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A five-string bluegrass banjo
String instrument
Hornbostel–Sachs classification 321.322-5
(Composite chordophone sounded by plectrum, finger picks, or the bare fingers)
Developed 18th century
Playing range
Open strings and highest note of a standard-tuned five-string bluegrass banjo.

The banjo is a four-, five- or (occasionally) six-stringed instrument with a thin membrane stretched over a frame or cavity as a resonator, called the head. The membrane, or head, is typically made of plastic, although animal skin is still occasionally but rarely used, and the frame is typically circular. Early forms of the instrument were fashioned by Africans in America, adapted from African instruments of similar design.[1][2]

The banjo is frequently associated with country, folk, Irish traditional and bluegrass music. Historically, the banjo occupied a central place in African American traditional music, before becoming popular in the minstrel shows of the 19th century.[3][4][5] The banjo, with the fiddle, is a mainstay of American old-time music.


  • History 1
  • Technique 2
  • Modern banjo 3
    • Open-back and resonator 3.1
  • Five-string banjo 4
    • Classical and modern 4.1
  • Four-string banjos 5
    • Plectrum banjo 5.1
    • Tenor banjo 5.2
    • The low banjos 5.3
      • Cello banjo 5.3.1
      • Bass and contrabass banjo 5.3.2
  • Six-string banjos 6
  • Banjo hybrids and variants 7
  • Notable banjoists 8
  • See also 9
  • References 10
  • Further reading 11
    • Banjo history 11.1
  • External links 12


Tom Turpin's 1904 composition The Buffalo Rag, in a 1906 performance by Vess Ossman.

Problems playing this file? See .

There are several theories concerning the origin of the name banjo. It may derive from the Kimbundu term mbanza.[6] Some etymologists believe it comes from a dialectal pronunciation of the Portuguese "bandore" or from an early anglicisation of the Spanish word bandurria, though other research suggests that it may come from a West African term for a bamboo stick formerly used for the instrument's neck.

Various instruments in Africa, chief among them the kora, feature a skin head and gourd (or similar shell) body.[7] The African instruments differ from early African American banjos in that the necks do not possess a Western-style fingerboard and tuning pegs, instead having stick necks, with strings attached to the neck with loops for tuning.[7] Banjos with fingerboards and tuning pegs are known from the Caribbean as early as the 17th century.[7] 18th- and early 19th-century writers transcribed the name of these instruments variously as bangie, banza, banjer, and banjar. Instruments similar to the banjo (e.g., the Japanese shamisen, Persian tar, and Moroccan sintir) have been played in many countries. Another likely banjo ancestor is the akonting, a spike folk lute played by the Jola tribe of Senegambia, and the ubaw-akwala of the Igbo.[8] Similar instruments include the xalam of Senegal[9] and the ngoni of the Wassoulou region including parts of Mali, Guinea, and Ivory Coast, as well as a larger variation of the ngoni developed in Morocco by sub-Saharan Africans known as the gimbri.

Early, African-influenced banjos were built around a gourd body and a wooden stick neck. These instruments had varying numbers of strings, though often including some form of drone. The five-string banjo was popularized by Joel Walker Sweeney, an American minstrel performer from Appomattox Court House, Virginia.[10]

In the 1830s Sweeney became the first white performer to play the banjo on stage.[10] His version of the instrument replaced the gourd with a drum-like sound box and included four full-length strings alongside a short fifth string. This new banjo was at first tuned d'Gdf♯a, though by the 1890s this had been transposed up to g'cgbd'. Banjos were introduced in Britain by Sweeney's group, the American Virginia Minstrels, in the 1840s, and became very popular in music halls.[11]


Forward roll[12] About this sound   .
Melody to Yankee Doodle, on the banjo, without and with drone notes[13] About this sound    and About this sound   .

Two techniques closely associated with the five-string banjo are rolls and drones. Rolls are right hand accompanimental fingering pattern[s] that consist of eight (eighth) notes that subdivide each measure.[12] Drone notes are quick little notes [typically eighth notes], usually played on the 5th (short) string to fill in around the melody notes [typically eighth notes].[13] These techniques are both idiomatic to the banjo in all styles, and their sound is characteristic of bluegrass.

Historically, the banjo was played in the "Clawhammer" style by the slaves who brought their version of the banjo with them. Several other styles of play were developed from this. Clawhammer consists of downward striking of one or more of the four main strings with the index, middle or both finger(s)while the drone or fifth string is played with a 'lifting' (as opposed to downward pluck) motion of the thumb. The notes typically sounded by the thumb in this fashion are, usually, on the off beat. Melodies can be quite intricate adding techniques such as double thumbing and drop thumb. In old time Appalachian Mountain music, there is also a style called two finger up-pick, and a three finger version that Earl Scruggs developed into the famous "Scruggs" style picking, nationally aired in 1945 on the Grand Ole Opry.

While five-string banjos are traditionally played with either fingerpicks or the fingers themselves, tenor banjos and plectrum banjos are played with a pick, either to strum full chords or, most commonly in Irish Traditional Music, play single note melodies.

Modern banjo

The modern banjo comes in a variety of forms, including four- and five-string versions. A six-string version, tuned and played similarly to a guitar, has gained popularity. In almost all of its forms, banjo playing is characterized by a fast arpeggiated plucking, though there are many different playing styles.

The body, or pot, of a modern banjo typically consists of a circular rim (generally made of wood, though metal was also common on older banjos) and a tensioned head, similar to a drum head. Traditionally the head was made from animal skin, but today is often made of various synthetic materials. Most modern banjos also have a metal "tone ring" assembly that helps further clarify and project the sound, however many older banjos do not include a tone ring.

The banjo is usually tuned with friction tuning pegs or planetary gear tuners, rather than the worm gear machine head used on guitars. Frets have become standard since the late 19th century, though fretless banjos are still manufactured and played by those wishing to execute glissando, play quarter tones, or otherwise achieve the sound and feeling of early playing styles.

Modern banjos are typically strung with metal strings. Usually the fourth string is wound with either steel or bronze-phosphor alloy. Some players may string their banjos with nylon or gut strings to achieve a more mellow, old-time tone.

Open-back and resonator

Some banjos have a separate resonator plate on the back of the pot to project the sound forward and give the instrument more volume. This type of banjo is usually used in bluegrass music, though resonator banjos are played by players of all styles, and are also used in old-time, sometimes as a substitute for electric amplification when playing in large venues.

Open-back banjos generally have a mellower tone and weigh less than resonator banjos. They usually have a different setup than a resonator banjo, often with a higher string action.

Five-string banjo

The modern five-string banjo is a variation on Sweeney's original design. The fifth string is usually the same gauge as the first, but starts from the fifth fret, three quarters the length of the other strings. (The long-necked Vega Pete Seeger model starts the fifth string from the eighth fret.) This lets the string be tuned to a higher open pitch than possible for the full-length strings. Because of the short fifth string, the five-string banjo uses a reentrant tuning—the string pitches don't proceed lowest to highest across the fingerboard. Instead, from low to high pitch, they are usually fourth highest, third, second, first, and fifth highest.

The short fifth string presents special problems for a capo. For small changes (going up or down one or two semitones, for example) it is possible simply to re-tune the fifth string. Otherwise, various devices called fifth string capos effectively shorten the vibrating part of the string. Many banjo players use model railroad spikes or titanium spikes (usually installed at the seventh fret and sometimes at others), that they hook the string under to press it down on the fret.

Five-string banjo players use many tunings. Probably the most common, particularly in bluegrass, is the Open-G tuning G4 D3 G3 B3 D4. In earlier times, the tuning G4 C3 G3 B3 D4 was commonly used instead, and this is still the preferred tuning for some types of folk music and for classic banjo. Other tunings found in old-time music include double C (G4 C3 G3 C4 D4), "sawmill" (G4 D3 G3 C4 D4) also called "mountain modal" and open D (F#4D3 F#3 A3 D4). These tunings are often taken up a tone, either by tuning up or using a capo. For example, "old-time D" tuning (A4 D3 A3 D4 E4) – commonly reached by tuning up from double C – is often played to accompany fiddle tunes in the key of D and Open-A (A4 E3 A3 C#4 E4) is usually used for playing tunes in the key of A. There are dozens of other banjo tunings, used mostly in old-time music. These tunings are used to make it easier to play specific, usually, fiddle tunes, or groups of fiddle tunes.

The size of the five string banjo is largely standardized—but smaller and larger sizes exist, including the long-neck or Seeger neck variation designed by Pete Seeger. Petite variations on the five-string banjo have been available since the 1890s. S.S. Stewart introduced the banjeaurine, tuned one fourth above a standard five-string. Piccolo banjos are smaller, and tuned one octave above a standard banjo. Between these sizes and standard lies the A-scale banjo, which is two frets shorter and usually tuned one full step above standard tunings. Many makers have produced banjos of other scale lengths, and with various innovations.

A five-string banjo.

American old-time music typically uses the five-string open back banjo. It is played in a number of different styles, the most common being clawhammer or frailing, characterized by the use of a downward rather than upward stroke when striking the strings with a fingernail. Frailing techniques use the thumb to catch the fifth string for a drone after most strums or after each stroke ("double thumbing"), or to pick out additional melody notes in what is known as drop-thumb. Pete Seeger popularised a folk style by combining clawhammer with up picking, usually without the use of fingerpicks. Another common style of old-time banjo playing is Fingerpicking banjo or classic banjo. This style is based upon parlor-style guitar.[14]

Bluegrass music, which uses the five-string resonator banjo almost exclusively, is played in several common styles. These include Scruggs style, named after Earl Scruggs; melodic, or Keith style, named for Bill Keith; and three-finger style with single string work, also called Reno style after Don Reno. In these styles the emphasis is on arpeggiated figures played in a continuous eighth-note rhythm, known as rolls. All of these styles are typically played with fingerpicks.

The first five-string electric solid-body banjo was developed by Charles (Buck) Wilburn Trent, Harold "Shot" Jackson, and David Jackson in 1960.

Classical and modern

The five-string banjo has been used in classical music since before the turn of the 20th century. Modest Mouse, Jo Kondo, Paul Elwood, Hans Werner Henze (notably in his Sixth Symphony), Daniel Mason of Hank Williams III's Damn Band, Beck, the Water Tower Bucket Boys, Todd Taylor, J.P. Pickens, Peggy Honeywell, Norfolk & Western, Putnam Smith, Iron & Wine, The Avett Brothers, Punch Brothers and Sufjan Stevens.

Frederick Delius wrote for a banjo in his opera Koanga.

Ernst Krenek includes two banjos in his Kleine Symphonie (Little Symphony).

Kurt Weill has a banjo in his opera The Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny.

John Bullard has released two albums – Classical Banjo and Bach On The Banjo.

Four-string banjos

Plectrum banjo from Gold Tone

Four-string banjos, both plectrum and tenor, can be used for chordal accompaniment (as in early jazz), for single string melody playing (as in Irish traditional music), in "chord melody" style (a succession of chords in which the highest notes carry the melody), in tremolo style (both on chords and single strings), and a mixed technique called duo style that combines single string tremolo and rhythm chords.

Plectrum banjo

The plectrum banjo is a standard banjo without the short drone string. It usually has 22 frets on the neck and a scale length of 26 to 28 inches, and was originally tuned C3 G3 B3 D4. It can also be tuned like the top four strings of a guitar, which is known as "Chicago tuning." As the name suggests, it is usually played with a guitar-style pick (that is, a single one held between thumb and forefinger), unlike the five-string banjo, which is either played with a thumbpick and two fingerpicks, or with bare fingers. The plectrum banjo evolved out of the five-string banjo, to cater to styles of music involving strummed chords. The plectrum is also featured in many early jazz recordings and arrangements.

The four-string banjo is used from time to time in musical theater. Examples include: Hello, Dolly!, Mame, Chicago, Cabaret, Oklahoma!, Half a Sixpence, Annie, Barnum, The Threepenny Opera, Monty Python's Spamalot, and countless others. Joe Raposo had used it variably in the imaginative 7-piece orchestration for the long-running TV show Sesame Street, and has sometimes had it overdubbed with itself or an electric guitar. The banjo is still (albeit rarely) in use in the show's arrangement currently.

Tenor banjo

Four-string banjo
Irish tenor banjo from Gold Tone

The shorter-necked, tenor banjo, with 17 ("short scale") or 19 frets, is also typically played with a plectrum. It became a popular instrument after about 1910. Early models used for melodic picking typically had 17 frets on the neck and a scale length of 19½ to 21½ inches. By the mid-1920s, when the instrument was used primarily for strummed chordal accompaniment, 19-fret necks with a scale length of 21¾ to 23 inches became standard. The usual tuning is the all-fifths tuning C3 G3 D4 A4, in which there are exactly seven semitones (a perfect fifth) between the open notes of consecutive strings. Other players (particularly in Irish traditional music) tune the banjo G2 D3 A3 E4 like an octave mandolin, which lets the banjoist duplicate fiddle and mandolin fingering.[15] The popularisation of this tuning was usually attributed to the late Barney McKenna, banjoist with The Dubliners.[16] Fingerstyle on tenor banjo retuned to open G tuning dgd'g' or lower open D tuning Adad' (three finger picking, frailing) have been explored by Mirek Patek.[17]

The tenor banjo was a common rhythm-instrument in early 20th-century dance-bands. Its volume and timbre suited early jazz (and jazz-influenced popular music styles) and could both compete with other instruments (such as Rhapsody in Blue, in Ferde Grofe's original jazz orchestra arrangement, includes tenor banjo, with widely spaced chords not easily playable on plectrum banjo in its conventional tuning(s). With development of the archtop and electric guitar, the tenor banjo largely disappeared from jazz and popular music, though keeping its place in traditional "Dixieland" jazz.

Some 1920s Irish banjo players picked out the melodies of jigs, reels and hornpipes on tenor banjos, decorating the tunes with snappy triplet ornaments. The most important Irish banjo player of this era was Mike Flanagan of the New York-based Flanagan Brothers, one of the most popular Irish-American groups of the day. Other pre-WW2 Irish banjo players included Neil Nolan, who recorded with Dan Sullivan's Shamrock Band in Boston, and Jimmy McDade, who recorded with the Four Provinces Orchestra in Philadelphia. Meanwhile, in Ireland the rise of "ceili" bands provided a new market for a loud instrument like the tenor banjo. Use of the tenor banjo in Irish music has increased greatly since the folk revival of the 1960s.[16]

The low banjos

Cello banjo from Gold Tone
In the late 19th and early 20th centuries there was a vogue in plucked-string instrument ensembles—guitar orchestras, mandolin orchestras, banjo orchestras—in which the instrumentation was made to parallel that of the string section in symphony orchestras. Thus "violin, viola, 'cello, bass" became "mandolin, mandola, mandocello, mandobass", or in the case of banjos, "banjolin, banjola, banjo cello, bass banjo". Because the range of pluck stringed instrument generally isn't as great as that of comparably-size bowed string instruments, other instruments were often added to these plucked orchestras to extend the range of the ensemble upwards and downwards.[18][19]

Cello banjo

Rarer than either the tenor or plectrum banjo is the cello banjo (also "banjo cello"). It's normally tuned C2-G2-D3-A3, one octave below the tenor banjo like the cello and mandocello. It played a role in banjo orchestras in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. A five-string cello banjo, set up like a bluegrass banjo (with the short 5th string), but tuned one octave lower, has been produced by the Goldtone company.[20]

Bass and contrabass banjo

Bass banjo
Bass banjos have been produced in both upright bass formats and with standard, horizontally carried banjo bodies. Contrabass banjos with either three or four strings have also been made; some of these had headstocks similar to those of bass violins. Tuning varies on these large instruments, with four-string models sometimes being tuned in 4ths like a bass violin—E1-A1-D2-G2, and sometimes in 5ths, like a four-string cello banjo, one octave lower—C1-G1-D2-A2. Other variants are also used.[21]

Six-string banjos

Old six-string zither banjo

The six-string banjo began as a British innovation by William Temlet, one of England's earliest banjo makers. He opened a shop in London in 1846, and sold banjos with closed backs and up to seven strings. He marketed these as "zither" Banjos from his 1869 patent. American Alfred Davis Cammeyer (1862–1949), a young violinist-turned banjo concert player, devised the five or six-string zither banjo around 1880. It had a wood resonator and metal "wire" strings (the 1st and 2nd melody strings and 5th "thumb" string. The 3rd melody string was gut and the 4th was silk covered) as well as frets and guitar-style tuning machines.

A zither banjo usually has a closed back and sides with the drum body (usually metal) and skin tensioning system suspended inside the wooden rim/back, the neck and string tailpiece was mounted on the wooden outer rim, the short string usually led through a tube in the neck so that the tuning peg could be mounted on the peg head. They were often made by builders who used guitar tuners that came in banks of three and so if 5 stringed had a redundant tuner. The banjos could also be somewhat easily converted over to a six-string banjo. British opera diva Adelina Patti advised Cammeyer that the zither-banjo might be popular with English audiences (it was invented there), and Cammeyer went to London in 1888. With his virtuoso playing, he helped show that banjos could make sophisticated music than normally played by blackface minstrels. He was soon performing for London society, where he met Sir Arthur Sullivan, who recommended that Cammeyer progress from arranging the music of others for banjo to composing his own music. (Supposedly unknown to Cammeyer, William Temlett had patented a seven-string closed back banjo in 1869, and was already marketing it as a "zither-banjo.")}

In the late 1890s Banjo maker F.C Wilkes developed a six-string version of the banjo, with the 6th string "tunnelled" through the neck. It is arguable that Arthur O. Windsor influenced development and perfection of the zither banjo and created the open-back banjo[22] along with other modifications to the banjo type instruments, such as the modern non-solid attached resonator. (Gibson claims credit for this modification on the American Continent.) Windsor claimed he created the hollow neck banjo with a truss rod, and buried the 5th string in the neck after the 5th fret so to put the tuning peg on the peg-head rather than in the neck. Gibson claims credit for perfecting the tone ring.

Modern six-string bluegrass banjos have been made. These add a bass string between the lowest string and the drone string on a five-string banjo, and are usually tuned G4 G2 D3 G3 B3 D4. Sonny Osborne played one of these instruments for several years. It was modified by luthier Rual Yarbrough from a Vega five-string model. A picture of Sonny with this banjo appears in Pete Wernick's Bluegrass Banjo method book.[23]

Six-string banjos having a guitar neck and a banjo body have become quite popular since the mid-1990s. See under Banjo Hybrids and variants, below.

Banjo hybrids and variants

A number of hybrid instruments exist, crossing the banjo with other stringed instruments. Most of these use the body of a banjo, often with a resonator, and the neck of the other instrument. Examples include the

  • Dr Joan Dickerson, Michael Johnathon explore the African-American History of the Banjo through conversation and music on show 350 of the WoodSongs Old-Time Radio Hour. Both audio and video are provided.
  • 200 banjo makers pre 2nd WW
  • Banjo Attitudes
  • 19th Century Banjo Instruction Manuals
  • To Hear Your Banjo Play, 1947 Alan Lomax film (16 minutes)
  • Fingerstyle Tenor Banjo
  • Banjo Newsletter
  • Banjo Hangout
  • Online, Open-Source Banjo Chord Generator

External links

  • Conway, Cecelia (1995). African Banjo Echoes in Appalachia: A Study of Folk Traditions, University of Tennessee Press. Paper: ISBN 0-87049-893-2; cloth: ISBN 0-87049-892-4. A study of the influence of African Americans on banjo playing throughout U.S. history.
  • De Smaele G. (1983), "Banjo a cinq cordes", Musée Instrumental (MIM), Brussels. D 1983-2170-1
  • Gura, Philip F. and James F. Bollman (1999). America's Instrument: The Banjo in the Nineteenth Century. The University of North Carolina Press. ISBN 0-8078-2484-4. The definitive history of the banjo, focusing on the instrument's development in the 1800s.
  • Katonah Museum of Art (2003). The Birth of the Banjo. Katonah Museum of Art, Katonah, New York. ISBN 0-915171-64-3.
  • Linn, Karen (1994). That Half-Barbaric Twang: The Banjo in American Popular Culture. University of Illinois Press. ISBN 0-252-06433-X. Scholarly cultural history of the banjo, focusing on how its image has evolved over the years.
  • Tsumura, Akira (1984). Banjos: The Tsumura Collection. Kodansha International Ltd. ISBN 0-87011-605-3. An illustrated history of the banjo featuring the world's premier collection.
  • Webb, Robert Lloyd (1996). Ring the Banjar!. 2nd edition. Centerstream Publishing. ISBN 1-57424-016-1. A short history of the banjo, with pictures from an exhibition at the MIT Museum.

Banjo history

Further reading

  1. ^ Bluegrass Music: The Roots." IBMA. Retrieved on 2006-08-25.
  2. ^
  3. ^ Winship, David."The African American Music Tradition in Country Music." BCMA, Birthplace of Country Music Alliance. Retrieved 02-08-2007. Archived February 4, 2007 at the Wayback Machine.
  4. ^
  5. ^ "Old-time (oldtimey) Music What is it?." TML, A Traditional Music Library. Retrieved 02-08-2007.
  6. ^
  7. ^ a b c Pestcoe, Shlomoe and Adams, Greg C., Banjo Roots Research: Exploring the Banjo’s African American Origins & West African Heritage, 2010. Essay can be found online at [1].
  8. ^
  9. ^
  10. ^ a b Metro Voloshin, The Banjo, from Its Roots to the Ragtime Era: An Essay and Bibliography Music Reference Services Quarterly, Vol. 6(3) 1998.
  11. ^ Information on the banjo and development of the Zither-banjo.
  12. ^ a b Davis, Janet (2002). [Mel Bay's] Back-Up Banjo, p.54. ISBN 0-7866-6525-4. Emphasis original.
  13. ^ a b Erbsen, Wayne (2004). Bluegrass Banjo for the Complete Ignoramus, p.13. ISBN 1-883206-44-8.
  14. ^ Trischka, Tony (1992). Banjo Songbook, p.20. ISBN 0-8256-0197-5.
  15. ^
  16. ^ a b
  17. ^
  18. ^
  19. ^
  20. ^
  21. ^
  22. ^
  23. ^ Wernick, Pete; Bluegrass Banjo; Oak Publications; Oakland, California: 1992, p. 27. 0-825-60148-7
  24. ^ The Irish Tenor Banjo by Don Meade
  25. ^
  26. ^ a b Gracyk, Tom (2000). Popular American Recording Pioneers: 1895–1925; Routledge (Haworth Popular Culture series); p.106ff. ISBN 0-789012-20-0.
  27. ^
  28. ^ *The Banjo Wizardry of Eddie Peabody, Dot Records DLP-3023 (mono) (date not known), liner notes
  29. ^ e.g., Harry Reser's Manual for Tenor Banjo Technique (Robbins Music Corporation, 1927); Harry Reser's Let's Play The Tenor Banjo (Remick Music Crop, 1959); Picture-Chords for Tenor Banjo (Remick Music Crop, 1960); et al
  30. ^ Willis, Barry R.; America's Music: Bluegrass : A History of Bluegrass Music in the Words of Its Pioneers; Pine Valley Music, 1997. ISBN 0-965240-70-3
  31. ^ Trischka, Tony, "Earl Scruggs", Banjo Song Book, Oak Publications, 1977
  32. ^
  33. ^


See also

  • David Gilmour, (b. 1946), best known as a guitarist for the British band Pink Floyd. He plays a variety of stringed-instruments, as well as the banjo.
  • Béla Fleck (b. 1958) is widely acknowledged as one of the world's most innovative and technically proficient banjo players.[32] His work spans many styles and genres, jazz, bluegrass, classical, R&B, avant garde, and "world music", and he has produced a substantial discography and videography. He works extensively in both acoustic and electric media. Fleck has been nominated for Grammy Awards in more categories than any other artist, and has received 13 as of 2015.[33]
  • Clifford Essex, (b.1869 - c.1946) a famous Banjoist in Britain, who was also a musical instrument manufacturer
  • Pete Seeger (1919–2014), although perhaps most widely known as a singer-songwriter with folk group The Weavers, included five-string banjo among his instruments. His 1948 method book How to Play the Five-String Banjo has been credited by thousands of banjoists, including prominent professionals, with sparking their interest in the instrument. He is also credited with inventing the long-neck banjo (also known as the "Seeger Banjo"), which adds three lower frets to the five-string banjo's neck, and tunes the four main strings down by a minor-third, to facilitate playing in singing keys more comfortable for some folk guitarists.
  • Earl Scruggs (1924–2012), whose career ranged from the end of World War II into the 21st century, is widely regarded as the father of the bluegrass style of banjo playing.[30] The three-finger style of playing he developed while playing with Bill Monroe's band is known by his name: Scruggs Style.[31]
  • Other important four-string performers were Mike Pingitore, who played tenor for the Paul Whiteman Orchestra through 1948, and Roy Smeck, early radio and recording pioneer, author of many instructional books, and whose influential performances on many fretted instruments earned him the nickname "Wizard of the Strings", during his active years (1922–1950). Prominent tenor players of more recent vintage include Narvin Kimball (d. 2006) (left-handed banjoist of Preservation Hall Jazz Band fame), Barney McKenna (d. 2012) (one of the founding members of The Dubliners).
  • Harry Reser (1896–1965), plectrum and tenor banjo, and was regarded by some as the best tenor banjoist of the 1920s. He wrote a large number of works for tenor banjo as well as instructional material, authoring numerous banjo method books,[29] over a dozen other instrumental method books (for guitar; ukulele; mandolin; etc.), and was well known in the banjo community. Reser's accomplished single string and "chord melody" technique set a "high mark" that many subsequent tenor players endeavored – and still endeavor – to attain.
  • Frank Lawes (1894–1970), of the United Kingdom, developed a unique fingerstyle technique on the four-string plectrum instrument, and was a prolific composer of four string banjo music, much of which is still performed and recorded today.
  • Eddie Peabody (1902–1970) was a great proponent of the plectrum banjo who performed for nearly five decades (1920–1968) and left a considerable legacy of recordings.[28] An early reviewer dubbed him "King of the Banjo", and his was a household name for decades. He went on to develop new instruments, produce records, and appear in movies.
  • Fred Van Eps (1878–1960) was a noted five-string player and banjo maker who learned to play from listening to cylinder recordings of Vess Ossman. He recorded for Edison's company, producing some of the earliest disk recordings, and also the earliest ragtime recordings in any medium other than player piano.[26]
  • Vess Ossman (1868–1923) was a leading five-string banjoist whose career spanned the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Vess started playing banjo at the age of 12. He was a popular recording artist, and, in fact, one of the first recording artists ever, when audio recording first became commercially available. He formed various recording groups, his most popular being the Ossman-Dudley trio.[26][27]

Notable banjoists

Instruments that have a five-string banjo neck on a wooden body (for example, a guitar, bouzouki, or dobro body) have also been made, such as the banjola. A 20th-Century Turkish instrument similar to the banjo is called the cümbüş—which has been made into eight different hybrid instruments, including guitar, mandolin, ukulele, and oud. At the end of the twentieth century, a development of the five-string banjo was the BanSitar. This features a bone bridge, giving the instrument a sitar-like resonance. A recent innovation is the patented Banjo-Tam, invented by Frank Abrams of Asheville North Carolina, U.S. patent No. 6,156,960. It combines a traditional five string banjo neck with a tambourine as a rim or pot.

The six-string banjo guitar basically consists of a six-string guitar neck attached to a bluegrass or plectrum banjo body. This was the instrument of the early jazz great Johnny St. Cyr, jazzmen Django Reinhardt, Danny Barker, Papa Charlie Jackson and Clancy Hayes, as well as the blues and gospel singer The Reverend Gary Davis. Nowadays, it appears under various names such as: guitanjo, guitjoe, ganjo, banjitar, or bantar. Today, musicians as diverse as Keith Urban, Rod Stewart, Taj Mahal, Joe Satriani, David Hidalgo, Larry Lalonde and Doc Watson play the six-string guitar banjo. Rhythm guitarist Dave Day of 1960s proto-punks The Monks replaced his guitar with a six-string, gut-strung guitar banjo on which he played guitar chords. This instrument sounds much more metallic, scratchy and wiry than a standard electric guitar, due to its amplification via a small microphone stuck inside the banjo's body.

These were especially popular in the early decades of the twentieth century, and were probably a result of a desire either to allow players of other instruments to jump on the banjo bandwagon at the height of its popularity, or to get the natural amplification benefits of the banjo resonator in an age before electric amplification. [25]

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