What Is A Banjolele?:
A Banjolele, Banjo Ukulele, or Banjo Uke is a four stringed ukulele with a Banjo body. The banjo uke plays like a ukulele and sounds like a banjo. Banjo ukuleles were at the height of their popularity during the 1920’s and 1930’s.
Traditional banjo ukuleles can consist of more than 68 parts in the body assembly alone. They use a thick wood rim in a ring shape, a banjo head, a metal ring, and a series of adjustable metal brackets to tension the head. An adjustable coordinator rod (tension rod) is used in the back to keep the wood rim from distorting under string tension. Strings are typically attached to this assembly with a metal tailpiece and then over a floating bridge.
The Outdoor Banjolele™ body uses 35 components, less than half of a traditional Banjo Ukulele. The rim and ring are made from injection molded carbon fiber polycarbonate. Snowflake bracing replaces the coordinator rod, and is molded directly into the rim, keeping the rim perfectly round on all sides. Our tension system uses brass inserts in the tension ring and stainless steel screws through the rim. The tailpiece is also molded directly into the tension ring. The Outdoor Banjolele™ bridge uses a horn shaped thru hole design; which has single point termination, a smooth transition to the tailpiece, and keeps the bridge attached to the instrument when bumped.
Clear vs Coated Remo® Banjo Head:
The clear full size 11" Remo™ banjo head has a transparent tone, long sustain, and brings out more mid and high frequencies than coated heads. The clear head also shows off the snowflake bracing. The coated full size 11" Remo™ banjo head has a more traditional frosted look, and has a crisp dry tone without too much sustain providing great clarity and note distinction. You can see the bracing through the coated headed with light behind the instrument.
At first glance, our instruments look simple. It's the simple designs that are the most difficult to create. Take a closer look at our instruments and you'll notice the top, bridge, saddle, fingerboard, frets, fret markers, nut, headstock, and bushings are molded as one singular part. That's 600°F carbon fiber polycarbonate, pushed into a 1250 pound hardened steel mold, under 420 tons of pressure, through a .100" thick gap, at the speed of sound.
Carbon Fiber Polycarbonate:
Polycarbonate reinforced with carbon fiber strands give the instruments a natural grain structure that greatly increase strength and acoustics.
The chemistry of our high-performance resins started with testing the properties and acoustics of tone woods from around the world; such as Port Orford Cedar from the Oregon Coast, Western Red Cedar from British Colombia, Rosewood from Brazil, Koa from Hawaii, and Spanish Cedar. We then worked with a chemist to translated what we learned and developed a comparable composite thermoplastic resin. We then used state of the art CAD (Computer Aided Design) systems, FEA (Finite Element Analysis), and Mold Flow Analysis to help us design our instruments.
Outdoor Banjoleles are the only instruments made with composite polycarbonate. Most plastic banjo ukuleles use ABS (Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene), which is much easier to mold than high-performance polymers like polycarbonate, requiring 2/3 less tonnage than is required to mold an Outdoor Banjolele.
Unfortunately, ABS is much softer than polycarbonate, so it doesn’t have ideal acoustic properties and won’t retain their shape in high temperatures. It’s not recommended leaving an ABS ukulele in a hot car during the summer. Competing ukuleles are molded with ABS because the cost of raw materials are many times less expensive than polycarbonate reinforced with carbon fibers. As far as we know, all ABS plastic banjo ukuleles are made overseas. Outdoor Banjoleles are injection molded in Washington State and assembled in Bend, Oregon.
Outdoor Instruments™ can be used in all weather conditions. The low temperature range of composite polycarbonate is -40° F (-40° C) and the high temperature range is 250° F (120° C). Feel free to take your Outdoor Banjolele™ snowshoeing during the winter on Mt. Hood or trekking during the summer through Joshua Tree. Low temperatures, high temperatures, and humidity will not affect your the stability of your Outdoor Uke. Strings will require re-tuning from rapid temperature changes.
Our instruments are a favorite choice for kayakers, river rafting guides, surfers, and people who live at the marina. If you use your ukulele in or near salt water, be sure to rinse it with fresh water and dry very well.
Strings & String Action:
Outdoor Banjoleles use Fluorocarbon strings made by D’Addario in Farmingdale, New York. Fluorocarbon strings have a higher density than nylon strings, making them brighter and more responsive. Fluorocarbon strings also have a smaller gauge (thinner) than nylon strings. Fluorocarbon is waterproof and doesn’t absorb water, whereas nylon can absorb up to 8% of their weight in water.
The playability of a stringed instrument is often measured by its string action. String action is the height of the string from the frets. This measurement is made from the bottom of the string to the top of the 1st fret and 12th fret. The action on our soprano ukulele is 1.75mm on the 4th string at the 12th fret, and tenor ukulele is 2.25mm on the 4th string at the 12th fret. This is as low as we can get the action and still have an instrument with strings that don’t buzz on the frets when played. We set the action of our instruments during the glue up process, where we clamp them to solid machined aluminum fixtures during the curing process.
Horn Shaped String Slots:
Our instruments are injection molded from composite polycarbonate, which allows us to create complex and precise features that can’t be made by hand. One of those features are horn shaped string slots, which are used on the nut of our Ukuleles, Banjoleles, and Guitars. We also use horn shaped holes on our floating Banjolele bridge.
Stringed instruments use a nut made from a hard material like bone or other synthetic materials that are attached to a wooden neck between the fingerboard and headstock. Slots are filed into the nut, determining the string spacing and height from the fingerboard.
String slots are typically filed by hand or with a jig. It can take years of experience to get the slots filed to the correct depth and angle. The slot should be angled downward and pointing toward their corresponding tuning machine and string post.
Straight string slots have two termination points. One at the front edge of the nut and a second point at the back of the nut. Even if the vertical angle was filed correctly, it’s almost certain the side angle isn’t perfectly aligned with the string post. This adds pressure to the back of the nut and reduces pressure on the front of the nut.
A horn shaped string slot has one termination point at the front of the nut, with a smooth transition to the string post at any angle, improving sound quality and intonation.
We took our nut design one step further by compensating for the diameter of each string. This is accomplished by stepping the height of the nut at each string location.
Precision Tuning Machines:
Outdoor Instruments use custom made nickel plated precision tuning machines. We use cast metal baseplates that are many times stronger than stamped steel baseplates. The worm gear bearing surfaces have polymer bearing sleeves to reduce friction, resulting in a very smooth tuning experience. Tulip shaped tuning knob are injection molded and screwed to the worm gear shaft. Many ukulele companies use tuning machines with knobs glued or molded onto the worm gear shaft, which can fall off over time. Our brass spur gear is precision ground and meshes perfectly with the worm gear.
Ukulele For The Beginner:
It’s never too early or too late to begin pursuing your interests. If you want to be a ukulele player, the easiest way to learn is to start strumming. While professionals may use it as a supplemental sound for themselves or their bands, those just starting out their musical journey will find that the ukulele is easier to grip than a guitar and less overwhelming to learn. The polymer strings on a ukulele also make the instrument much easier on your fingers.
Ukuleles are perfect for learning how to play a stringed instrument. They have four strings and a narrow fingerboard, making chord shapes much easier to learn. The strings on the ukulele are polymer, as opposed to a steel string guitar, letting you practice much longer. Steel strings are hard on fingers until they start to grow a callus (thick pad that develops on fingertips).
Ukuleles are affordable, making them a great transition instrument to a more expensive instrument, like the guitar. Our banjo ukuleles sell for $265, and come with clear or coated banjo heads. An Outdoor Banjolele™ should last a lifetime. Most instruments in this price range are made overseas, so less expensive materials like plywood and stamped steel tuners need to be used. Our instruments are made from composite polycarbonate and use custom cast metal tuning machine baseplates with precision ground gears.
YouTube videos are a great way to learn how to play the ukulele. Many songs use only a few simple chords, and thousands of videos are available teaching popular songs. Another popular way to learn songs on the ukulele are with tabs. Tabs (tablature) are a form of music notation indicating instrument fingering rather than musical pitches. Websites like ukulele-tabs.com, ukutabs.com, and ukebuddy.com/ukulele-tabs have thousands of songs listed. Another great source is yousician.com, where you can learn to play the ukulele with interactive lessons on a phone app.