It’s got a unique, bright sound, and yet is one of the most versatile instruments available.
In the last hundred years, it has been used in a vast variety of genres from traditional jazz to Irish folk, Bluegrass, and even in Indie rock, classical music, and polka.
In this article, you are going to learn what the best tenor banjo is for your needs and the skill level you’re at.
8 Best Tenor Banjos
#1 Best Overall – Deering Goodtime 17 Fret Banjo
The Deering Goodtime 17 Fret is a pricier, but great value-for-money banjo option from a brand with a reputation for quality.
Deering banjos are hand-made in America, and this entry-level model has their trademark attention to detail without too many added frills.
As one of Deering’s comparatively cheaper options, it’s specifically designed for the beginner player. It’s well-made with a shorter neck for greater ease of playing.
It has a simple, pure design without the added embellishments of more expensive varieties. Made of maple, it has a clear, bright sound and is very sturdy.
One of the few downsides to this instrument is the string quality, as the lightweight strings can ‘muddy’ the overall sound.
Furthermore, this banjo does not have a case included in the price, and without that storage can be more difficult.
#2 Best Budget Tenor Banjo – Rover RB – 20T
The Rover RB – 20T is one of the best beginner-level banjos for players who aren’t yet ready to commit to a more elaborate and expensive option. It is durable and very affordable, with a clean design centered around being effortless to control, play and transport.
Its main body is made of mahogany wood, giving it a warm, rich sound palette, perfect for Celtic music.
However, though some sites list it as a resonator banjo, it is in fact an open-backed one, meaning it has less volume of sound.
Also, though it is a solid instrument, and great value for its price, some users struggle with a few elements that are of lower quality.
For instance, one of the string nuts is made of a brittle plastic that can break after a little use. The action comes set quite high, making it more difficult to play if you don’t have experience in altering this.
#3 Best Tenor Banjo For Beginners – Recording King RKT-05
The Recording King RKT-05 is a great option for those looking for the classic period-correct look and sound, with its traditional REMO Fiberskyn head and brass tone ring.
It has a great, rounded tone, deep pot, and holds its tune well. It’s designed to look ‘old-timey’, meaning it has a vintage-brown matte finish rather than the glossy one many are used to.
However, if you buy this banjo online a lot of setup is required to get it to live up to its potential, including fitting the bridge and adjusting the truss rod.
If you don’t have much experience with this, it may be difficult to get it set the way you want it. The tailpiece is also fitted in such a way that it can create a buzz while playing the banjo.
#4 Best Irish Tenor Banjo – Goldtone CC-Irish Tenor
This tenor banjo gives you bang for your buck with its great playability and ease of use. It includes dual coordinator rods, a maple rim and resonator, snowflake fingerboard inlay, and guitar-style tuners.
However, this banjo is not sold with a case, though it is available separately at some stores.
Goldtone banjos are individually set up in the U.S., meaning this banjo should arrive to you ready to play, without the need for major alterations.
The action is usually set nice and low to make playing easy for beginners.
Overall, the price to quality ratio on the Goldtone CC-Irish tenor makes it an excellent option.
#5 Best Tenor Banjo For Your Money – Gold Tone AC-4
The most lightweight and portable banjo on this list, this model weighs in at only 4 pounds. Not only does this make it a great option for a banjo to take travelling, it’s also the perfect instrument for a child to learn on.
The Gold Tone AC-4 is a maple wood banjo, with a slim neck for better playability, an open back and attractive satin black finish.
Its composite rim style is gives it a great, snappy sound, and it is tuned in the Chicago style (guitar style) which makes it an easy banjo to learn on for anyone with experience in guitar playing.
However, the models lightweight design and open back means it doesn’t have the same depth and volume of sound as some other banjos on this list.
#6 Best Professional Tenor Banjo – Gold Tone IT-250
This model is an excellent option for those wanting an instrument well-suited to Celtic music, without the outsized price tag of an American-made Irish banjo of similar quality.
It has the whyte laydie style pot that many traditional Irish banjo players cherish for its plunky tone and enduring sustain.
It is a 17 fret type, with a two way adjustable truss rod. Made of maple, with nickel strings, its elegant and classical design and glossy finish make it almost a display item, as well as a great banjo.
However, this model is not sold with a case, which can be a risk for transportation. Its bridge piece is also not of comparative quality to the rest of the instrument.
#7 Best Intermediate Tenor Banjo – Trinity River Tenor Banjo
This model is another affordable option that provides a lot of worth for its price. It features 18 brackets and 19 frets for an augmented playing performance.
It comes with a resonator to improve the depth of sound and has a great overall tone. Its neck and string height is easily adjustable to suit a player’s specific requirements.
However, the Trinity River 4 string does require a lot of setup before it can be played. The bridge needs to be attached, and the head and neck tightened and adjusted, all of which can be quite challenging for someone less experienced.
If this isn’t done well, it can result in the banjo losing tune quite easily.
#8 Best 19 Fret Tenor Banjo – Deering Goodtime 19 Fret Tenor Banjo
The second Deering model on the list, this model has the same high quality and corresponding price tag the brand is known for.
Like the Deering Goodtime 17 Fret, it’s considered an entry-level model, but the 19 frets create more tension on the strings, which makes them more responsive.
The Deering Goodtime 19 Fret banjo has a minimal design that is built to last. Constructed of maple, it has a bright punchy tone, perfect for playing Dixieland Jazz.
This, combined with the Goodtime model’s steel tone ring and oversized pot gives you a banjo with power, sustain, and resonation.
On the other hand, this design can make the banjo sound very loud and strident, which may not be ideal, especially for those wanting to focus on folk music or similar.
Buying Guide – How To Choose a Tenor Banjo
What Is A Tenor Banjo
A tenor banjo is a short necked, four stringed banjo that comes in either a 17 or 19 fret variety. It is usually used to pick out the melody of a song rather than play chords or accompaniment.
The tenor banjo was popularised in the early 20th Century with the rise of jazz music, though it became less common with the introduction of electric guitars.
What Type Of Music Can You Play?
The tenor banjo is commonly used in traditional Irish music, as the banjo’s folksy tang effortlessly suits this style. In fact, this instrument is often referred to as an Irish Tenor Banjo.
The tenor banjo’s bright sound is also perfect for jazz music, especially the traditional Dixieland variety. It is also suited for Bluegrass and tango music.
A tenor banjo is tuned in fifths, which helps give it its distinctive sound. The distance between the chord voicings allows each individual note played to be distinctly heard, producing a clear, rich tone.
The way the tuning is organised, however, depends on what type of music you want to play with your banjo. Standard tenor tuning is C, G, D, A, the same as a cello. If you want to play Irish Folk, however, you’ll have to change your tuning to G, D, A, E, the same as a violin.
The final tuning style is known as Chicago tuning, as is popular with guitar players, as it uses the same notes as the first four strings of a guitar – D, G, B, E.
The price of a tenor banjo can vary greatly, depending on the quality, aesthetics and number of features added.
On the cheaper end, you can look to pay anywhere between $150 and $300 for an entry-level banjo, that’s reasonable quality, but with minimal added frills. This may be the best option for you if you’re just starting out and aren’t sure if you’ll stick with it.
Paying between $300 to $500 will give you a good mid-range banjo. For a high-quality tenor banjo, you can pay anything from $700 to over $1,000.
While that may sound expensive, a banjo in this range will sound amazing, and have great resale value.
FAQ – Frequently Asked Questions
Are tenor banjos good for Irish Music?
Yes, tenor banjos are commonly used for Irish music. Just ensure you set the tuning on your banjo to the typical Irish arrangement – G, D, A, E.
How many frets are on a tenor banjo?
You can get either 17 or 19 frets on a tenor banjo. The instrument will play similarly with either arrangement, so choosing between these two options is usually a matter of preference.
A 17-fret banjo is more common in Irish music, while a 19-fret is more common in Dixieland Jazz.
How many strings are on a tenor banjo?
A tenor banjo always has four strings.
Is a Tenor banjo harder to play?
No, in fact, the tenor banjo is a relatively easy instrument to master. This is partly due to its versatility, as it can be tuned to match several other types of stringed instruments, making cross-over easier.
If you want to create lilting melodies or driving tunes that will get your audience’s feet tapping, the tenor banjo is the instrument for you.