Bluegrass Banjo

bloo-gras ban-joh
The bluegrass banjo or ‘banjo’ is a string instrument with African roots that became popular in the United States for its association with country and bluegrass music in the late 19th and 20th century. It has a drum or tambourine-like body and typically five steel strings that create a twanging sound when plucked with metal tacks or fingers. The bluegrass banjo has become the most common banjo worldwide but the instrument has also appeared in an eclectic range of genres including jazz, country, folk and pop.
History of the Bluegrass Banjo
The bluegrass banjo is thought to have been first developed in Africa where its origins lie in early string lute instruments with multiple potential ancestors. When the slave trade brought West Africans to the Caribbean, simple instruments that used a gourd-like fruit for the the body of the banjo began to surface. In the 1850s the instrument was developed and sold to white audiences whom began playing the bluegrass banjo as blackface minstrels. An early player called Joel Sweeney is sometimes credited with adding the fifth string. In the late 1950s and 60s, American musician Earl Scruggs became the first to use the rolling three-finger technique on the bluegrass banjo which gave it its name. The technique and the genre associated with it became a sensation as Scruggs released multiple records with Bill Munroe’s Blue Grass Boys and his long-time recording collaborator Lester Flatt. Bluegrass is now one of the most popular genres of American country roots music and the bluegrass banjo remains a key focal part of that sound.
Inventor: Unknown

Where to Buy

£100 - £1500

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How to Play

A type of banjo used in bluegrass music, typically played with a fingerpicking style that involves intricate rolls and patterns. It's played by plucking the strings with the fingers or a pick, and can also be used for solo or accompanying parts.

In Popular Music

The bluegrass banjo has been played on world famous songs including 'Come on Eileen' by Dexys Midnight Runners, "Dueling Banjos" from the film 'Deliverance' or 'Foggy Mountain Breakdown' by Flatt and Scruggs. In more recent years, the banjo has featured prominently in albums by Mumford & Son and Steve 'N' Seagulls

Famous Players

Earl Scruggs, Bela Fleck

Close Relations

Bass Banjo, Tenor Banjo
Video Credit: WillowOsborne
Understanding the Bluegrass Banjo


United States


20th century






Instruments of Music

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