The banjo has gotten a lot of well-deserved attention recently, as more and more players trade six strings for four or five. While you won’t find banjos for sale on every street corner, there are plenty of places to get your fix, both online and in person. If you’re just starting out, brands like Deering, Gold Tone, and Recording King build affordable banjos that still sound great. And once you’re ready to upgrade, there are dozens of high-end makers who have turned banjo making into an art form.
Whatever you’re looking for, it’s easier than ever to get a banjo in your hands. Once you do, you can play along with Grandpa Jones and proudly proclaim, “The Banjo Am The Instrument For Me!”
Where To Find New Banjos For Sale
While banjos are pretty popular nowadays, you still won’t find as many for sale in your local shop as you’d probably like. If you do, it’ll probably be entry-level models like Deering’s Goodtime series or Gold Tone’s Cripple Creek series. If you can try before you buy, it’s highly recommended. You never know quite how a banjo will play or sound until you hold it in your hands.
If your local options are limited, there are still plenty of great places where you can find banjos for sale online. Some of them are the big name online retailers you probably already shop at. Some of them are smaller specialty shops. While they often sell the same banjos, there can be a huge difference in your experience between the big and small operations. A lot of that comes down to how knowledgable the staff is about the banjo. Smaller shops tend to have more specific expertise, which can be a big plus. Conversely, bigger shops can often sell at a lower price.
When you’re buying a banjo, though, price isn’t everything. You want to make sure that your instrument will sound as good as it can when you take it out of the box. For that, you’ll want to get it set up properly.
Having Your New Banjo Set Up
A good set-up can make or break a banjo. A cheap banjo that is set up well can play and sound great. The most expensive banjo in the world, if set up poorly, will be a pain to play and hear. Action, intonation, volume, and tone are all affected by the way the banjo is set up.
If you buy your banjo directly from the maker, it should come set up. The same goes for specialty shops like Elderly Instruments or the Music Emporium. The people there know banjos inside and out, and will know exactly how they should play and sound. By the time a banjo goes out their doors, it will have been looked over and played by at least one expert.
Things get a little trickier when you’re buying from a big online retailer like Amazon. Generally speaking, mass-produced banjos don’t get much of a set up when they leave the factory. They the sit in a warehouse for a while, before being shipped to your door. There’s a very real possibility that no one will have actually checked out your banjo at all before you open the package.
The good news is that you can get it set up after the fact by bringing it to a local shop or luthier. Costs will vary, but a set-up usually runs anywhere from $50-120. If you’re comparing the prices of the same banjo at different shops, keep that figure in mind. You may find that it’s cheaper overall to buy from a shop that will set it up than from a slightly cheaper one that won’t.
These are the four most popular online retailers for musical instruments of all stripes. While all four have a much wider selection of guitars and related accessories than they do banjos, they do carry most of the major factory brands. If you’re looking for an entry-level banjo like the Deering Goodtime, you’ll probably find the lowest price on one of these sites.
That being said, the lowest price isn’t always the best one. As mentioned above, a good set-up is very important. None of these retailers set up your banjo before sending it out, so you may end up spending more on one. Their return policies are usually fairly good, but you won’t get much advice from them other than “send it back.” A smaller, more specialized seller will be able to give much more detailed advice about your banjo, and may be able to help you fix small issues without having to send the whole thing back.
Elderly has been selling instruments since 1972 and has a great selection of banjos. They range from entry level all the way through high-end models. Elderly also carries used instruments, and often has vintage banjos for sale. At the time I’m writing this, the oldest banjo they have for sale is from 1892! The staff are very knowledgeable, and instruments get a good inspection and set-up before shipping out. If you’re near Lansing, Michigan, you can check out their showroom to try out some banjos yourself.
The Music Emporium specializes in high-end acoustic instruments, mainly banjos, mandolins, and guitars. They have a limited selection of entry-level instruments for sale, and have the expertise to help you pick out a great first banjo. Their real business, though, is in higher-end models. They have a great selection of new banjos from the likes of Bart Reiter, Pisgah, Rickard, and more. Plus, some very neat vintage instruments turn up in their shop from time to time. Their showroom is in Lexington, Massachusetts, just outside Boston. Like Elderly, your new banjo will get an expert inspection and set-up before heading your way.
Banjo.com is based out of Alabama, and as the name suggests, it’s entirely dedicated to the banjo. They carry most of the big name brands like Deering, Recording King, Vega, and Nechville. They also have pretty much any type of banjo accessory you can think of, including a “banjo mute” that has probably saved a lot of marriages. Whether you’re a first-time banjo buyer or looking for an upgrade to your current instrument, you’ll almost certainly find something for sale that will catch your eye.
Based in Philadelphia, Vintage Instruments does indeed have a lot of great old banjos for sale. And not just the usual stuff, either. If you’re looking for something off the beaten path, like a 19th century fretless banjo or a Seeger-style longneck, they’re a great place to look. In addition to their vintage collection, they have many new banjos for sale, from entry level Deerings and Gold Tones to higher end OMEs. They have a physical store to visit if you’re near Philly, and they can answer any and all banjo-related questions you might have.
Where To Find Used Banjos For Sale
You can get a great deal on a used banjo. You can also spend a lot of money on something that you can’t play. Be careful when buying used, because there are banjos in just about every condition imaginable for sale out there.
The best person to buy from is another player. They’ll instantly know whether or not the banjo is playable, set up correctly, or has any major problems. Banjo Hangout is a great place to meet and talk to fellow banjo players, and you’ll find some great “for sale” listings up on the site. Other shops, like the Bedford Banjo Shop and Jake Wildwood’s site, are great for finding a vintage banjo that has been restored by an expert. The important thing is to be able to trust the person who you’re buying from.
If you’re look for something used, your first thought is probably to go to eBay. It certainly does have a lot of used banjos up for sale, and you can get a good deal if you know what to look for. But it’s also important to keep in mind that often, the sellers themselves don’t know much about the instrument they’re selling. Don’t be afraid to ask questions, and request pictures, videos, and/or recordings to make sure that the banjo is in good playable condition. If the seller is a banjo player or knowledgeable about banjos, they will usually oblige. If not, you should think long and hard about spending your money on an instrument that may not be usable.
The Banjo Hangout is the largest online community of banjo players. It has a very active discussion forum, which is broken down into various styles. If you have any questions about banjos or banjo playing, a search will probably turn up your answer. If not, ask away and one of the knowledgeable posters will no doubt respond. Before you decide on what you’re going to buy, it’s worth reading the reviews of whatever you have on your mind. And once you’ve decided, there’s a used banjo marketplace where fellow players buy and sell. If the banjo you want isn’t listed for sale, putting up a “want to buy” post will often turn something up.
Jake Wildwod deals almost exclusively in vintage instruments. He usually has a number of pre-World War II banjos for sale, many of which he has repaired and restored himself. He is very responsive to questions, and frequently blogs about the banjos he works on. These posts give you a sense of the work he’s done, and usually include a video or sound sample along with pictures. He’s also known for some unique modifications, and is more than willing to give you an estimate any oddball ideas you may have. Check out this Frankenstein electric banjolele and this electrified Kay 5-string for inspiration!
The Bedford Banjo shop does have new entry-level banjos for sale from Deering, Savannah, and Gold Tone. Their used selection is much better, though, and runs the gamut from high-end vintage to affordable and relatively new. They’re based in south-central Pennsylvania, so the store itself is a little tricky to get to. Don’t worry, though, because they’ll ship anywhere in the continental US (ask about any other locations, they may do that as well).