Banjo Ukulele

Name: Banjo Ukulele.
Type: Chordophones > Lutes.
Hornbostel-Sachs No#: 321.322.6
Courses: 4 Single Strings.
Country: Many.
Region: Many & North America.

Description: The Banjo Ukulele, banjo uke or banjolele is a four-stringed musical instrument with a small banjo-type body and a fretted ukulele neck. The “Banjolele”, sometimes also spelled “banjelele” or “banjulele” is a generic nickname given to the instrument.

The earliest known Banjo-Ukuleles were built by John A. Bolander and by Alvin D. Keech, both in 1917. Alvin D. Keech claimed to have conceived of the ‘Banjulele’ as a fusion. The Banjo Ukulele, is a fusion between between banjo and ukulele.

A late 19th century Hawaiian interpretation of the Portuguese cavaquinho and rajão and a banjo a commercial instrument appropriated from African slaves in the New World during the second quarter of the 19th century.

History: The banjo-ukulele gained popularity during the 1920s 1930s. Combining both the ukulele and the banjo, hence its name. The development was further pushed by the need a vaudeville performers to have an instrument that can be played with the ease of a ukulele.

In order to augment the former’s notoriously quiet sound, thus making it more conducive to Hollywood studio recording. The instrument was quickly adopted by vaudeville, radio and recording due to Keech’s entrepreneurship and the release of a cheap Gibson model.

The UB-1. Reports of this instrument’s original retail value start from less than $2 and go upwards to $10, reflecting the Hawaiian music craze at the turn of the century. The instrument was most commonly employed to accompany solo voice, as a solo instrument and as a member of early bluegrass ensembles and early jazz ensembles.

Banjo Ukulele Tunings
Names Tunings
A D F# B

Construction: The banjo ukulele is a hybrid instrument comprising the body of a banjo,  fretboard, 4 strings, peg box and tuning of a ukulele. The traditional gut or nylon-gut strings have been replaced by steel to produce a louder and more strident sound. The head section is circular and mirrors the membrane sound table of banjos of the period.

Attached to the 15.2 cm / 6 inch diameter head section is a fretboard extending into a peg head. The neck section both peg head and fretboard is carved from one solid piece of stained maple. Occasionally position indicators of mother-of-pearl are inlaid are inlaid in the fretboard, the back of which is rounded as are most lutes.

The body of the instrument is made from 8 pieces of sawn maple glued together around a form to make a series of three stacked rings two, four, two pieces respectively. The soundtable is made from stretched hide held tightly to the body with a metal band. This band, in turn, is anchored to the body with ten metal shoes placed 4.4 cm or 1.75 in. apart and terminating in a nut.

A hex-head truss rod is visible from underneath. The instrument’s four wire strings run from a common nut at the base of the resonator, over a wood bridge on the soundtable. Over a nut at the top of the fingerboard and terminate individually where they are wrapped around the studs of the four wooden friction tuning pegs in the pegbox.

Citations: Bibliography: “Bolander Banjo Ukulele”, Tranquada, Jim 2012. The Ukulele: a History. University of Hawaii Press. pp. 37–39. ISBN 978-0-8248-3544-6 ; Whitcomb, Ian 2012. Ukulele Heroes: The Golden Age. Milwaukee, Wisconsin: Hal Leonard Books. p. 81. ISBN 978-1-4584-1654-4 ; K. M. Drowne and P. Huber 2004 The 1920’s. Westport: Greenwood Publishing Group ; Odell, Jay Scott. 1984. “Ukulele [ukelele].” NGDMI V2:.696-697 ; Schenkman, David E. “The Banjo Ukulele Haven.” Accessed October 10, 2010 ;

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