The banjo is probably one of the most easily recognisable instruments, partly because it includes so many parts that you see on other instruments! The neck looks like a guitar, but the body features a drum skin. It uses a bridge like a violin and has a similar tuning to the Russian Dobros - GDGBD. It's a bit of a mongrel and has a reputation for being decidedly American, but where did the banjo come from?
It's all a bit unclear, but as far as research suggests that the Banjo as we know it is probably a product of the slave trade and came over to America from the region around North Africa, Turkey and the southern Mediterranean, as it bears similarities to the Greek Bouzouki, Turkish Kopuz and the African Kora.
A Bouzouki, Turkish Kopuz and African Kora
The modern instrument as we know it has had an impact on a wide array of music. Bands like The Eagles and Buffalo Springfield made extensive use of it in their works in the 60s and 70s with the revival of Country infused rock music. In the modern setting, Mumford and Sons are probably the most identifiable band to use the Banjo to create their signature sound.
As well as popular music, the Banjo has appeared in Classical music (particularly Hans Werner Henze's 6th Symphony) but is perhaps most readily identifiable as the instrument of choice for Bluegrass musicians.
Arguably the most famous appearance in cinema is in the light hearted 'duelling banjos' scene from the otherwise dark film Deliverance -
The main difference between these is the resonating chamber - on the BJM30 this is stainless steel and gives a brighter, tinnier sound. On the BJW24 it is rosewood, which gives it a mellower, more resonant sound.
The BJM30 is also available in a left handed version, so if you're a lefty, don't worry!
So whether you're looking to relive the West Coast Sound, release your inner Mumford and Sons or just try something a little different - a Banjo can be a cost effective addition to the guitarists collection or the ideal starter instrument for the musically curious.