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In the last decade, traditional American music has seen a resurgence, and the banjo, a standout instrument in country music and bluegrass, is still leading the way. In a time when many bands are keeping it simple, the instrument is finding its way into virtually every genre of musiceven rock and jazz.
Dispelling the myth that learning the banjo is a large and confusing undertaking, Fender has jumped back into the bluegrass game with its FB-54 five-string banjo, which is perfect for beginners and pros alike.
From the new line introduced in 1998, the FB-54 has a laminated mahogany body. Its geared tuners and rosewood fret board offer a smooth feel. The 22-fret neck is easy to navigate with its Stylized Pearloid Position Inlays.
The body of the banjo, which is actually called a resonator, has a 2-inch rim and is 1.75 inches deep, projecting very punchy and ringing notes, which are essential in a good-sounding instrument.
Although Fender considers the FB-54 an entry-level instrument, it plays far better than many of the starters on the market, and will challenge other makers more expensive models.
The FB-54 lists for around $450; however, expect to part with between $300 and $325, which truly is a good price for a quality entry-level banjo.
This Fender typically does not come with a case; however, some dealers will throw in a padded gig bag, strings, tuner and strap and offer the banjo as part of a package. If not, a solid case will run $50-$100. Strings and accessories are also fairly priced. I recommend a hard case and a humidifier, as banjo necks and bodies are highly susceptible to weather changes, making them difficult to keep in tune if not stored properly.
Jim Hagerty is a contributing writer for The Rock River Times, covering the national, regional and local entertainment scenes. He is also the creator and editor of Streaks (www.streaksonline.com), an arts and entertainment Web site, and the publisher of the North Central Illinois Edition of The Builders Journal. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
from the May 2-8, 2007, issue