The first banjos were similar to our modern 5-strings, except they had 4 strings. The missing string was the bottom long one. The short string was already there. The rise in popularity of the banjo saw a diversity of forms being made:
|5-string||As modern bluegrass and old-time|
|Plectrum||Long neck 4-string, favoured for jazz|
|Tenor||Short neck 4-string, favoured for Irish music|
|Banjolin||Mandolin length neck 4 string|
|Mandolin-Banjo||Mandolin length neck and 8 strings(4 double courses)|
and other variants such as the Bass Banjo and the ukulele banjo, guitar banjo etc.
Construction is fairly standard today. There is a wooden hoop, often a metal tone ring, a synthetic skin head with a tension ring holding the head and the tone ring to the hoop by hooks.
A neck butts up to the body, a dowel rod or coordinating rods connect the neck to the back of the hoop. The neck is fretted with guitar style or geared tuners at the top. The strings pass over a wooden bridge on the head to a tailpiece at the back. Simple but elegant engineering.
Some earlier banjos were of the zither construction, where a larger wooden 'pot' was made, into which the banjo body sat. It has been described as a wooden body with a skin soundboard whereas the other sort are drums with necks on.
Next: History of the Banjo