Peghead from a Gibson Banjo
One of the five primary instruments used in a “classic bluegrass band" is the banjo, the others being a guitar, fiddle, mandolin and bass. The banjo used in a bluegrass band is the five string resonator style, played with finger picks. The other major banjo styles are the four string tenor, normally played with a plectrum and the five string open back banjo, normally played in the claw hammer style. The resonator banjo used in bluegrass music is chosen because the resonator provides more volume and projection.
The body of the banjo typically consists of a circular rim, generally made of wood, though metal was also common on older banjos and a tensioned head, similar to a drum head. Traditionally, the head was made from animal skin, but today is often made of various synthetic materials. Banjos also have a metal tone ring assembly that helps project the sound.

In the bluegrass genre Earl Scruggs is considered by most to be the person who established the banjo as the dominant instrument of bluegrass music. His blazing speed and syncopation burst upon the scene when he joined Bill Monroe and the Bluegrass Boys in 1945. Earl’s playing style has become known as the “Scruggs Style” and his playing laid the foundation for future bluegrass banjo players to emulate and build upon. His banjo instrumentals are considered standards by bluegrass musicians today and are still heard on a regular basis in jam sessions. Other well respected players include Ralph Stanley, Bela Fleck, Bill Keith, Sonny Osborne, Tony Trischka, J.D. Crowe and Don Reno.

Banjos are very collectable and vintage instruments may sell for six figures. Gibson banjos are considered the most collectable because of the duration of manufacture and that Gibson stopped making banjos. The duration of banjo manufacturing was from 1918-2010. Pre WWll are the most prized instruments. The Gibson Mastertone Banjo is considered the “Stradivarius” in the banjo collecting world. These old Gibson banjos are so desirable that many old tenor banjos are converted to five strings. Gibson made approximatly 150 five string flathead banjos during the prewar period and considered by many the gold standard of collectable banjos. A sampling of desired banjos that collectors look for include the Gibson RB-7 introduced in 1937, a RB-7 included in the American Banjo Museum collection is valued at $100,000.00. A Gibson RB-75 made in 1939 is currently listed by Carter Vintage Instruments for $75,000.00. A Gibson RB-7 manufactured in 1942 is currently listed by Gruhn Guitars for $90,000.00. These prices can escalate into multiple six figures depending on condition and who previously played them. Notable U.S. manufacturers are Stella, Deering, Huber and Yates. Deering, Huber and Yates are in production with Stelling presently closed. A suitable resonator banjo for a beginner would retail for $500.00 to $1,000.00.

A Stelling

On Display at the Banjo Museum

1927 Gidson Grenada