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10 Facts About Banjos

deering banjo

1. The most common modern day banjos have five strings The shortest string on a five string banjo is called the chanterelle (or the drone string) and is typically tuned to a high G, with the remaining notes tuned to D, G, B, and D. When strummed open this creates a G chord.

2. Banjos were originally created in Africa Varying in materials and construction methods, banjos could typically be found made of a stick attached to a gourd with an animal skin stretched over it to create the drum head.

3. American banjo music has deep roots in slavery

Banjo music was often played by slaves on plantations, recreating the familiar instrument as a means of entertainment and storytelling until the 1820's when slave owners began preventing this. The banjo then became common in white minstrel performances (often including the use of blackface) well into 1950's.

4. Modern day banjos are an adaptation partially created by a minstrel performer

Joel Walker Sweeney, a minstrel performer, and William Boucher Jr., a Baltimore drum maker, teamed up to make the first commercially available banjos in the 1840's with a redesigned neck.

5. The banjo became a staple in Appalachian folk music

After the civil war the banjo made its way into popular Appalachian folk music often accompanying the violin, but also as a standalone instrument. This resulted in a slight musical transformation of the banjo from mainly being used as a rhythm instrument to being used in a melodic picked style.

6. The banjo helped define the American Jazz Age

By bringing together the sounds of ragtime and blues music the banjo brought a truly unique sound the the music of the 1920's (think Dixieland Jazz) before eventually being overshadowed by the guitar.

7. Earl Scruggs popularized the three-finger picking style

"Scruggs style" fingerpicking is almost synonymous with bluegrass music. In fact, Earl Scruggs played banjo in a band called The Blue Grass Boys, which would eventually result in the genre's nickname "bluegrass."

ibanez b200 banjo

8. The most famous banjo song of all time is "Dueling Banjos"

Popularized by the film Deliverance, "Dueling Banjos" became so popular Warner Brothers decided to publish the song on it's own.

9. The body of a banjo is called the "pot"

While originally made from gourds, modern banjos are typically made of wood with a metal tone ring that helps to enhance the sound of the banjo head.

10. Some banjos have resonators

Often found in bluegrass music, a resonator is the wooden backing behind the pot of the banjo used to project sound forward, and while volume is a resonator's first priority the type of wood it's constructed from can help color the tone of a banjo


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