Plectrum banjos are quickly becoming a popular choice for folk and bluegrass players. They offer the bright, penetrating sound that you want in those styles of music, while still being easy to play.
In this blog post, we’ll take a look at some of the best plectrum banjos on the market today. Whether you’re just starting out or you’re a seasoned player, there’s sure to be a model here that’s perfect for you!
So without further ado, let’s get started!
Top 4 Plectrum Banjos
The Cripple Creek Plectrum has a mid-range price but offers an incredible amount of bang for your buck.
Made of natural-colored maple, with black binding on the rim and resonator, it’s an attractive, functional instrument with excellent workmanship and design – a ‘proper’ plectrum banjo that will work both for beginners and professionals.
It features a removable resonator, a brass tone ring, dual coordinator rods, and nice, low action for the beginner player.
These features give it a bright, loud sound that is crisp and clear enough to allow you to hear each of the four strings. It also holds its tune very well and is comparatively light and easy to use.
The only minor issue with this banjo is that the bridge is slightly wider than that usually found on a plectrum banjo, meaning the strings are wider apart – though you can easily replace the bridge if this annoys you.
The finish on this model is quite plain, with an unbound fingerboard, and it does not come with a gig bag – which needs to be purchased separately.
The Rover Plectrum Open Back banjo is a great entry-level model that provides value for money. It features a composite rim, and an exquisite mahogany neck with East Indian Rosewood fingerboard, dual tension rods, and a Vega-style armrest.
A very solid and durable model, its designed for continued performance, low maintenance and to last a lifetime. The armrest, lightweight, and well set-up neck makes the longer length easier to play with.
The accurate fretting and guitar-style tuners make it a good option for the beginner musician. Once tuned, it has a great, round tone.
This banjo does not come with a resonator, meaning it does not have the same volume or depth of sound. This shouldn’t affect you much unless you need to play this banjo professionally.
It also uses a composite material on the rim, instead of the traditional wood, which does affect the quality of the sound. However, as this model is an open-back anyway, it doesn’t make as much difference.
The Deering Sierra Plectrum Banjo is the instrument for you if you want a top-of-the-range, superb quality instrument.
Deering banjos are hand-constructed by specialists in America, and this shows in their exquisite workmanship and attention to detail. However, like all Deering banjos, this model has a price tag to match its high quality.
The Sierra features a body of solid mahogany wood, giving it a richer, mellower sound than a maple body.
This, combined with the violin-grade maple rim and bell bronze tone ring gives this banjo a beautiful, rich, sweet resonance and very clear sound that is of professional-level quality.
It’s a very attractive banjo – though not overly ornate, with a satiny hardwood finish, and pearl inlay detailing up the frets on the neck. It also features top-line planetary tuners, a fully adjustable truss rod, and a one-piece flange.
The playability and setup on this model are great, with perfect intonation all the way up to the 22nd fret, a nice midpoint action, an easy tuning process, and a slim, ‘fast’ neck.
This instrument is a very solid and durable one, but this also means it is quite heavy, weighing in at 11 pounds. If you are new to the banjo, this means it may be difficult for you to use initially.
The Gold Tone PS-250 Plectrum Banjo is a good mid-range model that gives you great value for money. Made of maple and mahogany, with a bell brass tone ring, it has a bright, strong sound, with clarity between each note and plenty of punch and sustain.
It has the perfect sound profile for Dixieland Jazz.
This model has a pretty, vintage look, with a rosewood fingerboard with hearts and flower inlay and a deep frown color. It’s a very reliable model that wears well over time. It has a solid tailpiece and one-piece flange that contributes to this sturdy dependability.
On the downside, this model is quite heavy, at 12 pounds, and so may not be suitable if you aren’t accustomed to an instrument of this weight.
It also has quite a bulky neck, which is a detriment for players who prefer a fast action. Its tuners are guitar-style instead of planetary and work well, except for the plastic parts on them which are prone to cracking.
Buying Guide – How To Choose a Plectrum Banjo
What Is a Plectrum Banjo?
A plectrum banjo is a four-string banjo that has the dimensions of the classic 5 string banjo rather than those of a tenor – the other type of four-string banjo. A tenor banjo has a shorter neck and slightly different dimensions and is mostly used for Celtic or Folk music.
A plectrum banjo has a longer neck – usually around 22 frets on the neck and a scale length of 26 to 28 inches. It has the same scale length, fret count, head size, and string type as the 5-string, and the only major difference between the two is the 5th drone string is removed.
Plectrum refers to the tool often used to play this model of banjo – a striking implement like a pick.
Sound/What Type Of Music Can You Play?
The plectrum banjo is typically associated with Jazz or dance music. The fifth string – the drone string – was originally removed from this instrument because musicians wanted a louder, more rhythmic sound.
It is typically played with a down-strumming motion – one of the easier types of banjo techniques to learn.
All of this makes it ideal for emulating the early style of jazz music, such as that from the 1920s – as they create that distinctive, lively, and rhythmic sound.
A plectrum banjo typically comes tuned in CGBD, which is the same as the standard ‘Dropped C’ tuning of a five-string banjo, only with the fifth string missing. This tuning allows you to play most five-string banjo tunes on the plectrum banjo with ease and little moderation.
This model can also be tuned ‘Chicago Style’ however, which is the same as the top 4 strings of a standard guitar – DGBE. This is ideal for guitar players who want an easy crossover instrument.
FAQ – Frequently Asked Questions
Do you play a plectrum banjo like a 5-string?
While the plectrum and 5-string banjos share a similar bright sound and are often used for the same songs and type of music, they aren’t necessarily played the same. A five-string is often played in the finger-picking method, whereas a plectrum banjo is usually strummed with a flat pick – a plectrum – used to pluck the strings.
What’s the difference between a plectrum banjo and a tenor banjo?
A tenor banjo has a shorter neck than a plectrum banjo and a lowered tuning, which creates a deeper, louder sound. A tenor banjo is most associated with traditional Irish or folk music, whereas a plectrum banjo is with early Jazz.