If you couldn't already tell by the instrument's name, the banjo uke is a combination between a banjo and a ukelele. It has the body of a banjo, but the frets and neck of a ukelele. Now, you might be asking why someone would want to combine a banjo with a ukelele. The reason is quite simple. In the early 1900s, the Hawaiian ukelele was becoming very popular. People loved it's sound and style, but there was one problem - it wasn't loud enough! Combining the body of the banjo with the size and tuning of the ukelele was a great solution to that problem.
There is some discrepancy as to who actually invented the instrument. Many sources agree that Alvin Keech invented it in 1918, however some sources say that it might have been John Bolander in 1916. Whoever it was, it was a great idea! It became a very popular instrument in the 1920s and 1930s, especially on the vaudeville scene. Vaudeville performers needed an instrument that played with the ease of a ukelele but with a louder volume, and the banjo uke fit the bill perfectly!
As for the banjo uke's construction, it is traditionally made of wood, with a pot size (head diameter) of 6-8 inches, versus a banjo's 11 inch pot size. The heads were traditionally made from calf-skin, but more modern versions of the instrument use synthetic heads. Some may have open backs, while some have resonators in the back (see pictures below).
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