Thursday, April 25, 2013

Banjo Ukulele buying tips

The "unofficial" banjo ukulele week continues here with some more buying tips for ya.  Earlier this week, John Bianchi listed off some very informative vintage banjo uke buying tips.  Today, a little more modern take on it with some very helpful advice from Steve Roberts of The Banjo Ukulele Forum.

Thanks Steve for passing this info along!

Banjo Ukulele Buying Tips

by Steve Roberts

Here are some things to watch for:

1.  as with any string instrument, the scale.   If the frets are not placed very well, the instrument will never ring very true.  There is no way to tell this though if the bridge is placed at the wrong distance (the double of the 12th fret) and if it is not parallel to the frets.  (there is a way to compensate for a few issues by tilting it lower on the closest string and a little higher on the farthest "a" string) but this is usually not the case.

2. tone, does it have a pleasant tone, or is it harsh?  is it dull, full and resonant, choked, buzzy, ?  Often the tone can be adjusted with different skin, ie, mylar, calf, thickness etc. but a buyer should like the tone when buying and not have to speculate as to what skin might help the instrument.

3.   Try to play more than one banjo uke of the same model if new.  You will be amazed at the differences between each one.

4.  weight, neck thickness, reso?  flat reso?  head size?   I like a non bulky instrument, but some might like a beefy, thick, heavy instrument with a heavy duty feel to it.  For me, a nice balance, comfortable neck  with a graceful shape is what I prefer.  Many of the newer banjo ukes are simply too heavily designed in the neck, as if they are ready for steel strings, which should never be used on a banjo uke.  (aweful tone, pitchy, unstable etc.)  I like a resonator, but a flat reso is also very very desirable on many models.   A big fully flanged resonator might actually make an instrument to echo-ey for my taste and make the instrument loose it's clarity.
5.  Look for flaws, crooked alignment, gaps in the joints, poor finish, etc.  it might not harm the tone, but it could affect resale later.  No musician should care more about finish than tone.   Collectors care about finish.  The players like non, overly thick varnish.   A banjo uke should not look like it was dipped in plastic.  It will never sound great if overly finished.

6.  this should be higher on my list, but SET UP is vital.   The string height, angle of the neck (slightly falling away from the body) and nut height , are all super critical of any string instrument.   The fret board should never be angling toward the body, the strings should not be much higher at the 12th fret than the 2nd fret.  Low action is for strumming, higher for picking and melodic playing. 


  1. Thanks this is such a helpful article. A lady brought her grandmother's banjo uke to class and it really got our UAS going. The really old banjo ukes have generally been stored in barns or hot/cold attics for so long with no humidifier that I wonder if they can ever be made to sound "good" again. I think #3 is so true of any stringed instrument, it's amazing how much difference even between new items of the same make/model. If you don't live in an area with a good selection of ukuleles it's so tempting to buy online, but you don't really know what you are getting in terms of tone. Thanks again, Steve and UKEonomics.

    1. Thanks for dropping by! The awesome thing about old banjo ukes is that they can and have taken a lot of abuse and are still largely playable (with a little help). It takes a lot to hurt those pots!