The banjo is a strummed stringed instrument, with a narrow wooden body stretched tightly over an open cavity or neck to form a hollow resonator, which produces sound when it is struck. The banjo is one of the most popular types of woodwind instruments and is often played in jazz, folk, classical, or blues music. The banjo has a reputation as being less expensive than other woodwind instruments, but its distinctive sound and unusual construction make it attractive to a wide variety of buyers. The banjo has developed various different styles, such as the baroque, which has sharp, curved lines and an exceptionally beautiful sound; the flamenco, which have a rounder and more open sound than the baroque; and the American Renaissance banjo, a highly decorative and intricate style that mimics the early American country tune.
Banjo players generally strum two strings at a time, using the third, E-string, for tone. Strings are usually made from oak, mahogany, or cypress. The bridge is usually placed behind the sound hole, so it can be readily adjusted to change the direction of the sound. The E-string is tuned using the natural pitch of the bass note.
Many banjo players use a nylon string to allow a bit more projection and brilliance of sound. Another popular option is the electric banjo, which usually has a double neck and a single fret board. This makes it easy to move the banjo between parts of the song if it is necessary. The banjo is normally fretted on either the right or left hand. Many banjo players also use tapping fingers for lead work.
The tone of a banjo depends on its construction. Banjos that are made of steel or aluminum have a flatter tone than the ones made of mahogany or rosewood. Another factor affecting the sound is the thickness of the strings used. Thicker strings produce a deeper and more authoritative sound.
Banjos are traditionally used as accompaniments to rhythm instruments like the guitar, for example the trombone, tuba, or flute. They're also used in marching bands, folk or blues music, or in any type of band where the lead singer needs a steady rhythm. Most banjos are tuned using open strings, but some are tuned using open-back six strings, called gongs. Banjos can also be found in jazz, pop, rock, folk, or any other genre. A famous singer/guitarist was once said of the banjo, "banjos are the third voice."
Banjos don't need tuning like most stringed instruments do. This makes for easier strumming and less damage to the instrument. However, you will have to regularly maintain your banjo. If the tuning screws get loose or if you tend to play the banjo a bit faster than is normal, it is recommended that you lubricate them with oil. You can find special brushes for your brushes that are specially made for lubricating the fittings and moving parts. I use the ubiquitous Nylock brand.
I wouldn't think of buying a new banjo right now, because I am having too much fun with an old one. My son just bought his first guitar, and I'm planning to get him his own banjo when he finishes up his first band. For now, I have many of my old ones up around my house. I have a few on the loan because they're part of a trust fund. My son will probably give them away when he moves out of the house.
The banjo has been a big part of American and European music for at least ten years. It wasn't popular in America until the nineteen forties, but now its presence is well established. It can be found in folk, bluegrass, blues, pop, metal, folk, even some classical selections. It's not hard to learn to play the banjo.