The difference between a banjo and a ukulele may seem obvious at first glance. A Ukulele is a small, guitarlike instrument, and a standard banjo is a larger instrument, with strings stretched across a drum. The confusion begins with a hybrid instrument called the "banjo-ukulele" or "banjolele".
Ukuleles originated in Hawaii during the late 1800s, and were adapted from the Portuguese "braguinha", a small, guitarlike instrument. Ukuleles are made in four sizes---from the traditional small soprano size, to increasingly larger concert, tenor, and baritone sizes---and produce sound with four nylon strings stretched over a hollow body.
The banjo is based on traditional African counterparts, brought to the United States from the West Indies, and in 1800 was developed into the version we know in 2009. Banjos are made in many sizes and string configurations, including hybrids of the guitar, mandolin and ukulele. The most common are the 4-string tenor and 5-string bluegrass banjo. Banjos produce sound with steel strings stretched over a tunable drum.
The banjo ukulele, or banjolele, uses elements from both instruments. Banjo ukuleles take the short-scale neck and four nylon strings from the ukulele and combined them on the tunable-drum banjo body. It was made popular in the United States during the 1920s to 1940s.
A major difference between banjos and ukuleles is their tuning. Banjos use numerous tunings based on musical style and player preference, but are often tuned to "open chord tuning", of G, A or D. Standard ukulele tuning is G-C-E-A for sopranos, concerts and tenors, and D-G-B-E for baritones.
Banjos, including the banjo ukulele, produce a bright tone that can be modified by tuning the banjo drum head. Ukuleles produce a mellow tone that is dependent on the wood and body chamber. It cannot be altered.