Banjos come in all shapes and sizes, each made to make its own unique sound. Here are 10 of them you should know:
- Tenor Banjo – Shorter neck with a higher pitch, tuned to fifths.
- Plectrum Banjo – Similar to the Tenor, but with a longer scale length, tuned in C.
- 4-String Banjo – Two fewer strings than the standard banjo.
- 5-String Bluegrass Banjo – Most popular type for Country, Folk, Traditional, and Bluegrass.
- 6-String Banjo – A guitar-banjo hybrid, tuned like a guitar.
- Open-Back vs. Resonator Banjo – Open-back has no covering and Resonator has a back covering for more substantial output.
- Fretless Banjo – No frets, one-of-a-kind sound and playability.
- Electric Banjo – Looks like an electric guitar with a banjo headstock, used mainly in recording.
- Banjo Guitar – Like a banjo but with six strings like a guitar, tuned differently.
- Travel Banjo – Smaller, lighter and more compact, for players on the go or beginners.
Choose your banjo wisely – consider your desired genre, playing technique and budget.
Introduction to Banjos
The banjo is a centuries-old stringed instrument. It’s a kind of plucked lute. It usually has four or five strings. Plus, it has a thin membrane stretched over a frame or cavity. This makes the sound that makes the banjo so distinct. So, there are many types of banjos! It can be tricky to pick the right one. Here’s a list of ten common banjo varieties. We’ll help you choose which one suits your musical style best.
- 4-String Tenor Banjo: This banjo is favored by jazz players and has a shorter neck and a higher pitch than a 5-string banjo.
- 5-String Open Back Banjo: This is the classic banjo sound, with a crisp sound that’s perfect for folk and bluegrass music.
- 5-String Resonator Banjo: Similar to the open-back banjo, but with a closed back that projects the sound forward. Great for playing with a band.
- 6-String Banjo: This banjo has an extra guitar string for a fuller sound and is often used in rock or country music.
- Banjo Ukulele: A banjo-ukulele hybrid that produces a bright and unique sound.
- Electric Banjo: This banjo has an electronic pickup and can be plugged into an amplifier for a louder sound, perfect for playing in a band.
- Plectrum Banjo: A 4-string banjo with a long neck that’s often used in jazz music.
- Irish Tenor Banjo: Similar to the plectrum banjo, but with a shorter neck and a brighter, more crisp sound. Popular in traditional Irish music.
- Fretless Banjo: This banjo doesn’t have frets, allowing for more flexibility in playing notes and making slides.
- Bluegrass Banjo: Made specifically for bluegrass music, this banjo has a unique resonator and produces a bright, crisp sound.
Brief history of the banjo instrument
The banjo is said to have come from West Africa and was taken to the Americas during the slave trade. It changed over time, with each culture that used it adding their own bits and styles of playing.
These are the 10 types:
- Ukulele or Banjolele
Nowadays, it is still a favourite for genres such as bluegrass, folk and country music, thanks to its special sound and flexibility.
Importance of choosing the right type of banjo
Choosing the right type of banjo is essential to get the sound you want and play the style of music you wish. The Banjo has been around for centuries with different styles – from bluegrass to country, folk to blues, jazz, and beyond.
Ten types of banjos to pick from are:
Each have their own traits, making them ideal for distinct music styles. Make sure to find the banjo that meets your needs and desires.
The 5-string banjo is the most popular type of banjo. It’s tuned in the standard G-tuning and used by many bluegrass players. It has a short, lightweight neck and a resonator that amplifies the sound. The heads of this banjo can be either traditional or synthetic. It’s used in many genres, such as folk, country, bluegrass, jazz, and rock.
Let’s learn more about this instrument and its uses.
Open-back 5-string banjos
Open-back 5-string banjos are one of ten types of banjos. They have a unique design and sound. Instead of a closed back, it has an open one, making the sound softer and mellower. Perfect for playing old-time and folk music.
The 5-string banjo is the most popular type. It has five strings, with the fifth being shorter and raised. This allows for higher pitched notes.
Combining the two types, the open-back 5-string banjo offers a sound suitable for old-time, folk and bluegrass.
When buying, make sure it has a good quality rim and head. This will ensure great sound quality.
Choose between vintage or modern styles
When picking a 5-string banjo, you’ll have to decide between a vintage or modern one. Each has its own special features and tones.
- Vintage 5-string banjos often have open-back design and a mellow sound. They’re perfect for folk, old-time, or bluegrass music.
- Modern 5-string banjos usually have a resonator that boosts volume and sustain. These are ideal for bluegrass, country, and progressive music.
Besides the 5-string banjo, here are other types:
- Tenor Banjo
- Plectrum Banjo
- Open-Back Banjo
- Bluegrass banjo
- Clawhammer banjo
- Resonator Banjo
- Travel Banjo
- Electric Banjo
- Five-string long-neck
- Six-String Banjo
Ultimately, the type of 5-string banjo you choose should suit your musical style and your personal preferences for sound and construction.
Select the right wood type for your preference
Selecting the right wood type for a 5-string banjo is key to getting the desired sound and style. Here are the top 5 most used woods for banjos:
- Maple: Sharply clear and bright, ideal for bluegrass and country tunes.
- Mahogany: Warms up the sound with its richness – great for folk, blues and jazz.
- Walnut: A balanced sound encompassing deep lows and smooth highs – versatile.
- Rosewood: Dense and heavy, making for a bright, bell-like tone – perfect for fingerpicking and classical music.
- Ebony: Bright and clear, with a tight low-end – ideal for intricate, fast playing.
Choose the wood that fits your personal taste and the music style you wish to play.
Resonator-backed 5-string banjos
Resonator-backed 5-string banjos are special. They have a closed back and a resonator, which projects the sound out. This gives them a louder, fuller sound, compared to open-back banjos.
There are 10 different types of banjos, each with its own sound, size and design. The 5 most popular 5-string banjos are:
- Bluegrass Banjo
- Old-Time Banjo
- Open-Back Banjo
- Resonator-Backed Banjo
- Electric Banjo
Resonator-backed 5-strings are especially popular with bluegrass musicians. They love the loud, bright sound. However, it’s also suitable for other music genres.
Understand the differences between a ‘Flathead’ and an ‘Archtop’ banjo
It’s important to know the differences between the two most popular 5-string banjo types: ‘Flathead’ and ‘Archtop.’
- Flathead banjos are renowned for their sweet, mellow tones. They have a flat top which produces a bright, even sound.
- Archtops have a curved top, resulting in a warmer, mellower tone. These banjos have more sustain and projection.
Both Flathead and Archtop banjos create beautiful music. You can choose the bright sound of a flathead, or the warmer tones of an archtop.
Choose a wood type that gives you desired tone quality
Selecting the correct wood for your five-string banjo is critical to getting the sound you want. Each wood has its own sound and characteristics, influencing the tone of your banjo. Here are some common woods used in 5-string banjos and their tone:
- Maple: Used frequently for bluegrass banjos. Bright, crisp, and snappy – perfect for fast, technical playing.
- Mahogany: Good for open-back banjos. Warm, balanced tone with full mid-range.
- Walnut: Balanced tone with clear, crisp high-end – works for many banjo styles.
- Rosewood: Great clarity and dynamic range. Tone is warm and rich – great for clawhammer and folk music.
- Ebony: Loud and sharp tone – great for bluegrass and country music.
When picking a wood type, think about its tonal quality and how it matches your music style.
Pro tip: Know what you like and experiment to find the perfect wood for your sound.
The four-string banjo is popular. It’s known for its twangy sound, which makes it great for folk and blues. So, often it’s called “plectrum banjo“, since it’s usually played with a plectrum. Other genres like jazz, bluegrass and country also use this type of banjo.
The tenor banjo is a 4-string type. It’s often used in Celtic and jazz music. But there are nine more! Let’s explore them:
- 4-string banjo. This is the standard one. Strings can be tuned in different ways.
- 5-string banjo. Popular in bluegrass. Features a high-pitched fifth string.
- 6-string banjo. Played like a guitar. Has an extra lower string.
- Plectrum banjo. 4 strings. Similar to tenor, but different tuning and style.
- Banjo ukulele. Small instrument. Mix of banjo and ukulele sounds.
- Electric banjo. Amplified for louder, stronger sound.
- Bluegrass banjo. Closed back and resonator for projecting the sound.
- Open-back banjo. 5-string. Soft and muted sound. Great for beginners.
- Clawhammer banjo. Unique 5-string style. Strings hit downwards for rhythmic sound.
- Bass banjo. Produces low notes. Has the standard five strings.
Each one has its own playing experience. It’s up to the musician to decide which fits them best!
Understand the history and origin of tenor banjos
Gaining an understanding of the history and origin of the tenor banjo is essential to appreciate its cultural importance and development.
It is a four-string instrument with Irish roots, traditionally used in Celtic music.
It got famous in the early 1900s during the jazz era when adopted by American jazz musicians.
The tuning of a tenor banjo is C-G-D-A, the same as a viola. This is different from the five-string banjo’s open G tuning.
The tenor banjo has a shorter neck and a higher pitch than other banjo types. This makes it great for playing chords and melody in a group.
Pro Tip: Discovering the history of your musical instrument can help you to appreciate it more, and give you ideas for your playing.
Choose the right type of wood and head material based on tone preference
Choosing the wood and head material for a 4-string banjo is important. Each will give a unique sound to your playing style.
Different woods, like maple, mahogany, and walnut, can be used. Maple is the most popular; its sound is bright and crisp. Mahogany is warm and mellow. Walnut is rich and deep. Decide what tone you want before selecting the wood.
The head material also affects the sound. Synthetic is common and produces a bright, loud sound. Goatskin is great for a mellower sound. Choose the right one based on the tone you want.
Plectrum banjos are a four-string kind that’s often heard in jazz. They make a bright, clear sound and are popular with players. Here are 10 types you might see:
- Plectrum banjos
- Tenor banjos (4-strings for Irish and jazz)
- 5-string banjos (for bluegrass, folk, country)
- 6-string banjos (same tuning as a guitar)
- Open-back banjos (for old-time and folk)
- Resonator banjos (closed back, used in bluegrass and country)
- Electric banjos (with pickups to plug into an amp)
- Banjoleles (a banjo-ukulele hybrid)
- Cello banjos (bigger body, deeper sound, great for classical and jazz)
- Baritone banjos (lower-tuned than tenor banjos, for jazz and Dixieland)
Understand the differences between a plectrum and tenor banjo
To recognize the differences between a plectrum and tenor banjo, you must first know that both are 4-string banjos. The plectrum being the older of the two.
The plectrum is tuned to CGBD and is played with a flat pick, or plectrum. It creates a crisp, bright tone used for jazz and early swing styles.
The tenor banjo is tuned to CGDA and is played with either a plectrum or fingerpicks. It is used in many musical genres, from traditional Irish and folk to jazz and rock.
The main difference between the two instruments is tuning and playing method. The plectrum offers sharp and clear notes while the tenor has a more versatile and warm tone.
Choose the right wood type based on your desired sound
The sound of a banjo is determined by the type of wood used. So it’s important to pick the right wood for your 4-string banjo. Different woods have their own sound qualities. Here are the most popular ones:
- Maple – Bright and crisp, used in bluegrass banjos for projection and sustain.
- Mahogany – Warm and rich, used for old-time and clawhammer styles.
- Walnut – Dense and heavy, good for bluegrass and old-time music.
- Maple/Mahogany – Both warm and bright, great for a hybrid tone.
- Ash – Soft-grained, bright and punchy, ideal for clawhammer playing.
Choose carefully, as the wood type will change the sound and playability of your 4-string banjo.
The six-string banjo is a common sight in bluegrass and country music. It is highly versatile and popular. It typically has a resonator and is crafted from maple or mahogany.
Let’s explore the variations of the banjo and their features:
6-string Banjos with Guitar tuning
Six-string banjos are growing in popularity due to their easy playability and tuning style. These banjos are designed to be played in a similar way to a guitar, using standard guitar tuning and fingering. This makes them an ideal choice for those transitioning from guitar to banjo.
There are 10 types of banjos commonly played. Only a few come in 6-string variants:
- Banjitar (a hybrid of a banjo and a guitar).
- Guitar banjo (a banjo with a guitar neck and tuning style).
- Banjo guitar (a six-string instrument tuned like a guitar but with a banjo body).
- Guitar-bodied banjo (a banjo with the body of a guitar).
Six-string banjos offer the opportunity for musicians to explore new sounds, using familiar techniques. They have a unique sound and great versatility!
Understand the differences between a 6-string banjo and guitar
A 6-string banjo and a guitar have their differences. A guitar usually has six strings. But, the 6-string banjo has six strings that are tuned differently. It has a higher E-string for added versatility.
The tone of the 6-string banjo is brighter and more concise than a guitar. The smaller fretboard and shorter neck of a 6-string banjo makes it more suitable for playing riffs and solos.
Guitars offer more room for fingerpicking and strumming. Knowing these differences can help you pick the right instrument.
Choose the right material based on sound and durability
Choosing the perfect material for your six-string banjo is essential. It will determine the sound and its longevity. Here are some popular banjo materials:
- Mahogany: Warm and rich sound. Warping and cracking-resistant.
- Maple: Bright and clear sound. Wear and tear-resistant.
- Walnut: Mellow sound. Temperature-resistant.
- Birch: Bright and clear sound. Inexpensive, but not as sturdy.
- Cherry: Warm and mellow sound. Unique reddish colour.
- Oak: Loud and bright sound. May shrink or crack over time.
Pro Tip: Pick one that suits your preferences, budget and durability needs!
6-string Banjos with Standard tuning
Want to create unique sounds and melodies? A 6-string banjo with standard tuning is the perfect choice! Unlike traditional 5-string banjos, the extra string offers additional chords and melodies.
Here are some of the most popular banjos:
- 5-string banjo
- 6-string banjo
- Tenor banjo
- Plectrum Banjo
- Electric banjo
- Open-back banjo
- Resonator banjo
- Bluegrass banjo
- Clawhammer banjo
If you’re looking to step up your music game, try experimenting with different banjos to find the one that fits your style best!
Understand the differences between a 6-string banjo and 5-string banjo
A 5-string banjo has 5 strings and a 6-string banjo comes with 6. But, there’s more than just the string count that sets them apart.
- Tuning: 5-string banjos are usually tuned to open G, and 6-strings can be tuned to various tunings, including guitar tuning.
- Sound: 5-strings offer that classic “twangy” sound popular in bluegrass, while 6-strings have a brighter tone like a guitar.
- Style: 5-string banjos are usually played in a traditional style, while 6-string banjos are popular in contemporary music.
- Versatility: 6-strings are more versatile as they can be tuned differently, covering a wider range of music genres.
So, before buying a banjo, consider what music you want to play and how you want the banjo to sound.
Pro Tip: Choose based on the style of music; a 5-string for traditional, and a 6-string for contemporary.
Choose the right type of wood depending on your sound preference
For a six-string banjo, wood choice matters when it comes to tone and projection. Different wood types have their own tonal characteristics, which can suit certain genres or playing styles.
- Mahogany: Warm and rich tones, great for blues, country and Americana.
- Maple: Bright and clear, ideal for bluegrass and folk.
- Walnut: Warm but punchy, popular in jazz and classical.
- Rosewood: Adds complexity and depth, great for fingerstyle.
Eventually, it’s up to you to find the best match for your own sound preference and playing style. Experimenting with different wood types is necessary.
Cello Banjos – the least common type of banjo! Yet, they have the potential to be one of the most versatile instruments. Their unique sound and range of tones make them amazing for any kind of music. So, why are Cello Banjos so special? Let us examine the advantages of this rare banjo type!
Understand the history and origin of Cello Banjos
Cello banjos are a one-of-a-kind and rare instrument. They are a hybrid between a cello and a banjo, bringing the best of both worlds. The cello banjo is a creation from the late 1800s. It was designed by William Esperance Boucher, a renowned US musician and instrument maker.
It has the look of a cello, a banjo head, and a long neck. You play it like a cello with a bow, but the sound is that of a banjo.
There are ten types of banjos:
- Cello Banjos
Each type has different features and purposes.
A tip for those interested in Cello Banjos: be careful when using the bow to avoid harming the strings or the instrument.
Choose the right type of wood for your desired tone quality
Choosing the right type of wood is a must to get the desired tone quality for your cello banjo. Here are some types:
- Maple: Bright and crisp sound, great for bluegrass.
- Walnut: Warm and full sound, great for folk and old-time tunes.
- Mahogany: Sweet, mellow and warm tone, works with many music styles.
- Rosewood: Clear and bright tonal response, silky smooth sound.
- Ebony: Bright, smooth, clear and ringing tone, with good sustain.
- Cherry: Rich, bright and clear tone.
- Fir: Focused, bright and clear sound.
- Poplar: Crisp and bright tone, good sustain.
- Birch: Warm and clear tone, perfect for clawhammer players.
- Oak: Bright, mellow and balanced sound, good clarity.
Pro Tip: Choose wood based on the music you want to play.
Many types of banjos exist. Each has its own pros and cons. To pick one, it’s important to understand what each type offers. Let’s explore the different types of banjos and their benefits.
Consider your playing style and musical genre
Choosing the right banjo can be tricky. But, considering your playing style and genre can help you pick the perfect one!
Why? Different banjos have different features that make them great for certain genres or playing styles. For instance, a tenor banjo is great for jazz and Celtic music. An open-back banjo works best for old-time and clawhammer music.
Plus, it’s important to consider the number of strings, the banjo’s weight, and its construction when selecting one that suits your style. So, by taking these into account and comparing them to the types of banjos out there, you can find one that fits you and boosts your music-making!
Determine which banjo type and wood is ideal for your budget and skill level
When picking the perfect banjo, there are many things to consider. These include your experience and musical style. Also, different banjos have different sounds and the type of material used for construction affects cost, weight and tone. Here are some tips for finding the right one for you:
- For beginners, an open-back or four-string tenor banjo are great choices as they are low-cost and simple to play.
- For those more experienced, a resonator or five-string banjo is best. The resonator gives a louder, richer sound than the open-back.
- Banjos are usually made from mahogany, maple or walnut. Mahogany is light, cheap and produces a mellow, warm tone. Maple is sturdier and offers a bright, clear sound. Walnut is a mix of the two.
Ultimately, the type and material come down to personal preference and playing level.
Frequently Asked Questions
1. What are the 10 types of banjos?
There are 10 types of banjos including 4-string, 5-string, 6-string, tenor, plectrum, cello, resonator, open-back, closed-back, and electric.
2. What is the most commonly used banjo type?
The most commonly used banjo type is the 5-string banjo, which is commonly used in Bluegrass music.
3. What makes each type of banjo unique?
Each type of banjo has a unique number of strings, tuning, and construction, which determines its sound and playing style.
4. Do I need to know how to play banjo to choose a type?
No, you do not need to know how to play banjo to choose a type. However, it can be helpful to listen to each type and choose based on the sound you prefer.
5. Can I switch between banjo types while playing?
Yes, experienced players can switch between banjo types while playing to create different sounds and styles.
6. Are different types of banjos better for certain genres of music?
Yes, certain types of banjos are better suited for certain genres of music. For example, 6-string banjos are commonly used in jazz music, while cello banjos are often used in folk music.