Banjo Vs Mandolin: What’s the Best For Beginners?

In focus of this article, we have today, two fairly distinct instruments. Namely, Banjo vs Mandolin. While people are quite familiar with the former, the latter can come with a side of confusion.

Not many people know what a Mandola is or have even heard about it. Putting it up against Banjo we will learn all about this instrument. While both of them are very different, they do provide a stark contrast to each other, which is all there is needed to point out the comparison.

What is a Banjo?

A Banjo is a stringed instrument, belonging to the guitar family. It is a round little hollow structure, with parchment spread on top. The neck is the place that holds the strings. The round hollow part, acts like a resonator. Which means that it will amplify the produced sound and help it reverberate.

Its specific features include –

  • 321.312 (resonator) or 321.314 (open-backed)
  • A composite chordophone attached to a neck that passes in a diametrical way from within the resonator, sounded by the plectrum, finger picks, or the bare fingers.

History of Banjo

The modern-day banjo was derived from instruments that are known to have been used in the Caribbean since the 17th century by the enslaved people of West Africa.

We have written references to the banjo in North America making an appearance in the 18th century. As per those, the instrument became increasingly available commercially at that time from around the second part of the 19th century. Because many enslaved people of South America were brought there by the Portuguese, the idea of them bringing the instrument alongside pertains.

The further historical classification can be divided into various eras. They are listed below-

  1. Minstrel Era

During this time, the instrument gained popularity. This era gets its name from the famous minstrel show played during its duration.

  • Classic Era

The era mainly pertains to the classic type Banjo instrument, that we still use to this day. It can also be called the guitar style playing. That means playing a Banjo with bare fingers.

  • Rag time and jazz age era

During this phase of Banjo history, new types of Banjos were being produced, and as a result of that, new type of music gained popularity. The Rag and Jazz in particular, were two types of music styles, that excelled during this time.

  • Modern Era

Having seen a downfall in its popularity from the previous phase, the modern era was the time that brought about the resurgence of the Banjo. It can be accounted for from around after the World War 2.

Types of Banjos

  • Banjo Ukulele- This Banjo has four strings and its sound can somewhat be compared to that of a Ukulele. In other words, this particular type, plays like a Ukulele.
  • Guitar Banjo- A guitar type Banjo is nowhere near to a guitar in its looks. While a guitar banjo may not look like a guitar, other things about it surely hint towards its name. A guitar Banjo has strings equivalent to a guitar. Some think, that learning a five stringed Banjo is easier than learning a Guitar.
  • Banjo Mandolin- Old Manjolin players were believed to be the one gravitating towards this type of Banjo. Not only was it more convinient to work with, it was also a lot easier to play.
  • Banjeurine- This Banjo differs in tuning from the standard Banjo that we are all familiar with. It is tuned at a one by fourth octave higher than the usual Banjo tuning.

Tuning of a Banjo

When we talk about the tuning of a Banjo, we take in account its most common and widely used form. Here we talk about the 5 stringed Banjo. It is tuned in an order such, the first string at G, second at D, third at G again, fourth at B and the fifth string at D.

This style of Banjo tuning is known by the name, Open G tuning. It means that when whilst playing, one isn’t trying to play any chords, the note that will play out is the G note. Thus, pertaining to the name.

Notable Banjo players

  • Tony Trischka- An American banjo player who was known fro playing the 5 stringed Banjo.
  • Steve Martin- He started out as playing the Banjo as a support for, or with an inclusive purpose of his comedic endeavours.
  • Abigail Washburn- She is regarded as somewhat of a household name in the field of Banjo playing. She is a singer and a Banjo player, mainly known for her clawhammer style of Banjo playing.
  • Noam Pikelny- He is an American banjo player, who is known for playing eclectic styles of Banjo. These include the traditional bluegrass, classical, rock, and jazz music.
  • Etc.

Good products available online

Pyle, 5 String Resonator Banjo Size 24 Bracket

Banjo, AKLOT 5 String Open Back Banjos

What is a Mandolin?

A mandolin is known to be a stringed musical instrument, part of the lute family and is generally played by plucking with a plectrum. It generally has four doubled metal strings to match, in unison, thus giving a total of 8 strings, although five (10 strings) and six (12 strings) versions of the said instrument also exist.

Such of its types are typically tuned in an interval of perfect fifths, with the same tuning as a violin (G3-D4-A4-E5). Also, alike the violin, it is the soprano side of the family that includes the mandola, octave mandolin, mandocello and mandobass.

Its specific features include-

  • 321.321-6 (Neapolitan) or 321.322-6 (flat-backed)
  • Chordophone with a permanently attached resonator and neck, sound supported by the plectrum.
  • Brought about in the mid-18th century from the mandolino instrument.

History of Mandolin

Mandolins come from the lute family of instruments. Its predecessors include the gittern and mandore or mandola as they were known in Italy during the 17th and 18th centuries.

There were a variety of regional variants at that time, but the two most widespread ones were the Neapolitan mandolin and the Lombardic mandolin. The Neapolitan style still, got the highest and the widest reach.

Types of Mandolin

  • Mandocello- It is the largest member of the Mandolin family. This Mandola is tuned at an octave lower than that of the standard Mandola used for comparison.
  • Mandola- The sweet mellow tune producing part of the Mandolins. If jazz or soft style music is something you’d like to master, a Mandola is the way to go.
  • Electric Mandolin- An electric type Mandola is not really different from the acoustic one. It is structurally quite same and is played the same way as well. The only difference lies is its electrical magnification. It is electrically supported and played. As similar in the case of an electric guitar.
  • Mandobass- The Mandobass, as the name suggests is a mixture of a Mandolin and Bass. This instrument particularly, is tuned at 4 strings only. The tuning follows a pattern of E-A-D-G.

Tuning of a Mandolin

To make it easier, one can say that a Mandolin is to be tuned similar to a Violin. Every string has to be taken into consideration, with precision.

The pattern however, resembles a Violin’s. A standard Mandolin is usually tuned from low side to the high side. G-D-A-E. In a sequence from low to high. However, the tone of each string must be the same. Such consistency is to be kept in mind.

Notable Mandolin players

  • Bill Monroe- It would be inappropriate to begin the lost with another name as Bill Monroe is ranked as the best when it comes to being a player of the said instrument.
  • Jethro Burns- Although Burns gained fame by being a part of a Mandolin playing duo, he has since gained a reputation for himself as a single Mandolin player aswell.
  • Tiny Moore- Tiny Moore hold the reputation of being one of the great Mandolin players of all time. He was famous for playing the electric Mandolin and has gained well deserved fame through playing.
  • Adam Steffey- He is one of the most acclaimed modern Mandolin players. He is also known to have won the Grammy five times for the same.
  • Etc.

Good products available online

Ibanez M522S F-Style Mandolin Dark Violin Sunburst

Vangoa A Style Mandolin Musical Instrument Sunburst

Differences between a Banjo vs Mandolin

  • While a Banjo is covered by a membrane on top of the hollow bowl like structure, a Mandolin supports a wooden plate kind of thing on top. It is more study and doesn’t reverberate as much
  • In terms of size, due to Banjo’s long neck, it is larger than a Mandolin, which is famous for having a shorter structure and height.
  • Both of these instruments are regarded as easier in terms of playing. However, a Mandoli can be called easier still as the playing style of a Banjo can be rather fast.
  • A Banjo produces a very soulful and mellow sounding gentle noise. On the other hand, a Mandolin produces more of a loud and high pitched noise.


Banjo vs Mandolin ; There are a variety of instruments out in the music market. There are multiple ways still, in which they can be incorporated in any kind of music.

There is no rule pertaining to the fact that a certain music requires a certain type of instruments. It’s all about learning and adapting to their way of working and the way they sound. If this article has been helpful in any way to clear out the difference, and to throw light on all aspects of these instruments, then it’s time to get one, and start playing.

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