The evolution of musical instruments is a history in which one thing has led to another amid a fluidity of ideas and innovations that have culminated in some situations in which the prototype barely even resembles what is played today. That being said, one thing that history has rarely given us–at least for very long–is musical instrument technology that incorporates the concept of hybridization. We are living in a wonderful world today, however, because various attempts are being made to mainstream a still relatively unknown instrument into the world of 21st century musical discourse. A musical instrument that is a hybrid of guitar and banjo.
Some call it a ganjo. Some call it a guitjo. Some call it a banjitar. Many call it a pointless idea and utter waste of time. If you want to learn to play the banjo, they say, then play the banjo. If you want to play the guitar, then learn the guitar. These are the same people who would have probably have told the first piano players to just give it up and learn the harpsichord. The point of this unusual hybrid musical instrument technology? I give you two short syllables and one hyphen as evidence that this hybrid of guitar and banjo hybrid is not a waste of time or pointless.
The particular type of banjitar or guitjo with which I have firsthand experience is the Jam-Jo (Patent Pending). Here’s the first reason why a guitjo or banjitar or bantar or ganjo or whatever the heck you want to call this particular type of musical technology is not a waste of time: I wanted to get my son a banjo for his birthday, but the really nice ones were out of my price range and the ones that were in my price range looked something you’d see put together by a bunch of mongoloid rednecks with their own reality show on A&E.
On the other hand, the Jam-Jo looked solidly made and I knew from watching a few YouTube videos that it produced a sound remarkably similar to a banjo. Even though the Jam-Jo looks more like a hybridized cross between modern-day guitar technology and medieval lute technology. So, basically, here’s a very reason why the banjitar concept is not pointless: if you want an instrument capable of producing the twangy banjo sound at a much more affordable price, there it is.
Secondly, the Jam-Jo as well as many other examples of guitjo musical instruments are a fascinating example of technological innovation. The sound that you hear when the strings of the Jam-Jo are plucked is exactly like something you would hear while Bonnie & Clyde outrun the clueless cops of the heartland who don’t realize they are just glorified security guards for the bankers making successfully making their own getaway from a foggy mountain breakdown. By which I mean, the Jam-Jo’s strings make a banjo sound despite being guitar strings. Six guitar strings, to be precise, making the Jam-Jo, as well as most other variations, a six-string banjo. That’s an important technological innovation in the world of banjo musical instruments because most of the real deals have five strings with some featuring only four.
Which brings us to another reason why the banjitar concept is not pointless: a banjo is not the easiest stringed instrument to learn how to play. You can’t just pick up a banjo after having mastered the guitar and expect the transition to be smooth. Unless, that is, you pick up the Jam-Jo or other variations on the idea. In which case, if you have a firm grasp of the methodology of producing music on a six-string guitar through picking, you can pretty much start, well, picking out recognizable banjo tunes almost immediately.
At least, that’s been my experience watching my son with his Jam-Jo banjitar . Or guitjo. Or ganjo. Call the hybrid of guitar and banjo whatever you want. Just don’t call it a banjolele as that it reserved for musical instrument technology that cross a banjo with a ukulele. Which just goes to prove that the banjo almost seems to have been made for hybridization .