I’ve recently acquired a very useful and relatively inexpensive instrument. I usually play box and tenor banjo (19 fret usually). I need to learn new tunes all the time.
As I’ve been playing fifth-tuned instruments for decades, I find it easiest to learn tunes (in the sense of getting the notes hard-wired in my brain) on the banjo before transferring them to the box.
Learning tunes on the banjo isn’t an entirely quiet process, even when you play as gently as you can. There’s something about the tone that makes the sound penetrate walls, floors and doors.
Enter my new instrument - the Ozark 2223. It’s based on the 2222 cheapo bouzouki, but is better made (particularly the fingerboard) and has a gloss finish. Like the 2222, it has a good solid spruce top.
The great thing about it is the scale length - at 23" it’s exactly the same as my banjos’. It’s double strung, like a mandola. I’ve tweaked the setup and fitted medium gauge banjo strings: 2 x 12, 18w, 28, 38.
I can now sit and quietly learn new tunes on it, and the fingering - including the stretches - will be just the same if I play the tunes on the banjo. But no-one else in the house has to listen to me practicing. The Ozark’s tone is sweet and mild compared to the banjo. It doesn’t penetrate. I’m popular again.
I’ve taken the Ozark to sessions, where I’ve used it as a melody instrument and found it to be quite powerful enough to cut through four or five fiddles, and it’s less intimidating to other sessioneers than a banjo would be. The 23" scale is long enough for chords (if I wanted to use them) to work well (unlike most mandolas which have much shorter scales and may tend to produce rattling, flabby-sounding chords on their heavy strings).
And last but not least, it weighs next to nothing, which is great news for my back when good banjos tend to weigh upwards of 4 kilos.
My tune-learning rate has doubled since I got the thing.