Deciding which manufacturer to go with when choosing a musical instrument is never easy. For most people, trying out a wide range of banjo brands is simply not practical – which is why we’ve created this guide.
Other stringed instruments, like acoustic, electric, or bass guitars, are generally more popular than banjos. The brands that create these instruments are therefore more widely known.
The top banjo brands boast a long history of crafting the finest four, five, and six-string instruments. You’ll probably recognize some of the brands featured in this guide if you’re a guitarist.
In addition to highlighting who makes the best banjos, I’ll also present some of the brand’s standout offerings so that you can decide whether they’d be a good fit for your requirements.
How We Selected The Brands:
In order to compile this best banjo brands list, we considered several key factors. Firstly, we considered the reputation of the banjo brands based on their history, popularity amongst musicians, and prolificness.
We then looked into the materials that each brand uses to construct their banjos. The tonewoods used to make a banjo have a huge impact on its sound and playability, so we tried to identify brands that are committed to using a high standard of materials.
Also, we took into consideration the affordability of the banjo brands. It’s important for banjo players of all budgets to have options, so the manufacturers that offer a wide range of prices deserve recognition.
After analyzing all of the above factors, we were able to come up with this definitive list of the best banjo manufacturers.
For over a century, American manufacturer Washburn has been at the forefront of stringed-instrument manufacturing. In addition to making some exceptional banjos like the Americana B16 5-string Resonator, the brand also produces high-end guitars, mandolins, and ukuleles.
In 1928, Washburn’s run seemed to be over when the company was sold to a local rival. However, the original founders reacquired the brand two years later, and the rest is history.
The vast majority of Washburn instruments are now made in Korea or China, but their quality remains. Their Americana range features a variety of banjos suited to many different styles, with 6-string options including the Americana B6 or 5-string equivalents, such as the Americana B9.
Washburn also produces banjos for all budgets. The two aforementioned instruments are relatively affordable, and therefore perfect for beginner banjoists. If you’re looking for a more high-end option, something like the exquisitely built Americana B17 5-String Resonator may be worth considering.
Despite only being founded in 2005, Florida-based Luna Guitars has emerged as one of the top banjo makers in the world. Luna makes everything from cajones to electric bass guitars, but their banjos are particularly impressive.
The standout selection of banjos made by Luna is, in my opinion, the Celtic range. These instruments are beautifully crafted and have a traditional style that is merged with modern features to enhance playability.
The Celtic range includes a 5-string banjo and a 6-string banjo. These instruments are constructed from a blend of mahogany and walnut, which leads to rich tonality and a resonant, full sound.
One of the things I like the most about Luna banjos is their innovative visual designs. Each instrument looks extremely authentic, and you can tell that a lot of thought has gone into the aesthetics. A good example of this is the Luna Moonbird 5-string, which is an electric-acoustic banjo ideal for gigging musicians.
Japanese manufacturers Ibanez are perhaps best known for their range of innovative electric guitars, bass guitars, and acoustic guitars. However, like many top guitar brands, they have ventured into the world of banjo production.
With a history dating back to 1957, Ibanez has grown into one of the most popular manufacturers of stringed instruments. The banjos they produce are generally affordable and ideal for beginner or intermediate players looking to improve their skills.
The majority of Ibanez banjos are designed in the resonator style. They generally use high-quality tonewoods to construct their banjos, including mahogany for the necks and walnut for the bulk of the body, as is the case with the B200 5-string Resonator.
Banjo players who are looking for a slightly better quality instrument will likely enjoy the more advanced B300 5-String Resonator. All of Ibanez’s banjos are highly playable and produce a tonal quality that you’d expect if you’ve ever played one of their guitars or basses.
Although most people know Epiphone as the sibling of guitar legends Gibson, the brand actually had a decorated history before it merged with the American giant.
With roots that stretch back to almost 150 years ago in the Ottoman Empire, Epiphone has grown remarkably from its humble beginnings. While the majority of its catalog is filled with Gibson-inspired guitars and basses, it also features a small selection of banjos that are perfect for entry-level players.
Like their guitars, Epiphone’s banjos are aimed at musicians who want a good blend of sound quality and playability without having to spend a small fortune. The MB-100 First Pick 5-String Open-back is a perfect example of this.
A little-known fact about Epiphone is that they started producing banjos in 1920, almost a decade prior to releasing their first guitar. The wealth of knowledge and experience they have in banjo production is still evident today.
Fender is hands-down the leading producer of stringed instruments in the world. Their electric guitars have had an undeniable impact on every facet of popular music, and they are also rated amongst the very good banjo brands.
Producing banjos is very different from producing guitars. While the Fender name may draw in banjo players due to its prestigious legacy, the brand proves its quality with instruments like the PB-180E Acoustic-electric.
Although their banjo catalog is fairly limited compared to their selection of electric, acoustic, and bass guitars, they deliver all of the qualities required for beginners and intermediate players.
As you’d expect, Fender uses the finest materials and components to construct their banjos. This often includes walnut fingerboards, mahogany bodies and necks, and high-end pickups made by none other than the legendary Fishman.
Kala’s innovative banjos blend the best qualities of traditional 1920 banjos and ukeleles. This hybrid instrument is sometimes known as the banjolele, producing a distinctive tone with good projection and resonance.
This top banjo brand has only been around since the mid-2000s, but in that short time, they have established itself as one of the leading providers of banjo-uke combo instruments.
Kala’s Concert range is a great choice for musicians looking to take their first step into the world of banjos or ukuleles. Their larger-than-average design makes it easy to form chord shapes, which is particularly useful if you’re coming from a guitar-playing background.
Aesthetically, Kala banjos have a worn, vintage design that authentically resembles the banjoleles that enjoyed huge popularity in the 1920s and 1930s.
Since its formation in 1975, San Diego-based Deering has built a worldwide reputation as one of the best banjo brands. All of their banjos are hand-crafted in the US, and their attention to detail is evident in both their feel and tone.
Deering produces a vast range of banjos, in vintage and modern styles. They offer 4-string, 5-string, and 6-string options, with adjustments made to suit the requirements of the musician.
The budget range offered by Deering is called “Goodtime Banjos”. It features a range of instruments that are both affordable, and easy to play. This line is a great starting point for musicians who are relatively new to banjo playing.
Additionally, Deering has a high-end line of banjos which consists of the Private Collection and the Artist range. These banjos are crafted using only the finest materials and components and are designed for experienced banjoists looking for premium quality.
With almost a century of experience manufacturing banjos under their belt, the American brand Recording King is a preferred choice for experienced musicians. Their latest banjos merge vintage qualities with modern advancements.
At first glance, Record King banjos look like they were made in the 1950s. They are generally simplistic in design, but the projection, tone, and playability of these instruments are unbelievably good.
Another great thing about Recording King is that despite their highly deserved reputation, they don’t price out banjo players who don’t have a huge budget to spend. Sure, you can opt for one of their high-end banjos, but they produce many affordable options too.
Recording King’s banjos are generally open-back instruments. They tend to use maple for the necks, and adjustable truss rods are a staple feature. Much of their signature tone comes from their rosewood fingerboards, and steel tone rings.
Schmidt, or Oscar Schmidt as they are commonly called, produces a vast range of stringed instruments. Their guitars have amassed a loyal fanbase worldwide, due to their distinctive tones and unique designs.
While many musicians know Schmidt for their electric guitars, they also have a long history of producing banjos and other acoustic instruments. Most commonly, the brand’s banjos are aimed at beginner or intermediate-level players.
This is perhaps the biggest selling point of Oscar Schmidt banjos – their affordability. However, they are also very comfortable playing, which is likely to encourage a beginner who is looking for a solid banjo to develop their skills on.
Gold-Tone Banjo was originally formed in 1993. The brand focuses primarily on creating high-quality acoustic stringed instruments, with options available to all ability levels, styles, and budgets.
Over the past three decades, Gold Tone has been incredibly prolific at producing stringed instruments. That’s why they’re adored worldwide by banjoists, ukulele players, guitarists, mandolinists, and bassists.
Despite their banjos often being constructed from high-quality materials and components, they’re pretty fairly priced when compared with many other top banjo brands.
Also, the company specializes in hybrid string instruments which have become increasingly popular amongst folk-rock musicians in recent years. These instruments often combine the qualities of banjos with cellos or violas, for example.
Offering a wide range of acoustic and electric stringed instruments, Rogue caters to all levels of experience. This brand bases many of its banjos on the designs used by more established manufacturers but offers them at a considerably cheaper cost.
Rogue is perhaps best suited to novice banjo players who don’t want to invest a lot of money into the instrument before deciding whether they are going to spend time learning how to play it.
Different Types of Banjos
Like guitars, banjos are available in several different varieties. Each type of banjo offers varying sonic qualities, physical appearances, and feel. If you’ve never played banjo before, it’s important to identify the right type for your needs.
Resonator banjos are a common variety. They get their name due to the metal plate that is connected to the rear panel of the banjo, which increases volume and projection, and of course resonance.
A resonator banjo is a great choice for musicians who are playing as part of an acoustic ensemble, as it will provide adequate volume to be heard with the other instruments in the band.
Open-back banjos are another very popular variety. As the name suggests, these instruments have no rear panel. This minimizes their projection slightly but makes it easier for the banjo player to hear the sound as it reflects towards them.
These banjos are ideal for beginners who want to develop their skills mainly by practicing alone. They’re lightweight, easy to play, and won’t disturb housemates or neighbors!
This list of the top banjo makers will hopefully make it easier for you to choose between the array of options available.
Our banjo brands list consists of the most reliable choices, as they offer a range of banjos for all ability levels and price ranges. Whichever brand you opt to go with, I hope you find the perfect banjo for your requirements!