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Written by Paul D. Race for , , and

Banjo Buyers' Guides - Accessories, from Riverboat Music(tm),

This page will be for add-ons you may or may not need for your banjo with examples you can check out online. I do believe that every banjo owner needs spare strings, a strap, and a decent case or gig bag, but the rest is negotiable.

This page can't begin to show the hundreds of nice products available in these categories. What it does is to explain your basic choices and give you an idea of the kinds of things you might look for. We also include a few examples that you can check out as you begin your research. Yes, in most cases, the examples we list are products we personally like, but please don't feel restricted to our little "short lists."

Because this page has got much longer than we expected it to be at first, I'm listing the topics so you can jump to the one you need:

In addition, each of the examples is currently available through Amazon or other onine vendors, though we ask you to give your local music stores the support they deserve.


There are a lot of religious arguments about banjo strings, but everybody agrees that you need to have spares onhand. I always replace the strings within a week of buying a new banjo. (Who knows what they put on there and how long they've been on? Plus I put a lot of wear and tear on them when I'm setting the instrument up for the first time.) Experts agree that you should replace them every few months afterwards - up to every few days if you're playing professionally. I confess, I have multiple banjos that I use for different things, so sometimes I go longer than I "should" on banjos. But if a gig for which I need a specific banjo comes up, I can change the strings quickly, since I keep spare sets onhand.

The one thing that you pretty much have to consider is that if you have a banjo with a built-in magnetic pickup, you must use strings with steel in them to get the pickup to work. Most banjos are set up to take strings that have little loops on the tailpiece end, but in a pinch, you could use strings with the little balls like most guitar strings have. (That's especially helpful for 6-string banjo owners, who usually wind up shopping in the guitar string section.) That said, if you have a handmade or antique banjo, you may have some arcane setup that requires special strings or techniques. It that's the case, you may want bring your banjo into the store the first time you buy new strings. After that, you only have to remember what kind you bought.

Though professional bluegrass players prefer medium, or even heavy strings - they last longer and have more tone - most pickers use "light" strings. I would certainly recommend light strings for beginners. Though it's possible to track down extra lights, they're harder to keep in tune - or intact, for that matter.

I like strings with a nickel component. Also, within the metal string family, some folks prefer "phosphor bronze" which are supposed to provide a richer tone. Or bronze-wound strings, which are popular on acoustic guitar.

If you want a really traditional (Civil-War-era) sound, or you have especially wimpy fingers, you might try a nylon-and-silk-wound combination - those are made to emulate the tone of traditional materials (usually called "catgut."). They won't be as loud as steel strings, and they'll lose tone much more quickly, but some folks prefer them. In fact Peggy Seeger used to use fishing line on her banjo - They're the same material as nylon strings, but much, much cheaper.*

Whatever you decide, please keep at least one set onhand at all times - you never know when one may break, and there are few issues that say "hopeless amateur" more loudly than begging for strings between sets or just before you go onstage because you didn't come prepared.

The following chart shows some of the strings I've used or that my friends like. These are examples only, but might be a good starting place.

Click to see these strings on Amazon. Click to see these strings on Amazon. Click to see these strings on Amazon.
D'Addario J60 5-String Banjo Strings, Nickel, Light, 9-20 - These are usually my first choice. Martin V700 Vega Banjo Strings, Light - I've also been very satisfied with these. Gibson Earl Scruggs Signature Banjo Strings, Light - Also very nice


You need a strap, whether you realize it or not. Unless your arms are exactly the right length, holding the banjo's pot (body) in your lap sitting down, will only get you so far before you start developing bad habits or unnecessary repetitive motion disorders. In my case, I'm most comfortable picking with the banjo's pot more or less over my right front pants pocket, a position it would never rest in without a strap.

Besides, if you're planning to be a banjo star someday, you're going to have to be able to play standing up. Not only that, having a strap reduces the chances of someone knocking it out of your hands accidentally. So put a strap on the thing and keep it on. Also, practice while sitting in chairs, on bar stools, and while standing up - you don't want to learn how to make those adjustments the first time you jam with real musicians or perform at a talent show or open mic.

There are some cool straps out there. I always just a buy the black woven nylon one like the Gold Tone strap below. That way if I get invited to play at a wedding or funeral, (it happens), folks who don't know me won't spend the whole time I'm singing staring at a "born to be bad" skull and crossbones strap or something.

That said, if the nice solid black or brown leather ones were more affordable, or I only had one banjo to equip, I'm might go that way instead. The point is your music should speak for itself so your strap doesn't have to.

BTW. some banjos have little rings for attaching the straps; on other banjos, you simply attach the strap to the brackets. If your banjo has little rings for attaching the strap, you can use the kind with the little clips like the "hootenanny" strap in the middle below.

For attaching directly to the brackets, I generally prefer the straps that have the little loop like the Gold Tone strap shown to the left below. But I recently bought a banjo that didn't have room for the loop around the brackets near the neck, so I went with a strap that has the little shoestrings. (The leather strap shown to the right below has little leather strips for the same purpose.)

Nobody will hurt you for choosing one kind of strap over another.

The following table shows some sample straps. Again, they are examples only, but should give you some idea of what you're looking at.

Gold Tone Cloth Banjo Strap.  Click to see on Amazon. Click to see on Amazon. Click to see on Amazon.
Gold Tone Cloth Banjo Strap colors may vary - This is usually my first choice, especially for a banjo that doesn't have separate rings for attaching the strap. Tyler Mountain Hootenanny Banjo Strap Made In USA - Red Yellow - Lots of folks like the pretty colors of straps with the jaquard or embroidered-looking patterns. However, the pattern is on a strip of cloth that is whip-stitched to a vinyl backing. If the stitching comes loose, you wind up with a black vinyl strip and a useless piece of pretty fabric. Levy's Leathers PM13-BRG Leather Banjo Strap with Sheepskin,Burgundy - This is a high-end padded leather strap. I suppose if you have a very heavy resonator, tone-ring banjo, the extra cost may be justified.

Case or Gig Bag

The flimsy trapezoid-shaped box your banjo came in barely survived the trip home - you know it's not going to protect your instrument when you're going back and forth. When I used to play in a band, I always had nice solid cases for my guitars and banjos since you never know when someone was going to throw a bass amp on top of one or something. Nowadays when I buy any guitar, bass, or banjo that's worth less than a couple grand, I usually get a good gig bag for it. After all, I go solo or duo 99% of the time, and I think I can trust myself not to put the banjo under the PA speakers or something. Also, I often take two or three banjos to a gig, depending on the kind of music I expect to be playing, and that's a lot easier to do with gig bags.

So what if you don't gig that much? Your banjo still needs protection. If nothing else, a gig bag keeps the banjo from being scratched and dinged up just by normal stuff getting moved around in your home.

The real deciding factors are quality, and size. If you have to mail order, you'll probably have to make assumptions about quality. But I will confess, that there is a big difference between the $20 bags and the $50 bags. More on that presently.

What is even more likely to trip you up is the size and shape of your banjo. Most banjo gig bags are made to fit the average 5-string resonator banjo. Fortunately, the same bags will fit most 6-string banjos, and 4-string banjos that have resonators. But if you have a backless banjo, you need a case specifically designed for backless banjos. If you use a standard case, your banjo will slop around in it like it would in a pillowcase, putting a lot of undue wear on the strings if nothing else.

Here's a caveat: at least one brand makes only one size of gig bag, but they label about a third of them for "backless banjos." In my case, I assumed it was a mistake, sent it back. After all, the photo on the vendor sites clearly shows a bag for backless banjos. So I ordered another one from another vendor, only to get another resonator-sized bag, also labeled for "backless banjo." Later I encountered other folks who had the same experience.

What no gig bag protects is the banjo neck. When you're using a gig bag, be very careful NOT to set the banjo where it would be possible for some other item to put enough pressure on the middle of the neck to snap it.

About Flying With Banjos - Federal regulations now technically allow you to bring your banjo on the plane if there is room for it. Most airlines and crews will let you bring your banjo as far as the gate if you have a gig bag and you're counting it as your "big" carry-on. If there's not room overhead, most crews will stick it in a closet or something for you. But the key word in those sentences is "most." Remember, since 9-1-1, the federal regulation that you have to do whatever the flight crew tells you overrides almost everything else. There's still a chance that on an overcrowded flight they would insist on gate-checking it, and you could get it back in splinters. The only way to improve your odds is to ask your friends what their experience has been on the airlines you're checking out. If you're tempted go the checked-bag route it might be worth knowing that back in the old days we would buy a $400 Carlton case and check the thing and still sometimes get the banjo and the $400 case back in pieces at the other end of the flight. So if you plan to fly with your banjo, your mileage will vary. Plan on being very nice to everyone you encounter, even if they don't "deserve" it. The short version is that a gig bag may actually be safer than a $400 flight case for your banjo, since you will be able to keep the thing closer. If you're still paranoid, consider a high-end gig-bag, but don't let them counter-check a gig bag whatever you do.

The following list shows some gig bags I like to get you started on your quest.

Superior Trailpak II Tenor / Open-back Banjo Gig bag,  Click to see on Amazon. Deering Deluxe Padded Open Back Banjo Gig Bag. Click to see on Amazon. Road Runner Resonator Banjo Bag. Click to see on Amazon. Superior Trailpak II 5-string Resonator Banjo Gig Bag.  Click to see on Amazon.
Superior Trailpak II Tenor / Open-back Banjo Gig bag - This is my favorite moderately-priced case for backless banjos. It has two shoulder straps which makes it good for hiking or bicycling, and is padded as well as the Deering bag to the right.
Note: Click here to find this bag on the Elderly music site.
Deering Deluxe Padded Open Back Banjo Gig Bag - I have my Deering Goodtime in this one. I thought I'd try it to see if it was any better than the Superior case to the left. It's okay, but not necessarily worth the cost difference unless you want folks to know you're a Deering fan. Road Runner Resonator Banjo Bag - I have kept resonator banjos in one of these and been pretty satisfied with it. Some folks wish the pickets were bigger. Superior Trailpak II 5-string Resonator Banjo Gig Bag - Reasonable quality for the price. I like the two straps, but I feel like the padding on the Road Runner bag may be a little more substantial.


A capo is a device that you fasten down on the neck to raise the key of the banjo. If you're playing in a very traditional Bluegrass band, you may never need one. But I often wind up playing along with guitarists who've capoed their instruments up to the best key for singing a song. (Here's an example - Noel Stookey's "Early in the Morning," which he plays in G capoed up to the third fred - Bb.) Also, if you're playing a 4-string, chances that you'll ever need a capo are somewhat nil - you're probably either going to be playing jazz chords, or you're going to be playing in traditional "Celtic" keys like C and G.

Unlike a guitar on which a capo changes all the strings, a five-string banjo has one string that the capo doesn't affect. Depending on how often you find yourself playing in very strange keys, you may want to investigate solutions such as "spiking" - using HO railroad ties to as mini-capos to raise the fifth string when you capo the other four. Or you might just get used to retuning the fifth string down to F when you're playing in F or Bb or up to A when you're playing in D or A.

Any guitar capo will work on a banjo. Four strings are easier to mash down than six, so you don't need an expensive one. I would recommend something that is easy to keep with your banjo while you're playing. For example, there are spring-loaded capos that you can clip onto the head of your banjo when you don't need them - then you can apply them quickly when you do. I use cheap capos, the kind that use elastic, since I can just fasten them to the banjo strap and leave it there, even when I put the banjo away. But then when someone announces that the next song is in Ab, I'm ready. Also, for instruments I flatpick, I use the capo to hold spare picks.

The following list shows the capo I use and an example spring-loaded capo.

DUNLOP 71S Elastic Heavy Single Capo.  Click to see on Amazon.
Dunlop 84 Trigger Flat Acoustic Guitar Capo, Black.  Click to see on Amazon.
DUNLOP 71S Elastic Heavy Single Capo - Back when I started playing guitar, this was the only kind of capo you could buy. Yes, I'm older than dirt. It's handy for keeping on my guitar or banjo strap, and for holding flatpicks. And when it wears out or gets lost or stolen, it's cheap to replace. Dunlop 84 Trigger Flat Acoustic Guitar Capo, Black - This is an example spring-loaded capo. Technically, it's made for guitars with flat fingerboards, but it will work for most banjos. If you have a six-string banjo with a curved fingerboard, get a capo for a curved fingerboard instead.


If you are going to play 5-string, especially 3-finger picking, you will want to try fingerpicks. Most pickers I know prefer metal picks since you can bend them to fit yoru fingers exactly. A few like plastic when they don't want to be quite so loud.

If you're going to play 4-string you will certainly need flatpicks. I prefer medium-weight picks, but you may want to get a couple mediums and a couple lightweight ones to see what you prefer. What you buy for your 6-string depends on whether you plan to fingerpick it or flatpick it.

Here's a confession, I don't use fingerpicks on my banjo even when I fingerpick. I never really got used to them, and, when I'm stay in practice, the tips of the fingers on my right hand callouse up enough to give a nice hard edge to pluck the strings with. For my preferred styles of music, that works fine, although if I was going to joint a traditional bluegrass band, I would have to go back to metal picks (and a resonator/tone ring banjo).

The following list shows some suggestions. I'm not "married" to any of these specific products - in fact, I just buy whatever the guy at the guitar store has in the little trays. When you're starting out, you should buy an assortment from your guitar/music store as well. But hopefully, this will give you some examples to consider.

National NP2 Finger Picks & Thumb Pick Set MED BLK. Click to see on Amazon Fender 198-0351-808 351 Shape Classic Medium Celluloid Picks, 12 Pack, Ocean Turquoise.  Click to see on Amazon. Fender 346 Triangle Guitar Picks 12-Pack - Shell - Thin. Click to see on Amazon.
National NP2 Finger Picks & Thumb Pick Set MED BLK - Back when I started playing guitar, this was the only kind of capo you could buy. Yes, I'm older than dirt. It's handy for keeping on my guitar or banjo strap, and for holding flatpicks. And when it wears out or gets lost or stolen, it's cheap to replace. Fender 198-0351-808 351 Shape Classic Medium Celluloid Picks, 12 Pack, Ocean Turquoise - These are an example of standard "egg-shaped" picks favored by many guitar and plectrum banjo players. Dunlop is another popular brand. I would recommend starting with a few medium and a few light picks to try out. Fender 346 Triangle Guitar Picks 12-Pack - Shell - Thin - This is an example of a three-cornered pick favored by acoustic guitar players in the 1960s. It gave you more to hold onto, and lasted three times as long, because you could keep turning it around.


This is a very popular item for discussion in banjo circles. You want to sound acoustic, but louder. And none of the technologies work, In fact, our article on banjo pickups is one of our most widely read. For more information than you ever wanted to know, read that article

Four basic technologies are available:

  • Condensor microphones that clip somewhere on the banjo and pickup the sound from the head. When they work, they provide excellent sound. However, they're extremely feedback prone. Chances are you'll need a preamp or a very good amplifier to get the best results. And if you try to play loud in a crowded room, feedback will be an issue

  • The most elaborate solution and one of the most popular among professional banjo players is the Fishman Rare Earth pickup. It is is technically a sort of magnetic pickup, but instead of picking up the vibrations of the strings, it picks up the vibrations of the banjo head and is, consequently, better at sounding like a banjo. Most of the device attaches to the coordinator rod, so it tends to be more stable if you have a banjo with two rods, as professional bluegrass banjos tend to have.

  • Electric-Guitar style Magnetic pickup under the strings - These are built into several otherwise nice models. They are reliable, "bullet-proof," and fairly resistant to feedback. And they make your banjo sound more like a $50 electric guitar than a banjo. Sorry. If you want to try banjos with this feature, go for it, but don't blame the amp if they don't sound like banjos. I would definitely not retrofit an existing banjo with one of these, without trying out other banjos with this feature first.

  • The most common, and generally least expensive, is a piezoelectric pickup that attaches to your banjo's head, usually from underneath. Piezos' frequency response is a little better than the frequency response of most magnetic-only pickup, so the sound may be more convincing. But they do have a distinct "color," and some folks say they "quack." They also have low volume. Some preamps and a few of the better acoustic guitar amps have circuitry that compensates for the low volume and tone color, but then you've added real expense. Some people also claim that they pick up a lot of handling noise. I would admit you probably shouldn't leave them turned up if you aren't playing, but this hasn't been a huge problem for me.

    AKG C411L Ultra Light Instrument Mic W/Mini XLR Instrument Mic. Click to see on Amazon. Fishman Rare Earth Banjo Pickup.  Click to see on Amazon. Gold Tone SMP+ Sliding Magnetic Pickup for Banjo AXL Acoustic Guitar Transducer Pickup with Endpin Jack
    AKG C411L Ultra Light Instrument Mic W/Mini XLR Instrument Mic - This may work for coffeehouses or other places where the PA doesn't have to be very loud. This example requires a special cable and phantom power which could add as much as $160 to the total cost. Fishman Rare Earth Banjo Pickup - This is probably the most consistent solution, used by many pros. It doesn't sound quite "acoustic" to my ears but is less feedback-prone than the microphone solution and much better-sounding than the guitar-pickup-style solutions. Gold Tone SMP+ Sliding Magnetic Pickup for Banjo - This guitar-style pickup installs under the head by attaching to the coordinator rod(s). They provide more bass, but less "high end" than any of the other solutions. AXL Acoustic Guitar Transducer Pickup with Endpin Jack - This is an example of a basic piezo pickup that attaches to the underside of the head. I describe using one for a banjo in this article. Several configurations are available for the output, including jacks or add-on preamps that fasten to your banjo's clamps.


    Whenever I get a new banjo, mandolin, or guitar (new to me - I only buy used if I can help it), I go to the local guitar store and buy a new set or two of strings, a black nylon strap, an elastic capo and whatever picks I'll need. If the instrument didn't come with a substantial gig bag, and I think I'm going to keep it and gig with it, I add a gig bag as well - and maybe a pickup, usually a <$20 piezo to start. (The word "substantial" rules out the cheapo non-padded "gig bags" that sometimes come in "starter packs.") I would be glad to buy all of those accessories at my local guitar or music store. But neither my local guitar store nor the two local full-service music stores stock good banjo gig bags. In fact, they don't even believe that bags for open-back banjos even exist.

    In other words, adopting a banjo is a lot like getting a "free kitten" - there are hidden costs you need to consider if you ever plan on playing with other musicians or taking the thing out of the house. Generally, in 2015 dollars, they add about $20 to the cost of the instrument if it has a good case or gig bag, or about $60 if it doesn't.

    Of course, if you don't already play banjo, the real investment you have to be ready for is an investment of time. Finding a good teacher who can and will teach you to play the styles you want to learn goes a very long way toward your early success and satisfaction. If you can't find anybody good, check out the lessons and resources in the Banjo Lessons and Tabulature pages. Then get some friends who play banjo so they can help you when you get hung up on something.

    And please contact us with any questions or corrections.

    Note about Suppliers: While we try to help you get the instruments and other products you want by recommending suppliers with a good record of customer service, all transactions between you and the supplier you chose are governed by the published policies on the supplier's web site. So please print off any order confirmation screens and save copies of invoices, etc., so you can contact the appropriate supplier or invoke the product warranty should any problems occur.*

    Note about Ordering Musical Instruments and Accessories Online: Buy only from folks with a reasonable return policy and be sure to have any musical instrument you ordered online checked over by a professional as soon as you receive it. Every musical instrument has the potential for being damaged in shipment, even if the box looks fine when you get it. In addition, musical instruments shipped across the Pacific have a very high percentage of manufacturing defects. If you look at online reviews, a surprising percentage of the one-star reviews say something like "By the time I realized it was damaged (or had a critical manufacturing defect), the period for returns had run out, so now I'm stuck with a useless piece of . . . . " Yes, the manufacturer should have better quality control, and the store should pack things better. But in the end, you are responsible for making certain that an instrument or product will serve your needs while you still have time to return it.

    Note about Availability and Pricing: Although I try to keep an eye on things and to recommend products that are reasonably available, the musical instrument market does fluctuate, and any product on this page may change price or become unavailable without prior notice. If you "click through" to see details on a product, and nothing happens at all, or you are routed to a supplier's home page, please let me know and I will remove the product from the online listing until I can find a replacement or another supplier.

    *Using Fishing Line on Banjo: Here's a little table that gives the string number, fishing line weight, and equivalent string gauge for one popular setup:

    String Number Suggested Fishing Line WeightEquivalent String Gauge
    1 (high D)20 lbs18
    2 (B)30 lbs23
    3 (G)40 lbs24
    4 (low D)50 lbs30
    5 (high G)20 lbs18

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    **Here's an irony: every year, I receive about a dozen complaints from folks who have never been to my sites before, angry that a deal between that person and a vendor or manufacturer I recommend went south (in their opinion). They "googled" the product, saw my recommendation or review, then e-mailed me to tell me they were going to sue me or report me to the Better Business Bureau for personally ripping them off by recommending a product they had bought from someone else. Ninety-nine times out of a hundred, the problem is really because the customer didn't read the whole ad, or ordered the wrong thing, or threw away his paperwork and doesn't know where he bought it from, etc. I'm always polite, and sometimes I can even help them get things straightened out with the vendor, but it's not, technically, my problem.

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