Having its beginnings in African-American traditional music, the banjo has become a cultural American icon that has found a solid footing in musical genres ranging from indie rock, folk, country, and of course, bluegrass. Among others, musicians like Bela Fleck have expanded the use of the instrument even more while bringing it into the contemporary jazz fusion genre.
The banjo is one of the most unique-sounding instruments of the Western world, and although not all of the instrument’s fame has brought it a positive image (*cough* Deliverance *cough*), the instrument nevertheless has a huge “awe” factor and an incredibly unique sound that people absolutely love.
The modern-day banjo evolved from similar-styled African traditional instruments but the instrument’s trajectory still seems to be in motion. A lot of really interesting instruments have sprung up in recent years that riff off of the instrument’s unique traits, and some of the results have been really astounding. Here are a few of the coolest hybrid-style instruments in the modern banjo family that are totally worth checking out.
The banjolele was initially introduced in 1917 and was pretty popular in the 20s and 30s, but it seemed to lose some of its prominence over time. For a while, antique stores seemed to be the only place to find a banjolele. Luckily, they seem to be in a bit of a resurgence. Manufacturers are now releasing new models of the banjo ukulele and many music stores around the country have them in stock.
The banjitar is another popular hybrid instrument. Although it can be tuned in any number of ways, most people tune it to the standard EADGBE tuning of a guitar. This makes the banjitar a great instrument to transition to for guitar players. A number of popular musicians have been known to use the instrument including Bruce Springsteen, James Taylor, and Kasey Musgraves.
The banjolin is a great alternative to the banjolele if you’re looking for a smaller hybrid instrument. The banjolin is played like a mandolin and has 8 strings total, allowing for some very unique and refreshing sounds.
The banjola is the only instrument on this list that has 5 strings and can be played like the modern 5-string banjo. Whereas the banjolin is a hybrid of the mandolin, the banjola merges the banjo’s personality with the mandola, the mandolin’s older, bigger cousin.
This one is so cool, I had to give it a heading all its own. This electric instrument takes the banjitar to the next level and adds the power of electricity. Feel free to rock out. Plug this instrument in and you’ll have plenty of sound possibilities to choose from and you’ll be sure to turn plenty of heads.