The 5 Best Clawhammer Banjos – Full Guide (2022)


best clawhammer banjo

Looking for the best clawhammer banjos? Look no further. Below, I reveal the top 5 best banjos for clawhammer style banjo playing.

If you’re not familiar, clawhammer banjo is a banjo playing style where the player uses their back nails and thumb in a special scoping motion. 

This term “clawhammer” is thus a combination of two processes: first, when you “hammer” down on the string to create a sound, and when you form a “claw” shape with your hand. 

Clawhammer style banjo playing is often used for American old time music (or “Americana” music) of the early days. So if you want to explore American music, clawhammer banjo is a good place to start. 

However, if you’re interested specifically in bluegrass music, you may want to start by focusing on bluegrass or “Scruggs style” banjos and banjo playing.

But if you’re on the hunt for the best clawhammer banjo, this is the perfect place. 

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Factors to Consider for Clawhammer Banjos

Clawhammer banjos usually have open backs for the instrument’s body, 5 steel or nylon strings, and long thin necks.

In terms of tone, clawhammer banjos can be “plunkier” or earthier than the “high lonesome” bluegrass sounds Scruggs-style banjo players might prefer,

Clawhammer Banjo Size 

Most ClawHammer banjos are available in similar sizes. But standard size banjos or travel size banjo may differ. 

They all feature open backs which makes them generally portable and light. 

Clawhammer Bajno Sound and tone 

Sound is a key factor to consider when looking for a banjo. It’s difficult to identify the right sound especially when you’re buying online. Fortunately, there are demonstration videos on YouTube for each model. Just type the model name into the search bar and you’re good to go. 

However, nothing beats the experience of playing a banjo in person and listening to the different tones if you have that option available to you.

Clawhammer Banjo Materials

The best materials will help you achieve the right tone from your banjo. 

Heavy metal hardware (such as brass) and solid wood are generally great options to consider. 

Furthermore, you must consider whether you want to play a nylon or steel stringed banjo. 

Clawhammer Banjo Brands

The clawhammer banjo marketplace has several top brands like Deering, and Gold Tone. 

But a lot of other brands are out there producing great instruments. However, a good rule of thumb here is to avoid buying from companies with little to no reputation and stick with legacy brands like the Deerings and Gold Tones of the world.

With that said, let’s jump into the 5 best clawhammer banjos:

Top 5 Best Clawhammer Banjos

1. Gold Tone WL-250 White Ladye

The Gold Tone white ladye is a popular open back banjo available at a competitive price. 

The reliable modern construction and vintage styling makes this clawhammer banjo an excellent option for someone looking for a reliable claw hammer banjo. 

Gold Tone WL-250 White Ladye

Pros 

  • Excellent vintage look 
  • Great sound 
  • Impressive value 
  • Reliable construction 

Cons 

  • A little too pricey for beginners 

Why you should consider it:

After testing some of the top clawhammer banjos in the market, the White Ladye was really exceptional for its top grade sound and classic construction. 

2. Deering Goodtime Americana

Deering is a popular brand in the market, and the Deering Goodtime Americana model stands out as a beginner option.

It is lightweight, reliable, and designed in accordance to Deering’s standards. 

On top of that, it is available at an affordable price. Beginners will love its ease of play. Also, it churns out high quality sounds.

Deering Goodtime Americana

Pros 

  • Durable 
  • Reasonably priced 
  • Read sound 
  • Ease of play 

Cons

  • Doesn’t have a tone ring. 

Why you should consider it:

I recommend this Banjo to beginner students trying to get on track because it is tested and trusted. This is a very versatile banjo and also lends itself well to bluegrass or Scruggs style banjo playing.

3. Recording King Dirty Thirties Open Back

Made by recording king, this is one of the most affordable versions of their clawhammer banjos. 

This banjo shares similarities with good old vintage banjos from the 30s. 

Available at an even better price than the Deering Goodtime Americana banjo above, this is an affordable Recording King model praised for its value:

Recording King Dirty Thirties

Pros 

  • High quality sound 
  • Affordable 
  • Great sound 
  • Classic look 

Cons 

  • Quiet 

4. Gold Tone OT-800

The Gold Tone OT-800 combines excellent sound, durable build, and a classic look – making this a great buy for players. Keep in mind, however, that you’re not getting this at a cheap price:

Gold Tone OT-800

Pros 

  • Excellent sound 
  • Sturdy build 
  • Top grade parts 
  • Aesthetically pleasing 

Cons 

  • Pricey 

5. Gold Tone Maple Mountain Banjo

If you’re on the lookout for a valuable clawhammer banjo, then the Gold Tone Maple Mountain is a great option. 

The Maple Mountain comes with parts that share the same level of quality with some of the most high-end banjos on the market. So even though these typically run around $1000, it is still a steal at that price:

Good Tone Maple Mountain

Pros 

  • Top grade value 
  • Quality tone 
  • Vintage look 
  • Excellent sturdy materials 

Cons 

  • Not so compatible with high end models

Why you should consider it:

If you’re looking for a top-notch banjo at a great price for the value and quality, this model is a good choice. 

Best Clawhammer Banjo Brands

As you may have noticed, some of the same brands cropped up a couple times in that list of the 5 best banjos.

That’s because, when choosing a clawhammer banjo, you want a reputable brand with years of experience. Candidly, banjos made in America are usually the best. 

Here are some of the best clawhammer banjo brands to keep in mind:

Gold Tone

Gold Tone Banjos started operations all the way back in 1993 and has its headquarters in Florida. They produce some of the best instruments for both beginners and professionals. 

Deering

Deering Banjos are embraced by a lot of banjo players everywhere. They make banjos for professional banjo players, and create the Goodtime series for newbies. Greg Deering founded the company in California in 1975. 

Recording King

Recording king started in 1930. Since then, they’ve been making varieties of acoustic products, including banjos. (Their acoustic guitars are also an excellent value).

Rickard

Bill Rickard founded Rickard in 2010 when it started as a small Ontario company. Since then, they’ve produced some of the best custom-made open-back banjos. 

Bart Reiter

Bart started out in 1987 as a small shop in Michigan. They sell different types of open-back banjos such as the popular Buckbee version.

Clawhammer Banjo FAQs

In closing, I wanted to answer some of the most frequently asked questions about clawhammer banjos:

How much does a clawhammer banjo cost? 

Prices of clawhammer banjos can cost from $100 to $3000 or more. First-time banjo buyers/players should try and stay anywhere between $200-$500, and may go up to $1000 for high-quality models. 

What are the most popular clawhammer banjos? 

Based on past user reviews and recommendations, the best clawhammer banjos are: 

Gold Tone White Ladye – suitable for serious, professional players 

An excellent clawhammer banjo with vintage design-build and reliability, the White Ladye banjo is best for those looking to upgrade their banjo but pay a reasonable price for a premier instrument.

Deering Goodtime Americana: beginner’s clawhammer banjo of choice 

Deering’s construction quality comes at a decent price while promising to sound great and last long. Thus, the Americana is a great beginner or intermediate clawhammer banjo.

Where are the best clawhammer banjos made? 

Majority of the top clawhammer banjos are made in the USA or Canada. 

Learn More About Bluegrass & Clawhammer Banjo

If you’d like to learn more about bluegrass and the banjo, check out my other helpful articles:

Corbin Buff

Corbin has played guitar for over a decade, and started writing about it on Acoustic World in an effort to help others. He lives and writes in western Montana.

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