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Deering Goodtime: Best Banjo For Beginners?
I have been researching and writing about quality stringed instruments for sometime now and was recently asked what I thought was the best banjo for a beginner. I said that without a doubt, it's the Deering Goodtime 5-String Banjo. (If you are giving one as a gift, or don't want to spend the $400 for a Deering, the best selling is a superb alternative at less than half the cost of the Deering). You can learn more about how to choose a good banjo on my 5-String Banjo 24 Bracket with Closed Solid Back and Geared 5th Tuner By Jameson GuitarsBanjo Buying Guide.
Why the Deering Goodtime? First, it's the only quality banjo that is made entirely in America by a small family owned company with a solid history of banjo making, reliability and customer service. Secondly, it's got all the key elements you should look for in a well made banjo, whether it's for a beginner or a performer. Last, their banjos sound like others that cost twice as much...I have read and heard that many times by actual musicians.
The Goodtime is a true sounding banjo, that will last a very long time and be good enough for that beginner to play as he or she grows in ability. Can you get a decent banjo that cost less? Sure, and I will recommend one of those too, but first let's look at what makes a good banjo, like a Deering.
What To Look For In A Good Banjo Brand
High quality metals. Poor metal work on a banjo often gives a feedback sound that can interfere with the sound, often producing a hum or vibration. They can also rust or degrade with humidity, and general exposure to the elements.
High quality woods. Maple is the best wood, being the hardest and most durable for stability. Fret boards are generally made of rosewood.
An adjustable stress rod made of quality metal. The stress rod itself is designed to keep the banjo head stable and adjusts the string clearance.
A slim hardwood neck (maple is best) for ease of playing and durability.
It should not be hard to press the strings on the fretboard, or cause pain after a decent interval of playing and gaining finger callus. (You can change the strings to those that are easier to press down on, buy the way.)
A strong, stable, adjustable tailpiece for tonal (sharpness/mellowing) sound control.
A tuning gear on the 5th string. All tuning gears should be of top quality metal, and designed to turn easily yet hold the tension so you are not having to re-tune the strings frequently.
A strong rim that will withstand warping.
So, those are the basics you are looking for, and all are found in the Deering Goodtime banjo. Now, the second question might be, open backed banjo head, or closed? (the back cover is called a resonator, which enhances the sound volume and tone). Generally, the bluegrass player wants a resonator and those who play clawhammer style want an open backed banjo. But, it's not a hard and fast rule, and I have heard bluegrass sounding very nice indeed with an open back. It really is up to the individual player, and nearly all resonator covers are easily removed. Resonator backed banjos usually cost more, but my second buyers choice for you has cover, and is very economically priced. If you want to go to a Deering resonator, remember while it costs more, it has the value of a Deering, ships free and the cover can always be removed.
This closed back banjo by Jameson Guitars is the best selling banjo through Amazon. Over a hundred reviews and a 5 star rating. It's about a third (keeps dropping in price) the cost of the Deering, but is a solid choice for a beginner and those on a tighter budget. (Note: at the time I wrote this, the Deering shipped for free, but this one did not, so you also need to take that into account in your buying decision).