Hard to say. The main thing about buying a banjo unless you are experienced or even if you are is to not do it without the advice or cooperation of someone who knows about banjos more than you or without knowing someone who can do banjo setup or adjustment better than you. Now that is hard in these Covid, locked down in many places time, though online contact will help. Banjos are also not cheap (though are cheap if you are comparing them to buying say a French horn). The best thing to do is to find a banjoist or better banjo luthier WHO LIVES NEAR WHERE YOU LIVE, and who is knowledgeable about the kind of banjo playing you do. Myself, I play old time banjo, and outside of knowledge of history, or knowledge that 21st century Washburns are junk, cannot help you. I have to say the Recording King RB I bought for about 100 bucks more than you spent on your Washburn is a great banjo. I was doing a zoom interview for a banjo website yesterday, and with a 19th century fairbanks, a 1925 Vega, my trusty Kevin Enoch tradesman, and my wonderful Gold Tone WL-250, I had no problem picking up the Recording King Dirty 30s and picking a tune that thrilled the interviewers who are much better banjo players than I could ever be.
But the main thing is to find someone nearby in your situation, if only to collaborate with via skype or the phone or something. Another thing is setup. My RK was the first resonator banjo I have owned, I didnt think twice about taking it to my luthier and telling her to do whatever she needed to do to examine and set it up. For 50 bucks she made a bunch of adjustments got me a more suitable bridge and made it sound a whole lot better. Good banjo luthiers will do that.
I do want to underline my experience which seems to be true in the UK too is that banjo people of all kinds tend to be very positive, outgoing, generous, and friendly to new people who want to play the banjo, willing to help in the way that other musicians often are not. This shocked me when I started playing banjo about 22 years ago after playing guitar for 35 years. This included banjoists helping me get my first step up instrument from my Goodtime/
I started with the cheapest Gibson model; it was only $165 in 1963 so my experience is a bit different. It was very playable. After I had been playing, I picked up a Kay on the wall in the same music store. I could not fret it because the action was so high. When I started playing old-time in 1985, I bought a Wildwood which cost $900. I played it in the store for about 3 hours on two occasions before I decided to buy it. Since then, I have purchased three other old-time banjos, two fretless. So, I don't really see buying new instruments as upgrading. Rather, different instruments are better or worse for different purposes. The trick is to know what you want to get out of an instrument and then find one that does that well. For me, for example, it's a banjo which sounds great both for clawhammer and two-finger picking. That rules out a whole lot of great banjos that only do one or the other. You might not have a crystal clear idea of what that is now, but eventually you will. Still, if you are unhappy with your banjo, you should be able to list the things you want to change about it and then look for an instrument that addresses all of those. As an example, the reason I bought my Eastman is because the Wildwood does have one serious flaw. The tailpiece is held down by a right-angle steel piece which bends upward over time. Thus, the tailpiece rises and the strings buzz. I talked to the owner of Wildwood, and he agreed that he has the same issue and no solution. The Eastman doesn't have that problem. Also, it's an excellent replica of the best-sounding instrument I have ever played, which was a 1902 Whyte Laydie that a friend lent me for a few hours while he fiddled. The Eastman actually replicates the 1903, but they didn't change it. Buying an actual 1903 instrument would cost at least three to four times as much as the replica, and it would not be in as good shape. Those are the kinds of considerations I use. I hope they're helpful to you.
I actually stopped into Bucks County Folk Music Store today, was a nice place friendly people.
The owner Karl took a look at my banjo and determined, its in as good a playable condition as can be. I appreciate this, because now i can focus on learning, finding what my sound is. Its going to be an amazing journey.
They had a good selection of Banjos and were knowledgable. They cared. Very positive experience and I'm glad i drove 50 minutes each way.
When i save a couple more pennies up, I'm going back and getting the best sounding and playing banjo (to my ears) as possible.
I've read every response on the thread and am very grateful for all of the knowledge (probably hundreds of years of combined wisdom)
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