Banjos are musical instruments that consist of a membrane stretched over a cavity that functions as a resonator and a head where the strings are attached. These instruments originated in Africa and were brought to Europe and the Americas where the design was slightly modified to include a deeper cavity and longer head. They are plucked like a guitar and can be played alone or with a group of other instruments, particularly fiddles.

What materials are banjos made from?

  • Plastic or animal skin membrane - Older banjos, such as those made before the 1950s, may have a membrane made of animal skin, typically leather. The banjos made after the 1950s usually have a plastic membrane stretched over the cavity.
  • Wood body - Although the earliest banjos had a cavity consisting of a large, hollowed-out gourd, the majority of banjos have a wood body. The body may be open back or closed. Many Deering banjos and other brands have artwork on the wood body, with designs such as animals, scrollwork, or flags carved or painted onto the body.
  • Metal bindings - The head of the banjo typically uses metal bindings to keep the strings tight and in place. The membrane is held in place around the body with a metal band. Deering banjos typically use stainless steel as the metal.

How do you choose a banjo instrument to play?

  • Choose a type - Choose a guitar, tenor, or electric banjo. The electric types have amplifiers built into them to produce a louder sound or to connect with other types of electronics for mixing the sounds.
  • Select the number of strings - There are banjos made with four, five, or six strings. A 4-string banjo comes in two sub-types, which are plectrum and tenor, and they are used for playing the lower notes in music. A 5-string banjo has one short thread and four standard-length threads. The shortest one is tuned to make higher musical notes. A 6-string banjo was designed as a novelty instrument by British musician William Temlet in 1846. The 6-string banjo is also referred to as a zither. Its sixth piece adds a bass string between the drone and tenor pieces on a 5-string banjo.
  • Choose the dexterity - Deering banjos and other brands of banjos are made in a left-handed or right-handed dexterity.
  • Select a brand - Select from Bruce Wei, Fender, Gibson, Gold Tone, Recording King, Washburn, or Deering banjos, which are common brands. There are other brands as well as unbranded banjos available.

What type of music do you make on a banjo?

The 4-string banjo is typically used to make Irish traditional music or early traditional jazz tunes, with a guitar style of pick. This type is used in theatrical productions, including "Chicago," "Cabaret," and "Annie." The 5-string banjo can be tuned in multiple ways for making songs in musical genres as diverse as bluegrass, American old-time, classical, opera, folk, and rock 'n' roll. The 6-string banjo is often used for playing classical, folk, and bluegrass music.