Recording King Dirty 30s Banjo Review: Bang-Up Budget Banjos (For Bluegrass & More)

As bluegrass begins to enjoy somewhat of a renaissance with mainstream audiences, it's only fitting that the banjo is making a comeback as well. After all, nothing screams "carefree jam sesh" quite like the banjo.

But make no mistake, while the banjo is perfect for creating a relaxing, laid-back vibe, it actually demands a high amount of technical prowess. Fortunately, it's never been easier to get your foot in the door – there are more great entry-level banjos on the market now than you can shake a stick at.

Recording King's "Dirty 30s" series is the consummate banjo series for new and intermediate players. This product line includes three different banjos, all of which are perfectly suited for a particular type of player.

Today's article will discuss Recording King's open-back banjo, resonator banjo, and tenor banjo at length. I'll tell you the pros and cons of each model and let you know which types of musicians will most resonate with each one (pun intended).

Recording King Dirty 30s Open-back Banjo: Overview

Recording King Dirty 30s Open-back Banjo


  • 5 string banjo
  • Multi-ply rim
  • Maple neck
  • Revebond fingerboard
  • Remo head

Why I like it

  • Decently affordable
  • Can be played loudly or softly
  • Nice clean, mellow tone

What I think could be improved

  • May require some adjustments and maintenance to get just right

Dirty 30s Open-Back Banjo: Features & Benefits

The first banjo we'll discuss today has a solid tone, excellent playability, and vintage aesthetics.

Recording King Dirty 30s Open-back Banjo

Playability 4.5/5

In order to pull off the iconic sound of fast banjo riffing, it's important that your banjo has good playability. Playability refers to a combination of factors that all add up to how easy it is to play what you intend to on the instrument.

Overall, the Dirty 30s Open Back Banjo has good playability, especially for such an affordable instrument. It has a slim neck with a fairly low action out of the box. Essentially, this makes it relatively easy to play riffs and chords on this banjo without having to stretch your fingers too much.

With proper playing style, you'll be able to use the low action as an advantage, playing notes quickly with ease.

Design 4/5

This vintage-style banjo has a historic vibe with modern sensibilities. Its design is simple enough to satisfy anyone who just wants a classic-looking banjo to jam out on.

Banjo purists will appreciate the "four and a half string" setup, which includes four strings at full length and one that begins on the fifth fret and includes its own tuning knob. This allows you to achieve the chime-y high end tones that are so often associated with the banjo.

The lightweight design makes the traditional banjo sound accessible to the masses, since it comes at a relatively affordable price point.

Tone 4/5

There ain't nothing wrong with this tone! The Recording Kind Dirty 30s Open Back Banjo has a classic sound thanks to its multi-ply rim and resonant open-back body. If you want an instantly recognizable, straightforward banjo tone, then this is the banjo I'd recommend.

The Remo Recording King banjo head sounds great and provides an even tone. The instrument can be played at relatively low volumes, making it ideal for practicing beginners or chill jam sessions.

Recording King Dirty 30s Resonator Banjo: Overview

Recording King Dirty 30s Resonator Banjo


  • Maple body
  • Maple neck
  • Revebond fingerboard
  • Remo head
  • Satin finish

Why I like it

  • Great natural projection
  • Classic twangy tone
  • Durable build

What I think could be improved

  • Hard to play at low volume levels

Recording King Dirty 30s Resonator Banjo: Features & Benefits

The greatest benefit of the Recording King Dirty 30s Resonator Banjo is its impressively loud natural projection.

It has a steel cone inside the body, as all resonator instruments do, which projects the sound forward as you play. As a result, this is great for singer-songwriters who play their songs acoustically.

Recording King Dirty 30s Resonator Banjo

Playability 4.5/5

Recording King's resonator banjo packs excellent playability into a compact package. Just like the closed-back variant, it is pristinely built for maximum playability.

This resonator banjo also has a maple neck and a vintage style, with a vintage tone to match. We'll discuss the tone more in a later section.

Folk stylists will appreciate the low action, which allows for fast bluegrass riffs to be played with ease.

Volume 5/5

The Dirty Thirties Resonator Banjo once again has a classic banjo tone, but this time with even more natural projection.

This extra-loud edge makes the resonator banjo a perfect choice for traveling troubadours who would like to play their instruments at a high volume without the need for amplification.

Essentially, a resonator banjo is a busker's dream!

Tone 5/5

Resonator instruments provide their own unique tones, and the Recording Kind Resonator Banjo is no exception.

It all comes down to the tone ring, which surrounds the banjo's body. This ring surrounds a steel cone inside the body that helps the strings resonate to create a louder sound than a standard banjo would.

This gives the instrument a naturally loud sound, as well as a mellow tone that gives it an especially "twangy" quality. Enthusiasts of bluegrass-style banjo will particularly love this instrument since it brings the classic bluegrass flair straight to the listeners without any need for amplification.

Recording King Dirty 30s Tenor Banjo: Overview

Recording King Dirty 30s Tenor Banjo


  • Four strings
  • Remo head
  • Maple body
  • Maple neck

Why I like it

  • Rich, full tone
  • Extended lower range
  • Durable construction

What I think could be improved

  • Takes some adjusting for players who are used to a standard banjo

Recording King Dirty 30s Tenor Banjo: Features & Benefits

This banjo sits at the crossroads of classic sound and historic design.

Recording King Dirty 30s Tenor Banjo

Extended Range 5/5

This banjo is tuned 4 to 5 half steps lower than a standard banjo, making it the ideal companion for an experimental folk player.

Sometimes, a song will be perfect to play, but just slightly too high to sing. And when I say sometimes, I mean quite often. If this happens to you, then a tenor instrument such as the Recording King Dirty 30s Tenor Banjo might be the perfect answer to your problems.

Thanks to the extended lower range of this instrument, you'll be able to sing your bluegrass, country, and folk songs with ease.

Tone 4.5/5

This banjo's tone is even more rich and full than the others on the list, thanks to the lower tuning. I love the effect this has on the songs I play.

Now with Recording King's tenor banjo, I can give my songs an even more commanding presence. Playing in lower tunings means a completely different vibe, and it also opens more doors for collaboration with other musicians.

Most guitar players will be tuned to standard, so being able to play in this lower tenor tuning will give your ensemble more versatility.

Construction 4.5/5

This is a good instrument with even better construction. It has high durability thanks to its Remo head and tone ring, and it even has a great-looking satin finish.

Construction is important with a larger-than-average instrument like this. I appreciate that Recording King made sure their tenor banjo was up to snuff in terms of durability and quality.

Playability 5/5

Like the other banjos on the list, the Recording King Dirty 30s Tenor Banjo has outstanding playability. When it comes to tenor instruments, playability is especially important because lower frequencies have huge sway over the groove of the song.

Fortunately, Recording King didn't skimp here. This is a well-made instrument with a perfectly adjusted action right out of the box. I was able to immediately start jamming and creating the sounds I wanted to hear, with virtually no unwanted fret buzz.

Recording King Dirty 30s: Alternatives

Let's look at some great banjo alternatives from other reputable brands.

Ibanez B200 5-string Resonator Banjo

Ibanez B200 5-string Resonator Banjo

Ibanez has always been a fantastic choice for those who want low- to mid-budget instruments with good playability, and the B200 5-string resonator banjo is no different.

Try out this resonator banjo from Ibanez if you don't mind delving into the mid-budget range for a slightly more premium banjo. The tone is fantastic, and the playability is a cut above most other banjos in its price point.

Epiphone MB-100 Fist Pick 5-string Open Back Banjo

Epiphone MB-100 Fist Pick 5-string Open Back Banjo

The Epiphone MB-100 takes the cake as one of the all-around best budget-friendly banjos on the market today. Its laminated mahogany rim and mahogany neck look and sound great together, delivering a warm, vintage-style tone.

It has a Remo head as well as a pickguard, so you know it will remain in good condition even after hours of playing.

Check out our full review of the MB-100 to learn more.

Washburn Americana B9 5-string Open Back Banjo

Washburn Americana B9 5-string Open Back Banjo

The Washburn Americana B9 Banjo has a mahogany rim, which provides a sturdy construction as well as a rich, warm tone. This is all thanks to the cast aluminum tone ring that surrounds the Remo head.

It also has a rosewood fretboard, which is known to be a smooth wood that provides natural playability.

This is a simple but well-made banjo that, like Recording King banjos, will serve you well and last years.

Check out the full review here.

In Conclusion

The Recording King Dirty 30s line of banjos offers a unique blend of vintage aesthetics and modern playability, making it an excellent choice for both seasoned players and newcomers alike.

Thanks to Recording King, the door is wide open for new banjo players ready to fingerpick their hearts away. I appreciate brands like Recording King for making playable, authentic-sounding instruments so affordable for new players.

Pick one up today and get finger-pickin'!

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