Epiphone MB-100 Banjo Review: Affordable Open-Back Gets the Job Done

Banjos are an iconic instrument played in a range of traditional genres, like, folk, blues, bluegrass and stringband music.

They're known for their fun, raspy, jangly tone that just screams 'country and blues' as soon as you hear it. Could you even have a bluegrass band without a banjo? I think not.

When you're looking at buying a new banjo (particularly if you are a new or intermediate player) you'll often be recommended the Epiphone MB-100, and I think it's a great starting point.

This is a reasonably priced, but relatively well-appointed open-back banjo that has a nice sound and construction quality.

When I test whether a banjo is good for beginners or not, there are a few things I look for: reasonable-quality materials, playable dimensions, and price range to name a few. All of these are explained in more detail in our guide to the best beginner banjos.

Now, let's get to the review!

Epiphone MB-100 Banjo - Overview

Epiphone MB-100 Banjo

Average Rating: 3.5/5


  • String Count - 5
  • Body Style - Open Back
  • Top Head - Remo Head
  • Machine Heads - Closed gear Remo tuners
  • Materials:
    • Fingerboard Material - Rosewood
    • Nut Material - Plastic
    • Body - Mahogany
    • Neck - Mahogany
  • Scale Length - 26.25"
  • Fret Count - 22
  • Hardware Material - Nickel

Why I Like It

  • Affordable, offering great value for money.
  • Creates a full and balanced tone, thanks to the authentic design and construction.
  • Well made, and comes with an essential armrest and classic Remo banjo head.

What I Think Could Be Improved

  • Not as articulate or clear as more expensive models.
  • Tuning stability could be better.
  • The neck shape and style are a little different from traditional banjo models.

The Epiphone MB-100 is an open-back, 5-stringed banjo, suitable for new and intermediate players. Epiphone is known for making affordable, quality instruments – and I'd say this banjo exemplifies their mission to a tee.

The MB-100 features a Mahogany body and a traditional Mahogany neck with a rosewood dot fingerboard. It has a plucky and mellow tone, which is inspiring for all classic banjo genres like bluegrass and folk.

Beyond this, it's a pretty simplistic design, comparable to the Washburn Americana B9 or Recording King Dirty 30s. These are all great models, and as you will see later on in this review, each has a slightly different approach to the banjo design.

Let's look at the key areas in more detail!

Epiphone MB-100 Banjo Features & Benefits

Build Quality 3/5

Epiphone MB-100 Banjo

When I received the Epiphone MB-100 Banjo, I immediately noticed its straightforward and rustic design, which felt pretty good all around.

The build is decent, featuring a classic open-back style which makes it lightweight and easy to handle. It's noticeably light, which might feel a bit awkward for some players, but I found it fine.

While the materials are not top-notch – primarily laminated woods and a basic Remo drumhead – it's well-assembled for an entry-level banjo. Obviously, the materials aren't as high quality as the best banjos we reviewed, but they're definitely fair for the price.

One area of irritation for me was the tuning. This does not have particularly solid tuning, and it does slip out pretty quickly. I had to retune it slightly every 30-60 minutes depending on how vigorously I tuned it - although maybe this would be more stable after the strings were settled in a bit. This is a problem that both new and vintage banjos suffer from, it's a minor nuisance and not a total deal breaker.

The nut, and tuning pegs also felt pretty cheap, but these are only minor parts too.

Playability 4/5

Given the low price, playing the MB-100 was a joy, even for someone who has played significantly more expensive instruments. I think it felt like it came set up pretty well from the factory, and the action and tension was suitable for my playing style. The action was set low enough to not cause too much strain on my fingers. This ease of play really helped enhance my practice sessions.

Obviously, the same banjo won't be perfect for everyone, as these things are a matter of personal taste. Due to the fixed nut, there won't be much you can do to change the action other than change the string gauge - but I think it came well-balanced from the box.

The neck felt comfortable in my hands, and the frets were well-placed, making it easy to learn new tunes.

Sound Quality 3/5

The sound of the MB-100 is quite good for its price range.

It produces a bright, clear tone that's typical of banjos but lacks some of the depth and richness found in more expensive models. For the price, I think the tone quality can't really be complained about.

It's perfectly suitable for practice and small informal gatherings. However, in more demanding musical settings, I don't think it would hold its own without some microphone amplification or a pickup.

Value for Money 4/5

Considering the affordability of the Epiphone MB-100, it offers great value for beginners.

It's an excellent choice for those who are just starting out and not wanting to spend too much cash on their first banjo.

It includes all the necessary features to start learning and enjoying banjo playing, without being too much of a serious investment. The quality will be perfect for new players, and overall I think it's very reasonably priced for the quality you get.

Best Alternatives to Epiphone MB-100 Banjo

While the MB-100 is clearly a sweet banjo for beginners, it's not the only model you should look into. There are countless banjo variations on the market, each with its own style, tone, and benefits. Some are more suitable for certain musical genres, and there is also a clear scale from beginner to pro design.

Here are some other entry-level banjo models I recommend you look into before buying one!

Washburn Americana B9 vs Epiphone MB-100

Washburn Americana B9

If you can afford to spend a bit more money, the Washburn Americana B9 is an interesting upgrade over the B100. This is a resonator banjo, meaning it comes with some extra metal resonators, giving you a boost in volume, jangle, and brightness.

If you want something with a bit more loudness and nicer quality over the Epiphone, I recommend looking into this Washburn. It has a bit more of a traditional vibe and an authentic heritage – as the company has been making stringed instruments since the 1880s!

Recording King Dirty 30s Open-back Banjo vs Epiphone MB 100

Recording King Dirty 30s Open-back Banjo

Coming in around 20% more expensive than the Epiphone, this Recording King banjo is largely similar in terms of design, just a slight step up in quality and aesthetics. It's another open-backed 5-stringer that features a few material changes and an upgraded tailpiece. It's light, sounds sweet, and looks the part too. I really like the vintage styling of this banjo, giving more of an old-school, road-worn look.

Deering Goodtime vs Epiphone MB-100

Deering Goodtime

If you can stretch your budget even further (about twice the price of the Epiphone), you can afford a super tasty banjo – the Deering Goodtime.

This is a very nice, American-made banjo with a lush satin finish and maple wood. It has superior tuning stability (which I love) and is resonant, loud, and clear. The neck also feels more comfortable and better carved. It's admittedly a lot nicer than the MB-100 – but also a lot more expensive. If you can afford this one, it's definitely a better investment though.

Final Verdict

Epiphone MB-100 Banjo

In summary, I think the MB-100 is a great choice for new banjo players. If you're transitioning from guitar, or are looking to start playing banjo as your first instrument, I think you'll be pleased with this model.

The main attraction is the price and value for money. It's a lot better than the sub $100 models but still is relatively affordable. It sounds and feels decent, and it looks nice. If you want to take banjo more seriously, you're going to get more mileage out of something like the Deering Goodtime, which sounds and feels better and holds its tuning for longer. Here's my full review of Deering Winston Marshall Signature Model Banjo with my explanation of why I think it's the ultimate touring banjo to date.

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