Clawhammer Banjo, or simply banjo, has been around since the early 1700s when some of the earliest versions of the instrument were created. Its name comes from the ‘claw’ in a crossbar beneath the strings which, when struck with a plectrum, provides a constant down-stroke to play in time with.
Banjos are one of the most popular types of stringed instruments because new players are attracted by their distinctive sound. Besides this, they have also found a place in American folk music.
Clawhammer style has a significant difference from its younger sibling known as the bluegrass style.
In bluegrass style, you’ll strum the banjo string upwards with thumb, index, and middle these 3 fingers. On the other hand, you’ll only have to use 2 of the fingers (thumb along with index or the middle finger) to pick the strings downwards.
If you are a big fan of the old style of banjo playing, you’re definitely going for a clawhammer banjo.
Just follow our guide to choosing the best banjo suitable for you.
Here is a list of 5 of the Best Clawhammer Banjo we’ve carefully chosen for you –
- Deering Goodtime 5-String Banjo
- Pyle PBJ60 Banjo
- AKLOT 5 String Open Back Banjo
- Deering Goodtime Americana Banjo
- Kmise 5 String Banjo
- Comparison table for 5 Best Clawhammer Banjo
- Thing You Should Know Before Buying a Clawhammer Banjo
- 1. Difference between Clawhammer and Bluegrass Style
- 2. Clawhammer Banjo Tuning (How to?)
- 3. How to Play Clawhammer Banjo? (Step by Step)
- 4. Why Learn Clawhammer Banjo?
- Best Clawhammer Banjo Buying Guide
- 1. Deering Goodtime 5-String Banjo
- 2. Pyle PBJ60 Banjo
- 3. AKLOT 5 String Open Back Banjo
- 4. Deering Goodtime Americana Banjo
- 5. Kmise 5 String Banjo
- Frequently Asked Questions (F.A.Q)
- Final Verdict
Comparison table for 5 Best Clawhammer Banjo
|Deering Goodtime 5-String||Best Over Banjo||4 lbs||4.8|
|Pyle PBJ60||Top Clawhammer Banjo||7.21 lbs||4.6|
|AKLOT 5 String Open Back||Top Sound Projecting Banjo||9.9 lbs||4.4|
|Deering Goodtime Americana||Best Banjo for Sweet Tone||6.59 lbs||4.9|
|Kmise 5 String||Top Beginner Banjo||7.98 lbs||4.3|
Thing You Should Know Before Buying a Clawhammer Banjo
1. Difference between Clawhammer and Bluegrass Style
Clawhammer and bluegrass are the two major kinds of banjo playing styles.
It doesn’t matter how you choose to play your banjo.
The playing style depends on your comfort and rhythm. If you are a new player, try to play both of them and decide later which suits you the most.
In this article, we’ll try to tell you the basic differences between these two playing styles so it becomes easy for you to decide and differentiate.
Clawhammer style was introduced to the American colonies by the African slaves in the 18th century. Day after day, it became famous worldwide and in the 19th century, it was quite famous and loved all over the globe.
Clawhammer banjo is played by a downward strumming pattern. It is played by strumming all the strings together. It creates a rhythm that sounds like a claw-hammer.
Bluegrass playing style came almost three or four centuries after clawhammer.
But it became famous because of its melodious tune. In bluegrass playing style, a player doesn’t need to strum all the strings together. Instead, he has to wear finger plucks in his thumb, index, and middle finger.
Earl Scruggs is considered to be the inventor of this playing style. He borrowed the ideas from typical guitar players who use their fingers for strumming.
Bluegrass playing style gives attention to the melody of a song and plays its particular notes by a series of picking patterns. These are called “rolls”. These “rolls” are the thing that makes the bluegrass banjo sound so melodious.
Clawhammer and Bluegrass Difference at a Glance
|This plating style strums all the strings together.||This is more of a finger-picking style depending on the melody of a song.|
|Clawhammer style came from the African slaves.||Bluegrass was invented by “El Scruggs”|
|Clawhammer’s playing style became famous in the 18th century.||This playing style came almost three or four centuries later.|
|This playing style provides a chill vibe.||Sounds melodious and ear-catching for the audience.|
|Clawhammer was named because while playing the hand looks like a claw.||The picking pattern that makes the hearing experience is called “rolls”|
Know more detail about this topic from Clawhammer Vs Bluegrass Banjo
2. Clawhammer Banjo Tuning (How to?)
Tuning is one of the basic aspects of playing the banjo. A clawhammer banjo can be tuned in different ways. But the ideal tuning of a clawhammer banjo is a “G tuning”.
But before getting to the tuning part, you need to know that an old clawhammer banjo usually has 5 standard strings.
Each string should be indifferent notes that are given below:
- 1st String: You need to tune your first string in a D note.
- 2nd String: Tune your second string in a B note.
- 3rd String: Tune the third string in a G note.
- 4th String: The fourth string should be in a lower D note.
- 5th String: Tune the fifth string in a higher G note.
If you are a new player, you should know how to tune your banjo.
By just twisting the keys of the head on a banjo, you can tune the instrument.
You have to have a feel of sensitivity while tuning it.
The strings will get tuned by loosening or tightening the tuning keys.
A tighter string will result in a high pitch. And the loose string will end in low sound.
But the question is – what is the perfect pitch for a string?
You can find many tuner apps that will help you in this regard.
There are also many audio files available on the internet (Maybe Youtube or SoundCloud) which will provide you with the perfect sound. Hear them, adjust your banjo according to the sound and you can easily tune it.
3. How to Play Clawhammer Banjo? (Step by Step)
Strum the Strings
To learn to play banjo, you have to know how to strum the strings using your hand.
As we said earlier, in clawhammer style your hand shapes like a claw while picking.
Pick With Your Index or Middle Finger
You’ll mostly use your index or middle finger to make the sound. Some prefer to play with their index, some prefer the middle finger. The preference is up to your comfort.
Use Your Fingernail or a Fingerpick
Let’s just think you choose your middle finger to play with. Fingernails are an important part that makes precise noise with the strings. You can make your nail a bit longer than the flesh line of your finger. It helps to have good contact with the banjo.
If you don’t want to grow your fingernail or have some difficulties playing with your nails that’s also fine. In that case, you can use a fingerpick like a bluegrass player.
Try to use a round shape fingerpick or banjo pick that resembles your fingernail.
The sound of a clawhammer banjo is boom-chi-ka. So, first, try to play it using your middle finger (or index). Place your palm on the bridge of the banjo. Your thumb should be in contact with the fifth string. The thumb will only pluck the fifth string.
Make it Go Boom
Use your middle finger and play the third string of the banjo. Pluck it in a downward motion using your middle finger. It will make the sound of “boom”. Try practicing it again and again. You may hit the second or the fourth string by mistake, but don’t worry you’ll come around soon.
Learn About the Chick
Now if you got hold of the “boom” sound. Let’s learn the “chic/chick” sound.
You’ll have to brush across the strings to get the chick sound. Try to focus on the first three strings. These three strings will make the sound more perfect. Now, this will also take time to be executed. But, with proper practice, you’ll start to figure it out.
The Last Part
Now the last part that makes the sound “ka”. This part is comparably easy.
You’ll just have to pluck the fifth string using your thumb. The cycle of “boom-chick-ka” is completed. This is the basic strumming pattern of a clawhammer playing style.
4. Why Learn Clawhammer Banjo?
The answer to this question depends on some aspects.
Let’s just think you’re a new banjo player. As you are a noob and like to choose the easiest form of banjo playing. That’s where the clawhammer banjo playing style gives an edge over the bluegrass style. Clawhammer is very easy to learn and to adapt.
That’s why so many players like to choose clawhammer as their playing style.
But, it doesn’t mean that the bluegrass playing style is very tough or players don’t want to choose it. Every playing style has some advantages and disadvantages.
So, the decision should be made according to your taste in music.
Clawhammer banjo was first introduced by the African people who served as slaves in the British colonies. But because of its relaxed vibe, it became famous and got spread very fast. Clawhammer banjo provides a subtle touch in an environment.
It can be a chilled afternoon or a calm Saturday night, but clawhammer banjo can make it sound jolly and wholesome with its wonderful sound.
Clawhammer style gives you the taste of old-school music that was seen in the 1890s.
To get this vintage rhythm in the song, players learn clawhammer.
It also comes in handy when you choose to shift in bluegrass playing style.
Because of the dynamic range it provides, players learn clawhammer banjo almost immediately after they buy a banjo.
Best Clawhammer Banjo Buying Guide
What Makes a Banjo the Best Clawhammer Banjo?
A good clawhammer banjo is a fixture of different things. If these things work out together then we can say it’s one of the best clawhammer banjos.
We can divide the aspects into two parts. One is the hardware or the design and the other one is the sound. Let me explain it in detail.
Open Back Design
A good clawhammer banjo should have an open-back design.
Now comes the question.
An open-back banjo gives you a gentle and soothing sound, whereas a closed-back banjo gives a strong and vibrant sound. Both of them are liked by players and listeners but I think what makes a banjo stand out is its mellowish sound.
So, a good clawhammer banjo should be open back.
Learn more about this difference from Open Back vs Resonator Banjo.
It should be a five-string banjo.
The fifth string provides the “ka” sound of the “boom-chi-ka” tune. Without the fifth string, the banjo won’t make those classic sounds of clawhammer playing.
A five-string banjo is a must for a good clawhammer banjo.
Resonator banjos aren’t an ideal option for clawhammer playing style.
Clawhammer banjo demands soft and melodic sound, but the problem with resonator banjo is it makes a strong and vibrant sound.
The material has to be lightweight and durable. Clawhammer banjo demands the trampoline effect. The trampoline effect comes from the material itself. When you play the “boom-chi-ka” rhythm, the “boom” note requires the trampoline effect coming out of the banjo. So, the material has to be good to become a good clawhammer banjo.
Bridge & Strings
Bridge and strings are also an integral part of a good clawhammer banjo. The strings should be corrosion-free and flexible. The bridge should also have to be of good quality.
Tuning pegs need to be easy to move.
How to Choose the Right Banjo Type for You?
Go for a Brand
My first tip will be to go for a reputed brand as your first banjo. The reason is quite simple. Reputed brands usually don’t compromise with the quality.
You need to feel the sound to fall in love with the instrument. If the sound isn’t good, you won’t find the motivation and desire to play it. There are many reputed and well-known banjo makers out there. Try playing a few of them and go for the one that clicks.
If you have decided to buy a clawhammer banjo, go for popular brands like Deering, Washburn, and Madison open-back banjo.
Learn more about this on Banjo Brands to Avoid.
The 5th String
You should go for a five-string banjo.
A five-string banjo has the fifth string that is very essential for clawhammer playing style. The fifth string is the thing that makes a banjo unique to a guitar or ukulele.
The fifth string is called the thumb string. It’s the string that makes that resonates and makes the melodious tune.
Since we are on the topic of strings, you should also check out the Best Banjo Strings for Clawhammer.
Don’t Go for the Looks!
Consider their material, weight, and sound before making a purchase. Don’t go for the looks of a banjo. One of the mistakes often made by young players is that they get captivated by the looks and don’t consider the material, strings, bridge, or other aspects.
Now let’s dive into the best clawhammer banjo reviews that our esteemed research team has worked so hard on day and night.
1. Deering Goodtime 5-String Banjo
- Adjustable Action.
- Three-Ply Maple Rim.
- Slim Neck Profile.
- Stain Neck finish.
- Strong Tailpiece.
Deering Goodtime 5-String Banjo Specification
|Top Material||Top frosted mylar|
|String Material Type||Alloy Steel|
|Item Dimensions LxWxH||37.75 x 11.75 x 3.75 inches|
|Number of Strings||5|
In banjo or guitar, Action refers to Strings length from the fret or top to the bottom.
The Goodtime banjo’s specialty is that its action or string height can be adjusted by the single coordinator rod in the pot. It effectively adjusts the playability so that the strings come close to the fingerboard and become easy to press down.
Three-Ply Maple Rim
Rim is the drum-shaped round wood part of the banjo. Back in 2009, all Goodtime banjo rims got a huge upgrade which was the higher grade 3-ply maple design.
It was laminated by birch and maple rims which provides a top-quality sound that outperforms all other banjos available in the market at this price.
Slim Neck Profile
The Goodtime banjos have a unique slender and low-profile neck. The low-profile neck makes it easy and comfortable for large and small hands. The fretwork was made accurately and precisely to ensure correct intonation over the entire fingerboard.
Stain Neck Finish
Stain is a smooth, glossy fabric produced by a weave. The threads of the warp are caught and looped by the weft only at certain intervals for its uniqueness.
Satin Deering is made uniquely. The fiddle-shaped peghead with sealed, geared tuning machines makes it easy to use.
The tailpiece that Deering’s banjo provides is extremely strong and easily adjustable.
Tailpiece helps you to maximize tone by raising or lowering it. It has the standard 11-inch diameter rim manufactured with a 3-ply violin grade maple that provides top-quality sound.
- Good for both beginners and professionals.
- Ready to play.
- Open back feature.
- An armrest can be attached to the banjo.
- No tone ring.
- Can’t order as fretless mode.
- There is no plug for electric use on this banjo.
- Needed to be tuned before playing.
2. Pyle PBJ60 Banjo
- Top Quality.
- Unique Tone.
- Geared 5th Tuner.
- Traditional and Classy.
Pyle PBJ60 Banjo Specification
|Top Material||Rosewood, Maple, Mahogany|
|Back Material||Rosewood, Maple|
|String Material Type||Stainless Steel|
|Item Dimensions LxWxH||4.5 x 16.75 x 39 inches|
|Number of Strings||5|
This banjo’s neck, back, and side are crafted with mahogany wood.
It’s also focused on comfortableness while playing the banjo. That’s why the fingerboard is made with rosewood and the bridge is created with maple wood.
The body, fingerboard, and bridge are made with high quality and strong wood which gives it a premium look and provides us the perfect quality within this price range.
The 5 strings are manufactured with stainless steel and provide you with a fabulous tone while playing the banjo. This banjo is perfectly made for the country, folk, bluegrass, and even some modern rock music. The banjo sounds as much beautiful as it looks.
Geared 5th Tuner
This type of tuner is important for both playabilities and tuning of a banjo.
Geared 5th Tuner is a premium feature that is usually found on more expensive banjos.
This tuner is not only important but also a huge upgrade over the common friction tuner for banjos in this price range.
Usually, good-quality banjos have more than minimal weight. Pyle PBJ60 Banjo comes with good quality and is very lightweight. For being lightweight it comes in handy and is ideal for traveling, camping, hiking, taking to the beach to show off your talent.
Traditional and Classy
This banjo is made after the early 20th century but they kept the innovative models of the early 20th century. This good old model and upgraded gears just not only give you vintage vibes but also let you create or play a beautiful tune.
- Adjustable truss rod.
- Rich wood finisher.
- Includes Maplewood Bridge Stand.
- It has a resonator.
- Doesn’t have a neck strap.
- Don’t have an armrest.
- Doesn’t come with a case.
3. AKLOT 5 String Open Back Banjo
- Maple Wood Body.
- Open Back.
- Remo Head.
- Kit Included.
- Adjustable Brackets and Banjo Neck.
AKLOT 5 String Open Back Banjo Specification
|Batteries||1 CR2032 batteries required|
|Battery type||Lithium Manganese Dioxide|
|Item Dimensions LxWxH||41.34 x 5.91 x 16.93 inches|
|Number of Strings||5|
Maple Wood Body
Maple wood is usually used in high-end furniture or top-quality wood-based products.
AKLOT 5 string banjo is fully made of maple wood. The head this banjo has is made with tiger maple wood imported from Europe. Using maple wood as the manufacturing material makes the sound this banjo produces bright and clear.
The Open Back on banjo means that it has no resonator.
There’s nothing there to cover the sound chamber on the back. The Open Back feature of this banjo helps you to create a professional sound from the banjo.
The top of AKLOT 5 String Banjo Head has the traditional white frosted look and it’s the most popular head made for 5-string banjos.
Remo Banjo Heads are trusted by every type of banjo manufacturer in the world because of their quality of construction, the sound that banjo provides, and their exquisite performance.
Usually, most of the banjo companies don’t provide an extra maintenance kit with the banjo. AKLOT 5 String banjo provides you with many more handful little things. This banjo also comes with a tuner, tuning wrench, banjo picks, strap set, cleaning cloths, etc.
Adjustable Brackets and Banjo Neck
One of the main attractions of this banjo is the action (string length from fret to bottom) of this banjo has more than 18 brackets that can be easily adjustable. The adjustable neck feature lets you adjust the neck and also drum head with the help of a 2-way truss rod.
- Can be used as left-handed.
- Appropriate for beginners.
- Low G strings can be used on this banjo.
- You can’t order this banjo as a fretless model.
- Heavier than many other banjos.
4. Deering Goodtime Americana Banjo
- Fat Tone.
- Renaissance Head.
- Engraved Peghead Americana.
- Top Quality Material.
Deering Goodtime Americana Banjo Specification
|Top Material||Maple, Ebony|
|Item model number||G-AM|
|Item Dimensions LxWxH||6 x 20 x 45 inches|
|Number of Strings||5|
The width of the Deering Goodtime Americana banjo rim is a Grand 12 inch. This emphasizes the bass response and gives the banjo a pleasant tone.
The large 12-inch rim is complemented by the renaissance head. Visually it looks very appealing and also has a pleasant sound with a warm and sweet tone.
Engraved Peghead Americana
A peghead is also known as a headstock of any guitar or similar type of string instrument.
The main work of a peghead is to hold the strings at the head of the instrument. The Peghead of this banjo has a beautiful engraved Americana logo which gives the banjo an astonishing look.
Top Quality Material
The rim of this banjo is made with Blonde 3-ply Violin-Grade Maple, the Bridge is made with Maple and Ebony wood. Using Blonde 3-ply Violin-Grade Maple Rim, Blonde Slender Rock Maple Neck takes the banjos quality on top.
- Have a poly-carbonate string nut.
- Pretty decent as a basic Banjo.
- Has a larger head.
- Perfect for a warmer tone with more bass.
- Doesn’t come with a backpack.
- The neck and head are joined by a finger joint.
- The neck lacks a truss-rod for adjusting bowing.
5. Kmise 5 String Banjo
- High-quality Drumhead.
- Stable Playing.
- Pre-installed Armrest.
- Comes With a Starter Kit.
Kmise 5 String Banjo Specification
|Top Material||Rosewood, Okoume|
|Battery Type||Lithium Manganese Dioxide|
|Item Dimensions LxWxH||39 x 11 x 2 inches|
|Number of Strings||4|
Kimse banjo uses a high-quality drumhead to provide you with a crisp bright tone with good depth and distinct note separation. The drumhead helps the user to maintain sustaining and prevent from overtone while playing the Banjo.
The 18 brackets of this banjo tight the drumhead equally for stable playing which helps to maintain discipline.
Kmise Banjo has an installed armrest to give you comfort while playing and protection for the instrument. The armrest is made with high-quality products so that you can rest your arm even while playing the banjo without worrying about facing any change of tune.
Comes With a Starter Kit
The banjo comes with a kit that has everything a beginner banjo player needs.
The starter kit includes – 1 x Banjo, 1 x Gig Bag, 1 x Strap, 1 x String, 4 x Banjo Picks, 1 x Tuner, 1 x Cleaning cloth.
- Great for the beginners.
- Lovely finishing.
- Easy to install Bridge.
- Can be played with steel strings.
- It’s big and heavy.
- The armrest can not be adjusted.
- Have to set up the bridge.
- It’s a 4 string Banjo.
Frequently Asked Questions (F.A.Q)
- What Is Clawhammer Style Banjo Playing?
The one unique style of banjo playing is called clawhammer which is also known by Frailing.
Banjo players or musicians use their thumb and index or middle finger in general and the down picks are done by the finger as well. The back of the fingernail of your middle or index finger should be used for striking the string.
- What Is The Clawhammer Technique?
The strings are struck by using the back of the index (or middle) fingernail and then being plucked with the thumb. That style is commonly known as Clawhammer Technique.
Compared with the three-finger style like bluegrass, the two-finger style clawhammer is easier.
The thumb and index or middle fingers are the ones that you use in the clawhammer technique.
- What Is The Difference Between Clawhammer And Bluegrass Banjo?
Old-time Americans and musicians used to think that the Clawhammer style is easier to learn than the bluegrass Scruggs style banjo which came out to be true.
A clawhammer banjo player has to strike down on the string by using the back of his/her middle or index fingernail. You can also use a banjo pick for picking the strings of a clawhammer banjo.
On the other hand, you don’t strum together while playing a bluegrass banjo and it also uses 3 fingers as opposed to a clawhammer’s 2 finger style.
Learn more about the difference between clawhammer and bluegrass banjo.
- Is Clawhammer Banjo Hard To Learn?
There is no particular answer to that question.
Many banjo players will tell you that clawhammer is easier to learn compared to bluegrass.
But it all depends on what interests your heart. Listen to the examples of two of those banjos by going to live concerts or listening to some music of both banjos. The type of music that will move you emotionally will be easier for you to learn.
- How Do You Play Clawhammer Banjo For Beginners?
Being able to play clawhammer banjo may seem difficult at first but following the basic rules step by step every day, it’ll lead you to a consistent level. The best way to learn for a beginner is to start by learning basics with the help of Youtube or any other video or music streaming site.
- Do Clawhammer Banjos Come With A Gig Bag?
Some of the banjo brands will provide gig bags, some brands provide tuning material and some brands provide both of them. It depends on which brand and what banjo you are buying.
- Can You Play Clawhammer on Resonator Banjos?
You can play clawhammer on resonator banjos without any hassle.
Resonator banjos are mostly preferred by bluegrass banjo players because the sound is much different than other open-back banjos. It’ll be better to play clawhammer on an open-back banjo.
- Can I Play Bluegrass on an Open Back Banjo?
The answer to this question is yes! You can play Bluegrass on an Open back banjo. But it might not be able to give you the sound quality you expected.
It’s best to play bluegrass on a resonator banjo.
- Who Are The Best Clawhammer Banjo Players?
The amount of clawhammer banjo players in this world is many.
But not all of them are the best.
Here are the top 5 best clawhammer players listed below –
- Dock Boggs.
- Carolina Chocolate Drops.
- Kirk Sutphin.
- Allison de Groot & Tatiana Hargreaves.
- The Perreze Farm.
You can learn detailed information about them on Best Clawhammer Banjo Players.
- Should I Buy New Or Used Banjo With Clawhammer Tunes?
Instead of buying a used banjo with clawhammer tunes, you should add some more cash to your budget and buy a new one. There are many quality banjos of well-known companies like Deering, Pyle, Aklot, kmise, etc.
We have already shortlisted 5 of the best clawhammer banjo you can find in the market. Choosing from only 5 of them isn’t that difficult we believe. Since we have provided a detailed buying guide and information on each banjo it should be a piece of cake.
But if you are a beginner you might be overwhelmed by this load of information.
So we have a shortcut for you.
If you are new to the banjo world or can’t decide on the perfect clawhammer banjo, just buy a Deering Goodtime 5-String Banjo. It’ll probably be the safest clawhammer banjo for you.
If you like our recommendation please leave us a comment.