“Country roads, take me home”

Who hasn’t heard this iconic classic country song by John Denver? 

The soothing instrumental music still echos in everyone’s mind whenever they hear the name of it.

Well, a significant part of its beautiful instrumental includes a banjo.

A banjo is well-known to anyone who admires and loves country music. Especially for classic genres like Bluegrass, Folk music, a banjo is a staple.

What is a Banjo?

open back vs resonator banjo

Banjo is a four- or five-stringed cylindrical stringed musical instrument.

It’s similar to a guitar, however, it’s utilized for a different genre such as folk music, gospel, bluegrass, western swing, old-time etcetera. A banjo is also comparatively easier to play since it has fewer strings.

Even though banjo is much related to American country music, it primarily originated from African Music and culture which was brought by slaves into the states. 

Later, it got popular and got proliferated across America and Europe.

Components of a Banjo

On the surface, the banjo appears to have a simple design, but there’s a lot more to it than that. Banjos have a complex design that is composed of different components.

The neck and the pot assembly are the two fundamental sections of the banjo’s construction. Not only that, these two later get divided into multiple components.

Neck

The following three components make up the neck. 

The peghead often called the headstock, is the section of the neck where the tuners are located. Peghead is finished with an overlay, a truss rod cover, and a bone, wood, or plastic nut.

The body refers to the part of the neck where you play. It has a truss rod, a fingerboard, inlays, and spikes, as well as important things like frets and strings. 

The heel is where the hanger bolts that connect the neck to the pot are located, as well as a heel cut.

The Pot

The pot contains a few more parts than the neck. 

First, there is a banjo rim.

It’s a wooden cover-like structure that serves as the pot’s major feature. It has an impact on the sound the banjo makes, depending on its quality. 

Co-Ordinator rods are another component of the pot. 

The rim is stabilized by these steel rods. 

open back vs resonator banjo

The Tone Ring adds volume and dimension to the banjo. Banjo head and Banjo Bridge are also adjacent. The banjo head is usually constructed of Mylar, and the height of the bridge should correspond to the heel cut.

The Tension Hoop is a set of metal rings that serve in maintaining head tension. 

It’s additionally held in place by hooks and nuts. 

A Banjo has an armrest that makes playing the instrument more comfortable. There is also a Tailpiece that keeps the strings in tune and a Flange attaching the resonator.

Finally, there’s the Resonator. 

This is a soundboard that dictates the volume of the Banjo. A resonator bears huge significance to a Banjo because depending on it the type of Banjo can vary. 

Open Back vs Resonator Banjo

There are mainly two types of banjos.

The Open back and the Closed back. 

The simple basic difference between them is that one has a resonator and the other one doesn’t. That is why the closed-back is also called the Resonator banjo.

The difference between open back and resonator banjo is briefly described here –

Design

On a Resonator banjo, a wooden bowl is affixed to the back of the sound chamber (the pot). It reflects the sound forward, to an audience. This extra physical part makes it slightly heavier than the other one.

Whereas, an open-back banjo has no back. There is nothing that covers the sound chamber. So the sound gets scattered more. It is lightweight and for this reason, it is preferred more in case of traveling.

Also, in an Open-back banjo, the strings distanced position from the fretboard for the way it’s usually played. Generally, an Open-back banjo is played in a clawhammer style, where there is no use of a pick. Only bare fingers.

open back or resonator banjo

Genre

The style of music plays a vital role in deciding which one is better. For kinds of music like bluegrass, Resonator Banjo is the more picked one whereas an Openback banjo suits best the traditional, old-time, mountain and country style.

Sound

The sound of a resonator banjo is significantly louder and tangier than that of an open-back banjo, making it the instrument of choice for bluegrass performers. The resonator banjo generates a louder sound when picked bluegrass-style with fingerpicks.

The Open-back generates a mellower, soft subdued tone, and because the sound chamber is against the player’s body, some of the sounds are absorbed into his clothing and body, lowering the volume of the banjo. 

In traditional and mountain music genres, the clawhammer method on an Openback banjo is popular since the sound does not have to play forefront and compete with the other instruments’ volume.

If a banjo player or enthusiast takes the two and plays few notes on both, she or he will clearly understand the inherent sound difference. One has more twang sound which is the resonator one and the other is toned down, subtle. 

Price

The price range of Banjo can an important factor for a lot of its consumers. Especially for beginners, who don’t know how to wisely spend their hard-earned money.

An Openback Banjo is always less expensive because of its simplistic design. 

On the other hand, a Resonator Banjo can empty your pocket depending on the quality and intricate design.

But you might not need an expensive banjo. So choose wisely. 

Related: Banjo for the money

Here is a one-to-one comparison between Open Back vs Resonator Banjo:

      Criteria Open BackResonator
GenreTraditional, vintage styleBluegrass, Folk
DesignDoesn’t have a wooden bowl called a resonatorComes with a resonator (wooden bowl)
WeightLightweight, suitable model for travelingThe wooden part makes it heavier
Playing styleClawhammer styleFingerpick
SoundSoft and Subdued toneLoud and twang
CostLess ExpensiveMore expensive. Can go up to a very higher range depending on the design.

Frequently Asked Question (FAQ)


Should I Get a Resonator or Open-Back Banjo?

If you’re into bluegrass music or prefer loud twangy sound, choose a banjo with the Resonator or wooden bowl. Pyle, 5 String Resonator Banjo is a good choice for that.

But if you’re into old-time-style music, then pick the Openback. Any genre of music can be played with an open-back banjo. Decide based on your skill, interest, and preferred choice and test in music. As a beginner, you can start with AKLOT Full Size Maple Banjo

Is an Open-Back Banjo Better?

It completely differs from user to user.

In the case of pricing, open back is better. If you’re someone who moves a lot, goes on tours, the open back will be a better choice since it’s easy to carry.

Can You Turn a Resonator Banjo Into an Open Back?

Yes. 

Yes, you can.

But it’ll lower the sound since it would scatter more. 

Make sure to follow a user manual or go to someone experienced. Or else you might end up distuning this beautiful instrument.

Why Do Some Banjos Have an Open Back?

Depending on different music genres, different types of banjos are made. 

Besides, open-back banjos are lightweight which makes them easier to travel.

Does a Resonator Make a Banjo Louder?

A resonator is a wooden bowl. It contains the sound and projects it forward. 

So a resonator does make a banjo louder and sound quality better.

Can I Take The Resonator Off My Banjo?

Yes.

Yes, you can.

But make sure to follow a user manual, watch a tutorial or get help from an expert in this field. Otherwise, you can hamper the overall tuning of this fun instrument.

Can I Take The Back Off My Banjo?

Yes, you can.

But buying a proper Openback Banjo would be a wiser decision if you want to switch your instrument. Because it can get uncomfortable making it sit on your lap for weight issues. You can consider buying a strap to balance out the weight if you want to take the back off.

Can I Add a Resonator To a Goodtime Openback Banjo?

By attaching the flange and resonator using a simple kit of easy-to-install parts, you may modify your Goodtime Open back to a resonator banjo. Any open back Goodtime banjos with an 11″ rim can have a resonator installed.

Final Thoughts

At the end of the day, Music is all about creativity. It highly depends on the artist’s taste and what kind of music they’re into. It also depends on the skill of an artist.

You can take any of these two instruments and turn them into something completely different and beautiful at the same time. Any genre of music can be played on these string banjos if the artist desires to. 

If you’re still confused, instead of an expensive banjo, just pick the less expensive one which is the open-back banjo. Later on, if you don’t like it, switch to the other one.

Music can heal anything!

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