Curious about the banjolele? This cool hybrid instrument takes the best features of the banjo and combines them with some of the ukulele’s most desirable features, resulting in an instrument that’s way easier to play than the banjo, and far different from the ukulele in terms of sound.
It’s a ton of fun to pick up and play – in fact, we think you’ll be a huge fan if you decide to give this instrument a try.
Quick Links: Our Top 5 Picks For Best Banjoleles
- Best Banjolele Overall: Deering Goodtime Banjo Ukulele
- Best Resonator Banjolele: Oscar Schmidt OUB1 Banjolele
- Best Open Back Banjolele: MUKE Concert Banjolele
- Best Cheap Banjolele: Vangoa Banjolele
- Best Cheap Banjolele Runner-Up: Kmise Banjolele Starter Kit
What the Heck is a Banjolele?
Good question! Although the banjolele has been around since the early 1900s, this instrument is just now regaining popularity.
So, what’s a banjolele? Let’s break this fantastic little instrument down into components. If your familiar with either the banjo of the ukulele, then you’ll probably recognize at least some of the features that go into the banjo-ukulele combo.
Just like our favorite ukuleles, banjoleles come in four sizes: Soprano, Concert, Tenor, and Baritone. And, just like ukuleles, banjoleles have four strings and four tuners. That’s where the resemblance to the ukulele ends, for the most part.
Banjoleles look a lot like banjos, but on a smaller, lighter scale. They’re a lot louder than ukuleles, and the sound is distinctively twangy and bright – perfect for playing folk and country tunes as well as lots of other genres.
A banjolele’s neck is just a little a bit longer than a similarly-sized ukulele’s neck, and the number of frets depends on the instrument’s size. Some banjoleles are open-backed, while others come with resonators that might or might not be removable. Most have synthetic heads instead of traditional skin.
Now that you know the basics, let’s take a look at some things to consider when choosing the best banjolele.
You might have some idea about which banjolele size you prefer, but there’s one more thing to keep in mind when making this decision. Soprano and concert banjoleles are tuned to GCEA just like the ukulele, so you can play all the same chords. This a great way to change up your musical game without having to go through the process of learning a whole new instrument!
If you choose a tenor or baritone banjolele it’ll be tuned to DGBE. This is fantastic if you’re a baritone ukulele player, as it’s the same exact tuning. And, if you’re a guitar player or a tenor banjo player, you’ll find that its very easy to pick up a baritone or tenor banjolele and play: The tuning is exactly the same as the first four strings on your guitar, and exactly like Chicago tuning on a tenor banjo.
No worries if you’re used to playing the ukulele but you want to try a banjolele with DGBE tuning. You might feel a little bit confused at first but learning a new tuning will greatly expand your abilities as a musician and over time, you might feel confident enough to pick up a variety of stringed instruments and play!
The question of open-back vs. resonator back banjoleles is mainly a matter of personal taste. People tend to love how cool the resonators look, but these can change the sound a little bit. Just like closed wooden backs, they prevent you from muting the banjolele head effectively – great if you’re playing for an audience and you want the sound to bounce back toward your listeners, but maybe not so great if you’re still learning and you want to stay friends with your neighbors.
Luckily, there are banjoleles with removable resonators. This option gives you the best of both worlds, so you can play loud and proud when you’re able to, and mute the banjolele with some fabric or your body when you’re in the mood for quieter playing.
Do take some time to look for sound samples before you decide which back style you prefer. YouTube is probably the best place to compare the way different banjolele back styles contribute to sound quality and volume. Soprano and concert banjoleles are tuned just like the ukulele, so you can play all the same chords. This a great way to change up your musical game without having to go through the process of learning a whole new instrument! If you choose a tenor or baritone ukulele, it’ll be tuned to DGBE.
A few of the best banjoleles are sold without any extras, and a few come with things like carrying bags, tuners, etc. These aren’t always of the best quality, but they might be helpful. If you choose a banjolele without any extras, you will probably want to get a protective case for it if you think you’ll ever take it anywhere.
Style Details & Materials
This is a matter of personal taste! You can go for something simple that basically looks like a mini banjo with four strings, or you can choose an instrument with an interesting color or a unique pattern. Admittedly, there aren’t as many banjolele styles as there are ukuleles, but you do have some fun options to choose from.
Keep in mind that fancy details don’t always add up to a great sound, and from there, decide what’s more important. For example, you might like the cool look of a colorful acrylic banjolele, but you might not like its sound quite so much as a more traditional-looking model with wood and metal components.
Just like most other instruments, when choosing a banjolele, you pretty much get what you pay for. If you feel like spending lots of money on a quality instrument, then go for it! The good news is that if you’re looking for something fun to play that sounds pretty good, you can get away with spending about $200, or maybe even a bit less. There are even a few decent banjoleles in the “under $100” category.
Deering Goodtime Banjo Ukulele: Best Banjolele Overall
Deering is famous for its banjos, and that’s probably the reason why this banjolele is a hit. The Deering Goodtime Concert-scale Banjolele is made with 3-ply violin maple in a gorgeous light color. It has a maple neck, and it’s equipped with a full-size 11-inch rim that supports a Remo head. The tailpiece is of course Deering, and the strings are Aquila Super Nylgut.
The saddle and saddle mount are wood, and the extended fingerboard floats over the top rather than being simply attached. A bridge plate enhances sustain and keeps the overall sound fresh, full, and not overly bass-ey.
This instrument offers plenty of volume, and when you’re fingerpicking, you’ll find that the sound is absolutely enchanting.
This is an open-back banjolele, with no option to add a resonator. In terms of finish, this banjolele is absolutely impeccable.
The 17 frets are flawlessly finished, and the overall feel is fantastic. Bow-tie shaped position markers add even more character, as does the shapely, traditional Deering headstock. The nut is black synthetic, and the tuning machines are in a pleasing silver finish.
- Very well made as expected from Deering
- Excellent clarity and full, warm, sound
- Handcrafted in America, by expert luthiers
- Sealed, geared tuners
- No case; some players mention that this fits into a mandolin soft case pretty well
- No resonator for players that prefer one
Oscar Schmidt OUB1 Banjolele: Best Resonator Banjolele
The Oscar Schmidt OUB1 banjolele offers fairly low pricing compared to some other models, but it’s not the cheapest one out there. We like this banjolele for more than its good value – it also happens to look and sound fantastic. With a mahogany body and a mahogany resonator back, it features a flame maple veneer headstock and a rosewood fingerboard. The fingerboard has white binding, which adds a touch o visual contrast while lending a smooth, comfortable feel. The Remo head is of high quality and measures 8” across. You get a great set of Aquila strings with this banjolele.
Overall, this is a fun instrument with a great reputation.
Despite some reports of finish flaws and the some complaints about difficulty with setup from folks who weren’t aware that a banjolele’s bridge can’t be attached prior to shipping due to the potential for damage, we really like this little instrument and we think you’ll like it, too.
- Back resonator plate comes off as desired
- Plenty of volume and projection, great for playing with groups
- Clear banjo sound with plenty of “twang”
- Low action, pretty easy to play
- Quite a few reports of minor finish flaws
- If you want a case, you’ll have to buy it separately.
MUKE Concert Banjolele: Best Open Back Banjolele
With an open back that’s easy to mute when needed, the MUKE concert banjolele features a nice maple headstock and neck, along with maple sides that support a fantastic 8.5-inch Remo Weatherking head. The bridge and fretboard are topped with rosewood. With 18 frets, this banjo ukulele has six traditional dot-style fret position markers.
Nylon strings are easy on your fingers, and are tightened via open bronze tone vintage-style tuners. The dark mahogany colored finish gives this instrument an attractive, traditional appearance, and the sound has plenty of banjo-inspired energy. If you’re looking for a combination of fairly low pricing and good sound, then you’re going to want to take a look at this banjo uke.
- One of the more affordable banjoleles on the market
- Quality components including a Remo Weatherking banjo head
- Open back is easy to mute for quieter playing when desired
- Some reports of poor setup on arrival, necessitating re-stringing
- Cheap nylon strings – might want to replace with better brand-name ones
Vangoa Banjolele: Best Cheap Banjolele
If you’re looking for a fun banjolele kit but you’re feeling a little guilty about treating yourself, you might want to give the Vangoa Banjolele a try. This is a fun instrument made with decent components, and it comes as part of a starter pack that includes a carrybag, picks, a wrench for tuning the head, a clip-on tuner, a neck strap, and even a pickup.
The Vangoa banjolele features a walnut fingerboard, sapele back and sides, and 18 copper fret wires, plus six fret markers. Aquila strings are included. The back of this banjolele comes off so you can choose to play with or without a resonator.
All things considered, this banjolele may not be ideal for taking onstage, but it’s definitely a nice addition to your instrument collection.
The sound is loud and very “plunky” and once the strings have settled in the closed, geared tuners do a pretty good job of keeping this little banjo uke in tune.
- Great for use as a “fun” instrument when you don’t want to risk damaging a quality one
- Lots of nice extras
- Versatile – can be played with or without back resonator
- Frets aren’t well-finished, they are likely to be sharp and in need of filing.
- No-name brand head isn’t the best
Kmise Banjolele Starter Kit: Best Cheap Banjolele Runner-Up
If you’re not sure that the banjolele is the right instrument for you and you’d like to give it a try while keeping a tight rein on your spending, then you’re probably going to like the way this banjolele from Kmise pairs affordability with decent quality. The sound is fairly crisp, and you can hear the “banjo” when fingerpicking. Strumming produces a sound that’s quite similar to that of a ukulele.
Despite its entry-level price point, this banjolele has quite a few things going for it, starting with good-quality components including a sapele wood body, real bone nut and saddle, smoothly filed frets, closed gear tuners, and a detachable resonator so that you can play with a closed or open back.
There are six dot-style fret markers on the fingerboard, which is made of rosewood. Aquila strings are included. The kit features a clip-on tuner, and a convenient carrying bag provides protection from dust and scratching.
- Decent sound at a bargain price
- Well-made and durable
- Great extras including a bag
- Takes some tinkering and tightening/loosening to get the head to sound right
If you decide to take the plunge and add a banjolele to your instrument collection, there’s one more thing that you need to know.
The banjolele’s bridge isn’t attached to the instrument with adhesive. Instead, it’s held in place by the tension of the strings. It needs to be set up on its base, and from there, it’ll hold the strings up off the banjolele’s head so that you get a great sound.
Most companies provide setup instructions with their instruments, and there are quite a few good tutorials on YouTube as well. If you’re nervous about setting up your banjolele, we recommend taking it to a local luthier, who will be able to give you a hand. Once that’s taken care of, you’ll be able to play banjolele to your heart’s content!