Checking Out The Best Rock Mandolin Players of All Time

best rock mandolin players of all time

The guitar has made such a huge impact on all the genres. While it’s mostly associated with blues, rock, and especially metal music, it spread far into other territories of the music world.

However, is it also possible to base rock music, for instance, on some other string instruments?

No, we’re not talking about the bass guitar, but of some of the more “unconventional” choices here. The instrument in question is mandolin. And yes, it’s been used in rock music on several occasions.

rock mandolin

As you may already assume, it’s not exactly the first thing that comes to mind if we’re talking about rock music. This fine instrument goes a way back to the 18th century when it was slowly developed in Italy.

While there have been a few versions along the way, what we refer to mandolin now is actually Neapolitan mandolin. In modern music, it’s also referred to as American bluegrass mandolin, since it found a lot of use in bluegrass music.

The standard mandolin has a total of eight strings, four choruses of two strings, meaning that they’re all doubled with another string that’s exactly the same pitch. These choruses are then tuned in perfect fifths.

mandolin

Its peculiar tone is very fitting in genres like folk, bluegrass, sometimes even country music. But it’s interesting how the mandolin found its place in rock as well.

This is why we decided to go more into this topic and bring you the best mandolin players in this particular genre.

You just need to bear in mind that in almost all the cases these musicians are primarily guitar players and that mandolin was just a thing they decided to do on the side. So let’s dig in and explore it.


rayjackson-large

Ray Jackson

Lindsay Raymond “Ray” Jackson, mandolin and harmonica player extraordinaire, must make this list, if only for his contributions to Rod Stewart’s Every Picture Tells A Story, where he plays mandolin on the popular hit, Maggie May, not to mention Mandolins Wind, and Farewell, from the same album.

Oddly enough, his contributions to Every Picture Tells A Story are referenced in the following way: “The mandolin was played by the mandolin player in Lindisfarne. The name slips my mind.” Well, then!

And, there was some contention here, because even though Ray played the Maggie May’s popular hook, which he made up on the spot in the studio, he was only compensated for the session, which was at the time, only £15.

Speaking of Lindisfarne, this was Ray’s folk rock band which he formed in 1970, and left in 1990, which saw him doing co-lead vocals with Alan Hull, where he was nicknamed “Jacka”.

Ray also played mandolin on Jack the Lad’s third album Rough Diamonds, as well as on Chris de Burgh’s debut album Far Beyond These Castle Walls. 

The man is a consummate mandolin player, but the inescapable Maggie May will probably always be what he is best known for, despite the fact that he vamped it on the spot at the time.  Incredible!


tommy shaw mandolin

Tommy Shaw

Next, we take a look at a renowned musician from a classic rock band. Although not the founding member of Styx, Tommy Shaw has been one of the band’s crucial parts since the mid-1970s.

We’ve all heard his great guitar skills, vocals, as well as songwriting talents. However, Shaw is an extremely versatile musician and has played with other bands as well, including Damn Yankees and Shaw Blades.

We also got the chance to hear him do a few solo albums. And he’s also a skilled mandolin player as well.

Although not that often present in their music, Styx implemented this fine instrument in their legendary song “Boat on the River.” This is a true example of how mandolin can work in such settings.

In case you don’t think it fits rock music, just take a listen to the aforementioned hit and how it fits in. You’ll be surprised.


jimmy page mandolin

Jimmy Page

Of course, Jimmy Page is a musician who needs no further introduction.

Starting his career in the 1960s, he honed his craft by playing as a session musician. And this was far from a simple task back in those days, as resources were pretty limited and guitarists were supposed to deliver good stuff right there on the spot.

However, his creative side was not really developing there, so he eventually formed a band with Robert Plant, John Bonham, and John Paul Jones.

Led Zeppelin was not only one of the bands to pioneer heavy metal music, but they also heavily experimented with different elements.

Especially Jimmy Page who loved implementing some unexpected instruments. One of his choices was the mandolin, which he used in a piece like “The Battle of Evermore.”

What’s more, Page continued to express his love for this instrument during his other projects.

He even has a very special triple-neck acoustic guitar, with the top part acting like the mandolin. Now, that’s something different.


john paul jones mandolin

John Paul Jones

Although Jimmy Page is often thought of as the creative mastermind behind Zeppelin’s greatest riff, the massive multi-instrumental talent that is John Paul Jones cannot be ignored or underestimated.

Although Jimmy and Robert and especially John Bonham were clearly into the trappings of the rock star life and all of its side-effects, John Paul Jones was the most “modest” member of the band, casually adding new dimensions to the Zeppelin sound behind the scenes, including his amazing Mellotron and keyboard parts, not to mention mandolin.

He even sometimes played mandolin on The Battle of Evermore and sang Sandy Denny’s part.

Over the years, John Paul Jones guested in numerous bands, playing bass with a variety of artists back in the day, like Madeline Bell, Roy Harper, Wings, and later, Lenny Kravitz, Jars of Clay, and Foo Fighters.

Speaking of Foo Fighters, he played mandolin on two of their tracks from the In Your Honour album, “Miracle”, and “Another Round”.  He’s also played mandolin with Gillian Welch, and Uncle Earl, and all female bluegrass group.

Dave Grohl, also having joined up with John Paul Jones in Them Crooked Vultures, is a huge fan of the man, and attests to his brilliance any chance he gets.

Overall, it is clear that John Paul Jones is a mandolin player of note, and definitely worth putting on this list!


richie blackmore mandolin

Ritchie Blackmore

Surprisingly enough, his “rival” from Deep Purple, Ritchie Blackmore, is also very passionate about the mandolin.

Although a musician that was responsible for shaping heavy metal music, Blackmore too had a fascination with many other music genres.

After exploring his other passion, which is medieval music, he began implementing mandolin in a project like the Blackmore’s Night.

The group’s entire opus combines medieval, folk, and rock music into a very peculiar-sounding whole.

Yes, it does seem a bit weird to see a musician known for blowing up his equipment on stage playing this kind of instrument.

But don’t get fooled – Ritchie is as good on it as he is on guitar. This is exactly one of the best examples of his greatness as a musician and a performer.


peter buck mandolin

Peter Buck

R.E.M. started their career way back in the 1980s. However, it was sometime in the early 1990s when the band really blew up.

And although they’re mostly remembered for their vocalist Michael Stipe, all the other members have their important roles, both in the creative process and their overall sonic output.

Here, we will focus on their guitar player and one of the band’s creative forces, Mr. Peter Buck.

Unlike many other mentions on this list, Peter was way more focused on the mandolin compared to them. In fact, there are whole R.E.M. songs that revolve around this instrument.

The best and the most famous example is probably “Losing My Religion.”

Interestingly enough, the main riff was written by Peter when he was just fooling around on his mandolin.

At that point, this instrument was just a simple way to get him out of the same old routine with guitars.

But it eventually became one thing he’s very well known for, and that’s being a mandolinist in rock music.


mandolin ian anderson

Ian Anderson

It would be an understatement to say that Jethro Tull starter a real revolution in rock music.

The boundaries were pushed, and Ian Anderson led them into some intricate progressive waters, while also retaining some hard rock elements in there.

The band serves as an inspiration to musicians of all styles, even heavy metal. (They even got that unexpected Grammy Award for a metal album, but that’s a whole different story.)

Talking about Ian Anderson, he’s pretty much built his reputation as a flute player. He’s quite often remembered as that one guy who decided to play flute in a rock band.

However, this was not the only unconventional choice in his music career. The famous Scottish musician is a multi-instrumentalist, and one of his choices is a mandolin.


ry cooder with mandolin

Ry Cooder

Although not reaching the megastardom status as some other of his six-string-wielding colleagues, Ry Cooder is still remembered by the biggest guitar lovers out there.

What’s more, he showed his versatility as a musician by delving into so many different genres. What’s more, he’s also scored Wim Wenders’ 1984 film “Paris, Texas.”

But although his guitar skills are unprecedented, we’d like to point out that he’s also fairly experienced with a mandolin.

But his most famous work on this particular instrument comes from the late 1960s. Back then, he was working as a session musician.

And none other than The Rolling Stones invited him to do his parts on the “Let It Bleed” album. To be more precise, he did his parts on “Love in Vain” from the record.


david grisman

David Grisman

David Grisman comes as the only musician on this list that plays the mandolin as his primary instrument.

He’s one of the biggest names in this world, covering many different genres, including bluegrass, jazz, and folk.

However, he also worked with a few rock bands over the years, lending his talents on studio recordings.

One of his earliest bands was Earth Opera, which focused mostly on the psychedelic rock. However, he’s also known for joining in with Grateful Dead and their 1970 album “American Beauty.”

On it, he performed the mandolin for two tracks, “Friend of the Devil” and “Ripple.”


christopher thron of blind melon

Christopher Thorn

Blind Melon is a very unusual band that came out of that whole grunge and alternative rock movement that emerged in the early 1990s.

Although not achieving the same status as some other bands from the era, they still had some pretty great music to offer.

But, of course, our talk here is about the best mandolin players in rock music. In the mid-1990s,

Blind Melon recorded an album called “Soup” which was heavily inspired by traditional Dixieland jazz.

This is why they decided to include some other instruments in there. So their guitar player Christopher Thorn took up the task of playing mandolin and banjo.

And we gotta say, he really nailed it on this record.


jack white and his mandolin

Jack White

Wait, Jack White? Playing mandolin? That’s right.

While we all know Jack White as a guitar player with a very simple and effective approach to music, he’s also experimented with a lot of other styles and instruments over the years.

And he’s especially fond of his Black Gibson F-4 black mandolin that he implemented on occasion.

One of the examples is “Little Ghost” from The White Stripes’ “Get Behind Me Satan” album.

It’s really exciting to hear such a famous rock musician playing mandolin. Really mindblowing when you think of it.


levon helm mandolin

Levon Helm

You don’t often fund a musician that’s as energetic, creative, and innovative as Levon Helm. What’s more, he also became known for his work as an actor.

However, he’s mostly famous for being the drummer of the Canadian-American band cleverly named The Band.

But the thing about Levon, he was an extremely talented multi-instrumentalist. He was proficient on guitar, vocals, harmonica, and mandolin.

Of course, The Band was very innovative, with the members often trying out different instruments and other approaches.

When it comes to Levon, we can hear his great mandolin work on “Rag Mama Rag” from the group’s self-titled second album.


Rory_Gallagher_&_mandolin

Rory Gallagher

We could go on for days explaining the greatness of Rory Gallagher.

The legendary Irish musician made such a huge impact and has always been cited as the biggest influence, even by the almighty Gary Moore himself.

He was even called up by The Rolling Stones, but just ended up not taking the gig, being confident in his own solo career.

But what people don’t know is that the legendary blues-rock musician was also proficient on the mandolin, as well as a few other instruments.

On occasion, he also played it live, pushing the conventional boundaries of the genre.

A great example of his abilities to implement mandolin as a blues-rock instrument can be heard on “Going To My Hometown.”


Thanks for reading folks!  Did we miss anyone, let us know in the comments!

Also check out:

10 Famous Mandolin Rock Songs

5 Famous Female Mandolin Players

5 Famous Jazz Mandolin Players

The Controversial History Of The Banjo

History can be a hard thing to discuss, because, inevitably, you probably weren’t there to see the events unfold as they did.

This is especially true when we’re talking about the history of one particular musical instrument with a somewhat checkered past – the banjo.

The banjo, as we know it, dates back 400 or so years to the Carribean in the 1600’s, when and where it was first documented.

By documented, I am referring to the only way anything way typically was documented centuries before now, and that is to say – in books, by way of either sketches or more detailed drawings, since cameras weren’t yet invented.

Sir Hans Sloane – First Documented Picture of a Banjo

For instance, here is an image taken from a travel journal from 1707 by Sir Hans Sloane, called “A Voyage to the Islands of Madera, Barbados, Nieves, S. Christophers and Jamaica”.

This shows the first documented image of what appears to be a banjo, or something like it, in the Carribean isles.

It should be noted that the book from which this picture was taken, was based on events that occurred in 1687, and then transcribed into book form in the 1700’s.

Sir Hans Sloane was a noted Irish physician, and his purpose in the Carribean was to assist the new Governor of Jamaica, the second Duke of Albemarle, as his personal physician.

While visiting the islands, he collected plants for study and also documented other things.  He also invented drinkable chocolate (chocolate milk), so you have him to thank for that, apparently.

As you can see from the drawings in his documents of the islands around Jamaica, these “banjos”, as it were, didn’t really resemble the banjos of today.  This is because they weren’t, strictly speaking, banjos.

These instruments were, at the time of documentation by Hans Sloane, considered to be simply the instruments the peoples of the Carribean were playing at the time, and in the text you can see them referred to as “lutes”.

One of the defining characteristics of a banjo, which is present in the above example, is the drum-like body.

I should mention that, around this time in history (mid-1600’s), there were dozens of variations of stringed instruments that all appeared slightly different.

With the increasingly large migration patterns of people in 1600’s, it was certainly a difficult task to document what each was called, and what unique traits each one possessed.

Stringed instruments themselves date back 40 000 years, so it’s not as though stringed instruments themselves were new.  Humans have been playing stringed instruments for thousands of years.

Plucked lutes, in particular, have been documented in Mesopotamia from around 6000 years ago.

Today the word banjo is loosely defined as: A stringed musical instrument (chordophone) with a round body, a membrane like soundboard and a fretted neck, played by plucking or strumming the strings.

The origin of the word “banjo” can be traced back to several places, including “banja” from Jamaica, “banza” from Brazil, and mbanza from Angola.

I’ve also seen the word “banjo”, used as a verb, meaning “to beat” or “to hit”.  As in, “He banjoed that guy in the face.”  This usage is, apparently, of British decent.  I don’t believe it is commonly used nowadays, but only the Brits know this for sure.

Where Did The Banjo Instrument Originally Come From?

Although the first documented picture of what could be considered a banjo dates back to the 1600’s in the Carribean islands (ie.(the one at the top of this article), this doesn’t mean banjos were “invented” in the Carribean.

Again, if we define a banjo as a stringed instrument with several strings and a drum-like surface, we can trace its origins back even further, and to other continents.

There are many popular perceptions surrounding precisely where the banjo originated, and there are logical reasons for each of these presumptions.

For example, most people who live in North America don’t think first of the Carribean as the birthplace of the banjo.  To some of us living in North America, suggesting that the banjo came from the Carribean doesn’t really sound accurate, and I think this is understandable.

The more dominant association that Westerners, I think, tend to recognize between the banjo and a particular geographic location, links the banjo, at least in the Westernized mind, to the southern United States.

This is a fair guess, as much of the lore, not to mention the majority of the popular media from the past 50 years, associates the banjo with styles of music that originated in the southern U.S., such as bluegrass, dixieland, and country music.

In addition, southern banjo players have been prominently been featured on various television shows and movies over the past 50 or so years, and that leads many of us to simply assume that banjo must come from the southern U.S., not the Carribean, as most research points to quite clearly.

Indeed, I’d say that there is a deep association between the instrument we call the “banjo” and states in the U.S. which are considered to be Appalachian.

Appalachian states include: West Virginia, Alabama, Georgia, Kentucky, Maryland, Mississippi, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Virginia.

In turn, the history of Appalachian culture traces back to Scotland, Ireland, and Germany, when those peoples moved to North America and began living there in the 1800’s.  And so, there are those who might guess that the banjo may have come from these countries, originally.

For example, it would seem fairly logical to think that the banjo may have come from Ireland, where the banjo is still popular today, when Irish peoples migrated into the mysterious and mountainous Appalachian rural regions, when the potato famine and general starvation prompted them to leave their homeland.

As many of us are aware, there are various stigmas attached to the idea of the someone who is from Appalachia, both good and bad, which I need not elaborate on here.

Suffice it to say, Appalachian peoples are considered to be of the land, and there is certainly a connotation that links banjo playing to a more rural type of folk.

In other words, an impoverished people, and this is fact is very much line with the reputation of previous peoples who played the banjo in past decades, where they were of a lower caste.

Here is that famous scene from the movie Deliverance, featuring the classic “dueling banjos” bit, although one “banjo” is clearly a guitar.

The interesting thing about the boy from Deliverance, Lonnie, who was presumably chosen for this unusual appearance (the book depicts an albino negro), is that he didn’t even know how to play the banjo, nor was he recruited from the backwoods of northern Georgia.

This next clip interviews the “boy” himself (now in his 50’s), played by Billy Redden, where he talks more about his role in the movie and his lack of skill on the instrument.

The clip also includes an interview with Ronny Cox (who played Drew Ballinger) talking about the cultural significance of the famous banjo scene, as being one of the defining movie moments of all time.

As more research is done about the history of the banjo, an interesting but rather dark narrative began to emerge from the gloaming of the past.

All that is needed to put this in perspective is a proper view of history and the slave trade in the 1600’s, which historians, by this point, have illustrated rather conclusively, to the point where any educated person would have trouble refuting it.

When it comes to the banjo’s true origins, all research points to it originating from Africa.  Specifically, countries such as Senegal or The Gambia (ie. Senegambia), which were the focus of the slave trade.

The original picture which I shared at the beginning of this article, from 1707, shows a version of the banjo that does not yet appear in its modern form.

Banjos made from gourds

When the banjo was beginning to catch on in the Carribean, it still showed some evidence of its past where it was fashioned sometimes out of gourds, serving as a shell for the body.  This was then attached to its characteristic long neck, and strings were added.

Before banjos took on the appearance we know them to have today, with a circular body shaped that almost looks like a snare drum, their precursors from Africa were often made from different materials than were available in the Americas in later centuries.

Here is a reproduction of a colonial era banjo made with a gourd for a body.  As you can see, this has influences of a style of instrument popular in Africa over the centuries.  At the same time, you can see how this instrument below does have characteristics of the modern banjo.

Next, we have an image of a banjo that seems to bridge the gap, between a banjo body made out of a gourd, and one that more resembles a wider circular drum.

Even though it still has a primitive look, like it wasn’t “professionally” built, this banjo begins to take on a more “modern” shape.

The image most of us conjure up when someone says the word “banjo”, was not yet in existence in 1707, and wouldn’t be for at least 100 years.

Here is an old banjo from the 1900’s.  By this time, banjos were fully Americanized, one might say.  It has the modern fretboard, the modern tuning pegs, and the unmistakable body and neck shape.

To reach its modern form, history would have to wait until the late, great, and controversial Joel Sweeney came along in the 1830’s and “invented” it, or so it has been said.

Joel Sweeney, “Inventor” of the 5-String Banjo

Joel Walker Sweeney was a popular minstrel performer from the first half of the 19th century hailing from Virginia, who was perhaps the first popular white man to famously play the instrument.  At the same time, he was said to have been taught by African Americans, which is partly why he could play so good.

Joel Sweeney has been credited with raising the profile of the banjo from an instrument associated with the unwashed masses, and bring it up to a level of sophistication which could be eventually be accepted, and then firmly embraced by the middle class.

Claiming that Joel Sweeney somehow single handedly raised the stature of banjo playing on a global level is almost too ludicrous to say, but it may in fact ultimately be true.

The reason the claim is contentious, is because Joel Sweeney was not just a talented performer who ended up making the banjo more famous because of his adept abilities on the instrument.  He certainly was that, but that was only part of how Joel Sweeney shined the spotlight on the banjo, and “brought it” to the higher societal castes, as it were.

Here is a book on Joel Walker Sweeney, if you are interested in getting the full story on the man and what he did for the banjo.

The Birth Of The Banjo: Joel Walker Sweeney And Early Minstrelsy

Buy On Amazon

It is more accurate to say, I think, that Joel Sweeney was a multi-talented circus performer who, according to rumour, played the instrument with his feet, while fiddlin’ with his hands, and then playing mouth harp all at the same time, when the mood hit him.

He was also highly skilled at imitating animals, as one of his primary talents for which he was known.  Basically, the guy was just a son of a gun who was, by all accounts, very entertaining to everyone who happened to catch his performances.

His influence spread as he and his troupe toured America, as well as Europe, and even played for Queen Victoria in 1843.  He then went on and played and showed off his formidable banjo playing skills with his brothers, called Old Joe’s Minstrels.

Joel Sweeney’s influence on the popularity of the banjo cannot be underestimated.

The controversy, which occurs more in retrospect than it did at the time it happened, comes now from the fact that Joel was a blackface performer, a practice which is now practically forbidden in Western society today.

To be specific, blackface is the theatrical practice where non-black performers painted themselves up to look “black” with greasepaint, burnt cork, or shoe polish.

The last time we saw people performing in blackface wasn’t all that long ago.  One more recent instance was The Black and White Minstrel Show from 1978.

Consider this – slavery didn’t end until 1865, with the introduction of the 13th Amendment, which declares: “Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.”

Of course, it is not difficult to see the connection between the racial stereotypes that blackface seemed to promote, and the mistreatment of blacks through the centuries.  In fact, the idea of the old style minstrel show, complete with blackface, is a quick reminder to many people, to this day, of the existence of slavery, and various caricatures of black culture.

Of course, where you had minstrel shows in the 17th century, onward, you had blackface, and so then you had banjos.  Banjos, the instrument which was beginning to see acceptance worldwide, and detaching itself from various prejudices of the times, was still very much embroiled in what I can only call “racism”.

It is understood that, in the context of the times, minstrel shows were quite normal.  Then again, so was slavery.

Perhaps the most famous blackface performer people know today is Al Jolson, who was the highest paid entertainer back in the 1920’s and was, at the time, proclaimed “The World’s Greatest Entertainer” at one time.

Al Jolson, although he didn’t play the banjo himself, helped popularize one of the most well known banjo songs ever – Oh Susanna.

To me, this song represents, in large part, why the banjo is thought to come from the southern U.S., as the lyrics reflect this, and the song is maybe the best known banjo tune of all time.

As you can see above, Al Jolson used blackface makeup, which he often did.

This practice of blackface dated back to, reportedly, the 1400’s, but had become very popular in colonial America at the time in the 1800’s.  There are many pictures of blackface performers holding or playing banjos.

The association between minstrels wearing blackface makeup and the banjo itself is a strong one, but I don’t say this to indict the banjo as being part of the history of racism, even though it essentially is a part of that history.  That said, you can’t really “blame” an instrument for anything, can you?

Of course, there’s no denying that the banjo probably wouldn’t have made it to the Carribean, to be used by slaves in the Americas, had it not been brought across the seas along with the thousands of slaves who played similar instruments, and who were sold to slavers at the time, in the 1600’s, when the trade was in full swing.

It is worth mentioning that at this time, the banjo was not called a “banjo.”   I mentioned some of the other names of the banjo that were used previously, but, back in 1687, when Sir Hans Sloane was travelling in the Carribean, writing his now-famous journals, he referred to the instrument as the “strum strump”.  Nice name!

Akonting

In these African communities in Senegambia, from which slaves were being captured and brought to the Americas by the thousands, there was (and still is) an instrument known as the akonting, which is said to be the precursor to the modern banjo.

Other African instruments said to be precursors of the banjo include the ngoni and xalam, but for now I’ll focus on the akonting, a hide-covered instrument said to be the most similar to the banjo.

The akonting (also known as the ekonting to the Jola tribes who first created them) is a strummed folk lute style of instrument which is similar to a banjo, traditionally made with a gourd for a body, along with two strings for melody, plus one drone string played with the thumb.  This makes the akonting similar to a 5-string banjo.

The akonting can be traced back to the village of Kanjanka, Senegal.  It can be tuned in different ways, similar to a 5-string banjo, and its tuning, called kanjanka, equates to kan (5th note of a scale), jan (root note of a scale), and ka (the flatted 7th), or 5/1/-7.

Here is a picture of a Jola village, the originators of the akonting / ekonting instrument.

Up next, we have a man named Daniel Jatta, playing a tune written by his father on the akonting in the traditional style.

The downstroke style here, called “o’teck” or “to strike”, is very similar in style to the very first banjo styles in the Americas, the “stroke style”, which was a precursor to the clawhammer or frailing style.

While all of this seems very plausible, that the akonting was brought over to the Americas by slaves, and that is the instrument upon which the modern banjo was based, there is still some controversy around this topic, making it unclear at which point exactly what happened during those harrowing years when the slaves were brought to the Americas.

Banjos on the Plantations

By 1807, there were over 3 million African slaves in the Americas, where they harvested crops like tobacco, sugar, and cotton.

Once the slaves were living in the Americas, they lived on the plantations, worked, and, above all else, suffered.  For a more detailed history of what this was like, go here.

As much as the African slaves suffered, their music never left them, and they looked for opportunities to express it, as anyone would.

Although they basically were brought here with nothing, the African slaves were eventually able to have some small respite from their masters, at first through the singing of gospel music, which is something that was impossible to take from them completely and helped them cope.

Then, if they were able, they would produce the occasional musical instrument that they were able to build by hand.

This is where their memories of their favourite native African instruments came back to them, and they were able to make these banjo-esque instruments, in order to accompany their singing, and put voice to their struggle.

That is, if their cruel slave masters allowed it.  Some plantation owners certainly did not accommodate their wishes, regardless of how modest they were.

Here is a recent “lynching memorial” erected in Montgomery, Alabama.

William Boucher

In the midst of the tumult that was America in the 1800’s, due to slavery, wars, and other factors, a Baltimore man named William Boucher was busy building instruments, including drums and minstrel banjos.  He was the first ever commercial maker of banjos in the U.S.A.

Here is a video which shows a replica of a Boucher banjo being played.  Not surprisingly, there’s a little Oh Susanna thrown in for good measure.

You can still purchase original builds of these banjos, although they will can cost upwards of $10 000 nowadays.

Conclusion

While there is plenty more to say about the development of the banjo up through the years, I think it’s alright to stop here.

As we know, the banjo went on to become an instrument that is a major part of the broader musical landscape around the world.

Despite its confusing and controversial history, I can say that in 2018, if a young person wants to learn the banjo, they can do so without having to ponder all of the heavier historical baggage that comes along with it and just enjoy the music.

That said, sweeping history under the rug is never a wise thing to do, especially when we know some of the facts.

5 Famous Jazz Mandolin Players

Mandolin takes 20th century root in American bluegrass and jazz style, both of which utilize tight improvisation and quick movement. With this article we take a look at five famous mandolin players who make/made significant contributions to the jazz mandolin style.

 1. Jethro Burns

Kenneth Charles Burns earned the name Jethro after touring as comedic duo Homer and Jethro back in the 1930s, with Henry D. Haynes. He brought humour to his mandolin acts, telling jokes between songs. His great energy and humour combined with impeccable mandolin picking and original style made him a mandolin legend.

He was a country musician, but played jazz style on the mandolin, using clean, single-note melodies rather than bluegrass style. He was responsible for introducing jazz melodies and methods of playing to country mandolinists. Growing up in the big band era, he took a lot of influence from Cole Porter and Duke Ellington.

Over the decades and into the 1970s he had inspired an entire younger generation of acoustic musicians. In this same decade he wrote several columns for Mandolin World News on both music and humour.

He toured with Haynes, Ken Eidson and Steve Goodman. He was a great entertainer, a master teacher of mandolin jazz, and was inducted to the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2001.

  1. Paul Glasse

Paul Glasse grew up in New York. As a young person he was drawn to the acoustic sound of the mandolin. Growing up he listening to bluegrass, old timey and New England traditional music, and moved to Austin, Texas in 1977 to sturdy under Tiny Moore who taught him Texas Swing. This genre is quick in tempo and blends early country with jazz harmony, a la 1930s swing. To this day, Paul is known for this style.

In the 1980s he won several mandolin contests for his master picking including the Buck White International Mandolin Championship. His signature skills include improvisation and head, where he takes on the lead of a song, or its main theme.

  1. John Reischman 

John Reischman has a large repertoire of songs and styles, whether he is writing original pieces and touring with his band the Jaybirds, re-inventing old-time tunes, or playing bluegrass. He is renowned for his mastery of the mandolin, which he began playing in the 1970s, and helped build the new acoustic sound.

He was highly influenced by early bluegrass mandolinists such as Jethro Burns and David Grisman. Over the years he has collaborated with many artists, creating new hybrids of cross-cultural sounds on the mandolin due to his interest in musical rhythms and stringed instruments.

In addition to his collaborative albums he also has three solo albums, on which he performs both original songs and traditional tunes. He stands at the forefront of American Bluegrass style, but his mandolin style is very jazzy in the sophisticated interplay between himself and other instruments, and his ability to improvise.

  1. Tony Williamson 

Tony Williamson is a mandolin virtuoso, bringing his extensive knowledge of musical intruments and their histories to his playing. For 40 years he has delighted audiences across the globe with his superb mandolin playing, and when he is not playing he is selling vintage and pre-owned instruments. This originated with his grandfather, who made musical instruments and inspired his grandchildren Tony and brother Gary, on banjo, to begin playing in 1957.

By 1969 Tony and his brother were child sensations and won World Championship. He received his degree with highest honours at University of North Carolina where he was born and raised, and after graduating, went on tour with the Bluegrass Alliance. From there he played in a number of bands utilizing classical, folk and jazz styles on his mandolin.

His work with the mandolin is largely responsible for its modern-day popularity, as he is immensely talented as a player but also highly knowledgeable. He shows his collection of vintage guitars and mandolins to crowds, demonstrating their tone and craftsmanship. It is rare to find instruments like these being used, as opposed to sitting in museums. He continues to record, using F-5 mandolins from the 1920s (around the time Gibson had invented this model). 

  1. Don Stiernberg 

Don Stienberg has been playing mandolin for fifty years, and in this time period he has also performed, written, recorded, produced and taught. He was born in Chicago and is based there. As a child he was gifted a mandolin, and was sent to study with Jethro Burns, who became role model, mentor and friend. Don lived and breathed mandolin and played in a bluegrass band called The Morgan Brothers, and later in The Jethro Burns Quartet.

He is currently regarded as a trailblazer for the jazz mandolin style. His working band is called The Don Stiernberg Trio, with whom he recently recorded his ninth music project. The trio has performed across North America and in Germany and Brazil. He participates in The Mandolin Symposium in California and several mandolin and acoustic camps across the United States, Italy, Germany and Brazil.

10 Famous Mandolin Rock Songs

Today we’re going to talk about the all time classic rock songs featuring mandolin.

But first, here is a song called Come With Me My Giselle that dates back to around 1300 A.D., so you can hear how mandolin originally sounded back then when played by the bards of the day.

In terms of playing, the mandolin is an instrument that requires organic movement with loose wrists.  It is a very moody sounding instrument, whether it plays a happy tune or a sad one.

In the days of yore, there were a number of instruments which people played to pass the time, and sometimes deliver dire news.  It’s amazing that the mandolin has stood the test of time, although not entirely surprising really as it has a very distinct and emotional sound.  Hence, it is still played in many type of music today – particularly it adds something special to rock songs.

john paul jones mandolin

Mandolins In Rock Music?  Yes, Please!

Because of its past, many people don’t expect mandolins to show up in classic and / or modern rock music.  These days, you more often hear mandolin in bluegrass bands.

And yet, once in a while, it does make an appearance in a rock song with either a cool riff or sometimes it is the featured instrument of the entire song. Doubters might question the combination of rock and mandolin.  But not to worry, it usually sounds not just good, but often great!

Popular bands you know and love like Led Zeppelin, R.E.M., and the White Stripes have employed the unique sound of this instrument in some of their best loved songs!

So, here are 10 of the most popular, famous and indeed best mandolin rock songs ever written.  They might even make you want to pick up the instrument and learn to play.  Have fun listening to these great tunes and hearing some of their backstory to boot!

Friend of the Devil – Grateful Dead

This song was released in 1970, a popular era for the use of mandolin.  Acoustic strings were widely used in rock songs of the time.

It is highly popular and to this day is covered by many musicians, for it features G scale notes and acoustic instrumentation. Definitely one of the best rock songs with mandolin out there.

The lyrics describe a man who is on the run, though his crime is never fully explained.

It says, “A friend of the Devil is a friend of mine,” though it is clear through the lyrics that the character is on the run from all the questionable choices he’s made, and the circle will never break.

And here’s a live version of Friend of the Devil, featuring famed mandolin player David Grisman playing along with Jerry Garcia.

For interest’ sake, here are the handwritten lyrics that the ‘Dead wrote themselves.


Battle of Evermore – Led Zeppelin

Released in 1971, this folk duet is about Lord of the Rings, and mandolin would be a natural choice of instrument for this one.  The Battle of Evermore is sometimes lovingly referred to as “the Led Zeppelin song with mandolin”.

Page played the mandolin for this track, although it belonged to Zeppelin bassist John Paul Jones.  Page once explained the writing of the song, saying “The Battle of Evermore was made up on the spot by Robert and myself. I just picked up John Paul Jones’s mandolin, never having played a mandolin before, and just wrote up the chords and the whole thing in one sitting.”

The mandolin, as you may have noticed, is a rather small instrument and it’s favoured for its portability, as musicians would travel and tell stories using the instrument.  These people were called bards.  This song carries on that legend, using imagery from the popular fantasy series to create a bard-worthy tale.

There isn’t a huge amount of live Led Zeppelin footage, but here’s the band playing The Battle of Evermore back in 1977.  Interesting to see how they pull it off live, with JPJ and his crazy multi-necked guitar and unique vocal additions.

Did you know, Zep’s Going to California also features mandolin?


Maggie May – Rod Stewart

Another song from the early 1970s, this is one of Rod Stewart’s best known tracks. It describes a relationship between a boy and older woman, and is based on his personal experience.

Rod himself said that the song is about his first sexual encounter with a lady at the 1961 Beaulieu Jazz Festival.  So that’s what the song is about, but the name Maggie May was apparently “… an old Liverpudlian song about a prostitute.”  Interesting.

It was a widely regarded song, topping the UK charts not to mention the USA, Canada, and Australia back in 1971.

On the recording, the actual player of the mandolin was Ray Jackson of Lindisfarne.  Rather insultingly, Stewart’s sleevenotes for Every Picture Tells A Story read: “The mandolin was played by the mandolin player in Lindisfarne. The name slips my mind.”

Another great Rod Stewart track featuring mandolin is Mandolin Wind.


Losing My Religion – R.E.M.

This song might be tied with Battle of Evermore for having the most recognizable riff, both played on the mandolin. This is without a doubt R.E.M.’s most popular song to date.

It was released in 1991 as their first single from album Out of Time, which went on to lift the band to new heights of fame and fortune.

The guitarist, Peter Buck, had just purchased a mandolin, was learning how to play it, and recording any riffs he practiced.  He was a little sick of being associated with the guitar at the time.

Essentially this riff for Losing My Religion is what helped him learn mandolin, and ironically is one of the most popular songs the band have written to date – probably THE most popular, actually. Often the most organically formed songs become the best known.

Here’s what Buck told Guitar School in 1991: “I started it on mandolin and came up with the riff and chorus. The verses are the kinds of things R.E.M. uses a lot, going from one minor to another, kind of like those “Driver 8” chords. You can’t really say anything bad about E minor, A minor, D, and G – I mean, they’re just good chords.

“We then worked it up in the studio – it was written with electric bass, drums, and mandolin. So it had a hollow feel to it. There’s absolutely no midrange on it, just low end and high end, because Mike usually stayed pretty low on the bass. This was when we decided we’d get Peter (Holsapple) to record with us, and he played live acoustic guitar on this one. It was really cool: Peter and I would be in our little booth, sweating away, and Bill and Mike would be out there in the other room going at it. It just had a really magical feel.”

As an added bonus, here’s Michael Stipe talking about how the mandolin came to be part of Losing My Religion.


Little Ghost – White Stripes

This song is more recent, released in 2005. The mandolin is not commonly used by this band, but adds a great rhythm to the song and makes use of Jack White’s interest in folk songs.

Prior to this album, The White Stripes typically had a very rocky, raw sound, like garage rock.  But Jack White, ever the experimenter, was not one to shy away from mandolin when the time came.

This album had a very folk and acoustic sound. The mandolin in this song is simple and rhythmic, fast and undeniably catchy.

Here’s a great live version of Little Ghost that shows how this song could essentially have been written centuries ago and been a hit in the late 1800’s.  Jack and Meg just have that old type of soul, I guess.


Love in Vain – Rolling Stones

This song takes the Rolling Stones to the roots of down-home blues, not a sound they are known for unless you’re a dedicated Stones fan, but wonderfully refreshing and heartfelt if you give it a listen.

The acoustic instrument with slide guitar pulls on your heartstrings. The mandolin comes in at the 2-minute mark during an instrumental break to give a full roots/blues feel.

This song was released in 1969, originally written by bluesman Robert Johnson, who used a departing train as a metaphor for loss and unrequited love. On the recording, famed musician Ry Cooder steps in to do mandolin duties on the song.  An awesome piece of work!

It seems to be well known in the mandolin community that Stones’ songs and mandolin go together well.  Here is an epic cover of Paint It Black that helps prove that point, played on an “Uber-rare 1931 Kay Kraft Mandola.”


Copperhead Road – Steve Earle

Released in 1988, this album combines bluegrass with heavy metal. The songs introduce country music’s storytelling to the rhythms and chords of rock music.

The title track Copperhead Road is about a Vietnam War veteran who returns to Tennessee to sell marijuana.

Copperhead Road is a real road, and the song was so popular that the road had to be renamed to Copperhead Hollow Road to stop people stealing the street signs.

It has also been used as theme music for the TV show Moonshiners, and for line dancing.

Here’s a cool video showing how Copperhead Road is played, up close and personal.  Nice!

And here’s Moonshiners!


St. Teresa – Joan Osborne

This song is inspired by a woman who would sell drugs openly on a street corner, with her child in a stroller next to her.

Joan would see this woman from her apartment window. The mandolin is very softly strummed throughout the song but adds a poignant jangle.

St. Teresa of course was the first canonized woman/nun, a figure to whom female Catholics relate and idolize.

Here’s Joan and her band playing the tune on Letterman back in 1996.  Mandolin sounded great that time as well!


Boat on the River – Styx

This is possibly the best example of mandolin use on this list.

The mandolin is accompanied by an accordion, stand-up bass and acoustic guitar, and revives a very traditional mandolin sound with minor chords, solo picking and tremolo strumming during the instrumental bits.

Boat On The River sounds just like a medieval folk song, and it comes from their album Cornerstone.  The band themselves are probably best remembered for Mr. Roboto, a very un-folksy sounding song if you know it (who doesn’t?)

If you’re interested in learning this awesome song, here’s a great tutorial.


Rag Mama Rag – The Band

Another example of honky-tonk train blues, this song sounds just like one you’d hear a band playing when you walked into a western saloon.

It sounds like a fun loose song, but all the playing is right on point and will get you grooving.

It is one of their most famous songs: fans loved it for its toe-tapping fun. It’s so lively it could be in an old cartoon.

Hey, thanks for checking out our list, but we’re not quite done.

Here are a few more mandolin-based songs that you might know featuring Chris Cornell, the Goo Goo Dolls, and the Lumineers.  We just couldn’t leave these gems off the list.

Now we want to show you some cool mandolin covers of rock songs we came across that you might enjoy listening to.

Cool Mandolin Covers of Rock Songs

Also, if you can’t get enough mandolin in rock, check this out!

Checking Out The Best Rock Mandolin Players of All Time

Kmise 4-String Banjolele Review

This revival has brought back a fun, unique instrument that can be used to play a variety of musical styles. The beauty of an instrument is finding one you love and adapting your favorite songs to the tone of the instrument itself.

That’s before you start writing your own songs and playing them on the instruments.

Kmise 4 String Banjo Ukulele Uke Concert 23 Inch Size Sapele With Bag Tuner

Buy On Amazon

Specifications

  • Remo Head
  • Closed chrome tuners
  • Drum size 8.46 inches
  • Length 23.03 inches
  • Sapele mahogany
  • Rosewood fingerboard
  • Tuner included
  • Zippered bag

First Impressions of the Kmise 4-String Banjolele

The Kmise 4-String Banjolele is constructed from quality tone woods that will bring a rich sound to your music. It’s a beautiful-looking instrument that sounds even better than it looks.

It doesn’t seem possible, but it’s true. When you first strum the strings of this instrument (after tuning, of course), you’ll be blown away by the sound it produces.

After some time learning the chords, the next people blown away by the sound will by your appreciative audience.

As a banjo ukulele, it has a unique sound. While it leans towards the banjo side of sound, it is a blend of sounds that will be something nobody else in your circle has heard before.

As a musician, you likely want to do something different than all your friends. It’ll help you in a group or a band if you can do something aside from strumming a guitar like everyone else.

Required Setup

When you receive any instrument in a box from the manufacturer, you’re going to need to make some adjustments like fixing the bridge. If the company left the bridge in place with tightened strings, you’d end up with a broken instrument when you lifted it out of the box.

While we’d normally recommend that you take this untuned banjolele to a professional to tune for you, this instrument comes with a tuner.

You can easily learn to tune the banjolele yourself. Once you’ve learned to tune an instrument, you won’t have to rely on anyone else to tune any of your instruments.

The bridge is easily slipped under the strings. Turn it sideways then flip it upright once it’s under the strings. Each string will be cradled in one of the grooves.

You might have to loosen the strings to get the bridge under it, but then you can tighten them to hold the bridge.

Here is a selection of popular banjoleles that we recommend to anyone looking to take up the hobby!

Instrument Materials

The instrument’s fretboard is made from a material that is traditionally used for these parts of stringed instruments. That material is rosewood.

Kmise 4 String Banjo Ukulele Uke Concert 23 Inch Size Sapele With Bag Tuner

Buy On Amazon

Gold Tone Little Gem Ukes 4-String Ukulele Right, Blue Lg-S

Buy On Amazon

Tfw Banjolele Starter Kit – With Case And Accessories

Buy On Amazon

Luna 8″ Banjolele With Ulu Design, Tobacco Burst

Buy On Amazon

The rest of the banjolele is made from a wood that isn’t as common, which is Sapele mahogany. It’s a hardwood that is used to replace mahogany in some cases.

It’s originally from tropical Africa, and has an interlocked, wavy pattern that resembles the mahogany that many instrument creators use in their production.

Along with being a great tone wood, it’s a material that is very durable and resists decay. That’s important in an instrument since you want it to last for years.

You could easily pass this down to your children after you’re done with it, or when you’ve moved on to a more expensive instrument.

Remo Head for the Banjolele

When you purchase a banjolele, you can expect it to have a head stretched across a rim. This part of the instrument is what resembles a banjo.

It’s also where the resonator is attached if the banjolele comes with one. They usually do. The Remo head on this Kmise Banjolele measures 8.46 inches.

Resonator or Open Back

The Kmise Banjolele has a resonator to increase the volume of the sound produced with this instrument. The resonator is normally used to increase the volume and project the sound forward towards the listener.

There isn’t really another reason to have a resonator. Some people like having the extra volume while others would rather not have one. Most resonators can be removed quite easily to change the sound.

Frequently Asked Questions

How is the banjolele tuned?
The tuning is G-C-E-A.

How much does the instrument weigh?
The banjolele is incredibly lightweight. It weighs 3.84 pounds.

Is there anything else included with the banjolele?
The instrument comes with a tuner as well as a zippered bag for carrying the instrument.

Conclusion

This banjolele from Kmise is a beautiful instrument that melds the best parts of the banjo and ukulele to create a unique instrument that you’ll thoroughly enjoy playing with friends or your band.

Once you learn to make music on this instrument, everyone will want to see you perform with it. It’s also lightweight enough to be taken everywhere you might want to go.

We Review 5 of the Best 6-String Banjos Under $1000

We’re reviewing the top 5 6-string banjos under $1000 on the market today. These are stunningly beautiful instruments that give players a sound that rivals some of the more expensive banjos out there. You don’t have to spend thousands to get an incredible instrument.

If you want to transition from a guitar to a banjo without having to learn to play a new instrument, these 6-string banjos are perfect. They are tuned like a guitar, but have that rich, twang that’s characteristic of banjos.

Martin Smith 6-String Banjo

This is a banjo that’s on the low end in the terms of price, but it’s high in quality construction. The banjo is approximately $200, which is a great price for a beginner who has never picked up an instrument before.

Specifications

  • Stunning mahogany construction
  • Two-way truss rod
  • Remo head
  • Carrying case
  • Extra strings

Along with a quality instrument, you’ll get a gig bag and extra strings with this affordable banjo. Martin Smith is a company that manufactures a line of banjos that are constructed with an eye towards lasting quality. This banjo has a resonator that can be removed for versatility in your instrument.


Gretsch G9460 Dixie 6 Guitar Banjo

This 6-string banjo is on the higher end of the spectrum in terms of price. It’s a few hundred less than the $1000 limit of this list. It’s a vintage looking banjo that looks like a banjo from the 1950s. It’s made entirely from a beautiful blonde maple with a semi-gloss finish.

Specifications

  • Remo Fiberskyn head
  • Resonator
  • Dual coordinating rods

Most banjos in this price range are great instruments that look very similar. You’re getting good construction with a white drum and some possible inlays on the fret for those instruments. On this Gretsch, you’re getting the Remo Fiberskyn on this head that looks like the calfskin musicians used on old-time banjos back in the day.


Gold Tone AC-6+ 6-String Banjo

This is a middle-of-the-road banjo only when it comes to price. It’s about $500 for this banjo with the incredibly beautiful finish. It has a resonator with 24 brackets. It comes with a magnetic pickup and a gig case, so when you’re ready to take your music on the road, this banjo can be a part of that.

Specifications

  • Two-way adjustable truss rod
  • Geared tuners
  • Magnetic pickup
  • Maple neck
  • Gig bag

This 6-string banjo is made of a variety of woods including a maple bridge and neck, a lovely rosewood fretboard, and composite for the resonator. The wood is finished with a smooth satin that brings out the grain of each piece of wood.


Jameson 6-String Banjo Guitar

This is another banjo that is a good choice for beginners. It’s easy to learn because it’s tuned like a guitar, and it’s reasonably priced around $200. If you’re looking for a true beginner instrument that is easy to play, this is a good choice. It’s from a company that makes a wide range of instruments for all level of player.

Specifications

  • Diecast enclosed tuners
  • Maple, rosewood and mahogany construction
  • 24 brackets and adjustable hinged tailpiece

This banjo is tuned like a guitar, so you can easily transition between the banjo and the guitar without a huge learning curve. The banjo itself is quite gorgeous with a finish that allows the beauty of the wood to shine through.


Dean Guitars Backwood 6-String Banjo with Pickup

While others on this list are a traditional style and color, this one is sleek and almost dangerous looking. It’s a black chrome with pearl inlays and a matte-finish resonator that is unlike other banjos that your friends may have. This banjo is around the mid-way point in terms of price. It’s approximately $400.

Specifications

  • Mahogany neck
  • Rosewood Fingerboard
  • Pearl dot inlays
  • Die-cast tuners

This guitar-tuned banjo has a 25 1/2” scale length, an 11” Remo head, and die-cast tuners. This banjo is pretty lightweight, too. You’ll be able to take this banjo with you anywhere you want to practice or play for family and friends. It doesn’t come with a case, but it’s easy to purchase one if you want to take this banjo on the road.


The 6-string banjos on this list are under $1000, which is a terrific price for a beginner banjo, but it’s also a good price for a banjo that can carry you into professional amateur musician status. You don’t have to toss any of these banjos aside for a more expensive one anytime in the near future.

There are some beautiful banjos on this list that will help you transition from guitar to banjo quite easily. Especially if you want to play some songs that lend themselves to the banjo, but you don’t want to spend months learning a new instrument.

Is Banjo Easier or Harder than Guitar?

If you’ve never even touched a banjo or guitar, it’s likely both are going to seem rather hard to play, at first, but that’s to be expected.  Unless, you’re a phenom, and we all know true phenoms are rare.

Genetics

First off, you need to realize that everyone has different shapes / sizes of hands, and different amounts of strength in our hands, wrists, and fingers.

Also, each of us has a different level of coordination, and dexterity when it comes to their hands and finger movements.

Not only that, we all have different capabilities for figuring out the music itself.  We all hear music differently, and it’s harder to play something where we can’t understand the sounds we’re making related to pitch, tone, and volume.

Some people just hold a guitar or banjo for the first time, and it’s like a duck in a pond.  Almost like they’ve played the instrument before in a past life.

Here’s a picture of a young Jimi Hendrix, holding a guitar when he was in the army.  Although most people know how good Jimi eventually got at guitar in his lifetime, there’s no telling how he felt about guitar when he first picked one up.  For all we know, maybe it took him a while to get the hang of it.

Or what about legendary banjo player Earl Scruggs.  Here he is as a kid, holding a banjo, and looking oddly at ease holding it for such a young child.

Banjo Vs. Guitar – Which Is Easier?

Ok, so obviously your genetics are going to play a part.  Aside from that, we have to examine the instruments themselves.

Banjo

Let’s start with the banjo.  The type of banjo you pick up will make a difference in the ease of learning.  While a guitar typically has 6 strings, a banjo might have 4, 5, or 6 strings, depending on the style of music you want to learn.

Suddenly, you’re faced with three options, rather than one.  This raises the question: “What style of banjo do I want to buy if I’m just starting out?”  I’ll assume you’re looking for the easiest one to play on as well.

Well, overall, your choice of banjo does depend on the type of music you’re interested in learning, whether it be old time banjo music played in a clawhammer style, or three-finger picked banjo style found in bluegrass music.

Separating Style from Instrument, and Instrument From Song

Keep in mind, the style of playing is a separate matter from the type of banjo, and the songs you’ll be wanting to learn.

For instance, you could be learning an easy song, on a banjo that’s harder to play (for reasons I’ll get into), and in a style that’s very hard for you to play.

Or, conversely, you could be playing a difficult song on a very easy playing banjo, in a chosen style that’s easier for you.

All that might sound confusing, but the point is, some banjos are just easier to play.  To know why, we first must look at the different kinds of banjos you can get.

Here’s a video by banjo player Jim Pankey, that can help you decide what type of banjo you might want to get, as a beginner player or someone who’s never played before.

Resonator Vs. Open Back Banjo

Now, if you happened to watch the above video, you would have heard Jim talking about two types of banjos – resonator banjos and open-back banjos.

He talks about the fact not only do both banjos look different, but they feel different to play and they also sound different when heard.

In the end, Jim recommends a resonator banjo due to its overall versatility as a good first banjo to buy.  Yes, it does look good, and it sounds good, but you’re probably still wondering: is it easier to play than the open back style of banjo?

On top of that, are either of them easier to play than your average guitar?

If you ask me, the style of banjo isn’t going to determine how easy it is to play as much as the playing style you’re going to have to learn.

I’m not here to give you a lesson in how to play the banjo, but I will at least point out that there were two main styles of playing banjo, both of which Jim played in the video, and they are the clawhammer style, and the 3-pick style.

Clawhammer Vs. Three Pick Style of Playing Banjo

Between clawhammer technique and 3-pick style, you might imagine one is easier than the other, but it’s hard to say without a doubt that one style is easier than the other.  Again, it depends on you, the size of your hands, how much dexterity you have, etc.

This all comes back to what I mentioned earlier about everyone having different coordination, and hand strength and sizes.  For some, wearing the finger picks to play the banjo will not only sound better, but be more logical and simpler to execute.

On the other hand, some might argue that clawhammer style is easier because you’re more free to play how you want, without having picks attached to your fingers.

Basically, you’re either going to enjoy playing with the picks on your fingers, or not enjoy it.

When it comes to these two playing styles, only YOU know which one you like better and perhaps find easier.  You’ll just have to try both playing techniques, and see what you think.  Same goes for the type of banjo you choose.  Go to the store, try a few out, and see what feels most comfortable.

Now, you might say, “Sir, you’re avoiding the question.  Which type of banjo is the easiest to play?  Stop claiming it’s only subjective and talking in circles.”

To that I say, “I am feeling the pressure here, and I will do my best to provide more information”.

Tfw Banjolele Starter Kit – With Case And Accessories

Buy On Amazon

Banjo Ukulele 4 String Banjos Lele Ukelele Uke Concert 23 Inch Size (Type 4)

Buy On Amazon

5 String Resonator Banjo With 24 Brackets | Closed Back And Geared 5Th Tuner

Buy On Amazon

Jameson Guitars 5-String Banjo 24 Bracket With Closed Solid Back And Geared 5Th Tuner

Buy On Amazon

Gold Tone 5-String Banjo Cc-100Rw

Buy On Amazon

Banjo Neck Width

Banjos, depending on the type and number of strings, all have slightly different sized necks, in terms of length and width.  But it’s width I’m more concerned about here, because that generally determines how much space there is between each string.

For those who don’t know, the “neck” of a banjo (or guitar) is the long skinny part that the strings run along that connects the top of the instrument (the head) to the bottom (the body).

Generally, the more strings the banjo has, the wider the neck, although, at the same time, that’s not necessarily true in every case.

Sometimes the neck can be quite narrow on a banjo, and, although there might be more strings present, they can be pushed much closer together.

For me, personally, I find that if the neck is narrower on a banjo (or guitar), on one hand it’s easier to play chords (ie. hold down strings across the whole width of the neck), because the strings are closer together.

Here is a video from Guitar Compass with a teacher playing easy chords on a banjo with a fairly narrow neck.

As you can see, it’s easy for his hand to reach across the neck of the banjo, whereas guitars typically have much wider necks than banjos and are therefore harder to reach across to make a chord, especially a barre chord.

Check out this chart below showing chords on a 4-string banjo.

Now check out this chart showing chords on a guitar.

As you may notice, the guitar chords are done across 6 strings, whereas on the 4-string banjo, it looks (and is, if you ask me) a lot easier.  Not only is it physically easier, in my opinion, but it’s also mentally easier to remember because there are less strings.

Even on a 6-string banjo, the neck is going to be skinnier than your average acoustic guitar, and I think that makes it a little easier to play.

Banjo Tuning

Banjos score another point in this section for ease of use, because your standard 5-stringer banjo is tuned to open G. That means when you strum down the strings without holding anything, you’re playing the G chord.

With a few minor finger adjustments, you can learn two more chords to start playing many familiar tunes within minutes.

Here’s Tony Trischka from ArtistWorks strumming a banjo in open G (bluegrass tuning), and also showing some other simple chords (C, D7) you can play almost right away.

With guitars, if you play the strings all open, you get an E minor 11th, which is some crazy jazz chord that no one uses, but is still pretty cool.

Banjo Action

If you don’t know the term “action”, as it relates to stringed instruments, we’ll let Deering Banjos, a well-known banjo company, explain the concept to you:

“Action is the distance/clearance between the bottom of the string and the top of the fret. Action height can be a matter of personal preference to some degree.  At Deering, we set the action at 1/8” at the 22nd fret; any lower and you might get buzzing/vibrating of the string against the fret as you play. Many professional players prefer their action at ¼” clearance. If you pick hard, this action height might work best for you to provide enough space for string vibrations. Hammer-ons and pull offs are clearer with higher action. The coordinator rod on the inside of the pot/rim of the banjo is used to adjust the action of the banjo neck. The coordinator rod also serves to firmly anchor the neck to the rim, making a stable unit.”

For guitars, I use 3/32 inches on the bass side and 1/16 inches on the treble side, which is slightly lower action than Deering mentions with their banjos.  In any case, I’m not what you’d call an expert on setting the action of guitars and / or banjos, but I personally, in general, like a lower action, because it’s easier to hold the strings down with your fingers.  I’ve played on instruments where the action is what I’d consider high, and it becomes too hard to play.

Since there isn’t really a universal standard for action on guitars or banjos that I know of, I can’t really say which one is easier, I just know that I like the action a bit lower for ease of playing.

Banjo String Gauges

When it comes to string gauges, I’m talking about string thickness.

Generally speaking, there’s light gauge, medium gauge, and heavy gauge strings for banjo.  This goes for guitar as well.

The gauge of the strings affects the sound, and it is up to the player which thickness they want to use on their banjo.

The thicker strings, much the same as with a guitar, are tougher to bend, and the lighter / thinner gauge strings are often so thin that some people complain that they’re cutting into their fingers.  That’s why I typically use medium gauge strings on either guitar or banjo.

Here’s a video showing the different sound that comes from the different thicknesses of strings on a banjo.  You’ll need to listen closely, as hearing the difference between each type of string is subtle.

One last note here about strings, is that you can string a banjo or a guitar yourself, but it’s not easy when you’re starting out.  Still, it can be done by you, and you don’t need a specialist to do it.

There are other things like fixing a warped neck, or other repairs, that an expert can and should do.  But changing and replacing the strings is something you can learn, without too much trouble.


Guitar

Guitars, for the most part, are 6-stringed instruments that are noticeably larger than banjos, body-wise, and have wider necks.  They also sound a lot different.

I say “for the most part”, because there are also 12-string guitars, which are essentially guitars with double the number of strings, and yet the strings on a 12-stringer are grouped like so:

The vast majority of players play 6-stringers, though.

Acoustic vs. Electric Guitar

There are two main types of guitar – acoustic and electric.  It’s important to note that acoustic and electric guitars don’t function in the same way, and they don’t sound the same either.

Generally speaking, one is a hollow body (acoustic) and one is a solid body (electric).

One thing that is the same about acoustic and electric guitars is that they are strung the same way.  This means that they both have six strings, and that those strings are in the same order from top to bottom, thickest to thinnest (EADGBe).

What this also means is that whatever you can play on an acoustic, in terms of riffs or chords, is going to be the same fingering on an electric.  So, in that sense, they aren’t too different.

In terms of which guitar is easier to play, we have to take a closer look at how each is set up.

Acoustic Vs. Electric Guitar Strings

Acoustic and electric guitars each use different string materials, giving them a different sound, and a different playability as well.

Electric guitar strings are made from materials with magnetic properties, like steel, chromium, and nickel.  They don’t need to resonate acoustically because their sound is amplified electrically, though an amp.

Acoustic guitar strings do need to be more resonant, because the sound of your playing resonates through the body of the guitar by way of the sound hole, and then projects back out acoustically into the room.

When you’re at the music store, acoustic strings and electric strings are in their own little sections, and they’re usually clearly labelled as either one or the other.

There is no pack of strings that just says “guitar strings”.  They list all of the qualities of the strings, and, if nothing else, you can tell which guitar the strings are for by the materials that they are made of.

Action Rant, Part 2

In my experience, I have found that electric guitars are a little easier to play, due to the action being lower.

I mentioned this earlier, that I like a lower action, because even that fraction of an inch lower can make a difference in how hard you have to push down to play the string or strings.

When you’re just starting out, one of the biggest complaints I’ve heard from students is that the strings hurt your fingers, and this has a lot to do with finger strength (which can be built up with practice) and also the material of the strings and the thick or thinness of the strings slicing into your finger pads.

I’m not exaggerating either, I’ve had one or two younger students literally shed tears over how much their fingers hurt after trying to practice their playing!

Acoustic guitars, since the strings do need to resonate more, have that higher action (strings are higher off of the fretboard / neck), and that makes it harder to push the strings down than on an electric.

I’ve been playing for 25 years now, and I still don’t really enjoy stringed instruments where the action is higher than normal, and sometimes it can be.

I’ll also share this story – my first guitar was an old acoustic that was laying around the house, and the action was twice as high as it should have been because the neck was warped.  As such, I just thought I was extra terrible at playing that instrument, and it lead me to believe that all acoustic guitars were like that and I almost quit.

One more thing about the fingering of guitars and banjos has to do with fingernails, but still relates to the action.  If your fingernails on your fretting hand (not your strumming / picking hand) are too long, it might cause you problems and make things harder than they have to be.

This is because your fingernails can get in the way of your fingers pushing down the strings all the way to the fretboard.  I’ve had students who can’t push down the strings for this reason, because they have really long fingernails, and yet they refuse to cut them.  That’s a no-win situation!

So, chew your nails, kids!

My point is, if you’re new to either banjo or guitar, at least take a look at the action of it so that you a) understand the concept, and b) can begin to judge how appropriate the action is on the instrument you have.  You can have the action lowered if you take the instrument in.

Fingernails, Continued

On the other hand, if you have longer fingernails on your strumming hand, this can be helpful when it comes to both picking and strumming.

Some super famous guitar players are known for picking their strings with their fingers, and you can basically use longer fingernails as separate picks.

This works with banjos too, as banjos are a more pick-centric instrument.  Fingerpicking for bluegrass, especially, is a main feature of the music.  Banjos, in general, are all about flying fingers and pickin’ and grinnin’.

Here’s a video with famous guitar fingerpicker, Dire Straits’ Mark Knopfler, showing some of his finger style playing.

Styles of Guitar Playing

If you ask me, there seems to be more versatility with guitars, because there are more playing techniques and simply more styles of guitars out there.  Guitars lend themselves to more styles of music as well.

I think that this makes guitars easier to learn, because you can approach them from so many different angles and strumming and picking styles.  There’s fingerpicking, alternate picking, sweep picking, gypsy rhythms, and tapping.  Plus many others!  Or you can just make up your own style completely, and no one seems to mind.

For instance, if you want to play punk rock guitar, you just need to learn a few basic power chords.

Here’s the Germs playing their song Manimal from the documentary, The Decline of Western Civilization.  Keep an eye on that guitar player, Pat Smear (now in Foo Fighters).  The playing style here is simple but effective, and the idea is that anyone can really do it.

Then again, this kind of music might make you want to jump off a bridge.  Fair enough!  You might be interested in something a little more mellow and pleasant-sounding.  Why not try to learn some bossa nova?

Back to the point of what’s easy vs. what’s not easy, different guitar styles of playing are going to be harder than others.  Bashing out a simple rock song might be easier for you than playing The Girl From Ipanema, but if you want to play in that style, you’ll hunker down and learn it eventually.

Using a Guitar Pick

We have yet to mention the wonderful world of guitar picks.  Because beginners are always hurting their fingers on both hands (fretting hand and strumming / picking hand), using a guitar pick does make some things easier because now you won’t have to pick or strum with your hand, which can hurt when you’re just starting out.  You just use the pick instead!

Guitar picks come in different shapes, sizes, and thicknesses.  Like guitar strings, they range from super thick to super thin.  The one you choose will depend on your preference.

The rabbit hole runs pretty deep with guitar picks, in terms of variety and reasons to choose one over another.

Some have special grips, tips, glow-in-the-dark, special designs, some are aerodynamic, and some will actually go out and get you coffee and bring it back.  Imagine that!

At then end of the day, some guitar players use picks, some don’t.  Once again, you’ll have to try them out to see if you like using them at all.  Keep in mind, some guitar players never use a pick, unless forced to at gunpoint.

Lindsey Buckingham don’t use no pick!

What’s Easier, Guitar or Banjo? – Recap

It takes a long time to master an instrument. The ease with which you learn the instrument will depend on the style of music you want to learn.

The guitar has more notes and finger athletics to master than the banjo. This will make it harder to learn the banjo than the guitar for some people. The banjo has fewer strings, which can make it a bit easier to play.

If you’re just starting out and the action is too high on either instrument, that’ll make it harder.  If the strings are too thin, they might cut into your tender, un-calloused fingers.  If the strings are too think, they’re harder to pin down and harder to bend.

You’ll probably have a voice in your head complaining as you begin to learn, but just go easy on yourself.

Overall, the ease of learning really depends on whether you’ve had any experience with a stringed instrument, if you have a good teacher, and the style of music you are trying to learn.

The determination and persistence of the student matters to how easily he or she learns an instrument, too. Many people put down the guitar after a few months if they haven’t learned it properly.

A banjo player who practices for a few months can really enjoy the playing and won’t quit until they’ve enjoyed playing their favoirite songs.

Conclusion

Learning a new instrument can be hard.  Once you’re as old as me (I’m 204), you’ll realize that there are no shortcuts in life and that there’s really no such thing as having it easy all the time.

That said, if you consider everything I’ve talked about here today, you can make more informed decisions when it comes to learning either the guitar or the banjo.  Good luck, and tell me how it goes in the comments and if I missed anything!

Best Banjo for Folk Music

Every banjo from the 4-string to the 6-string has a place in music where it’s most common. For example, the 4-string can be tuned to play Jazz or Dixieland music. Traditionally, folk music is played with a 5-string. That certainly doesn’t mean that other instruments and playing styles can’t be used for the genre of folk music, but it’s what’s commonly used.

Old Folk Songs

Folk songs have been around for hundreds of years. They were vital in bringing people together in tough times like during the Vietnam War. Musicians like Bob Dylan, Pete Seeger, Woody Guthrie, and The Kingston Trio sang about things that everyone could relate. Folk music is a genre that many people stumble over defining. Some say that folk music is anything sung by “folks” while others say that they’re oral stories of current events. In the days before radio and television, it’s not hard to believe that songs were a way to remember.

The Recent History of Folk Music

As the world has evolved, so has the genre of folk music. While it’s still an oral history, it’s also a way to bring attention to injustices in the world and rally people together. This is what folk music brought to the world around the time of the Civil Rights Movement, the Depression, and the Vietnam War. In fact, one folk song is the United States unofficial national anthem. If you ask most children throughout the years, they’d have answered that “This Land is Your Land” by Woody Guthrie is our national anthem.

Pete Seeger

While many folk songs are played with a solo artist and his or her guitar, there are many songs that are played with a 5-string banjo. The man who is considered the king of the 5-string is Pete Seeger. He was part of the group called the Weavers before they were blacklisted around the time McCarthy was in office. Seeger became an activist as well as a folk singer that had songs like “Where Have All the Flowers Gone?” and “If I had a Hammer” The wonderful thing about folk music is that other musicians would adapt and sing these same songs and turn them into huge hits like the original.

In 1948, Seeger wrote a book called How to Play the Five-String Banjo. That book is still the beginner’s bible in how to start playing the banjo. He originally self-published the book because he was working as a teacher around that time. He explained techniques like hammering on and pulling off as banjo terms and covered styles like frailing and clawhammer styles.

The 5-String Banjo

The 5-string banjo with a standard 22 frets and a length of approximately 26 inches is a versatile instrument that can be used for the various styles of folk music. While it often has open G tuning, it can be used with a capo to tune the banjo to any note that the player wants. This is one of the biggest reasons it’s so versatile for folk musicians.

There’s also the parlor 5-string banjo that was often used for women and children in the first generations of the banjo. That banjo is shorter and weighs less than the traditional style. This banjo is tuned to G, but can be tuned to A quite easily.

The long-neck banjo was originally the idea of Seeger. It’s a banjo with more frets. There are 25 of them on this type of banjo with the longer neck. It is tuned differently than the traditional banjo, too.

Open Back or Resonator for Folk Music

For some music, banjos have to compete with other instruments like guitars and upright bass instruments. That kind of music like Bluegrass, for example, needs a banjo that can compete with those instruments. For this reason, they’ll choose a resonator because the tone is harder and will “ring,” which is a way for the instrument to compete. Traditional folk music and banjo players will often choose a backless banjo because they believe the sound is more authentic. It doesn’t resonate or “ring” like the other kind of banjo.

If you don’t know what kind of banjo you want, choose one with a resonator that can be removed easily. It’s like having two instruments in one. You’ll be able to hear the difference for yourself and make a more educated decision about what style you like.

The best banjo for folk music is the 5-string banjo with an open back. The style you choose – whether it’s a traditional length, parlor version or long-neck banjo – will depend on your playing style. If you don’t know your playing style yet because you haven’t played before, start with a standard banjo with 22 frets that measures approximately 26 inches. From there, you can learn the banjo and make changes based on your preferred playing style.

Jameson 5-String Banjo Review

The 5-String Jameson Banjo with a closed back is a quality banjo that comes from a company that loves to provide customers with affordable musical instruments. This 5 string is a classic instrument that looks incredibly expensive. It’s made from some of the best, quality materials and has a sheen that will make you want to admire the banjo instead of playing it.

Jameson Guitars 5-String Banjo 24 Bracket With Closed Solid Back And Geared 5Th Tuner

Buy On Amazon

Specifications

  • 3-ply maple rim
  • Mahogany resonator
  • Rosewood fretboard
  • Nickel-plated armrest
  • Geared 5th tuner

First Impressions

This beauty of a banjo has the traditional 5 strings that are the essence of what people expect when they purchase or play a banjo. The closed back is made of rich, deep mahogany that makes this a showpiece as well as a playing instrument. You’d expect to pay hundreds of dollars for a banjo this stunning, but it’s actually very reasonably priced. It’s part of what makes Jameson/Davison Guitar such an amazing company for musical instruments. Even the beginning or starter instruments are built with care, precision, and pride.

R. W. Jameson Guitar Co

The company believes in making musical instruments accessible for anyone who wants to learn to play. Whether you have a passion for music or just a passing curiosity, Jameson wants you to be able to find an instrument that fits your needs. They have a range of affordable instruments from starter ones to those that professionals would love to play.

Required Setup Out of the Box

New players don’t often understand that the banjo will arrive with loose connections. The bridge will have to be adjusted and the strings will need to be tuned. Some manufacturers will send their instruments fully deconstructed and will make the customer put the instrument together. The only assembly required for the banjo from Jameson is the bridge adjustment for the most part. If the company were to leave the strings tight and the bridge in place, you’d end up with broken strings during the shipping process. If you don’t know how to tune it yourself, don’t be afraid to spend a little money and have a professional tune it for you.

Banjo Materials

There’s a maple bridge and a 7-ply maple neck on this 5-string banjo. The shell and resonator are made out of a beautiful mahogany wood with a delicious high-gloss look. The brackets and armrest are a chrome that really shines next to the glossed wood. If you wanted to hang this on the wall in plain view as a decoration, nobody would blame you at all.

Closed Back with 24 Brackets

The resonator on the back is meant to thrust the sound of the banjo forward. It gives the instrument a bigger sound than if it were to be played without the back. In some instruments, the resonator can’t be taken off the banjo. This banjo’s resonator has 4 thumbscrews on the back that allow it to be removed from the banjo to give it more variety than other 5-string banjos. You could easily remove the resonator and replace it to get the distinct sound you want with each song played.

Geared 5th Tuner

Inexpensive 5 string banjos will often have a friction tuner. This is what really shows the Jameson 5-String Banjo as superior to the competitors in the same price range. The inexpensive banjos from others will have a friction tuner, which relies on pressure to hold the tune. The geared 5th tuner has a peg that won’t slip and cause the 5th string to lose its tune. The 5th tuner is much like what you’d expect of a tuner on a more expensive banjo or guitar.

Includes Banjo Chord Chart

The banjo comes with a chord chart, so you can get started with your banjo immediately. It’s the chords that you need to learn to play in G tuning for your banjo. It’s another way that Jameson cares about its customers. It wants you to successfully learn how to play the banjo, so you’ll have the best time learning.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is there a spot on this banjo to attach a strap?
There are two spots where you can attach the straps that will allow you to wear this instrument while playing.

Where do I find information about the manufacturer’s warranty?
You can go to mdwsupport.com to register your new purchase and learn what kind of warranty you’ll get with the banjo.

How wide are the nuts on the banjo?
The Jameson 5-String Banjo has a 1.25” nut.

Is this good enough to play for events?
This is a lightweight banjo that has a stunning sound. The volume and tone are perfect for events with an audience.

This Jameson 5-String Banjo is a reasonably price instrument with a beautiful sound to match its stunning look. You might even be tempted to keep this on the wall instead of playing it, but that would be a mistake. It’s even better when you’re ready to play it. It needs minimal setup out of the box and comes with a chord chart, so you can get started right away.

What are the Main Instruments in Folk Music?

alison brown banjo player

There are some traditional instruments used in the making of folk music. Whether you want to make some folk music on your own, or you are curious about the instruments used in folk music, this guide should help.

We cover many of the instruments used in folk music from the traditional like the banjo and guitar to the non-traditional like the jug or spoons.

Fiddle or Violin

fiddle

When the violin is being played for folk music, it’s called a fiddle. In both cases, it’s a 4- or 5-string instrument that is played in a certain way. While violinists are playing classical music in a style that demands perfection and accuracy for every note, fiddlers are able to give their own interpretation of music in a way that moves them.

A fiddle and violin is actually the same instrument played in varying styles.

Banjo

alison brown banjo player

The banjo is one instrument that people think of when they are wondering how to make folk music. They come in different styles from the 5- or 6-string variety.

They’re played in styles like the clawhammer or Scruggs They’re a distinctive twang sound that most people associate with folk music.

Dobro

dobro

This instrument is a type of guitar with a resonator attached to the front. It’s an inverted surface that produces a unique sound for the Dobro.

While the name and the type of guitar with resonator was developed by the Dopyera brothers, it’s now owned by Gibson Guitar Corporation.

They make all the current Dobros and have a trademark on the process and name. This guitar produces a unique sound that is well-known for folk music lovers. It’s a common instrument in bluegrass, too.

Accordion

Busking_Accordionist

While mostly associated with polka music, it’s part of Cajun and folk music. The instrument is versatile, and it can be used in all kinds of music with folk topping the list.

There are piano keys on one side buttons on the other. In the middle is the bellows, which is opened and closed to produce the sounds.

Harmonica

harmonica

The “mouth harp” is a portable instrument that is used in many folk music songs. It’s made of wood or plastic and metal. The reeds inside the instrument vibrate when the musician blows into it or sucks air out of it.

Both produce sounds that differ depending on the holes used. There are 10 numbered holes on the side of the harmonica.

Non-Traditional Instruments

There are a few non-traditional instruments that can be used for folk music like the musical jug.

Tennessee+Mafia+Jug+Band+2016

The jug is made of stoneware, glass, or ceramic, and the musician blows into the top of it to produce a mournful sound that functions as the bass in most songs.

The spoons are another non-traditional instrument used in traditional folk music. Wooden or metal spoons are placed back to back and slapped between the musician’s hands or against their leg. There are musical spoons available or regular spoons can be used.

Acoustic Guitar

acoustic guitar

The biggest instrument in folk music is the acoustic guitar. It’s the most traditional and prevalent instrument in the genre.

Many of the greatest folk musicians worked exclusively with an acoustic guitar to create their iconic music. Gibson, Fender, and Gretsch are some of the popular models used by famous folk musicians.

Mandolin

mandolin

The mandolin looks like a tiny guitar. It has a distinct sound that lends itself to bluegrass and folk music quite beautifully.

It’s considered a part of the lute family, which shouldn’t be a surprise since it looks like a guitar. It normally has 8 strings that are tuned at the same time. It became popular in the south in the 40s along with the banjo and guitar.

Ukulele

ukelele

This is another instrument in the lute family. The banjo, guitar, ukulele, and mandolin all lend themselves to the genre of folk music.

The preferred wood for the ukulele is the acacia koa, which makes sense since the instrument originated in Hawaii. It looks like a miniature acoustic guitar with four courses of strings for 8 total.

The size of the ukulele dictates the type of sound it produces. There are 4 sizes, which are the baritone, tenor, concert, and soprano.

This could be a curiosity in your life, or you might be thinking of making folk music solo or in a band. Whatever your reasons for checking out folk instruments, these are some of the most popular in this form of music.

At the same time, the intent behind the instrument can be more powerful than the instrument itself for making the kind of music that you want. If you want to make folk music on an instrument not listed here, you should go for it.

You are only limited by your ability and imagination when it comes to instruments in folk music.