Home » Music » Open Back Vs. Resonator Banjos [Tone, Strings, Genres & a LOT More!]

Open Back Vs. Resonator Banjos [Tone, Strings, Genres & a LOT More!]

Performer Life is supported by its readers. If you buy something with our links, we may earn a commission.

One of the oldest instruments to have existed is the banjo. The banjo is also great for anyone looking for affordable musical instruments.

It is quite easy to learn, and you can play it either as a professional or casually when taking small breaks from routine life.

FeaturesOpen Back BanjoClosed Back Banjo
PriceMore expensiveLess expensive
AvailabilityLess readily availableMore readily available
String PositionHigherLower

There are several variations in the banjos that are now available commercially. The first choice that you will have to make when getting a banjo is the type of banjo you want.

The basic options include the 5-strings banjo, plectrum tenor, and 6-string banjo. Another class is the open and resonator or closed banjos.

The topic of our discussion today is open back and resonator banjos. Both are good options and come with their advantages and disadvantages.

They have been around for quite a while now. Banjo tuners were made famous by the slaves in earlier centuries primarily.

One thing that you will have to consider when getting a banjo is open back vs. resonator banjo.

This will bring more questions to your mind, such as ‘should I get an open or closed-back banjo?’ The good news is that we have the answers to all your banjo-related questions.

What are Open Back and Resonator Banjos?

Before we further get into the discussion, let’s see what these two types of banjos are and how they work.

Open Back Banjo

The open-back banjos are mostly somewhat subdued when it comes to their tones.

Therefore, they are better suited to the clawhammer style of banjo playing. They also have a low volume since they do not have a sound chamber or pot at the back.

However, the resonator banjos have sound chambers, which give them a forward push, making it easier to hear and louder.

So, the open-back banjos may not be a good choice if you plan to perform professionally or at concerts or gatherings.

Resonator Banjo

We also have resonator banjos that come with an extra physical part called the resonator.

The resonator is a bowl-shaped part that is fixed to the banjo pot’s back. The resonator is what gives the closed banjos or resonator banjos a louder sound.

The resonator banjos are often used in bluegrass music since they stand out and are ideal for leading instruments. Thus, if you plan to play your banjo at a large gathering, a closed banjo is a safe choice.

Open Back Banjo Vs. Resonator (Closed Back) Banjo

We will now list down and discuss some features that differentiate open-back banjos from closed-back banjos.

1. Sound: Open Back Banjo Vs. Resonator Banjo

Sound is perhaps the most important factor overall when talking or comparing any instrument. You can try playing any open-back or resonator banjo, and after a few notes and chords, you will realize the difference.

The sound quality of both the banjo types is pretty different. Now this will become more apparent as you play different genres.

The clawhammer banjo players prefer open-back banjos since the banjo is not needed at the forefront, something they are used to.

On the other hand, the bluegrass banjo tuners opt for the closed-back or resonator banjos since the added twang is something they enjoy. Moreover, the additional volume goes a long way, pushing the sound toward the audience.

Another thing to notice here is that the sound is brighter and more apparent on a resonator banjo as compared to an open-back banjo.

This happens because the open-back banjo has no part in resonating and amplifying the sound. But please keep in mind that the resonator banjos are heavier than the open-back banjos due to the resonator.

2. Price: Open Back Banjo Vs. Resonator Banjo

An essential factor to consider is the price of the open-back and closed banjo tuners. If you are on a tight budget, we suggest you get an open back banjo.

But if you cannot compromise on the sound, play professionally, or can stretch your budget, get your hands on a resonator banjo.

The reason why the open-back banjos are more affordable is that they have lesser material, and so the manufacturing and laboring costs are lesser. Thus, pick the banjo depending on your need and budget.

The open-back banjo tuner’s simple design makes them the more affordable option as compared to the closed-back.

However, the 5-strings banjo supports almost all types of genres, so if you want flexibility, we suggest the closed-back banjo.

3. String Position: Open Back Banjo Vs. Resonator Banjo

While this may not seem like a big deal, the string position holds a lot of significance for some banjo players.

Generally, the string position is slightly higher on open-back banjos, but this is not always the case. Some open back banjos showcase lower-string positions.

The reason why the strings are placed slightly higher in open back banjos is because of the music that is played on this banjo type.

They are clawhammer style and require a different picking method, unlike the bluegrass banjo-playing tunes.

For most resonator banjos, you will see that the strings are placed towards the lower side, closer to the neck and body of the instrument. This design facilitates the player, making it easy for them to play bluegrass tunes.

4. Design: Open Back Banjo Vs. Resonator Banjo

Another factor that we will discuss in the open back and closed banjos are the design. While we have already discussed the strings, some other details contribute to the characteristic sound of the banjo.

The closed-back or resonator banjo has a wooden bowl mounted at the back of the sound chamber or the pot.

This sound chamber is what helps direct the sound toward the audience. Since the closed-back banjo has it only, it is louder than the open back banjo.

On the other hand, the open back banjo comes without a back, meaning t has no covering for its sound chamber. Carrying extra wood on its back, the resonator banjo is heavier and may cause you some handling problems.

The open back banjo’s strings are positioned in such a way that they are at a distance from the fretboard since it is played clawhammer style, without any fingerpicks.

5. Genres: Open Back Banjo Vs. Resonator Banjo

Although we have discussed which genres work better with what banjo type, we will get into some more details in this section, the resonator banjos are the preferred choice of most music professionals playing bluegrass genres.

This is because the closed-back banjos give the loud, twangy sound that they desire.

The closed-back banjos produce a bright sound when playing the bluegrass genre with fingerpicks. In contrast, the open back banjos give out a mellow, soft sound.

They have their sound chamber right next to the player. Therefore, the part of the sound is absorbed into the player’s clothes or body, lowering its volume.

According to most experts and players, the open-back banjos work best with mountain music and traditional genres since the sound in these tunes does not have to compete with the volume.

However, if you are a player or listener of loud conventional music, you can install a pickup on your banjo and use it with an amplifier.

An Overview: Open Back Banjo Vs. Resonator Banjo

At the end of the day, the ideal banjo type depends on the user. Consider your primary requirement if you are confused between an open-back and a closed-back banjo.

Are you getting it for its loudness or affordability? Do you play to play it by yourself as a hobby or for small to large gatherings requiring loud sounds?

Another question that may help is what type of music you are into. If it is bluegrass music, go for closed-back banjos.

But if clawhammer style is your thing, we suggest picking the open back banjos. In either case, please ensure that you get one that is well within your budget and fulfills your musical needs.

Moreover, if you have the chance, we also suggest trying out all the models before you finally purchase one of your own.

Make sure that you know if open-back or closed-back banjo works better with your music genres, and get the instrument type accordingly.

The main reason why so many people enjoy playing the banjo is its catchy, cheery twang that makes playing it a fun task. Its snappy notes with a 5-string design make the listeners think of lively bluegrass music or traditional genres.

However, not all banjo types are the same, or else we would not have the pleasure of listening to so many different genres.

To know what banjo plays and what genres are the best, a little research is ideal that helps us decide what to get.

Moreover, playing these banjos at the store or borrowing from a friend is also a good option before making a big investment.

Take a look at all the differences mentioned above between the open back and resonator banjos and decide what type works best for you.

Popular Open Back Banjos

If you are only starting out and need some motivation to get an open back banjo, here is a list of the most popular ones. The Goodtime Americana and Goodtime Openback banjos are excellent open back banjo options.

If you are looking for dark-shade banjos, we recommend taking a look at the Artisan Goodtime series. Both of the Goodtime Americana are great examples of open back banjos.

If you would like to see some more advanced models, take a look at the Deering Sierra Openback banjo. Another example is the Bishline Okie banjo. Take a look at these beauties and get the one that impresses you the most.

Popular Closed Back or Resonator Banjos

Undoubtedly, the resonator or closed-back banjos are the more expensive ones. However, there is a plausible reason behind it since they offer louder and brighter sounds.

The affordable options in the closed-back banjo category include the Goodtime by Deering series as well as the Artisan Goodtime series.

The highly popular Deering Goodtime 2 is ideal for beginner players who enjoy playing bluegrass, along with the Goodtime Special resonator banjo.

The Deering Sierra closed-back banjo is an upgrade of the beginner banjos since many modern beginner artists use this now when starting.

One way to get the best resonator banjo is to slightly increase your budget and make a good, long-term investment.

The two famous American companies, Bishline and Nechville, are releasing phenomenal banjos that, though somewhat pricey, have pretty much all the modern features.

Open Back vs. Resonator for Studio Use

While the open back banjos are ideal for soft, mellow music genres, the resonator banjos work best for louder genres.

Their use in either a studio or at home depends on the components used within and the sound you are looking for.

Opt for the closed-back banjo if you want a ringing and banging sound. They have a resonator that effectively amplifies the sound, ensuring it reaches the audience with decent intensity. You can add some picks when you are playing rolling bluegrass genres.

However, if you are a fan of rhythmic plunking play clawhammer music genres, the open-back is the ideal option for you.

The open back is more affordable, and most banjos can be attached to resonators. However, they do not work with fingerpicks.


Both the open back and resonator or closed-back banjos are great options for beginners as well as professionals.

However, if you are a fan of loud sounds, prefer bluegrass music, or have a decent budget, we suggest getting the closed-back banjo.

However, the open back banjos are a better option if you are only starting with a limited budget or like to play soft or traditional music.

Before getting any of the two, we recommend trying out both and considering their design, sound, loudness, and cost. Once you are sure of all these, get the banjo of your choice.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can you put a resonator on an open back banjo?

You can add a resonator to any open-back banjo resonator provided it has an 11-inches rim. Currently, only the Goodtime Tenor Scale Banjo Ukulele and Goodtime Americana banjos do not allow attaching a resonator since they have a 12 inches rim.

Other than these two models, pretty much all the open back banjos support added resonators.

What does a banjo resonator do?

A banjo resonator is mainly used for raising a banjo player’s volume. It makes the instrument louder and helps the sound reach the audience.

Can I take the resonator off my banjo?

While you can take off the resonator from your banjo, you will adversely affect its sound quality. Since the resonator makes the sound louder, taking it off will make the banjo quitter and may affect its overall sound qualities.

Are open back banjos better than closed-back banjos?

The open back banjos are favored by clawhammer and traditional music players, while the modern genres’ music professionals prefer the closed-back banjos. The bluegrass players like loud, ringing sound and buy banjos with resonators.

Does a banjo need a resonator?

The open back banjos do not necessarily need a resonator and can work fine without them. They can be attached to resonators to amplify the sound. The closed-back banjos produce a larger sound and already have a resonator attached.