In the first banjo article, I talked about the history and different types of banjos. For Bluegrass music, the most common banjo is the standard length neck on a five-string banjo. This type usually has 22 frets and a short string tuning peg at the 5th fret. We’ll talk more about frets and strings in the next articles.
Seek advice from friends, other musicians, music stores, music teachers, pictures, and books (even on the web) when trying to choose a banjo. Don’t buy a banjo until you know what it is like, how it sounds, and is the right one for the music you want to hear and play. With a bit of experience at looking at banjos, you can find one that will be suitable.
THREE MAIN WAYS
FIRST; Borrow or rent a banjo.
This is the least expensive way unless you break it or it is stolen. At least, you can see it, touch it, even try to play it. You can do all of the necessary checks to see if it works like a banjo. Borrowing a banjo is the best way to determine your interest, your ability, and if this type of banjo will be suitable for your music. There are lots of banjos out there, so do some looking around, Check with family, friends, and other musicians to find the one that might be in someone’s closet, basement, or attic. Make a deal with them to borrow it until you find one you would like to own.
SECOND; Buy a new or used banjo.
In the next articles, I will discuss the checks you need to do to see if the banjo is playable and worthy of purchase. Get the advice of someone who knows. It is a lot like buying a car. Without some background knowledge you could get stuck with a lemon that will spoil your musical experience. Don’t be fooled by the thought of buying the cheapest model to start with. Most cheap banjos are just too poorly made and too difficult to play easily. Better quality banjos are easier on your hands and ears. Better banjo will also retain their value if you decide to sell them.
Cheaper model banjos usually wind up hidden in someone’s junk storage or sold at garage sales for less than 100 bucks. Don’t waste your money. Most cheap banjos have skinny necks and not suitable for larger hands, poor quailty metals, and no adjustment rods in the neck or back of the banjo. Its a matter of time until the woods warp. With no adjustments possible in the banjo, it becomes a throw-away model.
You should buy the best banjo you can find for the amount of money you can afford to spend. You will like the better sound and appreciate the resale value.
THIRD; Build a banjo.
You may decide to have one built by a qualified maker, or buy a kit and do it yourself. This is a last resort method for the wealthy or a skilled craftsman. The banjo will still have to pass all the playability checks to be worth the expense. Most custom made banjos are fancy inlaid and fancy priced. But, if you buy the best you can afford, you can never go back to playing lesser banjos with the same feelings as you have playing the better banjos. Pride of ownership of a great instrument is a wonderful thing to share with other musicians.
In summary, If you are a learner, you should borrow one first. If you consider yourself an experienced player with lots of bucks, get a custom model. The rest of us will be somewhere in between those two extremes.