By now, you know the ukulele is a wildly popular instrument. It’s small and portable and sounds amazing. You can play any style of music on it and surprise your friends with its capabilities. Be prepared to be “wowed” again, because the ukulele has been crossed with a banjo to create a “banjolele” in this new ukulele vs. banjolele comparison.
This is the best of both worlds if you like the twangy, tinny sound of the banjo. You can still play ukulele chords on it, yet it sounds very similar to a banjo. But what are some other similarities and differences? Keep reading and you’ll learn all about the ukulele vs. the banjolele.
Let’s go all the way back to the beginning. The ukulele’s roots can be traced back to the 19th century when Portuguese immigrants brought a small, four-stringed instrument called the “braguinha” or “machete” to the Hawaiian islands. The Hawaiians loved this instrument and called it “ukulele” which means “jumping flea” in Hawaiian, likely due to the fast fingerpicking style of playing. It became a crucial part of Hawaiian culture and music, evolving into various sizes and tunings, including soprano, concert, tenor, and baritone ukuleles. The ukulele grew in popularity on the mainland of the United States and later became associated with jazz and popular music.
Read more: Top Ukulele Strumming Patterns
Beyond Hawaii, the ukulele has become a symbol of relaxation, leisure, and joyful music-making. It can bring people together and lift the spirits of the lowly. I’m sure if you have a ukulele, you can understand that sentiment.
Ukulele Construction and Sound Characteristics
Ukuleles are typically constructed with various woods, which affects the instrument’s sound. Sopranos are the smallest and produce a bright tone. Concerts are slightly larger and offer a more resonant sound. Tenors have an even deeper tone with more sustain and they are popular for solo performances. Baritones are the largest and produce a deeper, more guitar-like sound. The strings are usually made of nylon or similar material which contributes to the ukulele’s gentle and melodic sound.
The Banjolele Basics
The banjolele is a hybrid instrument that combines the small, compact body of a ukulele with the distinctive resonator head of a banjo. It typically has four strings, like a traditional ukulele, but the resonator head gives it a sound reminiscent of a banjo, creating a unique and distinctive tone. The banjolele is known for its bright, twangy, and percussive sound, making it ideal for a wide range of musical genres, from folk and bluegrass to jazz and pop.
The banjolele is constructed with a wooden or metal rim that holds the resonator head in place. It’s often made of plastic or even animal skin, similar to traditional banjos, and it is responsible for the banjolele’s unique sound. The neck and fretboard of the banjolele are similar to those of a standard ukulele, usually made of wood. Like ukuleles, the banjolele typically has nylon or similar strings.
The banjolele was developed in the 20th century as a novelty instrument. It became popular during the Vaudeville era and was often associated with comedy and novelty acts. But over time, it evolved into a legitimate musical instrument, appreciated for its unique sound and versatility. The banjolele has been used in various musical genres, from traditional Hawaiian music to jazz and bluegrass, making it a significant part of musical history.
Many popular musicians have played the banjolele including Eddie Vedder, George Formby, Tiny Tim, and Arthur Godfrey. Joe Brown, a British musician and singer has also incorporated the banjolele into his performances.
Ukulele and Banjolele Side by Side
The banjolele’s sound has more sustain compared to most ukuleles, which adds depth to its sound. The resonator head gives the banjolele a distinct percussive quality, similar to that of a full-size banjo, making it suitable for genres that require rhythm and a punchy tone. In contrast, traditional ukuleles have a mellower, softer, and less percussive sound, with a shorter sustain.
Do you want to see the ukulele and banjolele side by side, in action? Check out this video on the Uke Like the Pros YouTube channel. The Deering Banjolele is compared with a Kala tenor ukulele. You’ll be able to hear the sound differences between the two and also see the size difference. The Deering Banjolele can be found in the Terry Carter Music Store here. The fine folks there can answer any questions you may have and can even do a complete, professional setup for the instrument.
The banjolele can offer you a fresh outlook on playing if you already like the sound and feel of a ukulele. I encourage you to try both instruments and see if the banjolele can complement your playing style.
Do you want to meet other like-minded ukulele players who might have some experience with the banjolele? You can connect with other players in the Uke Like the Pros Community Forum. It’s a wonderful community of players and it’s great to share opinions and expertise with others. We offer a variety of membership packages that can suit your needs. Have fun and happy strumming!