There are a lot of different types of banjos available, but which one is the best to start out on if you want to play bluegrass? What parts should you look for on the banjo? Where should the banjo be made? What type of banjo is the best to play bluegrass on?
The first thing to know is you will want to play a 5 string banjo. 5 string banjo is by far the most popular type of banjo and this is the type of banjo used in bluegrass music. 5 string banjos have 4 standard strings and then one short string. The 5th string (the short one) is used as a drone when playing bluegrass banjo rolls. The repeated playing of the 5th string is one of the main things that gives the 5 string banjo its distinctive sound.
You can play bluegrass on all 5 string banjos, but to truly get an authentic bluegrass tone you will want a banjo with one or both of the following two items.
A resonator is the back of the body of a banjo. Not all banjos have them. What the resonator does is reflect the tone of the banjo out towards your audience, thus making the banjo louder and brighter. Bluegrass banjoists use a resonator so they can cut acoustically through the mix of the other instruments in the band or jam. This allows them to be heard when they take a solo.
A tone ring is a ring usually made of metal, but sometimes made of wood, that sits underneath the banjo head and on top of the banjo rim. This ring vibrates and creates a brighter and richer tone (depending on the materials used, how it is made, and how it is fitted to the banjo). Bluegrass banjoists generally prefer a brighter tone.
Lastly, make sure to inquire when you are looking to purchase a beginner bluegrass banjo where the banjo is made. I would definitely suggest a banjo that is made in America as opposed to one that is made overseas. The quality of materials and craftsmanship in the banjo building industry is by far superior to overseas made banjos.
To find out more about what to look for when buying a banjo, checkout our article on 7 Things To Look For When Buying a New Banjo.
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