A Guide to the Banjo

The banjo

African slaves brought the buy a banjo to America using gourds and string to make an instrument that was identical to those they had grown up playing in their home countries.┬áThe first instruments were named ‘gourd-banjos’.

Modern banjos can be classified as either a ‘four-string, ‘five string’, or a’sixstring’. These are further subdivided into banjos with or without resonator (or detachable back) and are called resonator banjos or open-back banjos.

A hybrid banjo is also available, the ukulele. This was popularized by George Formby, who used it to accompany his singing many (at the time) very risque ballads.

Buying an banjo

A beginner’s banjo will cost you around PS150, while a professional-grade banjo can cost upwards of several thousand. You can find used ones on websites like eBay.

Playing a Banjo

You can play your banjo by either the more traditional strumming method, which is similar to that of guitar buskers. This involves the left hand holding down several frets on a banjo’s neck, creating a chord. The right hand then brushes across the strings at its bridge. Left-handed players can reverse the hands. Another way to play is to hold down each string (with your left hand) and pick it out with your right hand, arpeggio, or Spanish guitar style. It doesn’t matter which method you use, the convention of the instrument is to be able to play it quickly.

How to look after your banjo

  • Before you play, wash your hands and trim your nails. Long nails can easily cause damage to the fingerboard.
  • After playing, wipe the banjo clean with a dampened cloth. Before you replace the case, make sure all marks and finger prints are removed.
  • If you have a five-string banjo, be careful as the fifth peg is located on the neck. This can cause damage when the instrument is placed in its case.
  • Keep the banjo in a sturdy, purpose-made bag.
  • If you don’t plan to use the instrument for a long time, remove the capo. Otherwise, tarnishing can occur.
  • Polish the metal and wood surfaces once a month using a special cleaner. Then, use a soft, clean cloth to rub oil into the wood.
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