I recently listed a banjo ukulele and before I did so, I consulted a local ukulele player that I know about what it was. My question was “Is it a toy?” Her response was “No, it’s a banjo ukulele”. Well, with the correct terminology in hand, I googled “banjo ukulele” and discovered a whole new world. New banjo ukuleles, banjo ukulele instruction and music are readily available.
Here are the highlights:
- It isn’t known who invented the banjo ukulele, although some sources credit a Hawaiian by the name of Alvin D. Keech with the invention of the banjo ukulele, in 1917 or 1918. He trademarked the name “Banjulele.” But, banjo ukeleles exist that were made by John A. Bolander in California, with a patent date of 1916.
- Banjo ukuleles produced more volume than did the ukulele. This made them very popular.
- Banjo ukuleles are about the same size as regular ukulele and are tuned the same.
- Most banjo ukuleles have a pot size (head diameter) of between six and eight inches. Most modern banjos have eleven inch pots.
- During the 1920s and 1930s banjo ukuleles were produced by most of the banjo makers. They were manufactuered by the thousands, and the majority of them were inexpensive instruments, often retailing for $2.00 or possibly even less.
- Banjo ukuleles parallel banjo construction, on a smaller scale, in terms of overall construction. They are almost always fretted.
- Most are built of wood with metal accoutrements, although the mid-century “Dixie” brand featured banjo ukeleles made from solid metal.
- The neck typically has sixteen frets: shorter than a banjo, but longer than a standard soprano or concert sized ukulele.
- Banjo ukuleles may be open-backed, or may incorporate a resonator.
- The banjo ukulele is commonly tuned GCEA (“C Tuning”) or ADF#B (“D Tuning”), with a re-entrant 4th string. The ADF#B tuning often produces a more strident tone, and is used for this reason. Both of these tunings are known as “my dog has fleas” tunings (5th, Tonic, Maj 3rd, Maj 6th).