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2005/56/1 Banjulele with case and plectrum, combination banjo and ukulele, timber / metal / aluminium / calfskin / nylon / cardboard / velvet / felt, made by Alvin D Keech, United States of America, 1918 - 1945. Click to enlarge.

Banjulele made by Alvin D Keech

Made by Keech, Alvin D in United States of America, 1918-1945.
The growth of jazz music during the late teens and early 1920s brought with it the use of a number of instruments to play this relatively new musical form. One of these instruments was the banjo which was used for rhythmic accompaniment and which with a skin resonator could be heard unamplified in the overall mix of other instruments in the jazz band such as the piano, trumpet and trombone. Having its origins in Africa and its later development in the southern USA, the banjo was well placed to be used for jazz amongst the Afro-American community in the southern states of the USA. Its popularity grew and the banjo was adapted to form several hybrid instruments. These included combinations with a short eight string neck from the mandolin forming the banjo mandolin or combined with a short four string neck forming a banjo ukulele. This latter instrument was named by Alvin D Keech the Banjulele.

Several sources suggest that Keech and his brother Kelvin were the inventors of this hybrid instrument although it has also been suggested that a J A Bolander of San Franciso patented a combination banjo-ukulele in 1917. Similar banjo and ukulele combinations grew in popularity with established musical instrument firms such as Gibson and Ludwig making these type of instruments. This probably prompted Keech to register the name, Banjulele, in the mid 1920s. The instrument got a further boost of popularity especially in Britain during the 1930s and 1940s with actor/performer George Formby using a banjo-ukulele as his trademark instrument in recordings and films. In Australia the instrument was popular in banjo clubs during the 1920s and 1930s for performing and accompanying popular songs.

Michael Lea
Curator, music & musical instruments
December 2004

Summary

Object No.

2005/56/1

Object Statement

Banjulele with case and plectrum, combination banjo and ukulele, timber / metal / aluminium / calfskin / nylon / cardboard / velvet / felt, made by Alvin D Keech, United States of America, 1918 - 1945

Physical Description

Combination banjo and ukulele known as a "Banjulele". Circular body with vellum skin stretched over metal frame and housed within circular wooden body. Seven tension rods (one missing) attached to aluminuim frame. A wooden resonator forms the back of the body. There are four nylon strings, a wooden neck with 17 frets, four tuning pegs in headstock and a wooden bridge.

Black hard cardboard and fabric case with blue felt of velvet lining. Railway luggage labels fixed to top of lid. There is a green felt plectrum.

Production

Notes

Name registered in 1925 under the name 'Banjulele'. Possibly also patented PAT 219720/23 . Actual production numbers or the period of production unknown. Popularised and produced by brothers Kelvin and Alvin D Keech in the USA, this particular one was manufactured between 1918 and 1945.

History

Used

England

Notes

The banjulele was given to the donor by his parents in England during the 1930s or 1940s and used by the donor in amateur dance bands. Possibly purchased second hand.

Source

Credit Line

Gift of Derek Parker, 2005

Acquisition Date

9 February 2005

Cite this Object

Harvard

Banjulele made by Alvin D Keech 2019, Museum of Applied Arts & Sciences, accessed 11 August 2020, <https://ma.as/349023>

Wikipedia

{{cite web |url=https://ma.as/349023 |title=Banjulele made by Alvin D Keech |author=Museum of Applied Arts & Sciences |access-date=11 August 2020 |publisher=Museum of Applied Arts & Sciences, Australia}}
This object is currently on display in Collection Gallery 2 at the Museums Discovery Centre.

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