What Exactly is a Banjo? History, Parts, and Much More?

Banjo originated in Africa. But it is now played by people across the world. It is a stringed musical instrument that has a rich history. If you desire to be the best beginner banjo player or are just a curious soul, you may be interested in knowing more about this wonderful instrument.


Banjo and banjo-like stringed instruments were popular in Africa in the 13th century and perhaps in the earlier times too. But the first known historical accounts of the banjo reference the 13th century. It was known to be played by people in the sub-Saharan region.

The banjo arrived in the Caribbean and the United States with slavery. The slaves from the African region remembered the instrument and tried to replicate it in the new land. It had become quite popular in the United States by 1781 as it was once referenced by Thomas Jefferson.

With time; people already settled in the United States began to play the banjo. It only added to the instrument’s popularity. By 1840 and beyond, it was also played by minstrel troupes and the instrument’s reach went beyond the United States. The minstrel troupes added a fifth string to the instrument. In the times of the Civil War, it was played to entertain the soldiers. In the rural areas of the southern states, it became even more popular. Slowly, it also began to be played at universities.

Different styles emerged and the banjo players adapted to it in a myriad of ways. It was adopted by bluegrass musicians. Earl Scruggs, the most well-known of all bluegrass banjo players, popularized the instrument nationwide. It has been adopted by several musicians since then – from folk music to more mainstream styles.

Banjo Parts

The neck is made of wood. It supports the strings and the tuners as well. The fingerboard is on the top of the neck. It contains inlays and frets for more accurate pitches. A metal rod runs through the neck. The rod is used to support the neck.

The pot is the other main component of the instrument. Its head is made from a membrane. Earlier animal skin was used to make it, now it’s made from synthetic material. The bridge on the head is movable. The rim of the pot is made of wood. It acts as the base for other parts too. A metal loop keeps the head in place. The loop can be adjusted for size.
The toe ring inside the banjo impacts the instrument’s tone quality. It can be made from wood or metal. The material of the toe ring will affect the instrument’s tone quality.

The back of the banjo can be open or closed. The piece in the closed instruments is referred to as the resonator. It helps to project the sound properly. Otherwise; it can disappear via the open back. The resonator adds to the volume of the banjo. It is more suited to play in bands. But people also prefer the open-back banjo, which is ideal for mellow musical sounds.


There are different variants of the banjo. Other than open-back and resonator banjos, there are differences in the number of strings also. The standard banjo has five strings. The earliest instruments were made with four strings only. Then the number was increased anywhere between five to nine strings.

Banjo can be played with a pick or fingers.

The best beginner banjo variant is the four-stringed instrument. It can be played as a ukulele, mandolin, or the guitar. Tenor banjos have a rather short scale. Plectrum banjos are played with guitar picks. The five-string banjos are most popular these days. It is often seen played by mainstream musicians.

On rare occasions, you can also find banjos with six or 12 strings. Hybrid banjos are a combination of guitar-banjo or ukulele-banjo.

Buying the Banjo

It is important to buy your first banjo with the utmost care. Try to find as much as you can about the variants. Choose a reputed seller to buy the instrument. It is also important to invest in learning resources if you wish to learn to play it with self-tutorials.

Banjo is a versatile instrument. Beginners can also enjoy it to a great extent.