The banjo is a stringed instrument and it is part of the lute family. It is mostly known for folk and country music. You might also see some rock bands playing the banjo. The banjo plays a big part in American styles of music, like bluegrass and old-time music. It is also popular in traditional jazz.

A banjo can have 4-strings, 5- strings, 6 strings, and even 12 strings. The 4-string banjo can be used for Dixieland jazz. The tenor banjo and the plectrum banjo also fall under the 4-string category and the key difference between both of them is that the plectrum banjo is larger in scale length than the tenor banjo.

The 4-string banjos have a brighter sound and tone and most of them are built like Ukulele so if you know how to play the Ukulele, you can learn to play the 4-string banjo in no time. However, the most popular banjo is the 5-string one because it is versatile and great for beginners and intermediate players. Learning how to play the 5-string banjo is the least challenging and in some cases, 5-string banjos are tuned to a ‘G’ chord.

Now, if you are having the 4 string banjo vs 5 string banjo debate in your mind, in this article, we will explain to you the differences between the 4-string and the 5-string banjos and we will tell you about the top 3 banjos for 2021 with 4/5 strings.

4 String Banjo VS 5 String Banjo

The 5-string banjos and the 4-strings banjos are the most widely recognized in the banjo family. But what makes them different from one another? First of all, due to the number of strings, both of these banjos produce different types of sound.

difference between 4 string and 5 string banjo

There is a difference between the size of each banjos as the 5-string banjos are comparatively taller in scale length than 4-string banjos. Two of these banjos have different playing techniques and are known for different genres of music.

So, now that you know the differences between them, let’s look at the key aspects of the four-string and the five-string banjo.

Related: Check out our article on banjo strings for bluegrass.

4-String Banjo

The 4-string banjo is used for a lot of dynamic musical choices because of its bright sound. Though it is known for Irish music and traditional Jazz, the 4-string banjos are incredibly versatile. The 4 string tenor is known for playing jazz or Irish music. The Irish artists prefer their tenor banjos with 17 frets since the shorter scale length makes the fast triplets easy to play.

Another size of the tenor banjo is the 19 fret instrument. The tenor banjo is tuned similar to a viola, which is C-G-D-A with the G string being thicker and closer to the artist. On the other hand, a 4 string plectrum is very much like a 5 string banjo, just without the drone string.

The plectrum banjo has 22 frets. The instrument gets its name from how it’s played. To play this banjo, you will need to use a flat pick.

If you intend to play Dixieland jazz, this is the type of banjo that would suit you. However, it would not be as efficient as a 5-string banjo if you want to play Bluegrass with it.

5-String Banjo

The 5-string banjo is well-known and you can find it everywhere. It is admired by the majority of banjo enthusiasts because it is different from every other stringed instrument.

The fifth string is called the “thumb string” or the “drone string” and it is shorter than the rest of the strings which allows the banjo to create a unique sound.

The 5-string banjo is incredible for playing Bluegrass, Jazz, Irish, and Country music. If you have already played the guitar before, it may feel awkward at first but you will quickly get used to the playing techniques.

Top 3 Four-String Banjos for Beginners


So, you now know the distinction between the 4-string and the 5-string banjo. In case you are intending to purchase a four-string banjo if it fits your needs, here are the top 3 four-string banjos that we believe are the top-of-the-line for beginners:

Deering Goodtime 17-Fret Tenor (best banjo for starting irish music)

Deering Goodtime 17-Fret Tenor Banjo


The Deering brand is regarded as one of the best brands in the United States. Their 17 fret Tenor banjo right befittingly lives up to its reputation. It has a slender neck and its 17-fret design keeps things simple for beginners.

If you are an experienced player, the quality of this banjo will keep you content for a long time. Though it is known for the Irish/Celtic style of music, this banjo is ideal for everyone. Here are some of the pros and cons of this 4-string banjo down below.

Pros

  • Has a great reputation
  • Provides incredible value at this price range
  • All geared tuning pegs
  • Maple neck
  • 3 ply maple rim

Cons

  • Has no resonator option

Gold Tone CC-Irish Tenor (Top 4-string banjo)

Gold Tone CC-Irish Tenor Cripple Creek Tenor Banjo (Four String, Maple)

The Cripple Creek is Gold Tone banjo’s entry-level lineup which means it’s ideal for beginners. This 17-fret Irish Tenor banjo produces incredible sound. It has a maple neck, rim, and resonator.

These banjos are set with low-string action that will help you play the instrument in case you are a beginner. Here are some pros and cons of this 4-string banjo down below.

Pros

  • Has an astonishing look
  • Maple neck and rim
  • Removable maple resonator
  • Has a good reputation

Cons

  • Can be expensive

Gold Tone CC-Plectrum (Great value in a plectrum banjo)

Gold Tone CC-Plectrum Cripple Creek Plectrum Banjo (Four String, Maple),Natural

An alternative from the Cripple Creek series from Gold Tone, this banjo is the best option if you are looking for plectrum banjos.

On this instrument, the maple neck, rim, and resonator can be found along with a black binding that truly stands apart on stage.

Same as the tenor rendition of this, these banjos are stringed with low action which is ideal for beginners. Here are some pros and cons of this 4-string banjo down below.

Pros

  • Reliable brand
  • Dual coordinator rods
  • Maple neck, rim & resonator
  • 2-way adjustable truss rod

Cons

  • Can be quite expensive

These three banjos are reliable and efficient and great for beginners if you are in the market for 4-string banjos. You will not be disappointed if you pick any of these banjos.

Top 3 Five-String Banjos for Beginners


Let’s say, you are searching for a 5-string banjo, in that case, here are our top 3 four-string banjos that we think are the best banjos for beginners:

Jameson 5 String (Best resonator banjo)

Jameson Guitars 5-String Banjo 24 Bracket with Closed Solid Back and Geared 5th Tuner


This is an ideal banjo if you are a beginner and on a budget. It comes with a bunch of incredible features at an affordable price.

It has a geared fifth tuner, adjustable tailpiece. mahogany resonator, 3 ply maple rim, a beautiful finish, and a maple bridge. The Jameson 5-string banjo is a great entry-level instrument that has a lot of good reviews. Here are the advantages and disadvantages of this banjo below.

Pros

  • Provides incredible value
  • Geared 5th tuner
  • Adjustable tailpiece
  • Mahogany resonator

Cons

  • The resonator is hard to replace (once it’s removed)

Vangoa Five-String (Top inexpensive banjo)

Vangoa 5 String Banjo Remo Head Closed Solid Back with beginner Kit, Tuner, Strap, Pick up, Strings, Picks and Bag

The Vangoa is an ideal starter banjo. It’s a wonderful instrument that sounds incredible. It has all the accessories a beginner would require. The tuner works perfectly and the quality of the carrying case is impeccable.

It can work as an open back as well as a closed-back banjo. Since you might be looking for a 5-string banjo, check this one out. Here are the pros and cons of this instrument:

Pros

  • Comes with all the necessary equipment
  • Adjustable neck
  • Can be played as an open back or a closed-back

Cons

  • Picks and straps are not of high quality

Costzon 5-String (Great banjo to learn on)

Costzon 5-String Banjo 24 Bracket with Geared 5th Tuner and Mid-range Closed Handle, Beginner Kit with 420D Oxford Cloth Bag, One Strap, Wiper, 3 Picks (41.5 IN)

Another excellent instrument is the Costzon 5-string banjo. This is made of quality wood along with a glossy finish. The strings of this banjo feel easy on the fingers and produce a well-balanced tone. Here are the pros and cons of this banjo down below.

Pros

  • Made of high-quality materials
  • Easy to set up
  • Has a beautiful finish
  • Comfortable for beginners

Cons

  • Could be improved by replacing a few parts

If you are in the search of a 5-string banjo, these three banjos will provide you with great value for money and you might end up keeping them for a lot of years.

Also, check out our post on goldtone banjo.

Final Thoughts

The banjo is a phenomenal instrument and the number of strings affects the sound it produces. Bluegrass, Country folk, Dixieland music are the ideal styles of music for banjos. Whether you buy a 4-string banjo or a 5-string one, it all comes down to your preferred style of music and your experience level.

Therefore, if you want to play jazz or Dixieland music, you could pick one of the three 4-string banjos that we picked for you and you can be certain that you will have a pleasant experience.

Contrarily, if you intend to play Bluegrass or any type of music and don’t mind the learning curve, you can pick one of the top three 5-string banjos that we’ve mentioned earlier and you may end up keeping it for many years.

We hope this article solved your 4 string banjo vs 5 string banjo dilemma and by now, you have learned the differences between the 4-string and the 5-string banjos.


Banjos We Reviewed

ImageProductDetailPrice
Epiphone Mb 100

Epiphone Mb 100

  • best lightweight banjo
Our Full Review
Ibanez B200

Ibanez B200

  • Perfect for beginners through Intermediate
Our Full Review
Ibanez B50

Ibanez B50

  • Top banjo under $300
Our Full Review