Recently I've been looking into purchasing a good resonator banjo, as I have always had a desire to play. I've primarily looked at used banjos made in Japan in the 1970s; I really like the look of some Iida's (model 235 or higher), Alvarez's, Ibanez's, and a lot of others that appear to be the relatively similar from Japan. I'm looking for a banjo I can keep for a lifetime; a must is a tone ring, volume, and playability. I am an amateur luthier and guitar builder, so its not a problem if it needs some minor work; however, it needs to be built well enough so that I can build my own banjos referencing it (eventually!). I'm trying to stay in the price range of $300 - $600 including shipping. I'm asking this because it is quite difficult to find any stores near me that have decent banjos and I will be most likely buying sight-unseen; I did try an Ibanez B200 and really liked it but don't have anything to compare it to. I don't mind some of the Deering Goodtimes, however, I'm not a huge fan of how they look. What are you guy's thoughts? Thanks a ton, I really appreciate the help!
Edited by - D_Miller on 04/11/2020 12:31:59
Bishline Patriot #2 in the classifides.
I've been looking at this banjo. If the neck is straight its a steal. I know its a little over your budget but its American made and should be worth a lot more than the asking price. I would buy it before any $600 new Asian banjo. I don't know the owner.
I don’t believe the Patriot has a tone ring, though. It’s more like a John Hartford banjo, I think, which is why it’s lighter weight. I’m sure it’s very nice, though.
It is usually agreed that the Goldstar flatheads were the best Mastertone style banjos to come from Japan during that era. They had both good construction and good sound. I have not seen one in your price range, but might be worth stretching up to one if you can. I have seen a few of the newer version Chinese built Goldstar GF85 models advertised used in the 600 range. I started playing in the late 60's , so saw and played many of what you are looking at. In my opinion, I would prefer Goldstar for both hardware quality and construction.
The Bishline sells for over $2000 new. Its a real deal at $800. I bet it will blow the doors off anything in that price range. I think there is room to make some money when you get ready to trade up to a full tone ring , heavy bluegrass model. Listen to this video from the Bishline site.
If you're looking for a banjo to keep for the rest of your life, to use as a base to make your own banjos and want to spend between $300-600, you sure are setting the bar low. Save up another $1200-1500 and buy a nice one that you can be proud of. Fixing up a crappy banjo will give you a crappy banjo that works a little better, but not worth the effort, it will never be a good banjo, unless you get really lucky and find a good banjo really cheap. If you want a banjo that can get you through until you can afford a banjo to use for the rest of your life, that's a different story.
IMO you'd be better served by waiting a little bit and stretching your budget by +/- $200. That will get you into a quality instrument which will sound better, play better and make your banjo experience much more enjoyable (thus increasing the odds of you not giving it up).
There's nothing wrong with the newer Chinese-made Gold Star GF100s. With a proper set up, good strings and bridge they are a good deal and possibly a "steal" if bought used.
There are a metric tone of legit options in the 1k range.
I'd search around for a Gold Star, GF85 or something like that, can be had in the $800 ish range sometimes. In my opinion anything less than that, will be money better spent put away until you can get something that you will like for a long time.
I have two Ibanez banjos from the 1970s. I love to play them. I've also got a 1970s Penco for sale, not yet in the classifieds. Bright, heavy loud maple. Under $600
Thank you all for the advice, I really appreciate. Honestly, if I could afford a higher end banjo, I'd buy a higher end one. As a 17 year old, however, at this time I can't. I will clarify what I meant about keeping it for a lifetime. Primarily, I'd like it to be a reasonable enough banjo that I would still play it years down the road, regardless if I was to have another that cost 5x more. I don't need the best, just something that has a reasonably good "banjo" sound. Thanks guys!
I'll swim against the stream a bit. Given your budget, I think it is possible to get a decent 70's era banjo that would make a good beginner banjo, BUT be prepared to do some reading (finding out about the construction of the pot, the material used in the tone ring, and quality of the other components, as well as overall condition), and once you have an option or 2, be patient in your search to find that banjo within your budget. I'm thinking that you will need to spend closer the top of your budget than the lower end to get a banjo you would be happy with. I look at a lot of banjos on ebay, and the higher end banjos from the 70's are above your budget, so you may need to settle for a decent mid-level banjo from the era. A nice 70's banjo will serve you well for awhile. Once you start your career (or maybe get good enough to play for pay in a band) you can think of saving up a 1000$ or so and get a real good modern banjo. Or maybe you will build your own banjo.
Don't get in a hurry & wait for a good used Recording King RK-35 or RK-36 to pop up on the market. You can usually find them between 6 to 8 hundred bucks. Their great banjos when their set up right, I,ve had 4 of them over the years and passed them to students and friends, I only paid 450 dollars for one of them off of Craig's list. Be patient and don't get in a hurry, good steals pop up from time to time.
Edited by - 1935tb-11 on 04/14/2020 08:48:02