The New International Encyclopædia/Banjo
BAN′JO (a corruption, in negro-slave pronunciation, of banjore, banjer; cf. bandore, Portug. bandurru, Russ. bandura, all from Gk. πανδοῦρα, pandoura, a musical instrument with three strings). An instrument of the guitar kind, with or without frets, played with the fingers. It has a long neck, with a body resembling a tambourine or drum-head, formed of parchment stretched tightly upon a hoop. Banjos have from five to nine strings, usually of catgut, the lowest in pitch, however, being often covered with wire. The melody-string, or thumb-string, is placed outside the lowest bass-string, and is played by the thumb of the right hand: the turning-peg for it is inserted half-way up the neck. The thumb-string from nut to bridge measures 16 inches, the other strings 24. The five-stringed banjo is tuned either
the last note being the thumb-string, or in G, a note lower. The pitch of the banjo is an octave lower than the notation. The banjo is a favorite instrument with the negro. Thomas Jefferson (Notes on Virginia, page 47) speaks of it as an instrument “proper to the blacks, which they brought hither from Africa, and which is the original of the guitar, the chords being precisely the four lower chords of the guitar.” In Africa the instrument is known under the name bania.