The banjo is a popular acoustic instrument and a core element of country and bluegrass music. Banjos come primarily in four-string and five-string varieties, and are plucked and strummed similarly to guitars and ukuleles.
However, finding the best banjo for bluegrass and country music can be difficult because of the wide variety of options, brands, and styles. There are lots of banjos on the market, each promising a great sound experience.
That’s why, to save you the cost of getting the wrong instrument, I’ve compiled a list of my top 3 banjos for bluegrass and country music on the market.
But before we get started, here’s a brief overview of bluegrass style banjo playing (AKA Scruggs style banjo), and how it differs from other styles (like clawhammer, for example).
What is bluegrass style banjo? (AKA: Scruggs Style Banjo)
Bluegrass has been around as far back as the early centuries. When it comes to the bluegrass banjo technique, the banjo player plucks the strings similarly to how a classical guitarist plucks the guitar strings.
Earl Scruggs was the earliest innovator of the bluegrass banjo style. He was also the first person to play the banjo to a huge audience when he worked with the likes of The Bluegrass Boys and Bill Monroe.
What are the 3 best banjos for bluegrass and country music?
1. Jameson Guitars 5-String Banjo
Jameson Guitars allows you to own one of the best banjos in the market at an insanely low price. This instrument is one of the best ways beginner banjoists can learn the musical instrument. Although this is a budget banjo, it comes with incredible features up to par with some of the more expensive banjos out there.
The Jameson banjo‘s punchy resonator amplifies every sound you play. As a bluegrass player, this is one feature you’ll love as it will help you cut through the bass and midtones in a jam setting if you wish to learn lead style banjo and play solos.
The other thing you need as a bluegrass banjo soloist is a closed-back banjo. That’s also where the Jameson Guitars 5-String Banjo comes in: this banjo features a closed mahogany back which adds punch and volume to your playing.
While the Jameson banjo is a great fit for bluegrass, the rim is designed to produce fine sounds regardless of the kind of music you’re playing. The resonator also allows you to play with your desired sound and style.
The tuners are of decent quality for a budget banjo and keep the strings in tune effectively. This is one of the features I always tell every beginner to prioritize because I notice that a lot of the time, their instruments usually run out of tune, especially with cheaper banjos.
Oh, and I can’t help but talk about the fine gloss finish of the material which makes for an aesthetically pleasing musical instrument. It’s rare to get high-quality woods and materials at this price point.
What I Like:
- Reasonably priced
- Best for beginner banjoist
- Durable mahogany material
- Produces great sounds
- Includes padded gig bag
2. Deering Goodtime 2 5-String Banjo
Made in the USA, Deering banjos have been around for a while and have been loved by many banjoists for many years. When it comes to buying musical equipment, I try as much as I can to prioritize that the company producing the instrument is of high quality and has a good reputation.
So why choose Deering?
Deering has a long history and tradition as a company that produces banjos perfectly suited for bluegrass, country music, and other genres.
Bluegrass players will find the Goodtime 2 5-string Banjo extremely suitable for use. Its rich tone and playability are some of the admirable features of this 5 string banjo. The instrument is made with durable maple wood – of the same quality you would find in top-quality violins.
Furthermore, the rim, which is the key part of this banjo, is made with 3-ply maple wood. This is important, as banjo rims can intricately affect the quality of the ultimate tone and sound.
You can adjust the tailpiece of the banjo to enhance or reduce the quality of the sharpness. In addition, the tailpiece is designed to absorb vibrations that don’t affect the sound from the rim. This is key, because during play, the banjo string passes its vibration to the bridge and moves into the rim. The tailpiece must be able to absorb vibration to maintain the banjo’s unique sound.
Another stand-out feature of this banjo is its maple resonator which projects and amplifies sound. A high quality resonator is hugely important as a bluegrass or country music player to improve your sound volume and help your playing cut through any accompaniment when its time for a lead, solo, or intro.
Overall, with the Deering Goodtime 2 you’re getting excellent craftsmanship that is well worth the cost.
You can see the great features and tone of this Banjo in action via the video playthrough below:
(You can see and hear the Goodtime 2 at around the 2:40 mark in the video)
What I like:
- Tailpiece is adjustable
- Excellent build material
- Durable maple wood construction
- Great for intermediary banjo players
- No case or bag
3. Deering Sierra 5-String Banjo
The Deering Sierra 5 String Banjo is the premium quality banjo in Deering’s series. It’s the perfect banjo for a seasoned player.
The Sierra comes with a resonator that offers the versatility to play different tones and kinds of music. Just fit or remove the resonator to play your desired music genre, whether it’s bluegrass or country music.
The Sierra does carry a premium price point, but it comes with every great feature that you can only find in high-end banjos (that’s not to say the price is a walkover). Its premium quality maple wood is designed to facilitate a smooth playing experience and premier tone.
Check out this official video by Deering where they walk you through the Sierra:
The maple wood makes this banjo a really aesthetically pleasing and professional looking instrument.
Again, I’d have loved it if Deering had included a carry bag along with this banjo to secure the instrument. Also, it doesn’t come with fingerpicks to play your Banjo. But these are simple things to buy separately at a reasonable price.
Bottom line: this banjo from Deering is best suited for the intermediate-advanced banjo player with enough budget to spend on a high-end musical instrument.
What I like:
- Detachable resonator
- Aesthetic maple wood production
- Fine sound
- A premium quality instrument for experience folks
- No case or bag
- A bit pricey (but a worthwhile investment)
What’s the best banjo for bluegrass music?
All the three banjos above are top-notch, perfect for bluegrass and country music, and cater to individual expertise levels and budgets. Therefore, which one you choose will simply come down to your own preferences and musical goals.
Are you a beginner just getting started honing your chops on bluegrass and country Banjo? The Jameson guitars banjo is a perfect way to get started with a high quality instrument that won’t break the bank.
Already have existing knowledge of how banjo works and looking for a competitively priced banjo with great features? The Deering Goodtime 2 5-String Banjo will be your go-to.
And if you’re a seasoned banjo pro player looking to upgrade to a high-end banjo that will last a lifetime, then the Deering Sierra 5 string is the real deal.
You won’t regret your decision regardless of which one you choose.
Learn more about bluegrass banjo
Learn more about bluegrass and the banjo in some of my other great guides: