If you’re looking for something a bit quirkier and unique than the guitar, look no further than the banjo and the ukulele. But which of these two should you choose?
In this article, I’ll describe the differences between the banjo vs ukulele, including the pros and cons of each.
Banjo vs ukulele – what are the main differences? There are many differences between the two instruments. Three common differences are the number of strings, their shape, and their sound:
- Banjos typically have 5 strings; Ukuleles typically have 4 strings
- Banjos have a circular body; Ukuleles are like a miniature guitar
- Banjos have a soulful, twang-sound, perfect for bluegrass, blues, folk, etc.; Ukuleles have a happy, high-pitched brightness, perfect for folk, pop, etc.
These two unique instruments are so different and yet have so much in common. If you were to decide between banjo vs. ukulele, which one should you choose?
Read on to learn more about the differences between the banjo vs ukulele, including our top picks for each.
Also, for an excellent banjo for beginners, take a look at our top pick, the ADM 5-String Banjo Beginner Kit:
Banjo Vs Ukulele – Key Differences
In choosing between the banjo and the ukulele, there are several factors to consider. Five key differences are as follows:
- Strumming Pattern
- Strings Used
- Musical Appeal
If you’re already familiar with the guitar, then you would have no problem learning the ukulele. And even if you aren’t, just learning three chords within two hours would be enough for you to grasp its basics.
In comparison, the banjo is somewhat an intimidating instrument to play. It’s very intricate and requires familiarity with its parts. The strumming patterns are much more difficult than those of a ukulele, and it takes a considerable amount of skill and coordination, particularly with your right hand, to get the sound right.
The next factor to consider when choosing to play banjo or ukulele is the strings used. While ukulele strings are made of nylon, banjos have metal strings, which make it hard on the fingers, considering the fast-paced style of playing it.
If you have the endurance and are willing to put in some effort, you could master playing the banjo. But as to which instrument is the easiest, the winner for this round of banjo vs. ukulele is clearly the uke.
The ukulele is naturally smaller, lighter, and easier to carry along, whereas the banjo is larger and much heavier (in terms of comfort and convenience). As for the cost, banjos tend to be very expensive, while ukuleles are generally more affordable.
Another factor to consider when choosing to play ukulele or banjo is the sound that you prefer. A mentioned earlier, banjos have a soulful twang, perfect for blues, bluegrass, folk, etc.; Ukuleles have a high-pitched bright sound, perfect for pop, folk, etc.
Banjos are much more musically versatile, which is why they’re used in diverse genres, such as rock, jazz, folk, bluegrass, and others.
On the other hand, ukuleles are usually limited to island-themed music like Hawaiian or reggae. Ultimately, your choice would come down to your taste in music. But in terms of flexibility, the banjo holds the biggest advantage.
The fifth factor to consider when analyzing ukulele vs banjo is the general musical appeal. While the ukulele has become quite popular and is very much a legit musical instrument, many people still perceive it as a “toy guitar.” The uke is easy and fun to play, but it just barely rises above its perception as a novelty instrument.
On the contrary, the banjo has that look, feel, and sound of a genuine instrument. If you want to be taken more seriously as a professional musician, then perhaps you might want to consider the banjo.
Each stringed instrument has its own set of pros and cons, and it would be up to you to decide which one you’ll pick between the two. And if you still haven’t made your choice, let’s get to know each of these instruments better.
What Is a Banjo and Its Features?
The banjo is a musical instrument consisting of 4 to 6 strings stretched across a circular drum-like body. It evolved from instruments used in the 17th century by West African slaves brought over to the Caribbean.
The origin of the name banjo has been attributed to many sources. Among these sources is an African string instrument called mbanza, based upon the banza, a 5-string Portuguese instrument similar to a lute.
However, Oxford English Dictionary says the name may have been derived from the Portuguese instrument bandore or the mandolin-like bandurria. Another possible origin is not a musical instrument, but a traditional Afro-Caribbean folk dance known as the banya.
18th to 19th Centuries
In North America, the first written references to the banjo appeared during the 18th century. The instrument would become commercially available by the 19th century.
The earlier African-inspired banjos were made up of a gourd body, a wooden stick for a neck, and a varying number of strings, usually 4 or 5. The precursor to the modern banjo, introduced in the 1830s, substituted a drum-like soundbox for the body (pot) and had four full-length strings along with a shorter fifth string.
Modern Banjo Pot
A modern banjo‘s pot is composed of a circular rim made of either wood or metal. It also has a tensioned head similar to that of a drum. The head was traditionally made of animal skin, but they have since been made out of synthetic materials.
Banjo strings are made of metal, but some players prefer to use nylon or gut strings to achieve a mellower, vintage-sounding tone.
A banjo is also different from a guitar because it’s normally tuned with planetary gear tuners or friction tuning pegs, instead of the worm gear machine head that guitars use. However, there is a 6-string banjo variety that has become popular of late, which is tuned and played similar to a guitar.
The below video shows the difference in sound between the banjo and ukulele:
Now, let’s look at the 4 top banjo models out in the market.
Recommended Banjos for Beginners
1. ADM 5-String Banjo Beginner Kit
If you’re just switching from playing the guitar to a banjo, then the ADM 5-String Banjo Beginner Kit, is the perfect instrument to transition.
It’s light and handy enough to carry along while traveling, camping, and other outdoor activities due to its weight at around 8 pounds. This banjo is also easy to handle and play because it only measures 39 inches with a slim, easy-to-grasp neck.
It’s the ideal kit for first-time banjo players and comes with a tuner, 3 picks, gig bag, strap, and extra strings.
2. Oscar Schmidt OB5 Gloss Mahogany 5-String Banjo
The Oscar Schmidt OB5 Gloss Mahogany 5-String Banjo, is one of the most affordable 5-stringers you can find, but certainly not lacking in quality and features.
Made from high-grade wood and solid metal, it’s a durable instrument with a striking, brilliant look. Since it’s easy to play and well suited for beginners, it delivers a beautiful harmonious tone. It also comes with a set of wrench and screwdriver tools, enabling you to perform the necessary maintenance work on your banjo easily.
3. Kmise 4 String Banjo Ukulele Uke Concert Type
On the banjo vs. ukulele subject, let’s look at an instrument that is a combination of both. While the ukulele is basically a small guitar, the banjo ukulele or banjolele is a small banjo with a fretted concert ukulele neck.
The banjo ukulele gained popularity during the 1920s and 1930s. It combines the ukulele’s size and its style of tuning and playing with the form and unique sound of the banjo.
The banjolele’s legacy continues today with the Kmise 4 String Banjo Ukulele Uke Concert Type. It has a firm tensioned drum head made out of polyester for high elasticity and quick response.
Premium Aquila strings from Italy give it a lively, percussive sound, while precise intonation is maintained by its set of high-grade closed gear tuners. With a detachable back, the Kmise Banjolele can be played in a variety of styles.
It produces a soft, mellow sound in the traditional closed-back resonator mode, and gives a more vivid sound in open back mode. Its built-in musical flexibility makes it a truly remarkable hybrid instrument.
What Is a Ukulele and Its Features?
The ukulele is a small stringed instrument, which originated from Hawaii during the late 19th century. Its name is roughly translated as jumping flea, possibly due to the movements of the player’s fingers.
Essentially a small guitar, it was adapted from several small guitar-like Portuguese instruments, such as the cavaquinho, the machete, the rajão, and the timple.
Ukuleles are usually built from wood, although certain varieties are made either entirely or in part from other materials such as plastic. The body typically comes in a standard figure-eight shape similar to an acoustic guitar, but they can come in different shapes as well. They include a square, a paddle-shape, or an oval shape referred to as a “pineapple.”
A ukulele typically has four strings, but it can also come in four courses of strings. A course is a set of two or more adjacent strings played as one, so there are some ukuleles with a total of six to eight strings.
Originally, the strings were made out of catgut, but modern ukuleles tend to use nylon polymer strings and materials, such as fluorocarbon, aluminum, or Nylgut.
Sizes & Variations
Ukuleles come in different sizes and varieties. The four main types are:
- Standard soprano (21 inches)
- Concert (23 inches)
- Tenor (26 inches)
- Baritone (29 inches)
Lesser-known variations are the 16-inch sopranino or pocket uke, the 30-inch bass, and the 32-inch contrabass.
There are also hybrid ukuleles:
- Guitarlele or guitalele (basically a tenor or baritone ukulele with six strings like the guitar)
- Harp ukulele
- Ukelin (a ukulele-violin combination)
And now, let us review four of the best ukuleles available in the market.
Recommended Ukuleles for Beginners
1. Kmise Classical Ukulele Kit Tiger Flame Okoume Wood
The Classical Ukulele Kit Tiger Flame Okoume Wood by Kmise, is a strikingly beautiful baritone uke that’s as big on sound as it is on looks.
While baritones usually measure 29 inches, this one adds an extra inch to make it 30, practically the size of a bass ukulele. Its body is made from tiger flame-colored okoume with a satin finish, giving it a gorgeous organic wood look.
The Kmise Classical Ukulele has a warm and lush sound, courtesy of its premium metallic and nylon strings. Great for professionals and beginners alike, it’s pleasant to play and listen to.
2. Kmise Concert Ukulele Uke Acoustic Hawaiian Guitar
The Kmise Concert Ukulele Uke Acoustic Hawaiian Guitar, is an ideal starting instrument for beginners, but suitable for intermediate players as well. With a sapele body, okoume neck, and a nut and saddle made from real bone, this one is an elegantly crafted ukulele.
The chrome tuning pegs are highly resistant to dust and rust and guarantee improved stability, including superior sound quality. Also, the strings are made from Italian Aquila Nylgut, which are much more effective at holding a tune than regular nylon strings. Such strings make for a much fuller ukulele sound.
3. Donner Tenor Ukulele Mahogany Body DUT-1
The Donner Tenor Ukulele DUT-1 is a high-quality instrument that combines solid craftsmanship, comfort, and playability. With a mahogany body and neck, it’s durable and specially constructed to deliver a rich, clear resonant sound.
The rosewood fingerboard and bridge ensure the utmost comfort while playing. The DUT-1 uses Aquila carbon nylon, which is smooth, easy on the hands, and gives a clear, sweet sound. Durable chrome-plated guitar-style tuners are also in place to make sure that your uke never goes out of tune.
Conclusion – Ukulele vs Banjo – Key Differences
Ukulele vs banjo – what are the main differences? There are many differences between a ukulele and a banjo. Three common differences between the two instruments are the number of strings, their shape, and their sound:
- Ukuleles typically have 4 strings; Banjos typically have 5 strings
- Ukuleles are like a miniature guitar; Banjos have a circular body
- Ukuleles have a happy, high-pitched brightness, perfect for folk, pop, etc.; Banjos have a soulful, twang-sound, perfect for bluegrass, blues, folk, etc.
There are many other differences between the two instruments including:
- Strumming Pattern
- Strings Used
- Musical Appeal
Whichever instrument you choose, there are plenty of resources for both online. I found the banjo to be a bit harder to learn but, like anything, you can learn both with enough practice.