When you decide to learn a string instrument, except for the guitar, two common names come to mind first. And, these are Banjo and Ukulele. But, which of these two should you choose? Although there are many similarities between the two, they differ greatly in size, sound, and the number of strings.
Beginners may find it difficult to select any one of them as there are several factors to consider. So, if you are trying to decide on banjo or ukulele, this guide is for you. Read on to learn the differences between them and choose the best one that will suit you more.
The History of Banjo and Ukulele
Before going into the differences, it would be good to get some idea of the history of Banjo and ukuleles. So, here is the small history of these two unique instruments.
Banjo A versatile instrument designed based on traditional African counterparts and then brought to the US from the West Indies is Banjo. They are made in various styles, sizes, tuning, and string configurations to choose from. Usually, the banjo has a tambourine-like body along with a hoop and screw. This charming instrument makes playing music really effortless and enjoyable.
Ukulele Initially, ukuleles originated in Hawaii during the late 1800s. After that, they were adapted from the Portuguese “braguinha”, which was a small, guitar-like instrument. It is a small-plucked string instrument that appeared around 1880 in Hawaii. In the sixties, it was the most played instrument.
Banjo or Ukulele: Which Should I Choose?
There are some obvious differences between banjo and ukulele that you will notice at first glance. Let’s not talk about the obvious ones, rather, dive deeper into the details and know them in-depth.
Material and Build The banjo’s body is made with either a wooden or metal circular rim along with a tensioned head. Initially, the tensioned head was made with animal skin but now, it is made up of synthetic materials. Its neck is created with solid wood like walnut, mahogany, or maple.
On the other hand, Ukuleles are traditionally created from solid wood which was very costly. But with its growing popularity, manufacturers are now making this instrument using affordable materials like carbon fiber, laminate, and plastic. Just like the banjo, the ukulele’s neck is also made with solid wood.
It’s obvious that both have different shaped bodies and are made of different materials. Beginners sometimes fail to realize both instrument’s necks are built differently as well. Generally, banjos come in longer necks with more frets and ukuleles have shorter necks.
Sizes Another difference is the variety of sizes of the banjo and ukulele comes in. There are two different sizes of banjo available. The first one is Plectrum that comes in 26-28 inches scale length. And the second one is tenor which is 22-23 inches scale.
Whereas the ukulele has 4 different sizes. These are Soprano with 13 inches scale length, concert with 15 inches scale length, tenor with 17 inches scale length, and baritone with 19 inches scale length.
Sound This is an essential factor to consider when choosing to play banjo or ukulele. Usually, banjos come with a soulful twang and sound which is ideal for folk, bluegrass, blues, rock, jazz, and many other genres.
In contrast, ukuleles produce a high-pitched bright sound that goes perfectly with pop or folk music. This instrument is limited to island-themed music, for example, reggae or Hawaiian.
In that case, it is clear that the banjo is much more versatile than ukuleles. Also, in terms of flexibility, this musical instrument holds the biggest advantage. And this is why banjo for starters is mostly recommended and preferred.
Tuning The biggest difference between a banjo and a ukulele is their tuning. Banjos are basically tuned to the chord and are based on the musician’s preference and musical style.
On the other side, a ukulele sounds deeper and more mellow. With this instrument, the tuning will vary depending on the wood, size, and shape of the body.
Strings Banjo strings are made of metal and some also use nylon or gut strings. To achieve a vintage and mellower sound nylon and gut strings are best. Banjos have 4,5, and 6 strings and among them, the most popular is the 5-string banjos. 5 strings of banjos can produce a fuller sound due to their thinner and lighter gauge material.
Typically, the ukulele comes with four strings. It can come in four courses of strings also. A course refers to a set of two or more adjacent strings which are played as one. That means there are some ukuleles with 6 or 8 strings. Initially, the strings were made with catgut. But, nowadays, the modern ukulele’s strings are made with nylon polymer.
Ease of Play Probably, this is the main thing that beginners look out for while deciding between two instruments. In comparison, the banjo is slightly easier than the ukulele because of its strings. Banjo’s strings are much easier to push down and strum.
On the other side, ukulele is also an easy instrument with its basic strumming patterns and simple chords. But when it comes to choosing any one over the other, banjos have the maximum chance.
So, which one should you choose?
Well, compare the differences between these two and find out what will suit you the most. Whichever instrument you choose, you must practice hard and make the best use of them.
Strings instruments are fun to play and there are so many options to choose from. To learn the classic one like guitar and go for a bit funkier like ukulele and banjo are a great choice. At present, Banjo and Ukulele have become the first priority for some music lovers when it comes to learning string instruments.
Both are fun and not that hard to learn. We have shared the differences between banjo or ukulele in this guide. Hopefully, it will help you to decide which one to choose. Whichever you choose will be a great one to get started with your musical journey.