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Banjo Ukulele
Classification String instrument (plucked)
Related instruments
ukulele, banjo

The banjolele (brand name; sometimes banjo ukulele or banjo uke) is a four-stringed musical instrument with a small banjo-type body and a fretted ukulele neck. "Banjolele," sometimes also spelled "banjelele" or "banjulele" is a generic nickname given to the instrument, which was derived from the 'banjulele-banjo,' introduced by Alvin D. Keech in 1917.

The instrument achieved its greatest popularity in the 1920s and '30s, and combines the small scale, tuning, and playing style of a ukulele with the construction and distinctive tone of a banjo, hence the name.


Construction and tuning

Banjo ukuleles parallel banjo construction, on a smaller scale, in terms of overall construction. They are almost always fretted. Most are built of wood with metal accoutrements, although the mid-century "Dixie" brand featured banjoleles made from solid metal. The banjolele neck typically has sixteen frets: shorter than a banjo, but longer than a standard soprano or concert sized ukulele. Banjo ukuleles may be open-backed, or may incorporate a resonator.

The banjolele is commonly tuned GCEA ("C Tuning") or ADF#B ("D Tuning"), with a re-entrant 4th string. The ADF#B tuning often produces a more strident tone, and is used for this reason. Both of these tunings are known as "my dog has fleas" tunings (5th, Tonic, Maj 3rd, Maj 6th).

Popular culture

Banjo ukulele (77710352).jpg

The banjolele was the instrument played by British comedian George Formby (1904-61), who developed his own style of playing in accompaniment to his comic songs. His name is associated with the instrument more than that of any other musician. Other artists to make eminent use of the banjolele are Wendell Hall, Roy Smeck, and Jeff Claus of The Horse Flies in the United States, and Mr. B The Gentleman Rhymer, Billy 'Uke' Scott, Alan Randall, and Andy Eastwood in Great Britain.

Queen member Brian May used a banjolele in the song "Bring Back That Leroy Brown", which appeared on their third album Sheer Heart Attack, and also to compose (but not record, he used a regular ukulele instead) "Good Company" on A Night at the Opera album. George Harrison also favored the instrument in his latter years, using it in several recordings.

In P.G. Wodehouse's novel Thank You, Jeeves, valet Jeeves is driven to resign over his employer Bertie Wooster's decision to take up the banjolele.


Historical manufacturers

Current manufacturers

  • Waverly Street Ukuleles (USA)
  • Bean Sprout (USA)
  • Gold Tone (USA)
  • Spanky Banjo Ukes (USA)
  • Tyler Mountain (South Korea)
  • Andy's Banjos (UK)

See also

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