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 ARCHIVED TOPIC: Any advice for someone buying a starter banjo?

Please note this is an archived topic, so it is locked and unable to be replied to. You may, however, start a new topic and refer to this topic with a link:

sliverleef - Posted - 06/07/2008:  18:13:02

I played bass quite a bit when I was younger but I'm interested in learning to play banjo. I enjoy bass but banjo seems like a little more fun. I've narrowed my first banjo down to a few choices and if any of you would provide some input I would greatly appreciate it. I've been looking at the Dean B3

The Fender FB

and the Saga Appalachian

I understand that none of these banjos are that great but I'm just looking for something that I can get started with and if I'm still playing in 6 months or a year I'll invest in something decent.


Topic moved from "Playing Advice: All Other Styles" to a more apropriate forum,.

Edited by - Banjoman on 06/07/2008 23:43:30

Kentucky5 - Posted - 06/07/2008:  20:18:41

For the price range you are talking about check out this banjo

My brother had one as a starter. Not a thing wrong with it as far as starter. Plus it looks better than the three you mentioned because of the headstock and the fact that it has planetary tuners instead of the guitar tuners that stick out and look ugly. Price range probably somewhere between $200-$250 depending on where you look.

Just my 2 cents hope this helps

1four5 - Posted - 06/07/2008:  20:39:02

I'd go for the Lotus or one of the Goodtimes in the classifieds


pluckyfingers - Posted - 06/07/2008:  23:06:24

Go for the Goodtime the tuners arn't so bad and it is made by an excellent American company.

I suffer for my addiction and now it''s your turn...

cockneybanjo - Posted - 06/08/2008:  00:30:43

the Dean and Saga instruments you mention are generic Asian-made starter instruments, which probably all come from the same chinese factory. You could pick any one at random, or one of a number of others, with much the same result.

The Fender FB-300 is a bit better, Fender also do a starter instrument comparable to the first two. Broadly speaking a $300 banjo is significantly better than a $180 one, but do some fairly careful on-line comparison first. RRP's and actual selling prices are often significantly different and you need to see what that particular instrument is actually selling for.

The Good Times always have their supporters when this question gets asked. Some of it is driven by the fact that Deering is the only US-made starter instrument, which some people place a premium on, and others don't.

Zepp Country Music do an uprated version of the Good Time, which shows that there is more potential in the basic instrument with fairly simple changes, which isn't always the case by any means.

you will get a lot of partisan advice here, as people with limited experience recommend whatever they happen to have bought. Take no notice of any of it. Likewise there will be people recommending that you make major changes from the off, or subsequently, disregard this as well.

I'll just say here that I started with a Grafton, a brand not available in the US, assembled in the UK by a genuine banjo specialist so it actually came properly set up, which isn't usual at this price point. It's a good well-specified starter instrument, better than most, which has served me well, and continues to do so.

look for a geared 5th string tuner on any starter instrument you buy, rather than the friction type which is common at this price point. I don't think there is any great difference between guitar style and planetary style tuners at this end of the spectrum.

I'd also suggest that you avoid cheap replica 'straightline' type tailpieces, as they are often prone to bending, which doesn't do the tone any good.

Any starter banjo will be improved cheaply and easily with a good bridge and better strings, these two changes are cheap and easy. Once you have got your ears accustomed to the basic sound of the instrument, try them.

Edited by - cockneybanjo on 06/08/2008 00:43:30

zeke_w15 - Posted - 06/08/2008:  00:53:00

Gold Tone makes a good stater banjo,also as was said before the good time banjo are ok for a strater


cockneybanjo - Posted - 06/08/2008:  01:59:51

the Gold Tone CC-100 is the other name which usually appears as an answer to this question. Some people have been questioning the current build quality since the switch from korean to Ghinese suppliers. I'll only say that I have a 'korean' Gold Tone which I'm very pleased with, and what is probably one of the last 'korean' Ozark 2190Gs, which is often reckoned to be the CC-100 by another name, and it had one of the cheap straighline tailpieces I mentioned earlier, but iotherwise it's a very good instrument

sliverleef - Posted - 06/08/2008:  03:20:26

Thank you everyone for your input. Cockneybanjo, I really appreciate your advice on what to look for in a starter banjo, that was very helpful.

R Buck - Posted - 06/08/2008:  09:29:29

Don't get caught up in brands. Banjos are simple insturments that we make more complicated by our own choosing. Find one new or used that suits the style you want to play, old time or bluegrass or whatever. Check the tuners to see if they work. Check the tailpiece and look at the wall brackets to make sure they are good. You can change any components on a banjo so don't worry about the head or strings or tailpiece but if you find one that seems to work pretty well, feels good, sounds good and fits your person, then you are in business. Pawnshops are better than sight unseen on the web as are antique stores or junk shops for saving money. Support your local economy and most of all have fun.

Music; the best way to count time.

R Buck - Posted - 06/08/2008:  09:29:31

Don't get caught up in brands. Banjos are simple instruments that we make more complicated by our own choosing. Find one new or used that suits the style you want to play, old time or bluegrass or whatever. Check the tuners to see if they work. Check the tailpiece and look at the wall brackets to make sure they are good. You can change any components on a banjo so don't worry about the head or strings or tailpiece but if you find one that seems to work pretty well, feels good, sounds good and fits your person, then you are in business. Pawnshops are better than sight unseen on the web as are antique stores or junk shops for saving money. Support your local economy and most of all have fun.

Music; the best way to count time.

mikehalloran - Posted - 06/08/2008:  10:45:54

The Deering Good Time is a very good starter banjo. I also like the Rover RB-30 and RB-40

Personally, I prefer the open backed banjos -- or banjos that can be converted to open backed -- for starter instruments. I dislike junk and many inexpensive resonator instruments are just that. My idea of a good starter banjo is something that you can still keep and play after you have decided to upgrade to a "serious" instrument.

Here is a thread on the Rovers:

Yea, I am a dealer but I am not trolling for sales. Your local SAGA dealer can get you anything that I can.

Mike Halloran

oldwoodchuckb - Posted - 06/08/2008:  11:43:41

My advice is to avoid all the Asian clones and go for the Good Time. It's going to outlast the Chinese stuff by a few decades.
Back when those banjos were made in Korea they were pretty okay but now they are being built in places where they do thier best to "adapt" things they already make, rather than work from the original designs. The tension hoops on the recent Sagas and some Gold Tones and Deans sit a quarter inch above the head and will make a huge welt in your arm - they were obviously meant for drums not banjos.

Rocket Science Banjo, Chapters 1 - 4.6 REVISED and 25 EZ tunes are ready now
You can watch the videos for some Rocket Science Banjo subjects starting here:
Banjo Brad is hosting How To Mold A Mighty Pinky adn other material at

Helix - Posted - 06/08/2008:  12:32:32

The banjos mentioned in your post will be outstripped by your skill very quickly, usually happens with an adult.

I love convertibles, I build them. The Gold Tone Maple Classic is worth the money, is PLAYABLE and adjustable, an adult rim. Then you will play better sooner and with more accuracy because you aren't spending all your effort compensating for shortcomings in a turnbuckle banjo for $150.00


pluckyfingers - Posted - 06/09/2008:  01:30:40

Here in Australia, most of the banjos we see in the shops are of Asian origin and of questionable heritage. Been that way forever, at the lower end of the market, but things are changing, our money's worth more and we can afford to buy American made banjos for the first time in a while. Go with the Goodtime, it is cheap but not nasty, easy to modify and is an extremely well built and sounding banjo for the money. Buy American, while you still can.

I suffer for my addiction and now it''s your turn...

Dr.Ken - Posted - 06/09/2008:  02:37:38


For what it's worth my two cents is to spend LESS on a beginner banjo, then invest in some HIGH QUALITY teaching materials, like DVDs or BOOKS or LESSONS.

No matter what the quality of the banjo it won't do you no good if you can't learn to play it



Lambington - Posted - 06/09/2008:  04:57:11

I'm gonna fit in with the 'lack of experience' crowd outlined by cockneybanjo, but I'll throw in my two cents for what its worth as I know what it's like looking for a reasonable starter.

Don't buy impulsively, that's how I got my first axe. Although it did teach me a lot about what to look out for, so I don't regret it.

Given that you're not new to stringed instruments, try them out before you buy if you can. After my first purchase I'm wary of buying remotely, although second hand ones in the classified here are probably a sure bet. Playability is in my opinion one of the most important things to hope for in a beginner, although most of this can be obtained by a good set up, poor fret spacing is probably the hardest/most expensive thing to change. Some well vouched for names come well set up out of the factory, removing some of the hassle. Living in the States probably means you're not far from someone that knows a fair bit about them.

Watch out for anything with a bridge slapped in the middle of the head, for example that Dean you've posted a link to. This, to me, shows that they are not putting the effort in to appeal to those who know where a bridge should be placed. I've tried out some from music shops that had no idea, easy fix but doesn't say much about whoever assembled it.

As for the Saga, I've got a banjo from what I'm guessing is the same parent company or something. They're essentially the same banjo, mine's just branded Rover and has a few additions to it (armrest and flange from what I can tell). Soundwise (it may just be my setup) it probably sounds a little too mellow than a banjo should. I'm guessing they're of the same run as the Gold Star banjos, so I assume some of the build quality trickles down to the lesser models where it applies, my Rover seems to be well built.

Take from this what you will, they're just my thoughts, I'm far from an expert on the matter.
All the best, Will

ncmedic - Posted - 06/09/2008:  05:29:52

The Goodtime is a great banjo, I play and have one. it hold tune very well.
For the money it is one of the best beginner banjo s out there
just my 2 cents worth

Life is short, enjoy it, always

sliverleef - Posted - 06/09/2008:  06:49:13

This is all very good advice. I've read the faq here at banjo hangout and found it useful, but I'm still going to ask if anyone has any thoughts about resonator vs open back banjos for beginners.

cockneybanjo - Posted - 06/09/2008:  06:56:59

depends on what you want to play. However, quite a few low-end banjos have detachable resonators secured by 4 screws through small flange plates which can be easily removed, so they are easily convertible. The quality isn't great, because the lack of a flange affects the tone and often the tone hoops are small, and the quality of the resonator isn't particularly high, but they are better than nothing and will serve the purpose

I'll certainly agree with the comments about getting a slighly better starter banjo. I paid about 25% more for my Grafton than some of the starter instruments about, but I still play it and like it, whereas some of the cheap instruments I hear make me wince.

Same goes for my Ozark, an open back for at least 25% more than the price of a bottom-of-the-range resonator, but again a good value buy. I might spend a few pounds on one of those detachable resonators, the banjo-uke style ones.

Edited by - cockneybanjo on 06/09/2008 07:10:17

grm405 - Posted - 06/09/2008:  09:21:54

The Saga in the link you posted is the Rover RB20 with a resonator added. These are a plastic rim beginner banjo with excellent, even outstanding neck and playability. These are excellent beginner banjos and I believe the cream of the crop for learning to play. When setup they sound very good. I have a Rover RB20 as a camping banjo and have quite a bit of experience. They are also highly recommnended on Paul Hawthornes website under the Rover name (Saga is the importer of Rover and sells them under both names):

A better instrument for a little more money is the Rover RB35 or 45 (the difference is the neck, the 35 has the same neck as the Rover RB20). These are really excellent sounding and playing banjos for $300 or so. The RB35 doesn't look as good as the RB45 but has a better playing neck. I played a RB45 a month or so ago and would have bought it as a better camping banjo except someone beat me to it (classic case of he who delays, loses). I would rate the sound significantly better than any of the typical $500-700 or so intermediate instruments I have played. I would also rate them far above the Goodtime or Gold Tone CC100 instruments commonly recommended for beginners.

I have no connection whatsoever to Saga or Rover. I just like to see a beginner get the best instrument for their money.



Tank772 - Posted - 06/09/2008:  09:50:08

I've got one of the Saga Appalachians for sale in the classifieds, and the DVD. It was my everyday carry banjo. It does play well and never gave me any trouble.


sliverleef - Posted - 08/07/2008:  15:25:50

Well, I know this is an old thread. It took me a while but I finally ordered that goodtime open back banjo. It seemed to be the highest quality open back banjo available in that price range. The fact that I really liked the way it looked didnt hurt either. Thanks to everyone who replied.

cooler92 - Posted - 09/02/2008:  20:10:28

I need toi replace the flange and resonator on my Goodtime. Would anyone happen to know if these parts are available from Deering or elsewhere?

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