Monday, August 22, 2011

Tenor Banjo Makers

There are several options for purchasing a tenor banjo. The most obvious route is going with a production model Gold Tone or Deering.  These companies both make decent, relatively inexpensive entry-level models.  Or you could try getting a vintage 1920’s Vega, Bacon & Day, Slingerland, Paramount or similar from a reputable dealer such as Vinnie Mondello, Bernunzio, Intermountain Guitar and Banjo or Spruce Tree Music.  There are also at least two well known makers in Ireland – Clareen and Boyle – who specialize in tenor banjos.

However, I wanted to point out some North American banjo makers I’m aware of who either make or have made custom tenor banjos: Tommy George, Brooks Masten, Noel Booth and Jason Romero.

Tommy George makes fine, hand-crafted banjos in Somerville, Tennessee.  Everything is crafted by hand using rasp, file, lathe, bandsaw and sanders.  George Banjos offers over 50 years of building experience to create individual instruments that stand apart from the standard models produced by factories.  

Brooks Masten of Brooks Banjos in Portland, Oregon is dedicated to old-world craftsmanship. Although he specializes in openback 5-string banjos, Brooks can make custom tenor banjos with his signature vintage look.  His banjo shop is a one-man operation and each banjo gets the special attention it deserves.

Instrument builder Noel Booth of Old Fiddle Road Banjo Works designs and builds banjos made with a combination of traditional and unusual woods.  He works out of a small shop in Balsam, North Carolina and can make you an original tenor banjo using a combination of historical and contemporary design.

Jason Romero makes his hand-built, finely crafted J. Romero Banjos in Horsefly, British Columbia.  Jason's banjos are playable works of art -- ever changing and evolving with just enough innovation to provide a tasteful alternative.  As with all the builders mentioned here, custom tenor banjo orders are welcome.
J. Romero Tenor Banjo
There are many advantages to having a custom instrument made. For banjos, the cost is not much more, and sometimes less, than a mass produced or vintage model.  Your dream instrument can be tailored just for you, with the perfect combination of materials and specs.  Plus there's just the coolness factor of having your very own banjo which will bring you that much closer to playing and sounding your best.  Let me know if there are any other North American tenor banjo makers who should be on this list.

Oh, and if you get a custom banjo you will also eventually want a custom gig bag for it.  I recommend Colorado Case or Glenn Cronkhite gig bags.  Good luck!


  1. Hey! I discovered your blog recently and have been working my way through all the interesting stuffs you've posted. Thanks for sharing.

    I play tenor guitar (Ozark Tenor) and plan on getting a tenor banjo in the near future. I'm leaning towards a George banjo, and wondered if you had any suggestions about specifics (wood, tone rings, etc,) based on your experiences.

    Lately I've been working on "Poor Old Liza Jane" from Enda Scahill's tutor (vol II), but I mostly play trad Irish.


    1. Hi Brett. Thank you so much for reading and commenting. Glad to hear that you are thinking of getting a Tommy George banjo. Good choice! 17-frets or 19-frets...openback or resonator? I like shortscale openbacks. You might want to see if Tommy has a vintage rim that he could use or refurbish for your banjo. For tone rings maybe try either a Whyte Laydie or just a simple rolled brass. Or for a different, cool sound (and lighter weight) consider a Spun Over Rim. Birdseye maple or walnut for the neck. Ebony fretboard. Mini Grover or Gotoh tuners. Remo or Fibreskyn banjo head. I happen to be left handed and haven't been playing that so unfortunately I haven't had a whole lot of experience with trying out different options. I mostly relied on George Banjo's expertise when I ordered mine. Good luck and keep me posted!

  2. Hi my name is Alan O Rourke and I am from Ireland and I make tenor banjos .All handcrafted to clients specification,I see above that you have mentioned other Irish tenor banjo makers,I would love if you could add my name and website to this list,I am also on facebook ALS BANJOS .

  3. Hello, Cedar Mountain Banjos in North Carolina is now offering highly customizable 17 and 19-fret tenor banjo neck options for any of its models. You can find more info at Thanks!

  4. Hello, Cedar Mountain Banjos in North Carolina is now offering 17 and 19-fret tenor neck options on any of its customizable handmade models. You can find more info at Thanks!

  5. Just curious does anyone have any information on banjos pre 1850 of Irish descent. Im curious of the relationship of irish folk music and the instruments of the era