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The cost of banjos for beginners

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Nov 20, 2019 - 4:01:46 PM
4 posts since 11/7/2019

I've always wanted to play a banjo but when I asked Santa for one my parents said they cost too much. Well now that I've grown up and can afford things for myself I understand why Mom and Dad were reluctant to get one for me.
What can a kid do if they want to play one? The cost of good banjos are steep. I know that a lot of materials go into making a decent banjo but just to learn on one the cost is overwhelming. What's someone to do if they are not sure if they can even play or stay with the banjo after learning? What should I spend on a banjo that I can learn on and keep for life ? Asking for a friend

Nov 20, 2019 - 4:15:18 PM

Banjo Lefty

Canada

1710 posts since 6/19/2014

How much would you pay for a decent piano? How about a real silver flute that you can play on forever, even when you get good enough to play professionally? Or a violin? Why would you expect a banjo to be any less expensive? Sure, there are instruments selling for a few hundred dollars that look like banjos, but if your friend is at all keen, he or she will outgrow it in no time. Better instruments encourage practice, and are easier to play.

A good banjo costs about the same as a good guitar.

Nov 20, 2019 - 4:15:51 PM

959 posts since 1/26/2011

What price do you consider reasonable? Everyone has a different definition based on their circumstances. And are you willing to buy used?

Nov 20, 2019 - 4:16:16 PM
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Players Union Member

rudy

USA

14639 posts since 3/27/2004

quote:
Originally posted by Pickin-Pappy

I've always wanted to play a banjo but when I asked Santa for one my parents said they cost too much. Well now that I've grown up and can afford things for myself I understand why Mom and Dad were reluctant to get one for me.
What can a kid do if they want to play one? The cost of good banjos are steep. I know that a lot of materials go into making a decent banjo but just to learn on one the cost is overwhelming. What's someone to do if they are not sure if they can even play or stay with the banjo after learning? What should I spend on a banjo that I can learn on and keep for life ? Asking for a friend


We who have been playing for a few years tend to forget that there are those who want to test the waters at a reasonable price.  Although not what advanced players might find as ideal, there are a banjos available at the $200-$300 dollar range that will be perfectly acceptable to figure out if you want to play banjo seriously.

Once you figure that out you can go up the food chain.  If you're willing to put in the effort and have a decent small home workshop you you build a really good instrument for a 2-300 dollar investment.

Edited by - rudy on 11/20/2019 16:18:33

Nov 20, 2019 - 4:30:10 PM
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1281 posts since 4/13/2009
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I don't see that things are much different today from the circumstances back in 1900. There were instruments in the Sears catalogs, ranging from barely playable and on up. $7 in 1900 is about $215 today.

Nov 20, 2019 - 5:00:17 PM
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SBPARK

USA

328 posts since 2/25/2011

quote:
Originally posted by Banjo Lefty

How much would you pay for a decent piano? How about a real silver flute that you can play on forever, even when you get good enough to play professionally? Or a violin? Why would you expect a banjo to be any less expensive? Sure, there are instruments selling for a few hundred dollars that look like banjos, but if your friend is at all keen, he or she will outgrow it in no time. Better instruments encourage practice, and are easier to play.

A good banjo costs about the same as a good guitar.


As a guitar player and somewhat new to banjo, I will respectfully disagree with a good banjo costing as much as a good guitar. You can actually get a really nice, solid top acoustic guitar for around $300 brand new, and spend another $60 getting it a professional set up and you can pretty much do anything with that guitar and it will also sound suprisingly good. Sure, at some point you may want something that sounds "better" or different, or something made a little better, or all-solid construction, something from a high-end maker, but in all honesty that $300 Recording King or Yamaha would be a guitar you really wouldn't necessarily outgrow. This is sort of a Golden Age for acoustic guitars where even the cheaper, lower end guitars sounds pretty good and after a good set-up can play really well. 

Banjos are a different story. You'd have to plop down at the very least double that amount for something that's made well (like a Deering Goodtime), but those still don't have tone rings, but as a casual player you could definitely just play that banjo forever and arguably be happy with it and nothing else. n my opinion the Recording King RK-35 and RK-36's are one of the best banjos for an entry level player that doesn't want to have to worry about having to ever buy another banjo. You can grow with that thing and even if you played professionally eventually it still would hold it's own. 

Some isntruments jsut cost more to make. Try buying a piano!

Edited by - SBPARK on 11/20/2019 17:02:30

Nov 20, 2019 - 5:02:06 PM
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52824 posts since 12/14/2005

The Squared Eel can be made and played very inexpensively.

Anybody wants to build their own, e-mail me for free plans.
And if they MUST have a round-bodied banjo, use a salad bowl for the body.
All I ask in payment is pictures on the HangOut, of some happy newbie picking at it.


Nov 20, 2019 - 5:28:28 PM
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3833 posts since 10/18/2007

My first two banjos were used. They were Asian imports. The important thing is that they were set up correctly and played like the more expensive ones: Didn't go out of tune immediately and constantly. String height was OK .The fifth string was geared, not a friction type. The neck was straight. The sound they made was secondary (Pete Wernick said in a workshop that he had never heard a banjo that sounded bad). I think you could find a good used one for $300 to $500.

Nov 20, 2019 - 5:46:18 PM
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RevD

USA

43 posts since 4/8/2019

First hand experience, buy from someone with a set-up and ready to go. Don't go low end at Guitar center and get a banjo with every major nut lose in a triangular box (been there done that) it really kills the moment lol. Spend the upper end of what you can afford for the best quality I promise it's worth it. Just an opinion for what its worth. My learning of setup is vastly improved over the last year though.

Nov 20, 2019 - 6:04:19 PM
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4 posts since 7/23/2019

At 63 and NEVER having touched a string (or any) instrument I wanted a inexpensive banjo, that wasn't junk. I was afraid of the used route since I know NOTHING about checking out a used banjo, nor do I live where there are an abundance of music shops.
Nick, from banjoteacher.Com hooked me up with the gold tone AC-1,R and I'm satisfied. For 300$ it's all the banjo I can handle for now, and the composite pot is more forgiving of a damp house.
Russ

Nov 20, 2019 - 6:46:04 PM

Bill Rogers (Moderator)

USA

22538 posts since 6/25/2005

The p.o..s. Kay I started with in 1960 cost $32, new, which was the going price. Adjusted for inflation, that’s $276.50 or so today. For that or less, you can get a starter banjo—new or used—that’s a damn sight better than the Kay.

Nov 20, 2019 - 7:10:04 PM
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1105 posts since 7/12/2004

The economics of building a cheap banjo are much different than a guitar. Many more parts, more expensive materials, more hand labor. At the low end, a banjo will cost about twice what an equivalent guitar will. As quality increases, guitar prices catch up because of the cost of exotic materials and higher luthier skills.

The flip side of this is that a super-cheap banjo, costing $150-$200, is far more playable than a super-cheap guitar. You can find them all over Amazon, with names like Rogue, Jameson and Resoluute (not a typo). I've taught beginners for years, and except for the banjos that arrive with missing parts I've been able to set every one of these up to be playable. They are good enough to get people through their first three to six months if they're serious, and longer if they're casual learners. By the time a newbie outgrows one of these, they will be ready to spend $1000-$1500 for an RK-35 or similar instrument, although the $2000+ cost for a decent American-made banjo is harder for most to justify as a first step up.

I played a new Gold Tone AC-1 this summer at a festival and was absolutely amazed at the tone. The open back (fine for a bluegrass beginner) is $199 on their web site.

When I started playing (OK, boomer), entry level banjos had barely functional friction 5th pegs, mile-high action with a 1/2 inch bridge, cheap guitar side tuners, and tinfoil stretcher bands. Tailpieces were string hooks attached to a bracket, like a No-Knot on a bluegrass banjo. The neck of my first Kay was almost square in cross section, and my first lesson included watching my instructor tear the matches out of a matchbook so he could wedge the cardboard between the neck and rim and make the banjo playable. My experience was not unique. The amazing thing is how many of us stuck with it and learned in spite of the instrument. We would have killed back then for an affordable starter banjo as good as the cheapest Chinese import today.

If you're going to take banjo lessons from an actual banjo player, don't be fearful of starting with a cheap instrument. A good player/teacher will be able to do whatever setup is required to get you going. Dan, if you've been lusting after a banjo since you were young enough to ask your parents for one, it's time to go for it. Any banjo that's been discussed on this thread will give you a good start.

Nov 21, 2019 - 3:07:13 AM
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3232 posts since 7/12/2006

playability is the most important thing in a banjo. by that im talking intonation and decent string action. on cheaper banjos you may not/ wont get the killer tone of the higher end banjos , but if it doesnt have playability it will fight you every step of the way.

Nov 21, 2019 - 4:42:58 AM

331 posts since 2/6/2018

Can't go wrong with a Gumby! guitarcenter.com/Used/Deering/...-Banjo.gc
...and online resources for technical support: blog.deeringbanjos.com/topic/banjo-set-up

Nov 21, 2019 - 4:47:39 AM

Texasbanjo (Moderator)

USA

23463 posts since 8/3/2003

I bought a $77 Iiada back in the early 70s. No tone ring, tinny sounding, but I learned to play. While I don't advocate purchasing an entry level banjo, if that's what you can afford, go for it. Nowadays there are entry level banjos that don't sound all that bad. Look at the Deering Goodtime. It's fairly inexpensive and is playable. Look in the classifieds for used banjos and you might find a pretty good one at a price you can afford.

Having said all that...... the better the banjo, the easier it is to learn, the better it stays in tune, the easier it is to fret and pick, and the more you'll want to practice it. Spend all that you can afford on a decent banjo if you can.

Nov 21, 2019 - 5:41:31 AM
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Players Union Member

rudy

USA

14639 posts since 3/27/2004

Although the Goodtime is often recommended as a first instrument, and for good reason, it still sits in that $500 category which is often well beyond what someone wanting to "test the waters" is willing or able to spend.  

Lately when I've been asked the question of what specific banjo I would recommend I suggest the Recording King Dirty Thirties series, specifically the RKOH-06 which has a lot of things going for it when you are looking at a lower price entry instrument.

The RKOH-06 has 18 brackets, truss rod neck, armrest, no knot tailpiece, multi-ply mahogany rim, and a rolled brass tone ring and can be purchased for around $200, which is within that $200-$300 price point that beginners often are looking for.

RKOH-06 at Musician's Friend

Is it what I'd consider ideal?  No, but for a entry level instrument it's one of the better choices.  My own son purchased one to start out on and having had the opportunity to play it, I'd say this is a really good first instrument.

One of the component parts of banjos that are a factor in the production cost are the tuning machines.  Entry level planetary tuners may "look" correct on a banjo, but guitar-style tuners are a far better choice when you examine their usefulness.  Planetary tuners can often be difficult for beginning players, so guitar style tuners remove the problematic aspect of tuning a banjo with cheap planetary tuners.  The RKOH-06 has guitar-style tuners and a standard geared tuner for the fifth string, and ideal combination for the beginning player.

I'm sure some of the other recommendations are fine, but the RKOH-06 is the only economy level factory banjo I have personally played.

Nov 21, 2019 - 6:38:27 AM
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jem327

USA

13 posts since 4/25/2018

quote:
Originally posted by Pickin-Pappy

I've always wanted to play a banjo but when I asked Santa for one my parents said they cost too much. Well now that I've grown up and can afford things for myself I understand why Mom and Dad were reluctant to get one for me.
What can a kid do if they want to play one? The cost of good banjos are steep. I know that a lot of materials go into making a decent banjo but just to learn on one the cost is overwhelming. What's someone to do if they are not sure if they can even play or stay with the banjo after learning? What should I spend on a banjo that I can learn on and keep for life ? Asking for a friend


I started out with a $150 RW Jameson from Amazon because I had no idea if I would stay with it. It's a cheapo and doesn't have the same sound as a high dollar banjo, but for me, this was a perfectly good banjo to start out on. I was able to adjust the bridge, get it in tune, and get right to playing. After ~2 years of playing I'm loving it and I felt like my playing had progressed enough that I recently upgraded to a Recording King RK-35, which I foresee being enough banjo for me to keep for life.  

Nov 21, 2019 - 6:38:49 AM
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1105 posts since 7/12/2004

The Dirty Thirties RK and the Gold a Tone AC-1 are the best choices in the $200 range, IMO. Good playability and decent sound, and an actual company stands behind both of them.

I take Rudy's point about cheap planet tuners. The early Chinese Gold Star GF-85s were a good example of planetaries that barely worked. Guitar tuners are much simpler mechanically and the way to go if you want to keep it cheap.

Nov 21, 2019 - 8:08:46 AM
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12342 posts since 10/30/2008

I disagree that banjo playability is the most important thing for a beginner.

The most important thing for a beginner is BEGINNING. Get anything and start learning to play the dang thing. If you turn out to like it you're going to upgrade anyway.

Start picking! Become a banjo shopper later. Every minute spent shopping is a minute of picking you'll never get back.

Epiphone MB-100 at Guitar Center at around $200 is a better banjo than I started on back in the 1960s!

Nov 21, 2019 - 8:14:13 AM

52824 posts since 12/14/2005

I was just looking at all TWELVE PAGES of banjos for sale, right here on the HangOut marketplace.

(Checking for comparable prices to a Bart Reiter available locally).

There are several decent banjos, including a Framus built CONTESSA for only $200.
They're not beautiful, but they're playable and sturdy.

Nov 21, 2019 - 8:23:54 AM

ADV

USA

8 posts since 8/20/2015

I have been playing an $200 AC-1 for a couple of years now without complaint. Even with all the other gear (head, tailpiece, music stand, tuner, books, etc.) I have less into me playing the banjo then what I have into buying a decent keyboard for my kids to learn on.

Of course now I have an itch for another banjo....

Nov 21, 2019 - 8:47:36 AM
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1833 posts since 10/17/2013

I would avoid anything with less than a 3/4 inch rim, anything with hooks that won’t hold tension, anything that looks like it “might, but probably won’t” hold together. Anything less than $700 is eventually going to disappoint. 

 I’ve had too much experience with various banjos that I’ve owned, to be blindsided by banjos that may be “perfect” for those who haven’t taken pains to study every minute detail. A really amazing quality banjo is never completed in one day. The best, most accurate, and most precise examples of the first Mastertone banjos, do not come from overseas. 

 A good used import or US-made Masterclone, or even an actual Mastertone banjo is going to serve the beginner in good stead for much longer than the best bottlecap on the market. If I wanted a good beginner banjo, I’d get a new Goodtime Artisan Special (Midnight Maple) with the resonator, or a used, professional series Deering, such as a Boston. Recording King RK-35/36s are great deals if one is patient. Used and new Gold Stars have always been great.

If you’re dead serious about a “banjo for life” as a beginner, then save for several years and get a prewar tenor or plectrum Gibson conversion with a Blaylock ring and a Frank Neat neck, or a custom Hatfield - or if you absolutely want the best, an original five string, OPF prewar Gibson.

 Sure, it might seem stupid to some, to go for a professional banjo when you’re a beginner, but you’ll save yourself about 10 years of headache, and you’ll be far more inclined to keep at it, unlike those who give up because they think, “well, this must be how I’ll always sound like, therefore it’s not worth it.”

If you can afford a professional banjo even before you get any banjo, then by all means buy that professional banjo, and “save” the lesser ones for when your nephew or niece or sibling wants to learn banjo. 

Edited by - bluegrassbanjopicker on 11/21/2019 08:50:21

Nov 21, 2019 - 9:06:25 AM
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1957 posts since 4/7/2010

I sell the Recording King RKOH-05 for $250 including a gigbag. On receiving these instruments I was truly impressed with them being a superior instrument for a beginner. I occasionally have used banjos for a similar or lower price, but sometimes repair costs don't make economic sense with used instruments, thus they don't come through often.

Bob Smakula
smakula.com

Nov 21, 2019 - 9:07:46 AM

4 posts since 11/7/2019

First let me thank all of you for the quick responses, thank you. Everyone has a very interesting point and I understand them all. I guess in my insecurity I wanted somebody to tell me a simple answer, but there is no simple answer I guess. The one I'm learning on is a built from a kit banjo, Rudy really don't want to do that again.
SBPARK I am also a guitar player and after playing a $60. Pawn shop guitar for years I did get my Martin D-28 and the difference is quite measurable. I get your hint.
Really good USED banjos, Cornflake, are hard to find in my area, especially in that price range. RevD , I'll hold you to your promise, I will go upper end and not buy from a guitar center, good advice. Stomapicker at the same age I get what you are saying. I got a lot to learn about the makeup of a banjo. Mr. Stillman, thank you, I feel you pushing me in the right direction, and it feels good.
Standleytone, this is exactly where I am at with I the one I have, its frustrating.
Ok, I'm getting the vibe and sorry if I didn't get to all of your very helpful advice. I see where this is going and I couldn't be more grateful to everyone here. Being new to BanjoHangout I hope I don't sound like a complete dope because I was at a loss. I only have one more question to put out there.
What are the most important qualities you look for in a new banjo? Geared tuners, adjustable rods, type of wood, Quiltily tone ring? What do you want in your new banjo? Thank you again. (I hope I'm not being a pain in the arse.) Dan

Edited by - Pickin-Pappy on 11/21/2019 09:13:26

Nov 21, 2019 - 9:09:49 AM

4 posts since 11/7/2019

quote:
Originally posted by Pickin-Pappy

First let me thank all of you for the quick responses, thank you. Everyone has a very interesting point and I understand them all. I guess in my insecurity I wanted  somebody to tell me a simple answer, but there is no simple answer I guess. The one I'm learning on is a built form a kit banjo, Rudy , I really don't want to do that again.
SBPARK I am also a guitar player and after playing a $60. Pawn shop guitar for years I did get my Martin D-28 and the difference is quite measurable. I get your hint.
Really good USED banjos, Cornflake, are hard to find in my area, especially in that price range. RevD , I'll hold you to your promise, I will go upper end and not buy from a guitar center, good advice. Stomapicker at the same age I get what you are saying. I got a lot to learn about the makeup of a banjo. Mr. Stillman, thank you, I feel you pushing me in the right direction, and it feels good.
Standleytone, this is exactly where I am at with I the one I have, its frustrating.
Ok, I'm getting the vibe and sorry if I didn't get to all of your very helpful advice. I see where this is going and I couldn't be more grateful to everyone here. Being new to BanjoHangout I hope I don't sound like a complete dope because I was at a loss. I only have one more question to put out there.
What are the most important qualities you look for in a new banjo? Geared tuners, adjustable rods, type of wood, Quiltily tone ring? What do you want in your new banjo? Thank you again. (I hope I'm not being a pain in the arse.) Dan


Nov 21, 2019 - 9:14:05 AM
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999 posts since 2/4/2013

I've always thought the USA was poorly served when it come to decent beginner banjos - those banjos cheaper than things like the Goodtime of Goldtone CC100 which are better than those very basic cheapies like Rouge. I still have my decent starter banjo which cost £170 ($240) with its multiply rim and rolled brass tone ring and even half decent planetary tuners. We used to have this in various rebadged versions from the now closed Dae Won factory but there are still a few around and they come up really cheap on Ebay.

The market though has changed over here with fewer banjos around and fewer new bargains. I have six decent banjos which all cost less than the equivalent of $400 new (including well known Recording King models) but these days the price is often double what it used to be and they never appear at those sort of bargain prices. Even the Rover banjos have disappeared and places like Amazon don't have the bargains they used to (A Rover RB40 and a Recording King RK-R15 for about the equivalent $150). So it's almost only the second hand market where half decent cheap beginner banjos can be found.

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