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

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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.

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

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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

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

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Tfw Banjolele Starter Kit – With Case And Accessories

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Luna 8″ Banjolele With Ulu Design, Tobacco Burst

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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.

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

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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.