If you’re searching for a left handed banjo you’re in the right place! Although these niche instruments aren’t exactly a dime a dozen, there are plenty of great banjos out there for lefty players of all abilities and budgets.
Throughout this guide, we’ll take a look at my top 6 best left handed banjo picks. This list includes beginner packages including everything you’ll need to get started, to more premium options that will potentially last you for life.
Stick around for the end of the guide where I will also answer some common questions that you may have about playing banjo left handed. Such as…
- Should you play left or right-handed?
- 4, 5, or 6-string banjo – Which is best?
- What are the main banjo playstyles?
- Resonator versus open-back models
- How to tune a banjo?
What Is The Best Left Handed Banjo?
Below you’ll discover my top 6 choices for the best left handed banjo for beginners and intermediate players this year. The list is ordered from the most affordable left handed banjos at the start to the more pricey options at the end.
Disclosure: If you decide to purchase a banjo using the links in this article I will earn a small commission at no additional cost to you. Thank you!
If you’re feeling impatient, you can use these links to head directly to the specific left handed banjo reviews that you’re interested in. But be sure to also check out the end of this article where you’ll discover a ton of handy advice that you’ll want to consider before pulling the trigger on your new instrument.
- Jameson 5-String Banjo
- Ashthorpe 5-String Banjo
- Vangoa 5-String Banjo
- Oscar Schmidt OB5LH
- Deering Goodtime 2
- Harley Benton HBJ-25LH
1. Jameson 5-String Banjo
Best Cheap Banjo
At the time of writing, the most affordable left handed banjo available is the Jameson 5-string banjo. That is, without hitting up the second-hand market at least!
The main features include a laminate maple and mahogany shell, a mahogany neck, and a beautiful purpleheart fingerboard. The closed-back resonator is also made from mahogany. Crucially, the resonator is removable in case you would prefer to use this banjo as an open-back model.
Other appointments include an industry-standard Remo Weatherking drum head for a full and rich tone, a maple bridge with an ebony saddle, a chrome armrest, plus an adjustable tailpiece and truss rod. A geared 5th tuner allows for precise control of the banjo’s sound.
This instrument also ships with a quality padded gig bag to keep your new banjo safe when out and about.
The Jameson 5-string will make an excellent beginner left handed banjo for players looking to dip their toes into the world of banjo for the first time. The only downside to this budget instrument is that it does not include any accessories, so you will need to source your own picks, strap, and tuner at additional expense.
If you’re sold, you can check it out at the links below!
2. Ashthorpe 5-String Banjo
Budget Left Handed Banjo
I recommended the Jameson above as being the cheapest banjo currently available. But, in truth, there is another option!
The Ashthorpe 5-string banjo is basically a re-branded version of the Jameson with a slightly different gig bag. It does come with a few extra accessories such as picks, spare strings, and a polishing cloth, but I’ll leave it up to you to decide if that is worth an additional $10!
Like the Jameson, it has a 5-ply maple/mahogany shell, a smooth mahogany neck, and a slick purpleheart fretboard. The mahogany resonator can also be removed using 4 thumb screws allowing the instrument to be used as an open-back banjo if required.
The frosted Remo banjo head offers up a classic clear and bright tone, and the quality 15:1 ratio geared tuners ensure excellent tuning precision. An adjustable truss rod lets you combat the effects that changes in humidity may have on the neck over time.
If these two banjos are exactly the same, which one should you pick if on a tight budget? Check the price below to find out which is currently the most affordable!
If there’s currently no difference in price, the decision will most likely come down to whether you prefer the black gig bag with the Jameson, or the beige bag with this one.
3. Vangoa 5-String Banjo
Best Banjo Bundle
If you’re new to banjo and would love a package that includes everything you need to get started, then look no further than the Vangoa left handed 5-string banjo bundle.
This superb package is only slightly more expensive than the two models above, but includes a gig bag, spare strings, a headstock tuner, a pickup, a strap, a polishing cloth, and a set of fingerpicks.
As far as the banjo itself is concerned, it features a 5-ply birch rim with a mahogany shell, a removable mahogany resonator for open-back play, a mahogany neck, and a smooth purpleheart fretboard. Precise tuning is available via the 14:1 ratio geared tuners, and the classic Remo Weatherking head ensures a bright and twangy tone.
A standout feature of this excellent banjo package is the included pickup which will allow you to play at volume through an amplifier or PA system.
A slight disadvantage is that the included gig bag isn’t quite as premium when compared to the Jameson and Ashthorpe above, but that may not be an issue depending on your needs.
Overall, I’d recommend this kit as the best left handed banjo bundle currently available. Check it out at the link below for current pricing information.
4. Oscar Schmidt OB5LH
Best Beginner Left Handed Banjo
We’re starting to move up in terms of price now, but at under $300, the Oscar Schmidt OB5LH is still very affordable as far as banjos are concerned.
For those not in the know, Oscar Schmidt is produced by Washburn Guitars, so you can be sure that these banjos will be a little higher in terms of craftsmanship and playability when compared to other budget options.
Main features include a mahogany resonator, a nato neck with a 22-fret rosewood fingerboard, a Remo Weatherking head, and a geared 5th string tuner.
It certainly looks a cut above the previous banjos in this list thanks to its 30-bracket cast aluminum tone ring, decorative inlays, and fully bound fingerboard and resonator.
The only downside to this instrument is that the resonator is not removable, so if you would like to switch to open-back play on occasion this may not be the banjo for you. On the plus side, the non-removable back results in a slightly improved sound overall.
Find out more about the Oscar Schmidt OB5LH at the link below.
5. Deering Goodtime 2
Best Left Handed Banjo
The banjos above are all great for beginners or for those on a budget. But what if you’re looking to advance from your first banjo, or are happy splashing a little extra cash?
Well, you will probably struggle to find much better than the USA-built best-selling Deering Goodtime 2 for under $1000.
Main features include a 3-ply violin-grade maple rim, a 3-ply poplar/maple resonator, a hard rock maple neck, and a 22-fret fingerboard. And just look at those ultra-classy hardwood bowtie inlays. She’s a beauty for sure!
You can even remove the resonator for open-back style play if required.
Check out Deering’s video below for an excellent demonstration of the sounds that the Goodtime 2 is capable of.
Deering is so confident in the quality of this instrument that it comes with a whopping 6-year warranty. The only slight downside is that you would probably expect a gig bag at this price point. Unfortunately, you will need to source your own bag or case for the Goodtime 2.
The Deering Goodtime 2 is a killer bluegrass banjo with a rich and golden tone, with a build quality that guarantees this instrument will be with you for life. Head to the link below for current pricing and further information.
6. Harley Benton HBJ-25LH
European Banjo Option
All of the banjo choices above are readily available in the USA, but I also wanted to include an extra option for you southpaws across the pond.
Thomann’s incredibly wide-ranging in-house brand Harley Benton includes an excellent budget-friendly left handed banjo that European players can get their hands on with ease. Say hello to the Harley Benton HBJ-25LH!
This model is part of Harley Benton’s Bluegrass series, and is incredibly affordable at just €169 at the time of writing.
Main features include a sapele resonator, a nato neck with a 22-fret blackwood fingerboard, a Remo Weatherking head, a maple and ebony bridge, plus quality geared tuners. The resonator can be removed if you would like to experience that open-back sound as well.
Unfortunately, this banjo does not ship with a gig bag or any included accessories, but you can easily pick up anything you need from Thomann when placing your order.
Check it out at the link below for more information.
Here are a few extras that you might like to pick up with your new instrument if they are not already bundled along with it.
Tuner. A good headstock tuner is a must to ensure that you are playing in perfect pitch – my personal favorite is the KLIQ Ubertuner. Simply clamp it onto your headstock and it will tune your banjo perfectly via vibration. Check it out here.
Straps. A banjo strap is slightly different compared to a regular guitar strap and is a must-have if you plan to stand up while playing. Take a look through a selection here.
Fingerpicks. If bluegrass or clawhammer is the style of music you are opting for then a good set of picks is a necessity. Both plastic and metal varieties are available. Most players favor a plastic thumb pick coupled with metal fingerpicks. However, be sure to test all options (including your own fingernails!) to see what works best for you.
So you’ve got your new instrument – now all that’s left to do is learn to play the damn thing! I’ve listed below a few popular books that will help get you off to a great start.
- Bluegrass Banjo for the Complete Ignoramus
- Clawhammer Banjo for the Complete Ignoramus
- Earl Scruggs and the 5-String Banjo
- Banjo for Dummies
- Left-Handed Banjo Beginners Jumpstart
- Left Handed Banjo Chord Chart
Link – Click Here To Check Out These 6 Books
I’m sure the information above will be enough to get many of you started. However, for those of you who might need a little more information before taking the plunge, here’s a bit of extra reading that’ll cover a few extra questions you might like to consider.
Should I Play Banjo Left or Right Handed?
Right or left handed banjo? If you are brand new to playing a stringed instrument you might be debating over which way to play. For a quick answer, refer back to my article Should I Play Guitar Left or Right Handed?
It’s worth noting that for most styles of banjo playing I would suggest that it is especially important to have your dominant hand as your picking hand. Banjo is typically a very picking-centric instrument, so it’s critical to have a good sense of rhythm and control with your picking hand in particular.
Four or Five String Banjo?
This really depends on the style of music you’d like to be playing.
4-String. A 4-string banjo typically comes in two flavors – a tenor, or a plectrum banjo. A plectrum banjo is the same as a 5-string, minus the shorter drone string (5th string), and is popular with jazz players. The tenor has a shorter scale length and is popular with Irish folk players.
They are typically used to perform a Dixieland style of playing and are mostly played using a plectrum (guitar pick). Example video.
5-String. The most popular banjo by far, and probably the style that most will opt for. A standard 5-string banjo has 22 frets, with the 5th string tuning peg being located at the 5th fret.
They typically come in two different variations – with a resonator, or with an open-back. Often called a Bluegrass Banjo, the design with a resonator is the most popular style of banjo for playing bluegrass. An open-back banjo is preferred for Clawhammer (frailing) style play due to its softer tone.
- Bluegrass (resonator) banjo is typically played with a thumb-pick and two metal fingerpicks (also known as Scruggs style). Example video.
- Clawhammer style is played with either fingernails or specialized plastic or metal fingerpicks. Example video.
6-String. If you already play guitar then a 6-string banjo may be an appealing option to you. However, note that these are essentially just banjo-shaped guitars. They are tuned and played like a guitar, but give a banjo-style sound. Example video.
What Is The Difference Between Open-Back And Resonator Banjos?
Resonator. If you look at the back of a resonator banjo you’ll notice a plate that is attached to the body – also sometimes referred to as the ‘pot’. The purpose of this resonator plate is to help the banjo to produce a louder sound, which helps in band situations. The sound bounces off the plate and is projected forward toward the audience. As mentioned above, you’ll probably want to opt for a resonator if bluegrass is your intended play style.
Open-Back. It should be fairly self-explanatory, but open-back banjos are essentially resonator banjos without the resonator! Because of their open back, these instruments produce a slightly quieter, mellower sound than their resonator cousins. Due to their softer tone, they are generally favored for playing old-timey American music, and are typically played using the clawhammer playstyle (or variations of this style). Another benefit to open-backed banjos is their lighter weight!
It’s worth noting that on some resonator banjos, the plate can be removed to give a quieter sound if needed. Almost all of the choices I have listed above have this facility.
Banjo Strings and Tuning
As a new player, it is generally felt that you should stick to lighter gauge strings, at least initially.
If you’re coming to banjo from playing guitar, the order of the strings might surprise you a little. Unlike on a guitar where the strings are in order from thickest to thinnest, the string order on a standard 5-string banjo is 4th, 3rd, 2nd, 1st, and then 5th.
The 5th string differs to the others in that it attaches to a special tuner located at the 5th fret, resulting in it being 3/4 the length of the other strings. It is often called the ‘thumb string’ and is used to create a drone sound. Specialized capos are available to alter the pitch of the thumb string.
The most common tuning used in bluegrass is open G (G B G B D). When playing older styles of music, common tunings are Open D (F# D F# A D) and Double C (G C G C D)
Main Banjo Play Styles
The two most common banjo playstyles are Scruggs style and clawhammer. Other styles exist (such as simply playing with a guitar pick), but these are the two which are most commonly associated specifically with banjo playing.
Scruggs Style (or 3-Finger Style). The most common form of picking in bluegrass music is Scruggs style (named after Earl Scruggs), where the player uses fingerpicks on the thumb, index, and middle fingers. The ring and pinky fingers are typically used as a brace against the body of the banjo. In this playstyle the strings are plucked very quickly in repetitive patterns (rolls), resulting in a very fast, lively sound.
Clawhammer. Also known as Frailing, the clawhammer style of play is preferred for old-time American music. The thumb and index or middle fingers are primarily used to pick. The hand forms a ‘claw’ shape with most of the movement coming from the wrist or elbow, rather than the fingers, which remain relatively stiff throughout.
A big difference between clawhammer and Scruggs style is the direction in which the strings are plucked. Scruggs-style players will pick down with the thumb and up with the fingers, whereas clawhammer players will pick downwards with all fingers. While Bluegrass can be called a picking style, clawhammer is more a rhythmic strumming style.
Check out the video below for a great demonstration of the difference between the 3-finger style and clawhammer.