Banjo vs Banjolele: Find Out The Differences

Banjo vs. Banjolele

The great thing about string instruments is that they are pretty easy to learn. And if you get to understand one, then mastering the other would be a walk in the park.

That’s the same case with the Banjo and the Banjolele.

Their major differences lie in their tones, functionality, popularity, and history.

And if you want to get a clear distinction between these two, then you’re on the correct page.

Read on!

What’s Banjo?

Banjo is a stringed musical instrument that’s played similarly to a guitar.

There are various types of banjos and they include;

  • The 4-string banjo
  • 5-string banjo
  • And, 6-string banjo

The most popularly used type of banjo is the 5-string and it’s also easily available. And arguable the easiest to learn.

The standard banjo instrument contains five metal strings, with 4 of them being tuned from the head.

You can choose to play banjo with either a pick or plectrum.

Brief History of Banjo

The earliest tracks of banjo take us back to the 13th century, where it’s believed to have originated from Sub-Saharan Africa.

But, the instrument was introduced to the new world by African slaves who have been sold to the Caribbean and worked in the plantations.

It’s then that they used locally available materials such as the hollowed gourds, animals’ skin, horsehair, wooden necks, etc.

The masters of these plantations helped in spreading the fame of banjo, which was known as Banjar when they banned the use of drums within the farms.

And as the trade of slaves spread to other parts of the world, the banjo instrument was introduced in the United States by African-American slaves, around the 19th century.

The earliest accounts of the original banjo state that it only contained 3-4 strings to produce a deep mellow sound. It wasn’t until later on that the 5-string banjo came along.

It didn’t have frets. Frets were added later on in the 1890s.

Earl Scruggs, a renowned bluegrass banjo player is one of the most recognized banjo artists who helped spread its use, around 1924.

And since then, the instrument’s use spread to jazz music, classical and eventually to world music.

What’s Banjolele?

Like Banjo, the banjolele is a string musical instrument that’s a cross-breed of the banjo and Ukulele.

Its construction style is pretty similar to that of a banjo with a stretched skinhead. But, the main difference is that the banjolele’s head is well fretted to the 4-strings just like Ukulele.

Its head is also shorter than that of the original banjo.

Brief History of Banjolele

Also known as banjo-Ukulele, the oldest banjolele is believed to have surfaced around the 1910s.

But it really didn’t gain much popularity until 1917-1918, when Alvin D. Keech trademarked it. It’s also around this time that he produced a few more pieces of banjolele, all of which were under his trademark, “banjolele”.

The instrument, however, gained massive popularity in the 1920s to early 1930s, as many manufactures embraced their production, thus making them less expensive.

It’s noted that, during World War 2, George Fromby, a renowned British comedian, used the banjolele to entertain troops.

Since then the use of the banjolele begun to spread. But not as fast as the banjo.

It was played in similar ways with the uke but produced a sound like a banjo.

And in the 20th century, due to the massive popularity of the Ukulele, it was seen fit to merge it with the banjo.

The result was an instrument that was easy to play, with great sound and volume of banjo and appearance of the ukulele.

Today, the banjolele might not be popular, but it’s still available in various music stores.

Banjo vs Banjolele: Comparison

Neck

When it comes to the banjo, its neck is usually considered as a part of its body.

It’s through the neck that its strings are run and when you play, you have to press on the strings, which are on the neck, to come-up with different notes.

On the other hand, the banjolele’s neck is more fretted like that of the ukulele.

It usually contains 4 strings, and the neck is shorter than that of a standard banjo head.

Sound

The Banjolele is sounded more like the Ukulele, only that it’s louder.

The signature tone of the banjolele is a ragtime sound that’s popularly associated with George Formby.

It can also perfectly suit the various traditional Ukulele styles, so if you’ve previous experience with this, then it will be easier on you.

Also, the banjo uke can be used to play great old-time music and can perfectly adapt to the clawhammer style of the banjo.

This is because its 4th strings release an amazingly loud pitch, which creates an impressive drone.

The banjo, on the other hand, the banjo is usually tuned to open chord G, which doesn’t necessarily require you to fret.

It also produces a bright sound, but much brighter than that of the banjolele.

This is because, banjo as always comes with metal strings, which are louder than the nylon strings of the banjolele.

So, if you want to achieve an inexpensive banjo sound, then the banjolele is the best option.

Popularity

Though the Banjolele might still be found in various music stores, it’s quite scarce since most individuals don’t even know how to use it.

In fact, if you as around, most players would easily confess to having heard of a banjo than they would a banjolele.

One of the reasons for this is because the banjolele got lost in between the Ukulele and the banjo and many individuals are yet to find their way around it.

Also, since the banjolele is known to have only 4-strings, it’s a bit difficult to learn, especially for absolute beginners, who would rather go for the 5-string banjo, which doesn’t need much work to learn the simplest of tunes.

So, we can confidently say that the banjo is more popular than the banjolele because it’s easy to play and readily available in numerous stores, both online and physical, throughout the world.

Also, individuals who use banjolele, use it as a supplement, but most of those who use the banjo use it as their main instrument due to its great sound, which a regular guitar can’t match.

Size

Here were are comparing a full-size banjo with a standard banjolele. And in this case, the banjolele is the smaller one, thanks to its shorter neck.

Therefore, the banjolele is also the lightest among the two, thus offers easier portability than a banjo. But, that doesn’t make the banjo less portable!

Also, because of its smaller size, the banjolele is usually pretty cheaper than a banjo of similar quality.

This is the reason as to why you can easily find many touring performers using a banjolele as compared to a banjo.

Since, they can travel with them and play for long hours without tiring, while on the move.

History

As already mentioned earlier, the banjo is believed to have originated from Africa.

It’s believed to have been around since the 13th century and was used to play extensive traditional Africa folk songs.

It only got to spread to the rest of the world due to slavery. With its first innovation to the new world being traced to the Caribbean and later to the United States as the trade of slavery become popular.

Contrary to this, the first accounts of Banjolele take us back to the 1900s, where it’s believed to have been innovated by musicians, which was later made even more famous by George Formby in the 1930s.

The trademark Banjolele was derived from the names banjo and Ukulele by Alvin D. Keech around 1918.

The amazing fact is that both the banjo and the Ukulele first originated from Portugal before spreading to the rest of the world.

So, in some way, this inspired the formation of the Banjolele.

The most famous banjo is the 5-string one, although there are the 4-string and the 6-string banjos in the market.

Banjolele, on the other hand, was made up of 4 strings, which remains constant even today.

Another notable difference between the banjo and the banjolele lies based on their innovation.

For instance, the banjo was created as a way of reminding those slaves of their African roots.

And the first musicians to play actually used it to mock Africans. But, the Banjolele, was created to entertain.

And it even became more popular during World War 2, when it was played by George Fromby to entertain the troops.

Which is easier to play banjo or banjolele

First, we would like you to understand that the time you will need to master either the banjolele or banjo or even both, hugely depends on your prior experience with string instruments.

For instance, if you have played guitar or Ukulele or any other string instrument before, then it would be easier for you to learn the two as compared to an absolute beginner.

That said, basically, there are 3 types of banjos; the 4-string, 5-string, and 6-string.

Because of its simplicity, the 5-string banjo is the easiest to learn. This’s because players don’t have to fret to produce sounds.

So, you can produce some impressive sounds on the first day and then work on advanced finger techniques over time.

However, when it comes to the banjolele, it normally has 4-strings and you have to fret to produce sounds.

So, it isn’t as easy as it can be on a banjo to produce sounds in the first few hours of practice.

But, that’s not to say the Banjolele is hard to play. If anything, it uses similar playing styles with a standard banjo.

Hence, if you can play some finger rolls on a banjo, then you can equally pick on the banjolele.

But, as for the duration this will take, we can say it depends on your dedication and patience.

If you practice daily for a reasonable number of hours (like 3-4 hrs.), then you should comfortably play basic-advanced professional banjo and banjolele tunes by the 6th month.

To be clear, however, the easiest instrument to learn, even without fret is the banjo.

FAQs About Banjo vs Banjolele

Are Banjolele and banjo chords the same?

No, they aren’t.

The Banjolele is tuned like the standard Ukulele; GCEA.

Does a Banjolele sound like a banjo?

Banjolele is a cross-breed of the banjo and the Ukulele.

It contains a stretched skin-head thus produces an inexpensive sound quality of a banjo. Well, not as good as a banjo, but better than Ukulele.

Conclusion

String instruments are fun to play. And they share several similarities which make it difficult for beginners to decide which one to try first.

So, if you have been torn between learning a banjo or banjolele, then this article was for you.

The banjo is popular with bluegrass music, among other music varieties. But the banjolele can also be used the same way.

We hope you finally got a great understanding of the two to help you make better musical choices.

You can even try them both. Who knows? You might end up loving them both!

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