5-String Banjo Review — History, Models, Tutorials

Banjos with 5 strings have been created in America as an upgrade to a 4-string classical banjo. It happened several hundred years ago. Nowadays 5-string banjos are used in bluegrass and folk music.

#ModelRatingDifferences in weight, dimensions and materialOur topCheck
1Oscar Schmidt OB3 5-String Banjo 18 * 46 * 7 inches; 1 pounds; fretboard and metal strings2

2Jameson Guitars 5-String Banjo 18 * 45.5 * 6 inches; 9.6 pounds; mahogany back and rosewood fretboard
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3GoldTone CC100R Banjo 38.5 * 13 * 4 inches; 6.5 pounds; full-maple banjo, maple is rather light-weighed
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Oscar Schmidt OB3 5-String Banjo
Rating
Differences in weight, dimensions and material18 * 46 * 7 inches; 1 pounds; fretboard and metal strings
Our top2
Check

Jameson Guitars 5-String Banjo
Rating
Differences in weight, dimensions and material18 * 45.5 * 6 inches; 9.6 pounds; mahogany back and rosewood fretboard
Our top3
Check

GoldTone CC100R Banjo
Rating
Differences in weight, dimensions and material38.5 * 13 * 4 inches; 6.5 pounds; full-maple banjo, maple is rather light-weighed
Our top1
Check

The History of 5-Stringed Banjos

First banjos were fretless instruments that had four natural strings. Only one of those strings was musical, the others were used for accompaniment. Historians say that banjos were brought to America from African countries.

In 1840s Minstrel-show members started using banjos in their performances. There are were the dancer and the solo musician first. However, the powerful and unique sound of banjo was noticed, so the instrument became a member of some orchestras. In the 19th century banjo received the 5th string.

The popularity of banjos dropped in the 20th century, when blues and folk music was replaced with rock and electronic music. However, 5-stringed banjos are still being manufactured and used as lead in bluegrass and as accompaniment in orchestras. Let us first take a quick look at how to play a banjo with 5 strings, and then check out some decent modern models.

How to Play 5-String Banjo

So, the first thing you need to know, is that the 5-string banjos are the easiest ones to play, so they will be the best choice for the beginners (4-string models lack variety and 6-string are hard to get used to). Although this type of banjo is associated with bluegrass and folk, it can be used to play any style of music. Here are the tips on playing a banjo:

Choose an open-back banjo.

This type has two advantages. First, it is lighter and therefore easier to carry around and handle. Second, it is cheaper and does not need that much adjustment, which is exactly what beginners are looking for. If you already have some experience, consider purchasing a banjo with resonator or a heavier model.

Find correct scale and action

Tip:Well, these parameters depend on your personal preferences (playstyle, height), however I strongly recommend middle-sized banjos with low action. Otherwise you may have problems with pressing and pushing the strings, which will result in decreasing the sound quality.

Make sure your banjo is tuned correctly

The most common tune for banjo with 5 strings is Open G (g, D, G, B, D). You can do it yourself, using electronic or online tuners, or ask the local music store employees to help you. This will not cost more than 10 bucks, and is a considerable thing to do, if you are completely new to music.

Hold the banjo correctly

Banjos differ from guitars. They have heavier bodies with longer and more sensitive necks. So make sure you distribute the weight correctly (body on your knees at 45 degrees). Also, do not grip the neck too strong.

Learn to pick correctly

Banjo requires three fingers to pick: thumb, index and middle finger. Basically, all you need to do is to pull the fingers downwards. This might be hard for players with sensitive hands, beginners and those, who play really active. There are special finger picks for players of those types. Consider getting yourself a couple kits of those, if you are about to roll into playing a banjo.

Learn basic patterns and rhythms

Tip:Metronome will be really helpful in this situation. Set it at low BPM parameters and pick strings along with the ticks. The better you get with it, the faster you can start playing.

Practice a lot.

Practicing is the most important part in gaining any sort of skill. My personal recommendation here is to make your trainings rather regular than hard. There will be more use in playing for 30 minutes a day, than in playing 8 hours straight once a week.

These were only the most basic pieces of advice. If you are looking for more advanced guides, check out some YouTube videos.

Now let us move on to taking a look at some decent 5-string banjos for the beginners and developing players. There will be 3 models, starting with the most casual one, ending up with the most modern.

Oscar Schmidt OB3 5-String Banjo

History of Oscar Schmidt

Oscar Schmidt was founded in 1871. By 1900 the company had already had 5 factories in Europe and Unites States. After the rapid start manufacturing has been developing little by little, introducing new instruments and improving quality. Banjos by Oscar Schmidt are known for being durable and easy-to-play for the beginners.

Technical parameters

There are some basic things that should be known about every banjo. In my opinion they are the body material, the body type and the measurements of the instrument. So, here is what they are for Oscar Schmidt Open Back Banjo.

Technical Characteristics
The body typeThis is an open-back banjo. It has 18 bracket tone rings and remo head. These things make the instrument light-weighed and easy-to-handle one. The most suitable body type for the beginners in my opinion.
The materialThis banjo has rosewood fretboard and metal strings. This is classical, so getting used to material won`t take much time. In case your fingers hurt too much try purchasing finger picks.
The dimensionsThe instrument is 18 * 46 * 7 inches (which is 457 * 1186 * 178 in millimeters). The weight is 8 pounds, which is a bit less than 3.5 kilos. The banjo is thinner and lighter than ¾ guitar, but has much longer neck.

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With that being said, I would like to mention a little more specific features od Oscar Schmidt Banjo.

  • Mahogany resonator
Resonator makes sound more powerful and loud. Although instruments with resonators might not be the most suitable for the beginners, mahogany ones do not have that much influence on sound.
  • Geared 5-string tuner
Simply to make your tuning process easier.

Pros
Great sound, v-good quality
Great beginner banjo!
Great quality for the price
Cons
Cheap strings
Maybe: for the price, it was possible to use the material better

 


Jameson Guitars 5-String Banjo

Jameson Guitars History

Jameson guitar is a medium-sized manufactory that specializes on creating acoustic guitars, banjos, ukuleles and bass-guitars. The company`s credo is: “Instruments of high quality at an affordable price”. Jameson`s 5-String Banjo corresponds to this logo completely. Let me explain why I think so.

Technical Characteristics

Technical Characteristics
The body typeThis is a closed-back banjo. It has 24 bracket tone rings. Close-back device is a bit heavier than open-back analogue. On the other hand, it offers better sound – more loud and less distorted.
The materialJameson Guitars 5-string banjo has a mahogany back and rosewood fretboard. This a convenient and durable set of wood, which allows sound spread equally.
The dimensionsThe banjo is 18 * 45.5 * 6 inches (which is 457 * 1155 * 152 in millimeters). The item`s weight is around 10 lbs (which is close to 4.5 kilograms). Banjo is lighter than classical acoustic guitar, but has longer neck, which determines the difference in playstyles.

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Of course, this device has some special features, that make it unique. Here they are:

  • There are right- and left-handed versions available.
Unlike many other manufacturers, Jameson guitar designed two versions of the same model, so that any player could play their instrument.
  • A mahogany resonator
Mahogany is among the best sorts of wood for working with sound. Mahogany resonator allows the sound waves spread equally, which results in balanced and rich sound.
  • Adjustable tailpiece

An opportunity to adjust tailpiece, makes adjusting banjo for reaching the best playability. Playing this exact device will be really comfortable.

Pros
Quality sound
The rosewood fretboard is of decent quality
Cons
Quality of materials
Maybe: the middle G would buzz on the first fret

 

Ok, now that we`ve gone through two banjos, that will be suitable for beginners and developing players, let us check out more professional instrument.


GoldTone CC100R Banjo

GoldTone History

Goldtone is a modern American manufacturer. Goldtone`s specialization is unusual instruments. GoldTone has microguitars, mandolins, ukuleles and banjos. The company even has special application for musicians. But, we are not talking about software now. Let us proceed to reviewing the banjo.

Technical Parameters

The first thing we need to look at is the physical characteristics, such as body type, material, the banjo is made of and the dimensions. Here they are:

Technical Characteristics
The body typeThis is a classical banjo that can be converted into open-back banjo. Resonator is removable, so players can practice different styles.
The materialThis a full-maple banjo. Maple isn`t the most standard material for musical instruments, but it is not that bad. Maple is rather light-weighed. The fact that the whole instrument is performed of one material makes the harmony of sound a bit better.
The dimensionsGoldTone CC100R Banjo is 38.5 * 13 * 4 inches (which is 977 * 330 * 101 in millimeters). The weight differs depending on whether resonator is on the banjo. It is around 3-3.5 kilograms. This banjo is smaller and shorter than its` analogues. Due to adjustable weight it can be transported easily.

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The manufacturer claims, that this banjo is great for both beginners and experienced players. As far as I can say, it is indeed one of the greatest available instruments under 500 dollars on the market.

Pros
Sound quality
Tone, resonance, perfect pitch
For beginners
Cons
Quality of materials
Build quality

Conclusion

Now let us go through all the most important in the article once more:

  • 5-string banjos appeared in the 19th century. They were popularized by Minstrel-show.
  • Banjo playing technique differs from guitar`s. It will take some time getting used to it, especially after playing acoustic guitar for a while.
  • There is a lot of worthy banjos on the market.
Remember, that banjo might be not the most suitable instrument for the beginners. If you are completely new to music and are looking for a string instrument, try acoustic guitar (maybe ¾ version) with nylon strings. There are more tutorials on it.


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1 Response

  1. Lisbeth
    I want to thank the authors of this informative article. It helped me to pick up a banjo and start learning to play a new musical instrument. I already know how to play the guitar, ukulele and mandolin, and now, here, decided to learn something new.

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