It’s a Mandolin, it’s a Banjo… it’s a Banjoline

Posted by jerry on January 9th, 2008 — Posted in Journal, Music

Some time ago My daughter acquired a banjo mandolin – an eight-string plucked/strummed instrument with the size and tuning of a mandolin – but with a small banjo-like skin for the sounding board. Although the frets were (unusually) in tune, the instrument was in poor shape with the wooden soundbox collapsing at either end resulting in an unplayable high action.

The solution? To dismantle the instrument and relocate the neck and string courses at 90 degrees – where the body sides were still vertical. This entailed drilling some new holes for the neck attachment and relocation of the tail-piece, the addition of a button for a strap and a new set of strings. I also sanded down the frets a bit as they were sitting quite high off the fingerboard.

And here is the result – a playable if rather strange instrument!

mandolin banjo

Also known as a mandolin-banjo this hybrid instrument was invented around the mid 1890s and was popular in the 1920s in the heyday of mandolin orchestras. It has a big sound for a small instrument which made them popular in dance halls at a time when instruments were beginning to be amplified, and they would have been good for busking for that reason too.

The eight strings are tuned in four courses (same-pitch pairs) using standard mandolin or violin tuning G-D-A-E from lowest to highest.


1 Comment

Comment by Peter

Hi Jerry,

I have the exact same instrument, be it less colorful and without the head/vellum. I have a new skin but most ‘diy’ instructions are for banjo like models where you have tensionhooks to tighten the skin after fitting. This model has six bolds but I don’t know if they do the same. To reverse mount the neck you would have to remove the skin. Could you put tension on the skin with these bolds ? Do you happen to have pictures of the instrument in pieces ? Not having the (old) skin gives me no reference how it ought to be : is the skin cut at the bottom of the outer ring, or does it ‘continue’ – but then the bolds have to go through the skin at this ‘second angle’).

There are only two rings, the outer (visible) ring and the inner ring with some room between them (small vertical space, more horizontal space) – with only these two rings I don’t ‘see’ how the skin can be tensed … I guess it is by ‘bending’ the top ring somewhat but where does it ‘grasp’ the skin ?

any advise is welcome,
nice blog btw…

kind regards, Peter

Posted on July 14, 2009 at 5:56 pm

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