Banjo For Beginners

The ultimate guide to banjo for beginners.

Banjo Anatomy

“Hey now. I want to learn how to play the banjo, not do surgery on it.” Paul, before learning banjo.

Learn from the mistakes of the past Paul. That way when you are looking for a banjo with a tone ring you know where said ring is. Lets start from the top. I will be using my 5 string banjo as an example.

Peghead(Head, Headstock, top, Tuner home): The peghead is where 4 of the 5 tuners are. Some banjos are special and have 5 tuners on their peghead (with tunneled 5th string, more on that later) or only 4 tuners total (tenor banjos). Generally banjo companies will have a special design on the peghead to show their craftsmanship.

Tuners: These help tune the instrument. Banjos have a sort of stigma that they are out of tune (similar to the sentiment that everyone plays guitar) so to kill this sometimes deserved reputation, utilize the tuners. You can either tune by ear or by machine (More on this later)

Nut (mentor the the strings): The nut is what guides the strings down the neck. Generally nuts are made of harder material, such as ebony, bone, or ivory (very cheap banjos may have this made out of plastic, more on that later).

Neck: The neck is what makes the banjo playable. It has frets which are spaced by some process that you can read more about here. Frets will need to be replaced eventually once they get worn down too much.

Strings: Strings were originally made of cat gut. Some historical banjo players use synthetic strings to simulate this, but a large majority use metal string. Strings will need replacing every 1-6 months. You can of course leave your strings on until they break, but banjo strings are relatively cheap and fairly easy to replace (more on strings in general later)

Head (proverbial belly of the banjo): The head is what makes the banjo sing. Or yodel. Originally banjo heads were made of animal skin stretched over a gourd. Nowaday banjo heads are generally made out of synthetic materials with a frosted top.

Bridge: The bridge is the school to the nuts mentorship of the strings. Thats a complex metaphor, but all you need to know is that the bridge holds the strings in place. There are lots of different bridges to look at, but I would advise that a beginner first get a solid grip on the banjo before replacing the stock bridge. Bridges are generally made of a top (hard material such as ebony or rosewood) and a bottom/Frame (softer material, such as maple or birch). One last note; bridges are free-floating, meaning that there is nothing anchoring the bridge to the head. Only string pressure keeps the bridge in its location.

Resonator (Pot, The proverbial back of the banjo): The resonator adds a lot of volume to the banjo. Open back banjos do not have a pot. You should be able to remove the resonator, but like the bridge I would leave it be until you get a solid grip on the banjo.

Rim: A generally metal circle that holds the banjo together.

Tail Piece: The tail piece holds the strings. These are sometimes adjustable.

Truss Rod: The truss rod is found in most nicer banjos. The truss rod keeps the neck straight and is adjustable. DO NOT play with the truss rod unless you really are comfortable with it. You can break your banjo if the truss rod isn’t adjusted properly.

Tone Ring: Tone rings are also found in most nicer banjos. The tone ring helps the sound reverberate and provides a better sound overall.

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