Your Complete Guide to Banjos – and the Different Types Available
Banjo players will readily agree that this is one of the fascinating musical instruments, and learning to play it – and play well – is a definite challenge. But it’s a challenge worth it, because mastering the instrument is a feat. But many will also say that learning to play the banjo is easier than learning to play the guitar, so these are encouraging words for those who are just starting to play the banjo. But if you’re interested in learning it, it’s also worth knowing as much as you can about it – including the different types, as there is more than one you can choose to learn from. So here’s your complete guide to banjos – and the different types available.
The two main types and various criteria
In essence, there are only two main types of banjos: the resonator banjo and the open back banjo. But there are other important factors such as the number of banjo strings, the length of the scale, etc. No matter what type of banjo you play, you will need to adjust the banjo before you start playing.
The resonator is a wooden bowl attached to the back of the instrument. This helps reflect some of the sound forward, so resonator banjos are louder. They are normally used for Bluegrass. On the other hand, open-back banjos do not have a resonator, so part of the sound that comes out of the head (drum skin) is absorbed by the player’s stomach. Open banjos are quieter and many players prefer their sound. They’re also lighter, so that’s another reason to play an open back. They are normally used for the claw hammer.
For traditional jazz or Irish music, a four-string banjo would be a good choice, and these four-string banjos are divided into two types: plectrum and tenor. The tenor has a shorter neck, so it’s a bit easier to play than the plectrum banjo. These are normally tuned like a violin or cello, in fifths; However, the plectrum banjo can also be tuned more like a guitar.
Six string banjos have become more popular recently with some well known bands like the Old Crow Medicine show using them. They are normally tuned in the same way as a guitar, so this is a great option if you are already an experienced guitarist.
You can also go for the five-string banjo, which is more versatile as you can produce music in various genres. The five-string instrument is the perfect choice for beginners because it automatically produces an open G chord and left-hand fingering is easier than most other stringed instruments. This type of banjo has four long strings, which are the ones you play the most, plus a shorter 5.e string of characters. This “thumb string” is not normally fretted with the left hand, it produces a drone-like sound. The five-string gives the most authentic sound, whether with fingerpicking or clawhammer playing styles.
The 12-string banjo is quite rare, but it produces a light sound that is also quite pleasant. There is also the mandolin banjo which has 8 strings, and the banjolele, which is – you guessed it – a mix of the banjo and the ukulele. It is quite small and light, which makes it easy to carry and learn.