The Difference Between Resonator and Open-Back Banjos

The first appearance of banjos around the world dates back to the seventeenth century, which means musicians have had more than enough time to modify the instrument. But, while we’re all here for the modifications and the grandeur they add to banjos, the emergence of many types can be confusing. That’s why we’re here to help.

In this article, we’ll talk about the resonator vs. open-back banjo dilemma. So, if you want to learn the difference between them, which sounds better, and which is more budget-friendly, keep on reading!

Short Answer

There are two types of five-string banjos: open-back and resonator. The resonator banjo has an extra bowl-shaped part on its back that helps deliver sound better, while the open-back lacks it. The former produces louder and brighter sounds, is pricier, and is ideal for a bluegrass jam session.

Resonator Banjo vs. Open-Back Banjo: A Detailed Comparison

Now, let’s dive deeper into both types of banjos and see how they fare against each other.


The first difference you’ll notice between the two types is the resonator that the open-back banjo lacks. The resonator is a bowl-shaped wooden part that encloses the sound chamber in the resonator banjo.

It breeds louder sounds, which is essential in bluegrass music solos. That’s why some people refer to it as the bluegrass banjo. It also helps deliver clearer melodies to the audience.

On the other hand, the open-back banjo has no resonator. Instead, its back is open, hence the name. This way, you’ll know whether the instrument in front of you is open-back or resonator in a second.

Another physical difference that might not always be there is the string placement. Strings are often higher on open-back banjos than resonator banjos. But it isn’t a rule. Also, resonator banjos have metal strings.

Playing Style

Open-back banjos are made to be played clawhammer style. Some people even call the instrument the clawhammer banjo. In summary, playing clawhammer means that you’ll strum strings using the back of your middle finger nail and pluck using your thumb. So your hand will look like a claw.

Meanwhile, resonator banjos are associated with bluegrass banjo playing. It’s most commonly used in bluegrass music, thus the name, and it utilizes three fingers. Playing bluegrass means that you’ll wear picks on your thumb, middle finger, and index finger.

It’s famously more challenging to play bluegrass style. However, if you love playing banjo, you should try all styles of music played on it.


Resonator banjos are louder and produce more twangy melodies than open-back banjos, thanks to the presence of the resonator. On the other hand, open-back banjos are famous for their soft melodies and mellow sounds. They aren’t as loud as resonator banjos because while playing, the sound chamber is lying against the body of the banjo player.

Because of its characteristic sound, bluegrass banjo players often use the resonator type as the lead instrument. Meanwhile, the open-back stringed instrument is mostly used in mountain music.


Naturally, a resonator banjo costs more than the open-back because it requires more manufacturing materials. But the two instruments, in general, aren’t that expensive, especially compared to other instruments. So you can buy an open-back or resonator banjo without breaking your budget.


Since resonator banjos have an extra wooden part on their backs, they’re noticeably heavier than open-back instruments. But don’t worry about this point if you plan on buying one. There are travel-friendly models available that are more portable than normal ones.

History and Popularity

The first banjo in history was an open-back banjo. It appeared in America after African slave trades took place in the 1700s. Adding a resonator was merely a modification that got added to the instrument decades later, and it was internal at first.

In terms of popularity, both types are pretty famous, and you can find them in any music store you visit.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is Open or Closed-Back Banjo Better?

It depends on your favorite playing style. You’ll like the open-back instrument more if you’re used to the clawhammer style. But if you love challenges and prefer playing the bluegrass style, you should go for a closed-back banjo.

Can I Add a Resonator to an Open-Back Instrument?

Yes, you can, but not all open-back banjo models have this option. So you should check before buying a resonator.

Can I Play a Bluegrass Piece on an Open-Back Banjo?

Yes, you can. Open-back banjos are pretty versatile when it comes to different music genres.

To Wrap Up

Want to buy a five-string banjo and can’t choose between a resonator and an open-back? Here’s a summarized comparison between the two.

The resonator banjo’s volume is higher with more vibrations, while the open-back banjo produces softer melodies. The former is also slightly heavier, pricier, and newer than the latter. But the main difference between the two is the resonator on the back of the resonator banjo.

Now that you know enough about both types, you can decide which one you want to learn!