't made them for as long and they are harder to find used and more expensive when you do.

If you can't get a banjo with a tone ring in it, that's fine- I learned on a couple of banjos without them. You'll just outgrow it that much faster if you really get into it.

There is a wide variety of sounds with banjos, it's as versatile as any other instrument. Some are dark sounding and some bright, and so on. Some have relatively more sustain and whatnot- you know, same as anything else. Same as any instrument, buy the best one you can.

I mentioned Gold Tone also, they have some student level models that have tone rings but I forget what they are.
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Re: Inexpensive Banjos

Post by StevenO » Thu May 02, 2019 5:15 am

I'll probably end up with whatever is cheap and nice sounding enough to my ears, to begin with. I don't really want to become a "banjo guy" because that sounds horrifying and obnoxious. But I'd like to have the ability at my disposal. I've played a few friend's banjos and have been able to pickup some of the banjo ish elements just from being a finger style guitarists, but certainly not much in the way of claw hammer.

I've even considered making a banjo out of an old kid's snare drum (has flames on the side of it, so it'll at least make me play fast) and a spare guitar neck. But in general I tend to like quirky sounds a fair bit rather than what one would hear on a bluegrass record for bluegrass aficionados. So maybe even a decently setup old one could suffice.

Thanks for the help, Larry! Lots to think about if I do decide to pursue banjo.

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Re: Inexpensive Banjos

Post by Larry Mal » Thu May 02, 2019 6:36 am

It's a lot of fun, and fingerstyle guitar will help you a lot as you play it. Still, I've been a fingerstyle guitar player all my life but I'm kind of sloppy with it, and the banjo is a little more demanding of accuracy than I bring to it at some times.

It's an absolutely beautiful instrument, though. It's a lot more versatile than the imagination of most people consider. Most people think is this super fast arpeggiated technique played very loudly with metal fingerpicks, and that's certainly very cool. But it can do a lot more than that, one interesting thing about the banjo is the muting that is common with the instrument. You can buy little wooden or metal clips that attach to the bridge and they change the sound of the banjo quite a lot, and can make it more mellow and soft.

I've always had a soft spot for the banjo and love the sound of it. It's kind of a shame with that instrument, because most people only view it as doing one thing, and while it's a super cool thing, it doesn't really showcase the range of the instrument very well. Kind of like if everybody who picked up electric guitar dedicated themselves to playing like Jimi Hendrix and no one else or something.

But I'll recommend against building anything out of a guitar neck, though. That fifth string on the banjo, the shortest one with the highest pitch, is the key to that kind of banjo and it lends itself to techniques and sounds that are unique to that instrument.

The banjo relies a lot on alternate tunings but also the use of a capo is very key, it's usually tuned in open G but you can capo around on the neck and play in a lot of other keys still using the fingerstyle rolls that you've worked so hard on.

But that fifth string can be capo'd as well, theres a couple of different methods for actually doing that but my banjo has a sliding capo built right into the neck for that string only.

And that opens up a lot of cool stuff, even in the standard open G tuning I can leave the fifth string playing the tonic note of G, or I can capo it at D for the fifth if I want, or even E for a minor sound, and so on. And of course the sky is the limit in alternate tunings as well- as you know, changing the tuning of an instrument can open up cool new techniques but also change the timbre of an instrument radically in a pleasing way, and the fifth string really adds a lot of possibilities there.

Anyway, I hope any of this is helpful or interesting and I'm not just babbling here. Good luck with wherever your imagination takes you.
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Re: Inexpensive Banjos

Post by bluenote23 » Thu May 02, 2019 1:22 pm

I've spent the last 6 or so years learning how to play Scruggs style banjo. I almost don't pick up my guitar any more.

My banjos are really nice but expensive. For your budget, you don't want to buy new. For a little more than your budget you could start looking for Recording King Rk35s or RK36s. I've played the RK 75 which is close to the same banjo but with fancier inlays and bindings and one piece (or maybe it was three stripped) neck. But based on that, the RK35 or 36 would be a solid starter. You can adjust it without worrying about breaking something and it will stay in tune.

So three finger Scruggs style is more like, i guess 'country' style banjo. Very fast with lots of notes and a sharp sound that cuts through the mix. The banjos above are for that style.

If you want to play 'folk' style clawhammer, then ideally you want a different banjo. These are open backs and tend to be less expensive but I don't have any experience with these.

Clawhammer is easier to learn (or at least it's easier to make something that resembles music) than Scruggs style. Now it's also a question of natural talent but if, like me, you have none, then it's a long road. And frustrating because unlike, say, the guitar, you can't just learn a few 'basic' things and play a song and have that feeling of accomplishment of making musical sounds,

I sounded like rubbish for at least 2 years. It was an embarrassment to play in front of my friends. With Scruggs style, there is a minimum of technique and knowledge you need before you can sound musical and the bar is pretty high. But it's not impossible.

That said, one reason to spend a little more on your first banjo is that you don't want to have to throw it in the garbage dump if you decide you can't play. So the cheap 'bottlecap' banjos, so called because the metal flange has the same shape as a bottle cap and banjos with guitar style tuners are going to be really hard to resell, even at $50 or $100.

Deering Goodtimes have a decent reputation and name recognition. You could probably fairly safely buy one for $250 -$400 and not lose much on resale (remember, open backs are less expensive than resonator banjos). If you're lucky and diligent you could find an RK35 for $750 or so. I know you're in Canada so these are Canadian dollar prices.

Banjo is pretty cool and once you can play a little, it's easy to impress your friends(!). Good luck.

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Re: Inexpensive Banjos

Post by fuzzjunkie » Tue May 14, 2019 8:56 am

So the 4 stringer style is only good for strummy Vaudeville tunes?

I wonder what the vintage banjo market is like? I stopped going to antique shops and flea markets years ago, but I remember seeing banjos from the 1890s era that looked in decent condition but were being sold at wall decoration prices.

Back in Austin there were a few pickers doing non-traditional things that I liked, Danny from the Bad Livers was one and Rob Bernard from the Damnations, his brother is in The Gourds, was another that mixed their punk rock tendencies with country and folk.

The only banjo I ever tried to play was an African 3-string that seemed less intimidating than the 5-string banjo.

In Seattle there are a couple of punk-psychedelic l-Vaudeville acts that I know. Accordions and banjos and upright bass. They all seem to gravitate to French 1920s Jazz and Tom Waits.

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Re: Inexpensive Banjos

Post by NickD » Tue May 14, 2019 9:39 am

This thread has involved the repeated incorrect spelling of my surname.

I owned a banjo for a while just because it featured my name. I couldn’t play it very well.

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Re: Inexpensive Banjos

Post by Larry Mal » Tue May 14, 2019 10:25 am

fuzzjunkie wrote:
Tue May 14, 2019 8:56 am
So the 4 stringer style is only good for strummy Vaudeville tunes?
It's as good as anything you could want to do with it, with the notable exception that it won't do the stuff that can only be done on a five string banjo, of course. There's a world of techniques and learning specific that that exact type of banjo .

Similarly, the four string banjo does the stuff that it does better than anything else. I've always meant to get one. They can be expensive to get a good one, though.

The six string guit-jo won't be discussed.
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Re: Inexpensive Banjos

Post by higgsblossom » Tue May 14, 2019 10:45 am

Actually that would be my question since I know nothing about Banjos: what about the six string version?
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