When the Grass is Blue: The Banjo-Matic from Kenner

In 1962, Kenner released a toy musical instrument called the Banjo-Matic. According to ads from the time, the toy allowed a child to “play real banjo music.” And by “play”, Kenner meant that a child could enjoy the Banjo-Matic’s ability to self-play a variety of canned musical numbers.

The ability to experience the joy of automated banjo picking was facilitated through the use of one of 20 plastic “tune-players” that were included in the package. A tune-player was fed into a slot at the top of the Banjo-Matic and moved through the toy when the player turns a handle. As the tune player was read, keys were automatically depressed and notes were generated.

Sample “tune-players” for the Banjo-Matic

Some of the songs provided with the Banjo-Matic included the following knee-stomping classics: O Susannah, Clementine, Camptown Races, Red River Valley, Home on the Range, Workin’ on the Railroad, and my personal favorite, She’ll be Comin’ Round the Mountain.

If automated music wasn’t in the cards, the Banjo-Matic also allowed kids to channel their inner Earl Scruggs or Alison Brown and generate their own notes and songs by plucking the toy’s single nylon string and manually pressing keys in sequence.

Todd Coopee is Editor-in-Chief of Toy Tales, an online publication that covers toys and games past and present.

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