Ukelele-Banjo: First Impressions

About two weeks ago, I added to my modest collection of musical instruments. I must confess that I’ve always wanted a banjo. And admit it: You want one too!

This instrument is a banjo-ukulele. But in my opinion, that name is a misnomer. It is a banjo, not a ukulele. So a more appropriate name would be “ukulele-banjo”. The instrument I bought has almost all the characteristics of a banjo. The only differences are the nylon strings, a neck the same length as a concert ukulele, and tuned the same as ukulele.

You can play the uke-banjo more or less like a ukulele. However, while the ukulele is a very forgiving instrument, which make it so easy to play for beginners, the uke-banjo is much less so. It seems like any touch to the instrument can make a sound. So although it’s a sturdy instrument, it’s best to handle it with care.

Unlike the ukulele, strumming the uke-banjo really needs a more nuanced approach. Of course, you can get a really loud sound out of the instrument. And while that’s appropriate in some cases, often you have to apply a lighter touch to your strumming. But you can play with rhythms by varying the strength of strum. For example, on some songs you can do a light strum, but emphasize every other beat by doing a harder strum.

Regarding repertoire, I’ve had to go through all of my song books to see what songs work. Probably not surprisingly, not all songs work well on the uke-banjo. Or perhaps I just haven’t figured out how to make them work. On my regular ukulele, I’ve been leaning towards a more bluesy feel to my songs. But that doesn’t work on a banjo. So far, I’ve been looking for songs I can play fast. Songs that work well include “Farewell to Nova Scotia” and “I’m Henery the Eighth, I Am”. In general, a lot of old classic folk songs seem well suited to uke-banjo. Recent pop songs don’t work nearly as well.

Finally, since this instrument is much louder than a conventional ukulele, you have to be more considerate of those you live with. Finding an appropriate time and place to practice may be more of a challenge. And while a new instrument may be a novelty in the home, that novelty can wear off fast. Unfortunately, not everyone appreciates the charm of this type of instrument.

In conclusion, this instrument is a lot of fun. It is well suited to up-beat music, and has a wonderful sound. In a Peanuts cartoon, Charles Schulz offered the opinion: “As soon as a child is born, he should be issued a banjo“. Make that a uke-banjo, and I agree whole-heartedly!

Cheers! Hans

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