Updated: Dec 4, 2020
Greetings! I thought I'd put together a little list of my own personal recommendations for those of you looking to purchase a gift this holiday season for a very difficult gift recipient: a banjo player!
Before we get started, feel free to check out the banjo playlist I created. These are just some my personal favorite recordings that prominently feature banjo. Please feel free to leave a link to your playlists in the comments below. I'd love to have new music to listen to.
Looking for a new banjo?
For the price, about $500 USD, I've never played a better one than the Deering Goodtime Openback Banjo. It's incredibly light and well-balanced. The intonation is absolutely perfect well past the 12th fret. It's absolutely wonderful to play. I'm a guitarist first and this is definitely friendly to me with the guitar style tuners which I prefer. (Sorry banjo purists...)
Need new tunes to play?
I've found two books this year that are absolutely phenomenal. The first one is one that I got for my girlfriend for her birthday, The Banjo Player's Songbook. This book has over 200 tunes and I couldn't find one that I didn't enjoy in some form. They're meant to be played any way you prefer. I like to play mostly three-finger folk style, kinda like Pete Seeger. But most of these are perfect for clawhammer as well. As Pete once said, "There's no wrong way to play a banjo." I'm particularly fond of the songs in G minor tuning. The range of songs is beyond anything I've seen in one songbook. Anything from traditional banjo and fiddle tunes to Irish music, Scottish tunes, sailing songs, murder ballads, you name it. I can't imagine tiring of this book. There's something for every mood or occasion.
If you want something with a bit more modern flair, Hal Leonard's First 50 Songs You Should Play On Banjo really comes through. In addition to some of your banjo standards like Cripple Creek and Foggy Mountain Breakdown, there are also tunes by Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell, James Taylor, Scott Joplin, and The Beatles, among many others. If you are more familiar with pop and rock artists, I see this book as sort of bridging the gap between familiar rock and pop tunes and introducing some more traditional banjo pieces into your repertoire. I am continued to be impressed with the quality of the arrangements in these "first 50" books that Hal releases.
Here's an arrangement I just made of The First Noel for a student of mine as a gift to you. Keep an eye on my blog for more free holiday arrangements this month. If you'd like to help support my site and purchase the banjo arrangement for only $1, please visit my store page here.
Let me know what other banjo-related goodies I forgot! What's on your wishlist this year?