The banjo is an extraordinary instrument – which is now a staple in bluegrass music, folk, Americana music, and many other various musical styles.
It brings an iconic sound unlike any other stringed instrument and can transform music with a strong backup sound that can complement other lead instruments.
Whether you are a beginner looking to pick up your first banjo or an expert musician looking to expand your instrument collection, here are the top 10 cheap banjos available on the market.
NOTE: As a banjo player for over 20+ years, I feel qualified to recommend these low-cost options for an entry-level banjo. I also have affiliate links to each banjo and may earn a commission if you end up making a purchase with my recommendations. It helps me to continue writing!
Best Cheap Bluegrass Banjo
Best Cheap Banjo Overall
Best Cheap Open-Back Banjo
You simply cannot beat the price for a quality USA-made instrument that will accommodate your great banjo journey as a beginner to advanced playing.
The Deering Goodtime banjo is an open-back banjo that is American-made and weighs in at 4 lbs – making it a perfect choice for travel, camping, or hiking. Since it is an open-back banjo, it will not be as bright and loud as a quality banjo with a resonator on it and is better equipped for lightweight travel or clawhammer style banjo.
If you are interested in a heavier banjo with a resonator on it more suitable for Scruggs-style bluegrass banjo, make sure to check out the Deering Goodtime 2 5-string banjo instead.
The neck features a slender profile that is more comfortable for small and large hands and is made with a natural blonde maple. The tone ring is also made of a violin-grade maple rim and features a single coordinator rod for easy adjustments to your playing style.
- Lightweight (4 lbs)
- American Made
- Rich Tone
- No tone ring
- No armrest
Deering Goodtime Banjo Review
This banjo is going to be one of the best quality options for the price if you are looking for a lightweight instrument you can carry on your back when camping or heading to the beach. It is also an excellent option for those looking for a beginner-intermediate banjo for clawhammer style banjo since it is an open-back banjo.
For those working within a shoestring budget, look no further than the affordability of the Gold Tone AC-1 Banjo.
The Gold Tone AC-1 features a composite plastic rim and weighs under 4 lbs – making it another excellent option for beginners, travelers, and children.
While it is not an American-made instrument, Gold Tone guarantees an optimal setup right out of the box so you can begin picking immediately without any changes.
- Lightweight (under 4 lbs)
- Low Price with a well-known Brand Name
- No resonator
- No tone ring
- Plastic rim
Gold Tone AC-1 Banjo Review
As one of the best beginner banjos, this would be the best choice for those looking for one of the lowest cost options that have enough quality to continue from beginner through intermediate playing without hitting roadblocks. It is also an excellent choice for children and traveling due to the lightweight nature of the instrument. If you want a bit more quality from a cheap banjo and you are willing to spend a couple extra hundred dollars, check out the Deering Goodtime Open-Back Banjo or Deering Goodtime 2 Banjo.
Like the Deering Goodtime open-back banjo, the Goodtime 2 Banjo features a resonator on the back to provide a larger volume and a brighter tone that is sought-after in bluegrass style music. As one of the finest Deering banjos on a budget, it features a light maple neck and rim. The additional maple resonator places the instrument at 6 lbs. – about the same weight as a standard guitar.
Although the Goodtime 2 Banjo is a low-cost option, it can still be commonly found on recordings and is a stage-worthy instrument.
- Strong, Bright Tone
- Made in the USA
- 6-year warranty
- Does not include 5th string railroad spikes
- No Tone Ring
Deering Goodtime 2 Banjo (with Resonator) Review
This is one of our favorite options for beginner banjos as it provides a strong, golden tone and has great quality components for the price range. If you are looking to spend a little bit extra on a quality instrument, the Goodtime 2 is going to be perfect for advancing your banjo playing skills and techniques.
While Ibanez is a household name that is usually associated with guitars, they also have a few beginner-intermediate cheap banjos that don’t break the bank.
The Ibanez B50 Banjo features a classic mahogany neck with a rosewood fingerboard and is a closed-back banjo that brings out a strong, bright tone as compared to open-back models.
For the price, you cannot get much more value than the Ibanez B50. It only weighs in at 5.3 lbs. which is also helpful for those looking for an option that is not too heavy.
- Resonator with a Bright Tone
- Trusted Name Brand
- May need Proper Placement after Shipping
Ibanez B50 Banjo Review
The Ibanez B50 Banjo might be the best option if you are working within a tight budget but still want an incredible banjo that has a resonator and quality tone. Obviously, it does not compare to higher-end banjos that cost a bit extra but for one of the best cheap banjos, the Ibanez banjo will provide a great sound at a low cost.
Like other brands popular in the bluegrass community, Gold Tone is a well-known name for beginner-intermediate banjos. While they are not American-made, they provide some of the best value when it comes to string instruments under $1,000.
The CC-100R Cripple Creek model, weighing in at 6.5 lbs., sounds great and provides a ton of quality at an affordable price. It features a bright maple rim and neck while providing a bright, louder sound with the maple wood resonator. If your budget falls within the $500-$800 range, then the Gold Tone CC-100R will provide everything you need to advance your playing style with bluegrass picking.
- Bright, Clear Tone
- Maple Construction
- Resonator Included
- Setup out of the box
- Pricier Option for Entry Level Banjo
Gold Tone CC-100R Cripple Creek Banjo Review
Overall, the CC-100R Banjo is a well-rounded choice for beginner and experienced players wanting to evolve into intermediate bluegrass playing without purchasing a new instrument. The price tag reflects some of the best bang for your buck and Gold Tone is known to provide well-made entry-level instruments.
Like the Gold Tone brand, Recording King is another well-respected brand that has a design team in the US and ships its 5-string banjos from overseas.
The RK-OT25 Madison Banjo is a dream of an instrument for entry-level “old-timey” and clawhammer playing. Like many other novice cheap banjos, it features a maple neck with a rosewood fingerboard. It also features a Remo FiberSkyn head, which has the color and style that is commonly found in old-time folk music.
One of the unique features is the weight of the beautiful banjo – coming in at 9.5 lbs. While heavier banjos are often a sign of higher-quality components, they may not be the best choice for those with back issues or looking to travel.
- Loud Tone
- Beautiful, Clean Look
- Heavy (9.5 lbs.)
Recording King RK-OT25-BR Madison Banjo Review
If you need an entry-level instrument for old-time music, then the RK Madison open-back banjo is going to be the right choice for you. The price tag is fair, and the instrument is absolutely stunning for old-time clawhammer style.
Here is yet another Gold Tone full-size banjo that fits the budget while providing quality components for the price. The little brother to the CC-100 Gold Tone Banjo, this model features an open-back and is suitable for old-time music at an affordable price while making sure to sound great. It features a brass tone ring, a maple neck, maple rim, rosewood, fingerboard, and a single coordinator rod for easy, quick changes to the tone.
Weighing in at only 4 pounds, this particular model is a great alternative for a lighter option that is suitable for travel and like other Gold Tone banjos, it is meant to be perfectly set up right out of the box – eliminating the need for a professional setup after purchasing.
- Light weight (4 lbs.)
- Comes with Gig Bag
- Fair Price
- No resonator
- Low-Quality Case
Gold Tone CC-50 Banjo Review
Overall, this cheap banjo works well to order everything you need at once with a complete setup for an affordable price. It might not be our favorite choice for open-back banjos, it is a great alternative to more expensive options and comes with a case for under $400.
Joining the ranks of cheap bluegrass banjos is the OB5SP Banjo from Oscar Schmidt – a company that is well known for their affordable musical instruments that give some of the best “bang for your buck”. It is a subdivision of Washburn, a company that has been creating quality instruments for over 135 years.
If there is one thing we can say right off the bat, it is that the Oscar Schmidt banjo is a beautiful instrument and rivals the looks of stringed instruments twice the price. Like other cheap banjos on our list, it features a maple banjo neck, maple rim, and rosewood fingerboard. What sets it apart is the cast aluminum tone ring that helps boost the bright tone of the instrument.
- Cast Aluminum Tone Ring
- Professional Look
- Muffled Tone up the Fretboard
Oscar Schmidt OB5SP Review
If you want a beautiful instrument at a low price – while providing a good tone for the price, then the Oscar Schmidt could be the banjo for you. This is one of our favorite banjos for aesthetics and it is matched by a similar tone to other banjos on our list.
Another company dedicated to affordable bluegrass and folk instruments, Morgan Monroe offers the Rocky Top Hoedown Banjo which is a low-cost choice for beginner clawhammer or Scruggs-style banjo pickers. You can choose between having a resonator or an open-back banjo depending on your style of playing.
This is one of the most affordable options on our list and is recommended for those working on a tight budget. While it features a maple neck and rosewood fingerboard, the rim is made of composite plastic which can dull the tone brightness. Also, the banjo does not offer a separate fingerboard, which can present a challenge when making adjustments or repairs.
Overall, it is a fine, cheap banjo for the money spent and should be considered if you are looking for one of the lowest-cost budget banjos with a decent brand name.
- Low Price Tag of $239
- Composite Rim can Dull Tone
- The Neck is Not Separate from Body
- Easily Scratched
Morgan Monroe Banjo RT-B01 Review
This banjo is the right choice for those who are willing to upgrade after trying out the banjo to see if it works out for them. It is a very low-cost option and while it may not lead you through intermediate playing, it is a fantastic entry-level instrument that will get you started in your musical journey.
The RKH-05 from Recording King looks like it jumped in a time machine from the 1930s with its rustic and vintage design. Featuring a maple resonator and a slender rock maple neck, the Dirty Thirties Resonator Banjo brings a classic sound that was found in old time folk music. The neck has a 2-way adjustable truss rod, which allows for adjustments to the action on the resonator banjo with ease.
While not made in North America, Recording King’s instruments (like Gold Tone) come from China but are inspected and setup in the United States. Overall, this allows for a lower cost with higher quality components.
- Beautiful, Vintage Design and Tone
- Lighter Resonator Banjo
- Comes in Questionable Packaging
Recording King RKH-05 Banjo Review
If you want an instrument that offers a vintage sound and design with a resonator to bring out the old town folk in you, then the Dirty Thirties Banjo is the right choice. Not only is it a beautiful instrument with a satin finish, but it has that unique sound found in older folk banjos.
Other Banjos that are Unique
While the most common banjo styles are clawhammer with an open-back banjo and 3-finger Scruggs style with a resonator banjo, there are multiple styles with other banjos including tenor banjos and banjos with six strings.
If you wanted something apart from the normal budget banjos on our list, here are some interesting alternatives that are sure to turn some heads.
We already went over the Recording King Dirty Thirties Banjo with a resonator but this variation of it only has four strings and is an Irish Tenor banjo. It has all the features that you would expect from an intermediate tenor banjo – but at a much lower cost.
It has the same beautiful style and vintage look and provides the same great sounds one would expect from Recording King. This good banjo has a maple wood neck, East Indian rosewood fingerboard, maple rim, and narrow 19″ neck that feels just right to the touch.
- Narrow Neck for Traditional Tunes
- Terrible Packaging
Recording King Tenor Banjo Review
With four strings instead of five, this tenor banjo is built for those looking to play traditional Irish and fiddle tunes. It has an excellent old-timey feel and will flow when it comes to playing melody lines. For the individual looking to play traditional fiddle tunes following a strict melody, this banjo is for you.
Not to be mixed up with a banjo mandolin, the banjolele is simply a ukulele that has the drum head and looks of a tiny banjo. Apart from being the cutest tiny instrument, this banjolele is loud and has a great tone.
The Deering banjolele pays exactly like a ukulele but has the unique tone and style that comes with the additional banjo head. As someone who owns this particular instrument, I have to say – I love it. It is super fun and easy to play for beginners. But, do keep in mind that this is not played like a banjo – it is played like a ukulele.
- The most adorable instrument
- easy to learn/play
- Not a banjo
- Definitely not a banjo
Deering Banjolele Review
As mentioned, the Deering Banjolele is not played like a banjo at all… it is, in fact, a ukelele disguised as a tiny banjo. If you want an instrument that is easier to learn and sing along with, then the banjolele is a fantastic choice. It is essentially a higher-quality ukulele with a unique tone that comes with a banjo head.
Which Banjo is the Right Choice for You?
There are many different choices when it comes to purchasing an entry-level, cheap banjo for under $1,000 and often the saying rings true…
“You get what you pay for”
This is generally a correct saying when it comes to instruments but if you need a beginner’s banjo – why break the bank?
No matter what choice you make for an entry-level instrument, we recommend doing an extensive amount of research and avoiding any brand names that are unrecognizable. All of the instruments we have listed in this guide are all from well-known companies and are usually backed by a warranty in case anything goes wrong.
From one banjo player to another – I hope you enjoy your musical journey into the twang and wish you the best in choosing an instrument that is suitable for you. Good luck!