A reader writes:
I have had a curious interest in a 6-string Banjo for a while now.... It seems they do get a bad rap as a hybrid alien sort of instrument, usually those who have no playing style and just strum it and expecting some miracle sound!!!!! (They usually play a guitar just as bad!). Most reviews seem that you have to read between the lines and consider the source.
I've played guitar for 30+ years (off & on) and consider myself a "casual" professional. Had a few lite-rock bands and have done paid events, parties, weddings, and small clubs over the years....but never relied on it for making a living! Always enjoyed music! Anyway, I have seen several "low-cost" brands that you do not mention but would like your input. Fender, & SX(Rondo Music) specifically because I have seen these pop up often in banjo searches. Understood, these are aprox. $150 and can't expect much. I have not had my hands on any of them yet, but I never exclude China/Asian products because I've seen great stuff from them. What's your thoughts? Would either of these become a "keeper"? By that, meaning they would fulfill the casual, yet decent quality music entertainment, Yet command a little respect from other musicians without the LOL comments?
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Who is your favorite guitar player? What are your favorite guitar-based songs? That will help me recommend a kind of 6-string you might find most useful.
I will say this: most 6-strings under $200 are made in the same few factories with no quality control. Stagg, Johnson, Savannah, Rover, etc. make great canoe paddles. You're in a big market. See if you can find a used Washburn or Dean in the price range you're looking at. MOST used 6-strings you see on Craigs list were bought by 2nd rate guitar players who thought the banjo would turn them into a first-rate banjo player (that's what the ads say), and they never even got the things set up properly.
My under-$500 favorite right now is the electric Dean Backwoods 6, because its UNPLUGGED sound is perfect for the kind of music I play on it I've tried some more expensive ones, but, until you start getting into Deering Bostons or whatever, they're not that much of an upgrade. The acoustic-only Backwood 6 is less useful - it has too much ring and sustain for most styles of playing - although Country or Bluegrass lead guitar pickers and Irish banjo pickers can get nice sounds out of them.
Going out to a practice soon, but I'll try to get back to you when I get back. - Paul