Name: Banjo.
Type: Chordophones > Spike > Lutes.
Hornbostel-Sachs No#: 321.312.5
Country: USA.
Region: North America.

Description: The banjo is a four or five stringed spike bowl lute, that is a member of the lute family of Chordophones. This instrument is a descendant from African lutes including the N’goni of Mali and the Akonting in Gambia and possibly many other similar lutes.

This instrument was introduced into the United States from the Caribbean by African Slaves. Over time the banjo has found its self in numerous different genres from the late 19th century to the 20th century.


Usage: In the context of North American music the banjo is played in Minstrel, Appalachian, Old-Time, Bluegrass, Blues, Jug-band, Ragtime, Jazz [namely the Dixieland Jazz and during the roaring 20s. Outside of the familiar genres for the banjo compositions have been written in for musics in other genres.

It is also quite popular and wide spread through out neighbouring islands from Jamaica, in where it is played as the lead instrument in Mento ensembles. In Brazil one finds a banjo derivative under the names of Samba Banjo or Banjo-Cavaco.

Tunings: CGDA, DGCE, DGCD and CGBD

Varieties: One finds the six banjo-guitar [banjitar]; the eight stringed banjo-mandolin or banjolin, or the four stringed banjo-ukulele.

The Banjo Family: A family of banjos was modelled after the mandolin orchestra this including a bass banjo that is positioned by standing up on a spike mounted at the bottom of the instrument. There are many varieties of bass banjo from individual makers. A. C. Fairbanks, A. A. Farland and Gold Tone who remains the only current manufacturer of bass-banjos in the 21st century.

Construction: Having a thin membrane that is stretched over a cavity as the resonator. This component is called the “head”, which is typically circular in shape. Currently the membrane is usually made of plastic, although in the past the membrane was of animal skin.

A fretted neck utilizing the chromatic scale is added into the body in which the bottom shaft of the neck keeps the body and neck secure in place. The bridge is moveable allowing for the fine tuning of the strings to improve melodic resonance. Four or five single strings run across the front of the banjo from tail piece to head stock. 

Citations: Bibliography: Bob Winans, George Gibson, 2018; “Black Banjo, Fiddle and Dance in Kentucky and the Amalgamation of African American and Anglo American Folk Music”; Banjo Roots and Branches. Urbana: University of Illinois. pp. 226, 231, 242–246 ;

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