When it comes to choosing a banjo, one of the key decisions you’ll need to make is whether to go for an open back or a closed back design. Each option has its own unique qualities and characteristics that can greatly influence the sound and playing experience.
In this article, we will explore the Open Back Banjo Vs Closed differences, helping you make an informed decision based on your preferences and playing style. So, let’s dive in and discover the world of open back banjos versus closed back banjos.
Open Back Banjo
What is an Open Back Banjo?
An open back banjo is a type of banjo that has an open back, as opposed to a completely closed resonator. The open back design allows for a different sound and playing style compared to closed banjos. Open back banjos are commonly used in folk, old-time, and clawhammer styles of music.
History of Open Back Banjo
Open back banjos have a long history and are believed to have originated in Africa and been brought to America by enslaved Africans. The banjo, as we know it today, evolved from these African instruments. In the early 19th century, the popularity of the banjo grew, and different styles and designs emerged, including the open back banjo. It was commonly played in minstrel shows and became a staple in traditional American music.
Playing Style and Sound
The open back banjo is often associated with a more traditional playing style, known as clawhammer or frailing. This style involves striking the strings with the back of the fingernail or a specialized pick, creating a rhythmic and percussive sound. The open back design allows for a brighter and mellower tone, with a more subdued volume compared to closed banjos. The sound is often described as warm and earthy, making it well-suited for old-time and folk music.
Advantages of Open Back Banjo
One of the main advantages of an open back banjo is its versatility. The open back design allows for a wider range of tonal possibilities, making it suitable for various genres and playing styles. The lighter weight and smaller size of open back banjos also make them more portable and easier to handle. Additionally, open back banjos are generally more affordable than their closed counterparts, making them a great option for beginners or musicians on a budget.
Disadvantages of Open Back Banjo
While open back banjos offer many advantages, they do have some drawbacks. The open back design, while contributing to the unique sound, also results in less volume and projection. This can be limiting in certain performance settings where a louder instrument is needed. Additionally, the open back design may make the banjo more vulnerable to damage, as there is less protection for the internal components. Finally, the playing style associated with open back banjos, such as clawhammer, may require a different technique and learning curve compared to other playing styles.
What is a Closed Banjo?
A closed banjo, also known as a resonator banjo, is a type of banjo that features a closed wooden or metal back, known as a resonator. The resonator is attached to the banjo’s pot assembly and enhances the volume and projection of the instrument. Closed banjos are commonly used in bluegrass and country music.
History of Closed Banjo
The closed banjo design became popular in the early 20th century, particularly with the rise of the bluegrass genre. The addition of the resonator allowed for increased volume and projection, making it suitable for the fast and energetic playing style of bluegrass music. Closed banjos became the standard in the bluegrass world and are still widely used in that genre today.
Playing Style and Sound
The closed banjo is most commonly associated with the three-finger picking style, popularized by bluegrass musicians like Earl Scruggs. This style involves using thumb and two fingers to pick the strings rapidly, creating a bright and lively sound. The closed back and resonator of the banjo contribute to a louder and more projecting tone compared to open back banjos. The sound is often described as crisp and clear, making it well-suited for the fast and intricate melodies of bluegrass music.
Advantages of Closed Banjo
One of the main advantages of a closed banjo is its volume and projection capabilities. The addition of the resonator enhances the sound and allows it to cut through in a band setting. This makes closed banjos an excellent choice for musicians who perform in larger venues or with other instruments. Additionally, the closed back design provides more protection for the banjo’s internal components, making it more sturdy and durable. This can be particularly valuable for musicians who frequently travel or perform on stage.
Disadvantages of Closed Banjo
Closed banjos do have some disadvantages worth considering. The increased volume and projection may not be desirable for all players or genres. The bright and loud sound of a closed banjo may not be well-suited for more mellow or intimate settings. The added weight and bulk of the resonator also make closed banjos less portable and potentially more challenging to handle for some musicians. Finally, closed banjos tend to be more expensive than open back banjos, which can be a limiting factor for those on a tight budget.
Design and Construction
The design and construction of open back and closed banjos introduce significant differences. Open back banjos typically have a larger pot assembly and lack a resonator, making them lighter and more compact. They typically have a simpler construction with a wooden rim and brackets holding the skin head in place.
Closed banjos, on the other hand, have a resonator attached to the pot assembly, which adds weight and bulk. The resonator is usually made of wood or metal and is designed to enhance the volume and projection of the instrument.
When it comes to tonal quality, open back banjos have a warm and mellow sound. The lack of a resonator allows the sound to resonate more freely. The tone is often described as earthy and well-suited for traditional music styles. Closed banjos, on the other hand, have a bright and clear sound. The addition of the resonator enhances projection and volume, making them ideal for genres like bluegrass. The tone is often characterized as crisp and well-defined. Both types of banjos offer unique tonal qualities, and the choice ultimately depends on personal preference and musical style.
Volume and Projection
Open back banjos generally have less volume and projection compared to closed banjos due to the absence of a resonator. The sound is more subdued and may not carry as well in larger venues or when playing with other instruments. Closed banjos, with their resonators, provide louder and more projecting sound, making them better suited for performances where a strong presence is required. The increased volume and projection can be particularly advantageous in bluegrass jams or band settings.
When it comes to versatility, open back banjos have an edge. The absence of a resonator allows for a wider range of tonal possibilities, making them suitable for various genres and playing styles. They excel in folk, country, and old-time music. Closed banjos, with their bright and projecting sound, are often preferred in bluegrass and other fast-paced genres. While they can produce a range of tones, their sound is most commonly associated with the signature bluegrass sound.
In terms of price, open back banjos are generally more affordable than closed banjos. The simpler construction and lack of a resonator contribute to a lower price point. This makes open back banjos an excellent choice for beginners or musicians on a budget. Closed banjos, with their resonators and often higher-quality materials, tend to be more expensive. They are generally considered an investment for those who are serious about playing the banjo, particularly in bluegrass or professional settings.
Which One Should You Choose?
Traditional or Modern Music Style
If you are interested in playing traditional folk or old-time music, an open back banjo may be the better choice. The warm and mellow tone of open back banjos complements these genres well. On the other hand, if your musical interests lean towards modern bluegrass or country, a closed banjo will likely suit your needs better. The bright and projecting sound of closed banjos is essential for achieving the signature bluegrass sound.
Portability is another factor to consider when choosing between open back and closed banjos. Open back banjos are generally lighter and more compact, making them easier to carry and handle. They are excellent for musicians who travel frequently or prefer a more portable instrument. Closed banjos, with their added weight and bulkiness due to the resonator, can be less convenient to transport. If you anticipate traveling often or moving around with your banjo, an open back banjo may be a better fit.
Budget is always an important consideration when making any purchase, including musical instruments. Open back banjos tend to be more affordable compared to closed banjos. They offer an excellent option for beginners or those on a tighter budget. Closed banjos, with their resonators and potentially higher-quality materials, come at a higher price point. If you have the financial means and are committed to playing the banjo in a more professional capacity, a closed banjo may be a worthwhile investment.
Ultimately, the choice between an open back and closed banjo comes down to personal preference. Both types of banjos have their unique qualities and advantages. It’s important to consider the sound, playing style, and genres you are interested in. You may want to try playing both types of banjos before making a decision to see how they feel and sound to you. Additionally, seeking advice from experienced banjo players or music teachers can help guide you towards the right choice based on your preferences and goals.
In conclusion, the choice between an open back banjo and a closed banjo depends on various factors such as musical style, portability, budget, and personal preference. Open back banjos offer a warm and mellow tone, versatility, and affordability, making them suitable for traditional music styles and beginners.
Closed banjos, with their bright and projecting sound, enhanced volume and projection, and characteristic bluegrass tone, are ideal for modern genres like bluegrass and country. Consider your musical aspirations, playing style, and practical needs when deciding which type of banjo to choose. Both options have their own unique appeal, and either can bring joy and fulfillment to your banjo playing journey.