The banjo-ukulele is one of the most powerful spices in the ukulele world. For decades, this marriage between a banjo body and a ukulele neck and tuning was something of a novelty to most players, but it also found some dedicated advocates. Whether you call it a banjolele, bangolele, banjo-uke, or any other type of portmanteau, it seems this plucky little instrument is in the midst of a resurgence.
It plays like a ukulele, but has the distinctive sound of a banjo thanks to the circular body and plastic or calfskin head that gives a little extra resonance, more volume, and a different tone. Here we’ve gathered up some roundups and reviews of different banjo-ukuleles we’ve published over the years to give a sense of the different types of instruments available today.
In this article, we gathered a wide variety of banjo-ukes to highlight the versatility of this instrument.
We’re seeing more players using them and more makers offering banjo-ukuleles. They’re bold and fun, with an old-timey sound and a bit of novelty. They’ve got a unique flavor of sharp attack, quick decay, and plonky twang that you just can’t get anywhere else. Even if a banjo-ukulele is not your first (or second or third) ukulele, it’s a great taste to have when you want to mix up your playing and explore new sounds.
Gold Tone’s Little Gem line of concert-sized banjo-ukes is available in a handful of outrageous colors. It has with a distinctive plucky tone to match, which is clear and bright with mountains of penetrating volume when you dig in. The Little Gem is a little heavier than most ukulele players are accustomed to, so a strap would probably help with this one.
Here’s a pair that didn’t make it to our offices in time for the roundup, but were worthy of checking out nonetheless. The Duke Uke has a tenor-scale mahogany neck attached to a very rigid plastic rim. This not only gives the instrument a sense of indestructibility, it also makes the Duke very light for a banjo-ukulele. And the Gold Tone BU-1 is a scaled-down, tastefully basic version of the Gold Tone DLX included in the roundup.
The Deering Goodtime Banjo-ukulele shines brightest when fingerpicked. It boasts an 11-inch, violin-grade maple rim, three-piece rock maple neck inlaid with walnut position markers, and the company’s patented floating bridge and bridge plate. It also makes use of Deering’s “quiet metal” technology for the tailpiece and coordinator rod—no small consideration when trying to maintain the ukulele’s traditional warmth.