The Modern Banjo


Is it hard to learn to play the banjo?
The banjo is an easy instrument to get started on but to master the picking style required for bluegrass banjo will take more time that a straightforward rhythm guitar strumming chords. However there are a number of advantages such as lighter strings which are easier to push down and the ability to use three fingers as opposed to the single pick.

How many strings does a banjo have?
Banjos have four, five or six strings. The four string banjo is probably the easiest to play for an absolute beginner and is most used for ”Jazz” style playing. The five string banjo is the “traditional” instrument and has the fifth string of the same gauge as the first but starting from the fifth fret allowing the string to be tuned higher. It is positioned where you would expect to find the lowest string so a different playing technique is used from playing other string instruments. The six string banjo is strung, tuned and played in a manner similar to a guitar. 

Do you have to use fingerpicks for a banjo.
For most styles of playing people tend to be of the opinion that the bare fingers are best some even coating their fingers with artificial nail material so a stronger contact can be made. For bluegrass players finger picks are almost universally used.

Who Invented the Banjo?
Many attribute the invention of the modern banjo to Joel Sweeny who was an American Minstrel in the 1800’s but the true origins probably go back to Africa where instruments with a tensioned string attached to a drum have been played from the beginnings of human knowledge. The five string banjo invented by Sweeny was hugely popular in the late 1800s and early 1900s but in the 1920s the banjo became an important part of popularity of “Jazz” bands where its loud volume could still be heard above the other instruments. However for this style the 5th string got in the way and the 4 sting banjo became more popular. The Bluegrass style invented by Earl Scruggs became popular in the 1960s.

Which banjo head is best?
The two main manufacturers for Bluegrass Banjo are made by Ludwig and Remo. Bryce banjos are all equipped with high quality Remo heads.

How is a banjo made?
The main body of a modern banjo is made from a circular wooden rim  covered with a tensioned head which used to be made from animal skin but is now almost exclusively synthetic which works like a drum head. The banjo can be made both with a closed back (Resonator) and with an open back.