Hello, my name is Dante and I am 9 years old. I've been playing bluegrass banjo for a year and a half but now I am starting to learn how to play classic banjo! Can somebody suggest a good classic banjo that I can buy? I like Deering banjos the most for playing bluegrass but I don't know about what banjo is best to buy for learning classic banjo. Oh also it can't cost a lot. Thank you for your help. -Dante

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Hi Dante, welcome to Classic Banjo!

Classic banjo is a style of playing, much like bluegrass or old-time or whatever. They share the same 5-string banjo basis, so really any 5-string will do a fine job. IOW, you can use your 'bluegrass' banjo if you want. Don't let not having a special "Classic Banjo" keep you from practising.

However, since Classic Banjo was at its height of popularity before 1900, we tend to prefer banjos that at least look like a banjo from that period. That typically means no resonator, nylon strings and a lighter bridge (and no fingerpicks).

Deering makes a number of open-back banjos to support the "old time" clawhammer market...and they can be very good banjos. I think the "Goodtime" starts around $500 or so. Used ones can be a little cheaper. Just about any banjo will need to be specifically set up for nylon strings, of course. I would stay away from the cheapest $99 banjos.

There are lots of vintage banjos out there...but you really need to be an expert to figure out if they can be used or not. They can develop lots of problems as they get older (and they can be fine too...you just need to know what to look for).

So, what Classic Banjo tunes are you working on? There is a huge amount of talent and knowledge here, just ask!

Hi Dante,

I saw your comment about a banjo sounding better than a Recording King. Any model of Recording King should sound excellent for classic banjo if it is set up right. The bridge, the strings, and the  tailpiece make a surprisingly big difference in sound and response.  Anyway if you take a random look at the videos on this site you will see banjo players playing well on all sorts of banjos, including ones with steel strings and/or resonators. One of the best players here plays nylon strings with picks. All sorts of things are viable.  About Deering: a few years ago I was playing a festival in a trio with Tony Trischka, who plays a Deering these days. Deering banjos had a booth at the festival. We stopped and visited and I played about 30 minutes of classic banjo music on several  Deering banjos. They responded well and sounded good.  A good time was had by all. If you already have a Deering you can use that. Same for Recording King, even for lower models. 

Hi Dante,

My name is Jason and I’m 53 years old!  I too am learning how to play classic banjo, although I’ve never played banjo before (I do play classical guitar).  I’m learning on a Deering Goodtime Americana which I bought as a floor model for under $500.  I then had a local music shop convert it to nylon string.  I’m very happy with it!  

Thank you for replying to me! Thank you for the banjo information, I do have nylon strings on my recording king and a cool bridge that my banjo teacher gave me but my first string still sounds wrong. I think maybe I need something adjusted. I actually want a cool new old banjo! Like one from the 1800s, that would be really neat!!!!

Right now I am just starting to learn using Mel Bays banjo book so I don't know any classic banjo tunes yet but I can play some Scott Joplin tunes and I really enjoy playing those as well as bluegrass stuff. Right now I am working on Sunflower Slow Drag and Charlotte Breakdown by Don Reno. I hope I will be good at playing classic banjo tunes soon!

Talk to you soon.


Trapdoor2 said:

Hi Dante, welcome to Classic Banjo!

Classic banjo is a style of playing, much like bluegrass or old-time or whatever. They share the same 5-string banjo basis, so really any 5-string will do a fine job. IOW, you can use your 'bluegrass' banjo if you want. Don't let not having a special "Classic Banjo" keep you from practising.

However, since Classic Banjo was at its height of popularity before 1900, we tend to prefer banjos that at least look like a banjo from that period. That typically means no resonator, nylon strings and a lighter bridge (and no fingerpicks).

Deering makes a number of open-back banjos to support the "old time" clawhammer market...and they can be very good banjos. I think the "Goodtime" starts around $500 or so. Used ones can be a little cheaper. Just about any banjo will need to be specifically set up for nylon strings, of course. I would stay away from the cheapest $99 banjos.

There are lots of vintage banjos out there...but you really need to be an expert to figure out if they can be used or not. They can develop lots of problems as they get older (and they can be fine too...you just need to know what to look for).

So, what Classic Banjo tunes are you working on? There is a huge amount of talent and knowledge here, just ask!

"Wrong" in what way?  Usually when there is a disturbing sound on a banjo it is not really a banjo problem. It is a component problem. Like nut problem, bridge slot problem, loose screw in a tuning button problem, rattling tailpiece problem.  It's like if one tire on a car is a bit flat, the solution is to fill the tire with more air, not to get a new car.  Same thing with banjos. Sure, getting another banjo is Big Fun but if the problem of the first string turns out to be because of a bad string (for instance) if you put another string from the same faulty batch on the new banjo you'll have the same problem.  So step one is to diagnose the problem. The most typical Recording King problem is some of the models have necks that are too slim and the fingerboard too narrow for the average adult hand. A 9 year old hand is unlikely to be troubled by these things. By the way I didn't start playing banjo until I was Really Old. I had just turned 12 when I began.

Dante Flores said:

my first string still sounds wrong. I think maybe I need something adjusted.

Hi Mr. Jody

Thank you for your reply. My banjo teacher gave me a cool bridge and helped my put nylon strings on my recording king but my first string sounds off a little. Maybe I need a new tail piece? I like Deering banjos a lot but I hope I can find an old banjo like the 1890s S.S. Stewart Universal Favorite, I want that one but with original parts. I like the way it sounds in a video I saw, it sounds so warm and old.Do you know of anyone who is selling something like this? OK talk to you soon.



Jody Stecher said:

Hi Dante,

I saw your comment about a banjo sounding better than a Recording King. Any model of Recording King should sound excellent for classic banjo if it is set up right. The bridge, the strings, and the  tailpiece make a surprisingly big difference in sound and response.  Anyway if you take a random look at the videos on this site you will see banjo players playing well on all sorts of banjos, including ones with steel strings and/or resonators. One of the best players here plays nylon strings with picks. All sorts of things are viable.  About Deering: a few years ago I was playing a festival in a trio with Tony Trischka, who plays a Deering these days. Deering banjos had a booth at the festival. We stopped and visited and I played about 30 minutes of classic banjo music on several  Deering banjos. They responded well and sounded good.  A good time was had by all. If you already have a Deering you can use that. Same for Recording King, even for lower models. 

Hi Mr. Jason,

I put nylon strings on my recording king but I don't know why it still sounds bad on the first string. Did you have any trouble making your nylon strings sound good on your Goodtime? My recording king always sounded fine with steel strings but I can't figure our why only one string sounds bad now with nylon strings. Anyhow, how do you like playing the banjo so far? Do you have a teacher? I have a teacher and we are using the Mel Bay banjo book. It feels a lot different than playing bluegrass but I am excited to learn classic banjo now! Talk to you soon.



Jason Cornwell said:

Hi Dante,

My name is Jason and I’m 53 years old!  I too am learning how to play classic banjo, although I’ve never played banjo before (I do play classical guitar).  I’m learning on a Deering Goodtime Americana which I bought as a floor model for under $500.  I then had a local music shop convert it to nylon string.  I’m very happy with it!  

I guess not wrong but more that it wont go into tune correctly. So when I tune the first string to D it sounds fine played open but then as I go up the neck, those high notes are way out of tune even though the string is still in tune when played open.

Jody Stecher said:

"Wrong" in what way?  Usually when there is a disturbing sound on a banjo it is not really a banjo problem. It is a component problem. Like nut problem, bridge slot problem, loose screw in a tuning button problem, rattling tailpiece problem.  It's like if one tire on a car is a bit flat, the solution is to fill the tire with more air, not to get a new car.  Same thing with banjos. Sure, getting another banjo is Big Fun but if the problem of the first string turns out to be because of a bad string (for instance) if you put another string from the same faulty batch on the new banjo you'll have the same problem.  So step one is to diagnose the problem. The most typical Recording King problem is some of the models have necks that are too slim and the fingerboard too narrow for the average adult hand. A 9 year old hand is unlikely to be troubled by these things. By the way I didn't start playing banjo until I was Really Old. I had just turned 12 when I began.

Dante Flores said:

my first string still sounds wrong. I think maybe I need something adjusted.

You might have a "false" string.  If the bridge is in the right place and the other strings are in tune up the neck then that probably means the problem is with the string. Either that or the bridge. What happens when you use a different bridge?  As you go up the neck do the notes get out of tune by being too flat or too sharp?  What brand of string(s) are you using? Do you know the gauge of the first string? (It usually says on the package). 

About old banjos: I agree. They often  have something special about them.

About Universal Favorite: it's a nice banjo. My wife has played one for many years, using nylon strings and with a real animal hide, not a plastic head. But finding one with everything original might be hard. Often the tuners (pegs) have been replaced with geared ones. That doesn't make a difference in sound. Original bridges from the 1890s are hard to find. Anyway a new calfskin or goatskin head will probably make a Universal Favorite sound more like it did in  the 1890s than 
a worn out head from long ago. 


Dante Flores said:

I guess not wrong but more that it wont go into tune correctly. So when I tune the first string to D it sounds fine played open but then as I go up the neck, those high notes are way out of tune even though the string is still in tune when played open.

Jody Stecher said:

"Wrong" in what way?  Usually when there is a disturbing sound on a banjo it is not really a banjo problem. It is a component problem. Like nut problem, bridge slot problem, loose screw in a tuning button problem, rattling tailpiece problem.  It's like if one tire on a car is a bit flat, the solution is to fill the tire with more air, not to get a new car.  Same thing with banjos. Sure, getting another banjo is Big Fun but if the problem of the first string turns out to be because of a bad string (for instance) if you put another string from the same faulty batch on the new banjo you'll have the same problem.  So step one is to diagnose the problem. The most typical Recording King problem is some of the models have necks that are too slim and the fingerboard too narrow for the average adult hand. A 9 year old hand is unlikely to be troubled by these things. By the way I didn't start playing banjo until I was Really Old. I had just turned 12 when I began.

Dante Flores said:

my first string still sounds wrong. I think maybe I need something adjusted.

Dante,

It does sound that you may have a bad string. Setup is very different with nylon and banjos aren't the best at intonation to begin with. I would move treble end of the bridge (angle the bridge) until it will intonate correctly and then mark the head with a pencil for that end. Move the other end until the 4th string intonates correctly (keeping the 1st string end in place using the pencil mark). I don't like to have my bridge angled a huge amount but a little is normal. If it is off a lot, I would tend to blame the string...and replace it.

S.S. Stewart banjos are favorites of mine. You just missed a very large auction with many cool old banjos...but not many Stewarts. A "Universal Favorite" would indeed make a good one. https://bernunzio.com/category/instruments/banjos/5-string-open-back/ Is a good website for vintage banjos...expensive but occasionally they'll have reasonably priced ones. Ebay can be good and bad...if you see something there, let us know here. There are enough knowledgeable people here who can help you with how to tell if it is a good one, a good buy or a pig.

Are you learning by tab or reading notes? Which Mel Bay book are you using?


Dante Flores said:

Thank you for replying to me! Thank you for the banjo information, I do have nylon strings on my recording king and a cool bridge that my banjo teacher gave me but my first string still sounds wrong. I think maybe I need something adjusted. I actually want a cool new old banjo! Like one from the 1800s, that would be really neat!!!!

Right now I am just starting to learn using Mel Bays banjo book so I don't know any classic banjo tunes yet but I can play some Scott Joplin tunes and I really enjoy playing those as well as bluegrass stuff. Right now I am working on Sunflower Slow Drag and Charlotte Breakdown by Don Reno. I hope I will be good at playing classic banjo tunes soon!

Talk to you soon.


Trapdoor2 said:

Hi Dante, welcome to Classic Banjo!

Classic banjo is a style of playing, much like bluegrass or old-time or whatever. They share the same 5-string banjo basis, so really any 5-string will do a fine job. IOW, you can use your 'bluegrass' banjo if you want. Don't let not having a special "Classic Banjo" keep you from practising.

However, since Classic Banjo was at its height of popularity before 1900, we tend to prefer banjos that at least look like a banjo from that period. That typically means no resonator, nylon strings and a lighter bridge (and no fingerpicks).

Deering makes a number of open-back banjos to support the "old time" clawhammer market...and they can be very good banjos. I think the "Goodtime" starts around $500 or so. Used ones can be a little cheaper. Just about any banjo will need to be specifically set up for nylon strings, of course. I would stay away from the cheapest $99 banjos.

There are lots of vintage banjos out there...but you really need to be an expert to figure out if they can be used or not. They can develop lots of problems as they get older (and they can be fine too...you just need to know what to look for).

So, what Classic Banjo tunes are you working on? There is a huge amount of talent and knowledge here, just ask!

Hi Mr jody

I was on vacation so I did not have internet so I could not reply to you. We tryed to move the bridge but that didn't work. we also tryed to find out the string with the information you gave us but nobody could fix it. also on our vacation we met Tony Ellis and even he could not fix the banjo. So we are going to string it up with the bluegrass steel strings again.

-Dante



Jody Stecher said:

You might have a "false" string.  If the bridge is in the right place and the other strings are in tune up the neck then that probably means the problem is with the string. Either that or the bridge. What happens when you use a different bridge?  As you go up the neck do the notes get out of tune by being too flat or too sharp?  What brand of string(s) are you using? Do you know the gauge of the first string? (It usually says on the package). 

About old banjos: I agree. They often  have something special about them.

About Universal Favorite: it's a nice banjo. My wife has played one for many years, using nylon strings and with a real animal hide, not a plastic head. But finding one with everything original might be hard. Often the tuners (pegs) have been replaced with geared ones. That doesn't make a difference in sound. Original bridges from the 1890s are hard to find. Anyway a new calfskin or goatskin head will probably make a Universal Favorite sound more like it did in  the 1890s than 
a worn out head from long ago. 


Dante Flores said:

I guess not wrong but more that it wont go into tune correctly. So when I tune the first string to D it sounds fine played open but then as I go up the neck, those high notes are way out of tune even though the string is still in tune when played open.

Jody Stecher said:

"Wrong" in what way?  Usually when there is a disturbing sound on a banjo it is not really a banjo problem. It is a component problem. Like nut problem, bridge slot problem, loose screw in a tuning button problem, rattling tailpiece problem.  It's like if one tire on a car is a bit flat, the solution is to fill the tire with more air, not to get a new car.  Same thing with banjos. Sure, getting another banjo is Big Fun but if the problem of the first string turns out to be because of a bad string (for instance) if you put another string from the same faulty batch on the new banjo you'll have the same problem.  So step one is to diagnose the problem. The most typical Recording King problem is some of the models have necks that are too slim and the fingerboard too narrow for the average adult hand. A 9 year old hand is unlikely to be troubled by these things. By the way I didn't start playing banjo until I was Really Old. I had just turned 12 when I began.

Dante Flores said:

my first string still sounds wrong. I think maybe I need something adjusted.

What I meant was to replace the first string, not to fix it.  The string package will say what the gauge is. Get a different nylon string of a different brand of the same gauge. You can find just about any gauge of single nylon strings at Strings By Mail.  

https://www.stringsbymail.com

I'm glad you met Tony Ellis. He's a great player and a very friendly person.



Dante Flores said:

Hi Mr jody

I was on vacation so I did not have internet so I could not reply to you. We tryed to move the bridge but that didn't work. we also tryed to find out the string with the information you gave us but nobody could fix it. also on our vacation we met Tony Ellis and even he could not fix the banjo. So we are going to string it up with the bluegrass steel strings again.

-Dante

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