Bass Banjo

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The bass banjo is the lowest instrument in a banjo orchestra. Like a typical bluegrass banjo it has a drumhead body but it's much larger, has just four strings and is played upright. The bass banjo is usually tuned to EADG but is a very rare instrument today.
History of the Bass Banjo
The history of the bass banjo dates back to the early 1920s and 30s when the popularity of the traditional 5-string banjo was reaching its peak in the United States. The creation of banjo orchestras brought in new designs for the drumhead instrument including the cello banjo and eventually the bass range was required. American guitar maker Gibson produced their only bass banjo in 1929 which stood upright with no endpin spike and could voice the bass string tuning range of EADG, much like their mando bass for the mandolin family of instruments. This unique creation is now housed in the American Banjo museum in Oklahoma City. As the popularity of banjo orchestras declined, the usefulness of a banjo in this range also declined and today there are still no mass produced bass banjos. However, many independent luthiers and instrument makers go on to create versions of the bass banjo. Some recent creations include the bass banjo by Frank Ford of Gryphon Strings, the string bass banjo by Stanley Garrison of Garrison Strings and the bassjo by luthier Dan Maloney.
Inventor: Unknown

Where to Buy

£650 - £1,000

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How to Play

A variation of the banjo with longer strings and a deeper sound. It's played by plucking the strings with the fingers or a pick and is sometimes used in bluegrass and country music.

In Popular Music

The bass banjo is a very rare instrument and as such has not been documented to have appeared on any popular music recordings. Despite that the bass banjo might have been heard on popular recordings by The Decemberists, Glenn Kotche and The Infamous Stringdusters.

Famous Players

John McEuen, Danny Barnes

Close Relations

Tenor Banjo, Plectrum Banjo
Video Credit: GryphonStrings
Understanding the Bass Banjo


United States


19th century






Instruments of Music

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