Banjo Hangout Logo
Banjo Hangout Logo

Premier Sponsors

Banjo Lovers Online

Nov 29, 2020 - 2:34:56 PM
13 posts since 11/22/2020

Hi All,

I'm noob to the banjo. I've never played a fretted instrument seriously before. I gather that for more money you'll get better playability and a better tone?

I've started on a £120 Harley Benton but I get the impression that although it has a reputation of being great value, it is limiting my progress. Also, the players i watch on YouTube flashing up and down the fretboard are using instruments that are easier to fret than mine. Am I right ?

Or otherwise, what does the better "playability" of a more expensive instrument really mean, in practice. What is better/easier/faster/more ?

Thanks for any advice and wisdom,


Nov 29, 2020 - 2:54:54 PM
like this

4559 posts since 11/20/2004

To me, it means the ability to play good clean notes comfortably. Things such as string height and spacing, fret height, neck width and shape come into playability along with other factors.

Nov 29, 2020 - 2:57:32 PM
likes this



9554 posts since 10/5/2006

Playability is an aspect of a banjo in any price bracket. You don't have to break the bank for playability. For example a Gold Tone CC100 is a lower priced banjo that can be described as consistently having 'playability' when new and looked after well. 'Fit for purpose' would be another way of saying it.

String height (action), straight neck, neck angle, lack of fret wear, functioning tuning pegs that don't slip, fitting nut slots, suitable bridge height and correct position, head tension, tailpiece etc. are all individual considerations. To complicate matters they also interact to make a banjo playable or not. Beyond quality there is also design and the physical fit to the individual player e.g. a player with very small hands might not be best suited to a banjo with a wider neck. 

With all the enthusiasm in the world, effort and practice time poured into a poorly playable, badly set up banjo will significantly impede your development. Worse still, someone who doesn't realise their banjo is barely playable may get demoralised at lack/difficulty of progress in spite of their best effort and give up.

What better instruments tend to offer is improved tone. But that's not to say an inexpensive banjo can't sound good. They can and do. Given playability your hands are the biggest factor.

Edited by - m06 on 11/29/2020 15:13:06

Nov 29, 2020 - 3:09:34 PM

3970 posts since 10/13/2005

As a crude generality, more money equalling better playability is somewhat true but not necessarily so. I have a Mogi banjo that I paid $800 for that sounds better and plays better – for me – than a banjo I sold for $2500. Yes the latter banjo had more eye candy (inlays), outstandingly so, but it was not more "playable" for me. Everybody's hands are a little different, physically and neurologically. What works for one may not work for another. Some hands go for slender necks, others for thick, or more "V" shaped. Type in "neck profiles" in the search engine on the left side of this page and you'll get a brain full. You'll have to get your hands on quite a few banjos to hone in on your particular "playability." Neck profile, string spacing, string fretboard clearance, fret wire height are only some of the factors contributing to 'playability," or not. I have played a few banjos that cost under a thousand dollars that had more playability than banjos costing several thousand dollars. Again there is not always a direct correlation between more money and playability. Take your time, be careful, and good luck! banjered

Nov 29, 2020 - 3:29:32 PM



902 posts since 11/26/2012

Mike's comments, above, are spot on. For me, assuming the banjo is set up properly and in good working order, "playability" then comes down to the shape and size of the neck and the action of the strings above the fretboard and above the banjo head. I guess you could throw in scale length and rim diameter too.

Some of those things you can tweak and some would only be solved by buying the correct banjo in the first place, but it's all a matter of personal preference. What is playable to some may not be so playable to others. I personally I prefer a thin 1 1/4" neck width at the nut and low action over the fretboard and drum head. For me an 11" rim diameter is more playable, but I like the sound of 12" head better!

Nov 29, 2020 - 5:15:51 PM
likes this

Bill Rogers (Moderator)


24250 posts since 6/25/2005

Is it comfortable for you to play? Does it work as it should? You can make significant adjustments tinkering with the setup. When set up to your liking, you should be able to get the sound you want, and your left and right hands should feel comfortable over an hour or so of playing. Changing chords and fretting cleanly should be easy, and yu should ot have to reach too far to play. Playability is specific to the player, so a banjo might be quite playable for one person and not at all for another.

Nov 29, 2020 - 6:04:46 PM



9554 posts since 10/5/2006

Originally posted by Josephpetrie

Hi All,

>I'm noob to the banjo. I've never played a fretted instrument seriously before<

That could be to your advantage. I was like you, never a guitar player. We don't have to unlearn or find things 'odd' like so many who come to banjo as guitar players first.

Banjo is our natural straight out of the traps. And I've never thought chordally as guitar players tend to. I can play chords but I think in terms of rhythm and phrasing. That is a product of not having other stringed instrument influences.

Edited by - m06 on 11/29/2020 18:11:38

Nov 29, 2020 - 8:45:32 PM
likes this

13612 posts since 10/30/2008

I agree with the comments relating to the set- up of the banjo, and also with the associated point that the banjo has design capability to ADJUST the set-up.

A lot of it depends on YOU, what feels good to you. Some folks like a narrow, thin "fast" neck. Others wants lots of room for their fingers on a wider, thicker neck.

The banjo's design should give an inherent good tone and volume anywhere on the neck, so that you don't get discouraged by certain areas of the neck where the tone quality simply deteriorates or disappears.

You're lucky, there are LOTS of banjos now that meet the playability expectations. Both new and used. Much better and much wider choices than when I was learning in the 1960s!

Nov 30, 2020 - 4:35:04 PM

2636 posts since 4/16/2003

To me, good "playability" means:
- instrument feels good in your hands
- plays easily with little effort
- sounds good with "your touch" on it (be that light, medium, heavier)
- easy to tune and stays in tune when you get it there
- the instrument seems to "draw the music out of you", rather than you having to push it for what you want.

Dec 1, 2020 - 5:47:46 AM

648 posts since 2/15/2015

From banjo to banjo...

I like a fatter neck.
I like quality tuning machines.
I like a banjo head tuned to G#.
I like tension rods that allow a cradle strap to pass through without any tailoring.

I like a plain banjo. Inlay doesn't astound me. In fact I like well worn and cared for workingman's banjos. Like a an old worn nickel. In fact I like nickel plated over chrome.

But the neck thickness is the immediate go/no-go for me.

I have a few banjos, 2 are basically retired. But about 2 years ago a good friend was thinning the collection and he sold me a China Alvarez that he had set up for a Bluegrass backup. I tried it, and immediately recognized how nice it felt in the hand. He had several other high end resonators, but the necks were all too thin. I purchased that Alvarez and use it quite a bit. New, that Alvarez couldn't have been much over $350. The setup was perfect.

Hangout Network Help

View All Topics  |  View Categories