The banjo is a staple string instrument in genres spanning American folk, bluegrass and country to Caribbean biguine, calypso and mento.
Since banjos are such beloved instruments, it comes as no surprise that there are plenty of options to choose from on the market. This isn't only true of individual instruments but also of solo luthiers and larger brands.
Of course, the brand is far from the most important aspect of an instrument, though it's still worth considering for general knowledge and judgement. In this article, I’ll share my take on the top banjo brands.
Though obviously subjective and prone to biases, I’ve done my best to list out these brands based on the following metrics (in no particular order):
- Company reputation
- Performance of the banjos
- Longevity of the banjos
- Variety of banjos available
- Accessibility of the banjos (how easy they are to find/buy)
- The company must currently be in operation
With all that being said, let’s list out the brands.
The top 11 best banjo brands are:
Let’s get into each of these brands in greater detail and explain why they belong in the top 11 best banjo brands. I’ll share their country of origin, a bit of history, an example of a notable banjo, and a link to their official website.
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Click here to return to My New Microphone’s articles on musical equipment brands/manufacturers.
During the 1970s, Wayne and Robyn made a living as folk musicians travelling and earning whatever music provided. By 1978, they decided to open their first store, in which they saw the start and development of countless musical careers.
Still, the big opportunity for the couple came when Wayne, hearing the complaints of incoming musicians, designed and built the first commercial travel banjo. Sales soared, and Gold Tone was officially born. Gold Tone’s banjos not only sound amazing, but they are full of innovations only someone with the sensitivity of a musician and the experience of a builder can bring to the design.
Notable banjo: Gold Tone OB-300: Orange Blossom Banjo “The Gold-Plated Beauty” (link to check the price at Gold Tone)
The name “the gold-plated beauty” is not, by any means, a coincidence. On the contrary, it is a great nickname for a banjo that looks as amazing as it plays. The snap of the ebony fretboard and the curly maple neck are perfect to cut through any band. Also, the tree of life inlay in mother of pearl and abalone is a handmade masterwork. Finally, the engraved golden rim is an elite-level detail for this elite-level banjo that ships with a hardshell case.
Official website: goldtonemusicgroup.com/goldtone
Wayne and Robyn Rogers founded Gold Tone in 1993. Currently, the company’s headquarters are in Titusville, Florida, USA.
Gold Tone is featured in other top brand articles at My New Microphone. Check out these articles here!
Deering is a company that accumulates, among all the experts working at the Spring Valley facility, over 270 years of combined banjo-building experience. Moreover, the Deering Company has recently surpassed the 100,000 banjos mark, delivering them to happy customers around the world.
Deering is still a family-run company that created a reputation for considering craftsmen, clients, dealers, and suppliers as part of the family. Thus, the customer experience matches the quality of the instruments.
Notable banjo: Deering Golden Era 5-String Banjo (link to check the price at Deering Banjos)
This banjo honours the great tradition of maple-made bluegrass banjos by utilizing the same materials originals were made from in the early 20th century. Indeed, this banjo offers the same features, design, and weight as an original 1930s instrument. Moreover, the traditional hearts & flowers pattern utilized for the inlay is the quintessential, era-correct adornment for an instrument that plays, feels, and sounds like an original. Finally, the bass notes sound strong, while the higher notes sound crisp and clear, cutting through any mix.
Official website: deeringbanjos.com
Greg and Janet Deering founded the company in 1975. Currently, headquarters are in Spring Valley, California, USA.
Due to the high demand for bluegrass instruments, the SHS Corporation established Morgan Monroe to offer quality instruments at competitive prices. Indeed, the combination of state-of-the-art laser CNC technology with hand-finished details at an affordable price proved a competitive advantage.
As a result, the company offers a varied catalogue with instruments for players at any playing level, from the affordable student-oriented banjos to the elite-level, lifetime-guaranteed Morgan Monroe models. If you haven’t already, trying a Morgan Monroe before buying is a must.
Notable banjo: Morgan Monroe Duelington Deluxe Banjo (link to check the price at Guitar Center)
With a South American mahogany neck and resonator, a 3-ply maple rim, and a bell brass tone ring, this banjo exudes classical tones and shines on classy details. For example, the mother of pearl inlays in a classical bow-tie marker style over the ebonized woods of the fretboard makes it an eye-catcher. In the same vein, the flamed resonator is a joy to the eye—finally, the instrument ships out with a lifetime guarantee for the happy owner.
Official website: morganmonroe.net
Parent company: SHS Corporation
Morgan Monroe was established by the SHS Corporation in the late 90s. Currently, the company’s headquarters are in Indianapolis, Indiana, USA.
It took less than 25 years for this company to become one of the largest musical instrument manufacturers in the world. Indeed, by the early 1900s, they had 5 manufacturing facilities in Europe and one in the USA.
By 1978, over a century after it was founded, it was bought by Washburn. The new management decided to use the Oscar Schmidt tradition, heritage, and name in the market to sell affordable, great-sounding instruments for beginners worldwide.
Notable banjo: Oscar Schmidt OB5E (link to check the price on Amazon)
With a 30-caster aluminum tone ring and a mahogany resonator, the only beginner-oriented thing about this banjo is the price tag. Furthermore, this model comes equipped with a passive pickup so that you can plug in and play on any stage. Finally, the Remo head and the geared 5th string tuner make it a great candidate for any player.
Official website: oscarschmidt.com
Oscar & Otto Schmidt founded Oscar Schmidt in 1871. Currently, the company’s headquarters are in Jersey City, New Jersey, USA.
Oscar Schmidt is featured in other top brand articles at My New Microphone. Check out these articles here!
Steve Huber is not only a sought-after banjo performer, connoisseur, collector, and repairman; he is also a mechanical engineer. His knowledge in that field and his obsessive attention to detail fueled his curiosity about the pre-war banjos and their unique sound.
After doing in-depth research, he could replicate tone ring alloy perfectly and thus, achieve a similar tone to that of the sought-after pre-war models. Nowadays, 16 years after quitting his job and taking a leap of faith manufacturing banjos under his name, he has sold over 1,600 of them to elite players worldwide. Moreover, for many, Huber is the top of the crop in bluegrass banjos.
Notable banjo: Huber Roanoke Truetone (link to check the price at Huber Banjos)
Walnut is a tonewood that allows instruments to sound sweet while remaining focused and clear throughout the spectrum. In this vein, this Huber model with a walnut resonator and neck oozes sweetness, punch, clarity, and definition. Moreover, that combination adds to Huber’s own HR-30 tone ring. As a result, you’ll be in bluegrass heaven from the first note. Finally, the simple yet elegant inlays give it a classy look that matches its sounds.
Official website: huberbanjos.com
Steve Huber founded the company in 2006. Currently, the headquarters are in Hendersonville, Tennessee, USA.
Recording King became one of the go-to brands for musicians the size of Elvis Presley during the golden years of instrument manufacturing in the USA. Indeed, what Montgomery Ward had started in his house became a synonym for quality and performance.
Recording King didn’t survive WWII and was discontinued in the 1940s. It was given a new life by The Music Link in 2007, respecting all designs. Furthermore, the new owners even created replicas of pre-WWII parts to make the handmade instruments era-correct.
Notable banjo: Recording King Elite Flying Eagle (link to check the price at Woodwind Brasswind)
Mahogany resonators and necks give banjos a different low-end and depth to every note. This is because the tonewood oozes tone in those frequencies. Still, the ebony fretboard provides the necessary snap for those clear, defined, singing highs, and the 20-hole bell brass tone ring does the rest. This is a serious banjo for professional players to shine on any stage due to the perfect blend of materials. Finally, it ships inside a deluxe hardshell case, so you can gig non-stop with it and keep it in top shape at all times.
Official website: recordingking.com
Montgomery Ward founded Recording King in 1930. Currently, the company’s headquarters are in Hayward, California, USA.
Recording King is featured in other top brand articles at My New Microphone. Check out these articles here!
Rob Bishline has been a banjo fanatic since he was 13 years old. Indeed, he grew up playing, repairing, teaching, and building banjos. That passion and commitment went on for several decades to become the center of his life. Thus, in 2005 he joined forces with fellow banjo lovers and created a company, a vessel to pour all his talent and passion into and give the world next-level banjos at affordable prices.
Nowadays, it is possible to order custom-made models from the company without breaking the bank. Moreover, Rob’s passion and experience can work wonders in delivering perfectly-shaped necks even for the most demanding players.
Notable banjo: Bishline Midnight Moon Banjo (link to check the price at Elderly Instruments)
This banjo is closer to a collector’s piece that could be hanging in an art museum than to an instrument to be played night after night. That being said, this banjo sounds, plays, and delivers like the elite-level instrument it is. Still, the black-stained maple used for the resonance box and the neck has an almost 3-d quality, which resembles the night in all its glory.
Also, the ebony fretboard with constellation inlays plays its part in the same concept. Opposite that, the marquetry headstock and koa binding bring a yellowish colour to the mix that transforms this banjo into a true work of art. This is a superb candidate for those looking for a next-level instrument in every aspect, including the looks.
Official website: bishlinebanjos.com
Rob Bishline, Andy Oatman, and Frank Davenport founded Bishline banjos in 2005. Currently, the headquarters are in Tulsa, Oklahoma, USA.
Ome is the second company Chuck founded to make the best banjos in the world. That, and no other, was his quest since the beginning. Thus, to fulfill that goal, he got together a team of experts and founded his dream company that builds every instrument from scratch, hand-picking every part.
Nowadays, after over six decades of success, Ome is still a family-owned company passing the secrets to building a perfect instrument from one generation to the next. As a result, Ome banjos are sought after by elite-level players. Try one today and feel the difference.
Notable banjo: Ome Oracle (link to check the price at Banjo Studio)
This banjo belongs to Ome’s “professional series,” which means it is an instrument created to satisfy the demand of the players who often gig on the most demanding stages. To begin with, the player’s choice of walnut, mahogany, or curly maple changes the tone and visuals drastically. Also, the triple Megatone Flathead tonerings will satisfy even the most demanding player. Finally, it ships with a deluxe hardshell case and a limited lifetime warranty.
Official website: omebanjos.com
Ome was founded by Chuck Ogsbury in 1960. Currently, headquarters are in Boulder, Colorado, USA.
Although most of us associate Ibanez with some of the most technologically-advanced guitars to satisfy the demands of some of the most outrageously virtuous players in the world, the brand started making acoustic instruments.
During those years, the company was able to successfully blend state-of-the-art technology and Japanese precision with the quintessential hand-making techniques of the past. As a result, every Ibanez banjo you pick up is the best of both worlds.
Notable banjo: Ibanez B300 (link to check the price at Sweetwater)
With an Okoume neck, walnut back and sides, and a purpleheart fretboard, this banjo sounds and plays like a classic banjo should. Moreover, the inlays on the fretboard and the body give it a classy look perfect for a flagship instrument. In the same vein, the flat radius allows for low action and super-comfortable playing. Finally, the purpleheart + maple bridge and purpleheart saddle give it tone for days.
Official website: ibanez.com
Ibanez was established in 1957 by Hoshino Gakki. Currently, the headquarters are in Nagoya, Aichi, Japan.
Ibanez is featured in other top brand articles at My New Microphone. Check out these articles here!
Fender, we could say, is paramount to the history of music as we know it. Indeed, from supplying the world with the road-worthy, country music favourite telecasters to the world’s best-selling guitar in history, the Stratocaster, to a plethora of acoustic and hybrid instruments, Fender has seen more stages than any other musical instrument brand has.
Banjos couldn’t go missing from such a rich catalogue and are not exempt from the legendary quality that made the brand the go-to choice for generations of elite players in all music styles.
Notable banjo: Fender PB-180E (link to check the price at Sam Ash)
Open-back banjos like this one are vibrant and sound full and powerful. This model by Fender is built using a Remo Fyberskin drum head over a mahogany-made body and neck. Also, this is an electroacoustic instrument that handles the plugged-in venues with a Fishman pickup. Finally, it comes with a dedicated fender gig bag that is great for taking it everywhere, keeping it safe and sound.
Official website: fender.com
Clarence Leonidas Fender founded the company in 1946. Currently, the company’s headquarters are in Los Angeles, California, USA.
Fender is featured in other top brand articles at My New Microphone. Check out these articles here!
Although most of us are familiar with post-Gibson Epiphone models, it’s a brand with 150 years of tradition, heritage, and evolving craftsmanship quality. Moreover, by the time Gibson bought Epiphone, it was its main competitor in the archtop guitar and bluegrass instruments business.
The acquisition provided Epiphone access to another century worth of instrument-making experience and quality. Moreover, that same tradition, commitment to excellence, and obsessive attention to detail make every Epiphone banjo worth checking out.
Notable banjo: Epiphone MB-100 (link to check the price at Sweetwater)
This is the perfect first banjo for someone willing to hone their craft and become proficient banjo players. The mahogany-made sides and neck make it a great-sounding instrument. Also, the Remo head and the open back make it a vibrant, great-sounding banjo with a wide-open tone. Finally, the rosewood fingerboard gives just enough sweetness to the tone so it can excel in any scenario.
Official website: epiphone.com
Epiphone was founded by Anastasios Stathopoulos in 1873. Currently, the company’s headquarters are in Queens, New York, USA.