If you’re wondering what the difference is between the banjitar and the banjo, this post is for you!
The banjo (and banjitar) belong to the chordophone family of musical instruments.
This family is one of the densest and richest.
Many chordophone instruments are unique to a certain geographical area.
In Africa, for example, you can find hundreds of chordophone instruments, many of which are unique to a specific geography within the continent.
In fact, the banjo and thus the banjitar have African origins!
To help you determine which instrument is best for you, I’ll try to answer the following questions:
- What is a banjo, and what is a banjitar?
- What are the differences between these instruments?
- Which one should I learn to play in light of these differences?
What is a Banjo?
The banjo is a stringed musical instrument of West African origin.
Banjos typically have 4 or 5 strings with about 17 – 22 frets.
Banjos also have a thin (usually plastic) membrane stretched over a circular frame at the base of the instrument.
This frame is the part of instrument that looks like a drum.
The banjo found its way to America because of the slave trade in the 19th century.
African slaves adapted this instrument in America from African instruments of similar design.
Once in America, the modern banjo spread across the entire globe.
Initially, many musicians thought of the banjo as a chordal instrument.
Although this is technically true, banjo players usually fingerpick the banjo instead of strum chords.
In the early days of the banjo in America, jazz artists sometimes used this instrument in their arrangements.
In fact, Louis Armstrong featured the banjo in some of his early recordings.
But as guitars gained popularity faster than banjos, particularly with the advent of electronic amplification, guitars largely replaced banjos in popular music.
Today, most associate the banjo with folk and country music.
However, you will also find this instrument in other genres like rock.
For instance, several rock bands, such as The Eagles, Led Zeppelin, and The Allman Brothers, have used the banjo in some of their songs.
What is Banjitar?
A banjitar (also known as a banjo guitar, 6-string banjo, guitarjo, or ganjo) is a hybrid form of a banjo and a guitar.
The banjitar has the body of a banjo and six strings tuned in the standard tuning of a guitar.
Banjos with six strings were around in the 19th century.
However, six-string banjos tuned like a guitar weren’t standardized and manufactured in mass until the later part of the 20th century.
Even though banjitars are manufactured en masse today, they are still far less common than the guitar or even the banjo.
You can learn more about the banjitar in my article about it here.
Banjitar Vs. Banjo: Similarities and Differences
4 or 5 strings
Typically tuned CGBD. The tenor banjo is tuned like a mandola or viola.
The banjitar is tuned just like a guitar: EADGBe.
Best for traditional American music like country and bluegrass – it has a very raw sound.
Because it is built more like a guitar, you can play rock, blues, and jazz music with it. It can also be called the rhythmic guitar. The bass is heavier here. A diversity of music is possible on the banjitar.
Will usually be cheaper than a banjitar but more expensive than a guitar.
You will get it for almost double the price of a traditional 4 or 5 string banjo.
The table above only examines a handful of differences between these two musical instruments.
However, even with their differences, there are plenty of similarities.
In fact, you may wonder whether a banjitar is more like a banjo or a guitar given their similarities and only slight differences.
However, most banjo players will tell you that a banjitar isn’t a type of banjo, it’s a type of guitar.
Because of the banjo’s unique tuning and number of strings, it has its own various playing styles and culture surrounding the instrument.
And because the banjo guitar lacks the banjo tuning and number of strings, only a guitarist can play it.
This is why most consider the banjitar a type of guitar, not a type of banjo.
I agree with this conclusion and consider the banjitar a type of guitar, not a type of banjo.
Let’s take a closer look at some of the differences between the banjitar and banjo.
Banjos usually have five steel strings.
Because of the banjo’s tonal range and the construction of the instrument, the strings typically sound light and bright compared to the banjitar’s six strings with a lower tonal range.
The drum head resonator on both instruments is better suited to amplify the light and bright sounds of the banjo.
So although a banjitar’s strings and tonal range lend themselves more to a bassy sound, the drum head just doesn’t seem to amplify bassy tones as well as higher, brighter notes.
The four-String Tenor banjo has four strings and a short neck with about 19 or 17 frets.
Standard tuning for the Tenor banjo is CGDA.
Other tunings for the four-string banjo include Irish Tenor: GDAE (which happens to be the same tuning as the violin).
However, like I mentioned, the most common banjo type is a five-string banjo.
It has a standard tuning in open G of: GDGBD.
The 5th string (G string) on a banjo is a high G string.
This differs from the guitar and banjitar which each subsequent string is higher than the string before it.
The banjitar like we said is tuned like a standard guitar: EADGBe.
You typically find the banjo featured in Dixieland jazz, bluegrass, country, and folk music.
Although these are the most common genres for the banjo, of course, musicians use the banjo in almost any genre.
Similarly, you will find the banjitar in many of those same banjo genres like country and bluegrass.
However, just like the banjitar is a hybrid between two instruments, the banjitar is most common in music that is a hybrid between two genres.
For example, Keith Urban and Florida Georgia Line are famous for using the banjitar in their music.
Likewise, their music genre is a hybrid of pop-rock and country.
Because the guitar is one of the most popular instruments for the pop-rock genre, and the banjo is a popular instrument in the country genre, it makes sense that the banjitar is a great instrument for the pop-rock country genre.
Because the banjo is more common than the banjitar, there are more purchase options available for the banjo.
Thus, you will usually find that banjos are less expensive than banjitars simply because there are more banjos available.
For example, this popular banjo costs about $200.
However, this popular six string banjo of similar quality costs about $350.
Expect to see this sort of markup when evaluating banjos and banjitars of similar quality.
Which Should I Play; the Banjo Or the Banjitar?
If you have never played a stringed, fretted musical instrument, I recommend choosing either the banjo or the guitar, but NOT the banjitar.
The banjitar is a specialty instrument for those already proficient with another instrument.
There are few learning resources dedicated specifically to learning the banjitar.
And as a beginner, you don’t want to deal with the nuances that come with learning a specialty instrument.
If you need help choosing between the banjo or the guitar, check out my article that answers this exact question!
However, If you already play the guitar and are debating between getting a banjo or a banjitar, I highly recommend the banjitar!
Banjitars enable you to experience much of the same sound you get from a banjo without having to learn a new instrument.
They are fun instruments that are particularly helpful at getting you out of a musical rut if you’re in one.
Most importantly, you want to choose whichever instrument you are most excited to play.
I hope this helps you choose between these instruments.
If you’re still having trouble deciding, let me know in the comments, and I’ll do my best to help!