Learn The Difference Between Open-Back Vs Resonator Banjos!
It may come as a surprise especially for beginners that there are so many different types of banjos available on the market. Just like basses, ukuleles, guitars, and other string instruments, there are different types of banjos available.
One of the many ways to classify banjos is by their strings – 4-string banjo, 5-string banjo, and 6 strings banjos.
However today we are going to talk about different ways of classification and that would be open back vs resonator banjo.
The Difference – Open-Back vs Resonator Banjo!
It is important to know that resonator banjos have an additional physical part that is known as a resonator. In this case that is a bowl-shaped part that is fixed to the back of the pot of the banjo.
This provides the resonator banjos a louder sound, which is mostly used in bluegrass music because it’s the banjo that stands out as being a lead instrument in that specific style of music.
Open-back banjos are usually slightly more subdued in their tone, making them a better option for the clawhammer style of playing this instrument.
This decreased volume is because of the lack of sound from the back of the sound chamber, or pot, whereas a banjo with a resonator projects the sound forward, in the direction of the people that hear you playing.
On a Resonator banjo, a wooden bowl is affixed to the back of the sound chamber (the pot). Like this, it reflects the sound forward, to an audience. This additional physical part makes it slightly heavier than the other one.
Whereas, an open-back banjo has no back. There isn’t anything that covers the sound chamber. So the sound will get scattered more. It is lightweight and because of this, it is popular for those who are traveling a lot.
Additionally, in an Open-back banjo, the strings are distanced place from the fretboard for the way it’s often played. Usually, an Open-back banjo is played in a clawhammer style, where there is no use of a pick. Only bare fingers.
The Weight Difference
As it turns out, there is a significant additional physical part on a resonator banjo that is not present on an open-back banjo. However, because of this particular difference, closed-back banjos are usually slightly heavier than open-back banjos.
Lightweight banjos have their place, for instance, banjo models meant for traveling are often the naturally lighter-weight open-back version of the instrument.
The Sound Difference
Once you pick up an open back or resonator banjo, pluck a couple of notes or chords, and instantly you’ll hear that the tonal qualities are quite different between these two instruments in comparison.
Which one is better? The answer to that question depends on the type of music you’re playing.
Clawhammer banjo players favor the tones of the open-back banjo, because the style of play is usually with other instruments playing, and the banjo doesn’t need the instrument at the forefront of the music.
Bluegrass banjo players usually favor the resonator kind of banjo, because of the added twang sound, not to point out the added volume, both go a long way in pushing the sound of the instrument to the forefront of any particular bluegrass tune.
The sound is brighter on the resonator banjo than it is on an open-back banjo, which tends to be somewhat smooth by comparison since some of the sounds are lost by way of the open back on the pot of the instrument.
In this video you can see the difference in sound between Open Back and Resonator banjos:
String placement is often, but not all the time, slightly higher on open-back banjos.
It is because the type of music most often performed on an open-back type of banjo is the clawhammer style, which uses a unique picking technique in comparison with bluegrass banjo playing.
You’ll be able to find that most resonator banjos, because of this, have strings positioned lower to the neck and body of the instrument, which helps to facilitate the picking style of bluegrass banjo players.
The Price Difference
Whenever you try to compare open back vs resonator banjo, the first thing that you will probably notice will be the price.
Open-back banjos are usually less expensive than resonator banjos, mainly because there is less material and due to this fact less manpower going into the manufacture of the instrument.
What should I buy, open back or resonator Banjo?
Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and in this situation, it’s in the ear of the banjo player. However, the choice between the open-back or resonator banjo can be made easier if the type of music to be played is considered.
As we already mentioned above, in case you intend to play bluegrass music, you’re probably looking to select a resonator banjo, for the louder, twangier sound most associated with that style of music.
In case you plan to play the old-time claw-hammer type of music, your best option will be to select an open-back banjo.
What is more important is to familiarize yourself with the types of music played (bluegrass or old-time claw-hammer) on this unique and great instrument, and select an open back or resonator banjo to go well with the type of music you’re going to love playing for many years to come.
The role of the Banjo resonator
The resonator on the banjo is mainly there to raise the volume and outward sound produced, which is great for audiences.
Is it possible to add a resonator on an open-back banjo?
It is possible to add a resonator on an open-back banjo but not on every banjo. You will need to make sure it is possible to add a resonator to your banjo but also you will need to check if it will be worth it.
Because most of the time it will be better if you just buy a good resonator banjo instead of upgrading your open-back banjo.
Is it possible to remove the resonator from your banjo?
Sure it is possible to remove the resonator from your banjo, however, that won’t bring you any benefits and with lower the volume that your instrument is producing.
In case you decided to remove the resonator from your banjo, make sure you do this process properly. If you do not have enough information on how to remove the resonator properly you can always go to YouTube and check a video where everything will be shown in detail.
Once you learn the difference between open-back and closed-back (resonator) banjos it will be better for you to understand what type of music you would like to play and additionally it will help you decide on the right banjo instrument for you.