Review: Recording King Dirty 30’s Banjo (Folk Rock for Cheap)

A banjo was an odd choice for my first instrument purchase since grade school. But, a few years ago I just got it stuck in my head that I wanted to learn to play one. They’re loud, folky, somewhat annoying to certain people. A lot like me then. It seemed a match made in heaven.

I’m not necessarily a musician. Though I do play a lot more nowadays, and even started recording a bit. So I was not ready to drop a whole lot of money on something that may just be a novelty to me after I had it for a few weeks. So budget was the main concern. Still, I didn’t want to get something completely terrible.

Going about the process of choosing the brand and budget was tougher than I thought it would be. The amount of resources for banjos is a lot smaller than more popular stringed instruments such as ukuleles or guitars. There seemed to be only a few that matched my price needs and some of them are not very well reviewed.

I stumbled upon the Dirty-30s Tenor banjo by browsing through forums of banjo lovers and they seemed to recommend it fairly high for getting started. It fit my budget at a mere $230 USD, though the reviews were limited besides the one’s I found on forums.

I decided to take the gamble as my hankering for the banjo had reached a high point one night and had it delivered two days later.

Let’s check her out:

Recording King Dirty 30's Banjo 1
Photo credits:

The Looks

One of the things that attracted me to this specific instrument was the aesthetics of it. A pretty red trim, silver colored brackets holding the pot together, and the pot itself had a stained look to it I found particularly attractive.

It looked even better in person. Worst case scenario I just purchased a very nice looking piece of art. Not a bad thing at all.

The red color continues all the way up the neck and onto the headstock.

I’ll say the dirty colored pot of the banjo was still my favorite part in person, and these days it has become much filthier. To me that is awesome.

Plus it’s pretty attention grabbing, just like any banjo should be. People are always asking questions about it and if you don’t want people eyeing your instrument you are better off without a banjo at all. It’ll bring out the folk hero in you. Guaranteed.

Review: Recording King Dirty 30's Banjo (Folk Rock for Cheap) 1


My concerns started here when I noticed the bridge was not in the right place and actually seemed too tall for the instrument. That could just be my preference on the bridge size, but it definitely needed an adjustment right away. Not much work required there as banjos have floating bridges, but you’d hope they adjust and check the instrument

The other issue I ran into while setting it up was that the pot was tensioned too loosely, at least for my taste. This affects the way it resonates and thus the sound of the instrument. It was not very difficult to fix this myself, simply had to tighten the hooks.

Another issue was that the tuning peg for my “b” string, aka the second string, was difficult to turn after about a week of learning to play and tuning. About 6 months into its life it stripped out, which was a bit of an ordeal to replace. Might just be my luck.

The hooks that hold the pot to the rim tend to come loose sometimes as well. One of them even fell off, but that was after I banged it on a wall. My bad there banjo. Didn’t mean to hurt ya.

These aren’t the worst things in the world, for a budget instrument, so I still believe the value still holds. I still enjoy it very much.

The Sound

There’s a big difference in the sound between an open back and an instrument with a resonator attached. I was not aware of how different it would be at the time of purchase, and that’s totally my fault. But, it turned out I liked the open back sound much better than what I was expecting.

It’s not really a bluegrass type of instrument if that makes sense. It has a twangy almost “dirty” sound just like its namesake. Think old-timey folk sound. Syncopated and very direct. I enjoy this aspect of it a lot.

Plus, with the minor mods I made with the bridge, the action is nice and lets me play up and down the neck with ease. Which may not be a selling point to most, but if you’ve purchased cheap instruments before this can be an issue.

I’ll say it’s surprisingly loud too. You can drown out just about any other non-electric stringed instruments with this thing. It’s not hard to keep it down though if you learn your technique right. Or you can cover the back with something as well to give it a muted muffled sound.

I love this instrument for its sound But, might not be exactly what you’re expecting from a banjo. If you’re more into the ragtime dance or folk sounds, this is precisely what you need.

Recording King Dirty 30's Banjo 2
Photo credits:

Review: Recording King Dirty 30's Banjo (Folk Rock for Cheap) 1

Personally, I really do enjoy this instrument a lot. Especially mine. However, if I was going to make the purchase again I may have decided to spring for a bit more expensive one that would not have come with its initial construction issues.

You’ll notice there’s a pattern of small issues with this banjo. I believe it should have been set up better from the factory, but there are aspects of this instrument I do truly enjoy. Your luck may different with it, or maybe I just didn’t treat it right from the start. You can be the judge.

For style and an interesting old-timey sound, there’s not much better around this price point.

Plus banjos are just cool instruments. It’s fun to bust it out at a campfire or party instead of a guitar sometimes. Or add to the sound at a get together with musicians.

The old stereotype of banjos being only for hillbillies is outdated. Mumford and Sons made them cool again, so don’t be shy about your purchase. It’s a brilliantly fun instrument when played right. Or wrong too as I can attest to.

You’ll have to watch your volume though. This thing can get quite noisy. Just like a banjo should be.


Dirty 30's Tenor Banjo

Construction Quality

Some poor construction issues, but when corrected plays nice and has a fun sound.

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