-ll) or: (ban joe (y)ewk uh lay lee)
noun/: a small 4 stringed banjo tuned like a ukulele. Also called: Banjolele, Banjo Uke, Uke banjo, Ukulele Banjo and "What on earth is that?"
Most banjo ukuleles are under 24" long and have a diameter of 6,7 and 8". There are
exceptions and they may be found with larger diameters (usually no more than 12"). Most often they are no more than 8" in diameter. (because that's what sounds the best).
They may be found with an "open back" or "closed back", with flat or flanged resonators that amplify and direct the sound outward or forward. These resonators can also give the banjo ukulele a unique character , make them louder or simply look great and have no effect on the tone whatsoever. They may also be found with "port hole" vents on the side of the body in the closed back style.
The banjo ukulele is often used as a strumming instrument rather than melodic or "chord with melody" style of playing. They were originally designed as an attempt to
produce a louder ukulele that could project over larger ensembles or in establishments where singers and performers were trying to be heard over the din of sober and drunken patrons. (this need proceeded harsh sounding electronic public address systems)
Often viewed as a novelty instrument the banjo ukulele seemed to have been popular
among fraternities and sororities for "sitting around and singing" between serious studies and the hazing. Banjo ukes from these circumstances can often be found with a variety of signatures, dates, lists of girlfriends,bar names and a variety of other information that might or might not be interesting to the collector.
The banjo ukulele was the instrument of choice for the British film star George Formby, who wrote and sang over 200 songs. He developed a unique virtuosic style that included fancy strumming styles like: fan strokes, split strokes and "tapping". His songs were often considered "racey" during his era and a few were banned from the BBC radio network for sexual innuendos. (this writer is grateful for his bravery and freedom of expression). He starred in over 20 films and can easily be considered the most popular performer in his era. Almost every one his songs included a solo "break" that included flourishes, embellishments and impressive instrumental techniques that would show off his amazing skill as a banjo ukulele player. These solo breaks were a precursor to the guitar solos in popular music from the 50s,60s and well........up to now.
Formby's style remains hugely popular in Great Britain and there is a George Formby Society with chapters in several towns across England. There are regular meetings and membership in the society is at an all time high. Each year the society meets in Blackpool and performers of all ages perform to enthusiastic audiences. Members of the Formby Society are avid collectors of banjo ukuleles and often trade and sale them at these meetings, and participants can learn Formby's stylistic techniques in class and private tutoring sessions. Often, guest performers are invited to perform as well.
The atmosphere of the Society seems to be relaxed and any degree of skill as a player or singer is welcomed enthusiastically by it's dedicated audiences.
There is a resurgence in popularity of the banjo ukulele and many companies are producing instruments to keep up with the demand. This blog has focused mainly upon the vintage instruments and oddities but will also feature reviews of current manufactured and custom built banjo ukuleles.