The most expensive banjos in the world are made of the finest materials, and many are attached to legends like Earl Scruggs.
When it comes to banjos, you get what you pay for. Beginners might prefer to stick to instruments under $1000 in case they become disinterested after the novelty wears off. But what about those that only sink deeper into the rabbit hole?
It should come as no surprise that the spending ceiling is high. But even if you can’t afford a banjo that costs more than a brand new luxury Mercedes-Benz, you can still find high-end instruments that should only cost a few months’ rent.
Now, should you decide to go all in, you’ve got options that will both sound gorgeous and act as bragging rights for life. So pull up the paperwork to refinance your house, banjo lovers.
Here are the 13 most expensive banjos in the world:
Table of Contents
1. Gibson RB-7 Banjo
Let’s start big, shall we? Gibson may not have the most creative titles for their banjos, but the instruments are legendary. The RB-7 is the crown jewel in their banjo crown.
First released in 1937, the RB-7 was one of Gibson’s early top tension models. This means the player can adjust the tension from the instrument’s top rather than removing the resonator. The style quickly gained popularity. People covet these early models for their volume, depth, and dynamic range.
But why is it so expensive? In short, the answer is a rarity. Only a handful of the original models still exist in the world. It’s the most valuable single item in the American Banjo Museum in Oklahoma. If you own this, you have not only a fantastic banjo but also a piece of history.
Find a wealthy bass-playing friend and pair this banjo with the James Jamerson 1961 Fender Precision Bass for a shared experience in ultimate musical luxury.
At a $100,000 price tag, the Gibson RB-7 is the most expensive banjo in the world.
2. Gibson Super Earl Banjo
The Super Earl is another banjo that’s high price comes from its exclusivity. Only five of these banjos exist globally, one of which is at the Earl Scruggs Center in North Carolina.
If you can find a willing seller, and you’re one of bluegrass legend Earl Scruggs’ biggest fans, the price tag might be worth it. Not only can you sound like your hero, but a signed portrait of the musician is displayed on the back.
3. Deering Gabriella 5-String Banjo
Deering is one of the biggest names in high-end banjos, and the Gabriella is their top-line model. It’s one of the most beautiful instruments on this list. Complete with a mother-of-pearl fretboard and an English walnut neck, the Gabriella is the embodiment of a luxury instrument.
It doesn’t just look good. Distinct note separation and a bright, poppy sound make this one of the best sounding banjos around. It may not have the historical significance of the first two banjos on this list, but that doesn’t cheapen it by any means.
4. 1928 Gibson Style 6 Banjo
Don’t want to spend more on a banjo than you would on a new car? The rest of this list is for you cheapskates out there.
In 1928, Gibson introduced a beautiful new banjo with a wooden body featuring a “two-tone effect,” a novel design. It’s an instrument built for comfort. The design allows for softened, yet expressive playing that doesn’t sacrifice a high-quality sound.
You can still find some of these banjos floating around, as they’ve been cherished and well-taken care of by passionate players over the years. The classic nature of these banjos might make some gawk at the price tag.
5. Deering Clawgrass Banjo
Only a little less expensive than the Style 6 is the Deering Clawgrass, our first open-backed banjo on the list. This is the perfect banjo for musicians who want to play loud and proud. The Clawgrass has a bright, loud, clear tone that blends well with various music genres.
Its name blends bluegrass and clawhammer, the latter referring to a style of picking in which all strokes are downward and played with rigid, claw-like fingers. Traditionally, bluegrass blends upward and downward picking.
Prominent Clawgrass players include Steve Martin, Kevin Nealon, and Mark Johnson.
6. Vega Dragon Star Banjo
The most expensive banjos in the world should exude luxury in their appearance. Designs often include artistic depictions on the instruments, sometimes animals or other creatures. So how about dragons? What legendary creature is more heavily associated with banjos than dragons?
Wait, is that not an association? Well, nobody told Vega thankfully, who designed this model with a mother-of-pearl inlay of a fire breathing monster. As if that wasn’t enough, a princess occupies the opposite end of the neck.
Don’t be fooled, though. This high-end banjo isn’t all-style, no substance. It backs up these bold designs with a dynamic, clear sound that doesn’t skimp out on proper bass or treble clarity. Play this one to wayward travelers at the local medieval tavern.
7. Gibson RB-5 Banjo
Renowned bluegrass musician Ralph Stanley popularized this model in the 1960s and 1970s, but thankfully, Gibson has reissued this instrument.
However, this banjo still comes at a reasonably high price tag. The RB-5 is an archtop banjo, meaning its smaller head size gives it a distinctively bright, sharp sound. Even at its release, the RB-5 was considered a deluxe banjo, so it boasts a gold plate, a two-piece flange, and a wreath-patterned inlay. Both the resonator back and neck are walnut, which is less common than maple or mahogany.
8. Nechville Vintage Banjo
Unlike previous banjos that are reissues or simply classics already, the Nechville vintage is a throwback model. The high quality of artisan craftsmanship in its construction justifies its price tag. Handmade with Honduran mahogany and real ebony, this meticulously designed instrument honors 1930s traditions in the modern era.
Buzzing and sonic interference plague some old-style banjos, but the Vintage avoids those problems with ease. If you can afford it, choose this banjo that features the best of both worlds.
9. Deering Calico Banjo
Alright, we’ve finally gone under five thousand. Buy one of these banjos and avoid the judgemental gaze of your mother, who wonders why you’d waste so much money on something so frivolous.
Not to say the Deering Calico is cheap, but the features it includes don’t—and shouldn’t—come cheap. The inside of the resonator walls is tapered for superior tonal effects. The frets are also fitted and glued in place, but once they wear out, the user can still heat them and adjust them without damaging the banjo.
The price tag comes from both a high-quality sound and durability that isn’t found on cheaper banjos. For a dedicated player, you may have found your compromise.
10. Vega Long Neck Banjo
This list has talked a lot about bluegrass music, and for a good reason, but banjos are capable of more than that. If your interest lies in folk music, the Vega Long Neck might be the perfect banjo.
Folk legend Pete Seeger was the first to popularize this banjo style, including three more frets than the typical design. This allowed him to tune to E or G with the use of a capo. These dynamic capabilities make the Long Neck a perfect banjo for solo play or to accompany a rich, soulful voice.
11. Gold Tone Orange Blossom Banjo
Most of us can’t afford to spend our entire net worth on a banjo. Though you might be reading this in the interest of dreaming, here’s one banjo even a modest enthusiast can afford if they pinch pennies for long enough.
The Orange Blossom may be the least expensive banjo on this list, but it’s still a fine instrument, and the comparatively modest price tag still leaves the buyer with some great features.
It has been a best seller for years. The tobacco brown finish, three-ply Canadian maple rim, heart and flower inlays, and ebony fingerboard might make the Orange Blossom the best banjo you ever need.
If you want to lie to your friends and say you spent more on this banjo than your car, they just might believe you. Don’t worry, we won’t tell.
Whether you’re a millionaire with money to burn or a modest dreamer, there’s a fancy, deluxe banjo out there for you. Chances are, the most expensive banjos will only appeal to history enthusiasts. If you just love the twangy sound of classic bluegrass and folk, though, things become much more affordable.
These 11 choices span the range of the best, or at least most expensive, banjos, but don’t be discouraged by shallow pockets. Start cheap if you’re new to the instrument. A few hundred dollars will buy you a starter banjo.
Who knows? Maybe you’ll get so good that Gibson and Deering will come knocking at your door and begging you to play their high-end products. Maybe you can even insist that they build you a custom one with African Flatwood.