Inexpensive Banjos

All instruments that aren't guitars (or bass guitars).
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seattle
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Re: Inexpensive Banjos

Post by seattle » Tue May 14, 2019 11:26 pm

I'm mainly a guitar player but I have a ukulele, mandolin and a banjo. I initially bought a new Epiphone bottlecap style resonator banjo for about $275. I never really played it much. It didn't look good, it was big and heavy and it just wasn't comfortable to mess around with.

I bought that style because I like Bluegrass music. I ended up selling it but I did get most of my money out of it ($250) due to luck. Epiphone stopped selling that model and there wasn't much other competition at that price range. Otherwise I would have taken more of a hit on the resell value.

I bought a used Goodtime 2 open back for $330. I still play Bluegrass style but it doesn't need to be so loud because I'm not playing in a band. It's also smaller and more comfortable to play since it doesn't have the resonator back (you couldn't just take the back off with the bottle cap style or the metal would be very uncomfortable against your skin). The Goodtime 2 also looks much better (natural looking) to me.

If you want that drone sound that you get from Bluegrass you do want a 5 string though.

If you want to play that style in a band you definitely want a resonator style but otherwise you might want to at least consider an open back. I know it ended up being the best choice for me. I'd say either get the Goodtime 2 or be prepaired to spend substantially more if you need/want more than that.

Stay away from the bottle cap style or the 4/6 string styles unless they are specifically what you are interested in.

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higgsblossom
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Re: Inexpensive Banjos

Post by higgsblossom » Sun May 19, 2019 11:52 pm

So the six-string is basically just a guitar with banjo specs, right?
I really don't know anything about banjos... even though I have a tenor guitar and use banjo tuning (CGDA) on that one.
"500€? That's the price of a J Mascis Jazzmaster!"

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Re: Inexpensive Banjos

Post by scottT » Fri Jul 12, 2019 10:59 am

If you would like to add some banjo flavor to recordings without a lot of learning curve, you might look into a guitar tuned six string banjo. That's what you hear on "Old Man" by Neil Young (and possibly on the odd REM track, though I don't know for sure. Wendell Gee in particular sounds like it to me.).

Otherwise if you want to delve into a whole new world of folk (and by that I include "old timey" mountain styles), I believe you would want a non-resonator open back 5 string banjo. The resonator banjo is pretty much the instrument of bluegrass. There is the occasional player who might use one for old time, but you will not see an open back banjo in a bluegrass band. Not loud enough. When you talk about strident and annoying, I think you are talking about a resonator banjo.

I don't currently play banjo, but I used to and I owned open back banjos which I played in the clawhammer technique. No fingerpicks (except maybe on the index or middle because the downstroke can be hard on the fingernail. There are a lot of things you can do to mellow out this banjo playing variables like strings, picks, head, and even stuffing a sponge or cloth in the back.

So it really has a lot to do with the style of music you play. Much more so possibly than the guitar. The various banjos are more style specific generally. For instance the aforementioned four string tenor are used by dixieland jazz players and in Celtic music, while the long scale 4 string plectrum banjo are popular with players of early jazz repertoire and both are played with a plectrum.

There are even minstrel banjos which are fretless and strung with gut stings or gut-like nylon which are popular with people who enjoy even earlier banjo music current during the civil war era and later 19th century.

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cyclopean
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Re: Inexpensive Banjos

Post by cyclopean » Sat Jul 13, 2019 12:59 am

my bloody television wrote:
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
don't cheap out on banjos. cheap banjos are way worse than cheap guitars.

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Larry Mal
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Re: Inexpensive Banjos

Post by Larry Mal » Sat Jul 13, 2019 5:51 am

higgsblossom wrote:
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?
It would be kind of like laying the cello across your lap and playing it with a guitar pick.

Just learn to use the bow and learn to play the instrument involving the techniques specific to that instrument or you are just cheating yourself.

If your only tool is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail. If all you can do is force other instruments to be the guitar, you cheat yourself of a lifetime of learning.
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scottT
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Re: Inexpensive Banjos

Post by scottT » Sat Jul 13, 2019 10:10 am

But there are a lot of techniques specific to the banjo, as there are many different banjos. That's why I think it's best to identify what you want a banjo for and let that lead you in your decision. The six string banjo has a history of its own and is just as valid as an instrument in its own right as any banjo. I understand the perception of a six string banjo player as an instrument for guitarists too lazy to learn real banjo, but I think this is a misconception. Six string banjos were common at the dawn of jazz in the 1920s.

I see the six string banjo as an artifact of that interesting time in the late 19th and early 20th century where instrument makers were keeping up with musical trends and technology. Mandolin bands gave way to banjo bands, and tenor banjos were tuned like a mandola, and the same intervals as the mandolin so it was easy for mandolin players to make the jump to the banjo. Then of course there were mandolin banjos. Higgsblossom has a four string guitar tuned like a tenor banjo. These were common in jazz bands wanting to make the jump from tenor banjo to guitar. Band leader Eddie Condon is a good example. I used to have a banjo uke--small 4 string banjo tuned like a ukulele. This goes on and on. My point is that the six string banjo fits historically within this same evolution. To hear a good player of the period look into Johnny St. Cyr with Louis Armstrong Hot Fives. I also think they sound great for ragtime/blues as played here by Rev. Gary Davis:

West Coast Blues

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Re: Inexpensive Banjos

Post by higgsblossom » Sat Jul 13, 2019 10:06 pm

Thanks for the explanations. The banjo is not that popular in Germany because we have no country music outside Alt.Country or weird USA fans, so it is a bit of a mystery for me 😉
Like if I told you about the Hackbrett or Zither.
"500€? That's the price of a J Mascis Jazzmaster!"

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Re: Inexpensive Banjos

Post by scottT » Sun Jul 14, 2019 9:19 am

Funny you should mention the zither. The first six string banjo was meant to imitate the sound of a zither and was actually called the zither banjo. It had very specific strings and tuning and plucking technique. They were especially popular in England. If you come across one over there in Europe, it may be strung and tuned like a guitar, but it's most likely one of those.

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Re: Inexpensive Banjos

Post by Larry Mal » Sun Jul 14, 2019 10:29 am

I used to have something called a "guit-zither", it was made in the early 1900s. No idea where it is now. Isn't it funny how life works?

And sure, there might have been six string banjo type things back in the day along with every other branch in the banjo family tree, but that doesn't change the fact that the six string banjo is usually a lame instrument designed for lazy guitar players these days, and more importantly like I say it does not lend itself to learning banjo techniques.

Clearly, there are a lot of banjo techniques and you could argue that the plectrum four string banjo techniques can apply to the six string guitar banjo or something... I don't know, really. I'm pretty sure that the six string guitar banjo is just very lame.

Kind of like if you refused to learn the actual bass guitar and just pretended that an octave pedal was good enough or something.

Why not just play the banjo with your MIDI keyboard if you don't have any interest in actually learning a new instrument.
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Re: Inexpensive Banjos

Post by StevenO » Sun Jul 14, 2019 10:46 am

I'd rock a 6 string banjo and I don't give a fudge if it makes me lazy. I found most uses of the banjo to be god awful anyhow, buy it can have a really beautiful sustain and tonality if the player allows it.

Bluegrass style playing is cool, but for the most part it can gargle my goods and plentys.

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