The banjolele or banjo ukulele is a four-stringed instrument with a small banjo-type body and a fretted ukulele neck. The earliest known banjoleles were built by John A. Bolander and by Alvin D. Keech in 1917.
The instrument achieved its greatest popularity in the 1920s and 1930s, and combines the small scale, tuning, and playing style of a ukulele with the construction and distinctive tone of a banjo, hence the name. Its development was pushed by the need for vaudeville performers to have an instrument that could be played with the ease of the ukulele, but with more volume.
Tightening or loosening the drum head, through adjusting the tension hooks fitted around the outside of the drum, results in a change in tone. The head typically has a firm tension. Tightening it so that it is rock hard to the touch gives a bright sound with good note distinction, but less bass response. Loosening it so it is softer, yet still tight enough to keep the bridge in place with the tension of the strings, results in a warmer, less bright sound. The bridge floats on the head and is held in place by the tension of the strings.
Most modern banjoleles are fitted with synthetic heads, but back in the day banjo ukulele heads were traditionally made of calf skin, which provide a more traditional tone.
This one is from an unknown manufacturer – it has no branding or distinguishing marks. But it is a very well built instrument which we think dates to the 1930s or 1940s. It appears to have been nicely restored in more recent times. It is structurally sound, with no apparent splits, cracks or repairs. It has been refinished in a semi satin lacquer and presents in good playing condition.
There is no apparent fret wear, the tradition ebony friction tuners are solid & hold tuning well, and the intonation is good. And it has a lovely vintage old-timey sound without the harsh bark of some more modern banjoleles that concentrate on delivering volume at the cost of subtlety of tone.
While it may not have a brand name, this is a well made instrument that has held its structural integrity for decades. It has been given a cosmetic makeover and now presents as a very useable instrument which delivers a lovely traditional tone with lots of nostalgic appeal.
Set up nicely with a new set of Aquila strings by respected Sydney guitar tech Steve Cocking.
Comes in a good quality soft carry case.