Whether you call it a banjolele, bangolele, banjo-uke, or any other type of portmanteau, it seems this plucky little instrument of yesteryear is in the midst of a resurgence. 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.
The banjo-ukulele is a potent and unique sonic spice. 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. We’ve gathered up some roundups, lessons, and reviews featuring banjo-ukulele from the Ukulele magazine archives to give you a taste of what it has to offer.
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.
There’s something about the twang of a banjo-uke that lends itself nicely to certain techniques. This includes styles like ragtime music of the 1920s–’30s and old-time banjo music. The great George Formby often employed a banjo-uke (he also played banjo, as well as several other instruments), and many of his techniques sound great on the instrument. And because they share a high-G string, banjo music and playing style often translates well to ukulele. These lessons showcase both Formby’s signature techniques and some banjo techniques that sound great on standard uke as well as banjo-uke.
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.