Banjo Mandolin

W Temlett 5 string Piccolo Melody Banjo
Temlett stopped before 1900 and died in 1904
George Houghton Ivory Queen perloid Banjo Mandolin
GH&S Ivory Queen Banjo Mandolin
they also made a 4 string Banjo Ukulele version
Rose Morris sunray bracketless banjolele banjo Ukulele Corner
My Rose Morris Sunray Banjolele
But note the headstock asymmetry
There were 8 string versions of this
I'm not going to write about the Mandolin here beyond saying that as a family of chordophones it dates back to long, long before the inception of the Ukulele and that Mandolins (usually) have 8 steel strings in 4 courses tuned to fifths.

In the 19th century Mandolins, along with all wooden fretted chordophones, suffered from a lack of volume, especially compared to wind instruments and for use in large halls. With the arrival of the Banjo as a popular instrument that could be heard in large halls, it wasn't long before instrument makers started producing Mandolin based instrument with Banjo drums to increase the volume, (especially since the larger members of Mandolin family used basically the same tuning as the Banjo family), and the Banjo Mandolin was born. Though this started at around the same time as the Ukulele was born the Banjo Mandolins were in mass production long before the Ukulele had even found its way off of Hawaii.

After John Bolander patented his Banjo Ukulele, (at least 25 years after mass production of the Banjo Mandolin started), and this along with the Ukulele became increasingly popular in the US and around the world, manufacturers notices that the Banjo Ukulele and the Banjo Mandolin were pretty much the same scale length so it required little or no retooling to start production of Banjo Ukuleles. Some firms had an even better head start as they were making a single course version of the Banjo Mandolin that were known colloquially, (and slightly derogatorily), as Melody Banjos, (Windsor even named one of its models as such), or Banjolins, (it should be noted that only 4 string Banjo Mandolins are Banjolins, never 8 string; and that Banjolims are a completely different Portuguese instrument altogether). This was the foundation for George Houghtons Melody range of Instruments and Gibson trapdoor Banjoleles were originally designed as Banjolins. It may even be the case that all of Vega's Banjolele offerings were made to be Melody Banjos and not Banjo Ukuleles at all? Whatever the case a lot of, particularly British manufacturers embraced this dual nature so you see a lot of early British Banjoleles with non symmetrical headstocks where four of the tuner holes were never drilled out, though clearly there is space for them if the maker wanted to use that neck on a Banjo Mandolin. Since the neck frets were made to take steel strings that was no change needed for the gut of a Banjolele and a lot of makers would still put steel strings on anyway, The drum bodies were, of course identical so it was only the tailpiece at that needed to be changed at the other end. the only real difference between a Banjo Mandolin and a Banjo Ukulele that wasn't fully overcome when manufacture changed to hybrid instruments was that, despite the extra strings, a Mandolin neck is narrower that a Ukuleles. This led to a number of early Banjo Ukuleles with very narrow necks and in some cases the neck design being changed so it was more of compromise between the two instruments, (narrow for a Uke and wide for a Mando).

The popularity of the Banjo Mandolin waned, if anything earlier that the popularity of the Ukulele the first time, (and unlike the Ukulele has never really become popular again), especially in the UK where George Formby kept the Banjo Ukulele popular throughout the 1930's, so later models of the Banjo Ukulele were specifically designed as a Ukulele and lost the Mandolin touches. Plus there were makers of Banjo Ukuleles who came late and never made Banjo Mandolins, (though there were also makers of Banjo Mandolins that went out of business before 1915 and never made a Banjo Ukulele).

What must be remembered though is that no one anywhere, (even Hawaii), ever made an 8 string Banjo Ukulele in the 20th century! If it has 8 strings it is a Banjo Mandolin!! If it originally had 8 strings and has been converted to now only have 4 it is still a Banjo Mandolin.

Please contact me if you have any information or pictures that would improve the page

contact Web Administrator if you think your copyright has been infringed