Best Cheap Banjos – Top 5

The banjo is an iconic sound in American music. You can add a nice smile to just about any song by playing the banjo, whether it’s bluegrass, old-time, or folk. The old-timers used to order cheap banjos from mail-order catalogs. Even though times have changed, one thing hasn’t: there are plenty of cheap banjos out there just waiting for you to play them.

If you are a beginner or an expert, you can sound like you spent a lot without spending a lot. Our guide to the best cheap banjos that certainly don’t sound or feel like, well, cheap banjos!

The Banjos Gold Tone AC-1

Best Cheap Banjos - Top 5

Summary: Beginners will love this lightweight, inexpensive banjo

Best for: Anyone looking for a lighter banjo at an affordable price

One of the gold standards when it comes to making quality affordable banjos is Gold Tone. They manufacture their banjos overseas, like many other brands. In contrast to other brands, Gold Tone sets them up in a shop in Florida, so you know that the banjo has been checked by an expert before getting into your hands. This helps avoid some of the major problems associated with cheap banjos, such as intonation, action, and playability.

This Gold Tone banjo’s name is derived from its acoustic composite body. Composites are molded materials that are quite sturdy and can withstand the elements better than wood. In addition, they are lightweight. Anyone who finds other banjos too heavy will appreciate the AC-1’s light weight of less than 4 pounds.

A notable feature of the Gold Tone AC-1 is its slim neck, which makes it very playable. These characteristics, along with the light weight, make this a perfect banjo for beginners or as a travel instrument. The zero glide nut and intonated bridge help keep the intonation more or less accurate up the neck.

A little quieter than the average banjo, the AC-1’s tone is more rounded and less punchy. Gold Tone’s pricier options, such as the Cripple Creek Series, come with a tone ring, which helps with both projection and tone. In spite of this, the AC-1 holds its own quite well for a much lower price. A quieter environment may even be an advantage for those who wish to practice quietly. Overall, this is a great banjo, and it comes from a company that has a great reputation.


  • Compact and lightweight
  • Value for money


  • Tone quieter, less punchy



Deering Goodtime Open Back Banjo

Best Cheap Banjos


Summary: This classic beginner’s banjo is perfect for clawhammer

Best for: Looking for a no-frills banjo from a big-name brand

When it comes to affordable banjos, Deering’s Goodtime Series is legendary. The Goodtime banjo line has been one of the best beginner banjos on the market for a long time, made in the same workshop as Deering’s high-end banjos. Despite their low prices, they prove you don’t have to settle for a cheap banjo.

Deering Goodtime Banjo Demo from Peghead Nation

Even though it’s not quite as light as the AC-1, the Goodtime banjo is still quite light. The neck is adjusted using a steel hoop and a steel coordinator rod. The instrument is almost entirely made of maple. The build quality and comfort of the instrument are excellent. The intonation, action, and playability are excellent up and down the neck.

The Goodtime banjo is a little quieter and less punchy than other banjos due to its lighter construction and lack of tone ring. With a plunks, rounder sound that works well with old-time music, it’s a fantastic claw hammer banjo. Deering has given this and other Goodtime banjos a classic, traditional look that still manages to remain distinctive.

There’s one thing to remember about the Goodtime banjo: it lacks a fretboard. Instead, it has frets built directly into the neck of maple. While this helps to reduce cost and complexity, some players have found that the maple wears out after years of use. In the absence of being able to replace the fretboard, eventually this creates divots between the frets. However, this only happens after years of playing the instrument. Despite this, the Goodtime banjo certainly lasts for a long time.


  • It is light in weight
  • It has a classic look and sound


  • Since there is no separate fretboard, neck wear is harder to fix



Ibanez B200

Best Banjos


Summary: A banjo with a resonator at an open-back price

Best for: Someone who is looking for an affordable bluegrass banjo

The first thing you’ll notice about the Ibanez B200 is its resonator on the back. Cheap banjos tend to have an open back, which is great for folk and old-time music, but not as good for bluegrass. The tone of the B200 is delivered by its resonator, and it is a very loud banjo! One of your best options on the market is the B200 if you’re searching for a cheap resonator banjo.

The Ibanez B200 also has a few other features that aren’t usually found on a cheap banjo. The neck and headstock have beautiful inlays. The metal armrest has a nice design etched into it. Even though they don’t necessarily make it sound better, they look pretty cool!

On the other hand, from a tonal perspective, it features a tone ring that sits just under the head. The tone ring makes the banjo sound punchier, clearer, and louder. Usually, bluegrass players prefer cheap banjos with tone rings because they produce a bright, ringing sound. If you are looking to start playing bluegrass, the Ibanez B200 is a great banjo at a great price.

Ibanez B-200 Banjo Demo – Connors Music

The tone ring and the resonator make the Ibanez B200 a very heavy banjo. The lack of a strap may make it difficult for some people to hold it, so it’s highly recommended. If you plan to travel with your banjo, or just want to make it lighter, you can always remove the resonator. Because most of the parts are easily removed/replaceable, the B200 is a great instrument for tinkering. It is possible to update certain components during the building process to create the banjo of your dreams.


  • Resonator banjo at a low price
  • Easy to customize


  • With the resonator on, it is very heavy


Oscar Schmidt OB5

Cheap Banjos

Summary: Featuring a customizable sound, this is a great value choice

Best for: Beginners who want to experiment with multiple styles

Over 100 years ago, Oscar Schmidt began making banjos, and has always been a trusted name in string instruments. It is a remarkable bargain for a resonator banjo, and along with the Ibanez B200, is a good choice for anyone interested in bluegrass-style picking.

Oscar Schmidt OB5 does not feature a tone ring like the Ibanez B200, but it still produces a wonderful, bright tone. The reason for this is the 30 brackets around the rim, which is more than the usual 16-24 brackets you’ll find on cheap banjos. With more brackets, the tension across the head is more even, improving tone and projection.

This banjo is loud and ringing when the resonator is on. However, without the resonator, as you can see in the video below, it turns into a mellow, plucky banjo, which is perfect for claw hammer. The banjo is recommended for bluegrass beginners, but if you’re unsure of which style you prefer, this is a good tool for experimenting.

Oscar Schmidt OB5 Beginner Banjo Review – Tom Kostelac

When the resonator is on, it’s not as heavy as an Ibanez B200, and it’s surprisingly light for an open back banjo. If you’re planning on traveling, popping off the back makes the OB5 a good travel banjo. The instrument is very versatile and will work for any beginner.


  • Resonator can be easily removed
  • Tone range that can be adjusted


  • Ibanez B200 is not quite as loud or bright


Recording King RKOH-05 Dirty Thirties Open Back Banjo



Summary: This classic old-time banjo has a vintage look and sound

Best for: The owner of a pre-war banjo is looking for a cheap modern replacement

Recording King’s Dirty Thirties line pays homage to some of the classic instruments of the pre-war era. People bought these instruments from mail-order catalogs and had them shipped out to the mountain hollers and rural farms throughout the country. Thanks to the working-class musicians who bought them, they ended up on countless blues and old-time archival recordings.

The Recording King Dirty Thirties open back banjo is essentially a replica of a cheap banjo from the 1930s, with some modern upgrades. One of them is a truss rod to keep the neck straight and adjust the action. Another major improvement is the geared, guitar-style tuners, which work a lot better than the old friction pegs.

However, the Dirty Thirties open back has a classic look and sound that immediately evokes scratchy claw hammer recordings. The Dirty Thirties banjo’s plunk, mellow tone is ideal for old-time playing. While it’s less punchy and ringing than bluegrass players might prefer, Recording King also has a resonator model better suited to Scruggs-style playing, the Dirty Thirties RKH-05.

As with the banjos it’s inspired by, the Dirty Thirties open back is built tough, and would make a great travel banjo. The maple neck and multi-ply rim provide a lot of strength, and the nickel-plated hardware resists corrosion. It is based on banjos that had to survive both the heat and humidity of the South as well as the cold, dry air of the mountains. As with its predecessors, Recording King has done everything it could to ensure these will last.


  • Construction of very high quality
  • The look and sound of vintage


  • Bluegrass picking is not as well suited to this instrument

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