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  1. #1

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    To further facilitate social distancing, I'm thinking of getting a six-string banjo - this one: Goodtime 6 String Banjos – Deering(R) Banjo Company.
    My rationale is that since I play Guitar, Tenor Uke, and Bass, and don't want to learn new fingering patterns, the 6-string might be better than a Tenor or Plectrum. (Of course, if I got a Tenor tuned in standard 5ths and got familiar with it, that would set me up nicely for a subsequent Mandolin purchase!) I don't fingerpick particularly well, but I do a really good imitation of it with a flatpick. I'm also thinking I might consider doing "Nashville" high-strung tuning. Any thoughts? Go ahead - take your best shot!

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    The Jazz Guitar Chord Dictionary
     
  3. #2

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    6-string banjos sound dark and muddy. Some people change the bottom A and E strings to lighter gauges and tune them an octave higher. That's redundant IMHO. I'd suggest a Plectrum banjo with Chicago tuning, i.e. the guitar's top four strings. That's how I've tugged along all my life (without getting very far, but that's another story). In my country there's only a handful of traditional jazz banjo players, and most of them use Chicago tuning. Old banjos cost a fortune. An expert told me that a Gold Tone Plectrum goes a long way. But banjo is a real hotrod for an instrument: so many components, materials, variables - and opinions.

  4. #3

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    I love the guitar-banjo for ragtime tunes!



    Or, because we can... why not some Chet Atkins?


  5. #4

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    Quote Originally Posted by Gitterbug
    6-string banjos sound dark and muddy. Some people change the bottom A and E strings to lighter gauges and tune them an octave higher. That's redundant IMHO. I'd suggest a Plectrum banjo with Chicago tuning, i.e. the guitar's top four strings. That's how I've tugged along all my life (without getting very far, but that's another story). In my country there's only a handful of traditional jazz banjo players, and most of them use Chicago tuning. Old banjos cost a fortune. An expert told me that a Gold Tone Plectrum goes a long way. But banjo is a real hotrod for an instrument: so many components, materials, variables - and opinions.
    +1.

    6-string banjos sound funny. Maybe "non-authentic" is a good way to put it. *But I suppose it's how you want to use it.* I use a long-scale plectrum in Chicago tuning. Nothing new to learn. But you do want to try to open your voicings wider. For a long time I used a real cheapy. But I do a lot of jazz banjo work in music theater (think: Hello Dolly, 42nd Street, Crazy for You, etc) and I REALLY like doing it, so just last year I finally splurged $$$$ on a beautiful 80's vintage hand-made Richeliu, below. But if you want to stay cheap, I have also read that the Gold Tone Plectrum is great bang-for-the-buck.

    6-String Banjo?-b-front-jpg
    6-String Banjo?-b-back-jpg

  6. #5

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    Congrats M.N. for great playing! Petite Valse was my first classical favorite when I was just 5. I'd love to hear you playing it on a classical guitar...

    My comments about muddiness refer mainly to trad jazz comping, which is the domain of Tenor and Plectrum banjos. That's a very physical exercise - you have to play loud and hit all the strings hard most of the time. Four of them are enough. Finger picking is a different story, but a 6-string banjo does not really belong to the bluegrass setting either. In the 1920s, guitarists' and banjoists' paths crossed, resulting in the tenor guitar and the guitar banjo. Neither has subsequently played a major role in the history of jazz.

  7. #6

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    The primary idea behind a 6-string banjo seems to me to be being able to preserve and port what you know about the 6-string guitar fretboard over to a banjo-sounding instrument. But much of the signature sound of a banjo - at least the 5-string banjo - comes from that 5th string (high G) sitting next to the lowest pitched string (D). In short, I think the idea of a 6-string (guitar-tuned) banjo is intriguing on its face, but in truth it will likely miss the mark for what you're probably really reaching out for.

    Then again, I admit that I've often toyed with the idea for similar reasons.

    Full disclosure: I've played banjo for about 40 years and have owned (and sold) some lovely 5-string banjos along the way. My only remaining banjo is actually a home-brewed electric humbucker version I crafted - beginning with my homemade original 5-string I assembled back in the 1970s. More recently, I replaced the "drum head" with a lovely piece of oak, in which I installed a humbucker and through-the-body ferrules with a single volume pot. Plays like a thin-stringed tele.

    PICS HERE:
    6-String Banjo?-20200506_092734-jpg

    6-String Banjo?-20200506_093415-jpg

    My suggestion: Learning the banjo is a grand idea. But get yourself a no-fooling 5-string banjo of some sort and you'll be a lot happier with the effort than you'd feel playing a 6-string without that whacky 5th string higher note on top (or bottom, depending on your perspective).

    Just my opinion, obviously.

    Enjoy!

  8. #7

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    Thanks for all the replies! I hadn't really considered a 5-string, but given the fact that I greatly enjoy "High-G" (reentrant) tuning on the Tenor Uke, I might just really like having that wacky higher 5th string. On the other hand, a Tenor in Chicago tuning would be a real easy transition. Hmm ...

  9. #8

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  10. #9

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    Quote Originally Posted by Tom Karol
    On the other hand, a Tenor in Chicago tuning would be a real easy transition. Hmm ...
    I think you mean a Plectrum in Chicago tuning no? A Tenor in Chicago tuning would need very heavy strings to tune down. But then you'll lose that jangly sound.

  11. #10

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    I do occassionally pull out my 6-string Banjo with my swing Band. I try to leave out the lower two strings as much as possible and am perfectly fine with the sounds I'm gettin'.
    I got a 6-string because I have absolutely Zero interest in learning New voicings etc., i just want it to be a different soundcolor.

    Not to pretend that I had chosen a 6-string for any other reason then my own laziness, but the 6-string has a longer tradition in Jazz then most people know. In fact Johnny St. Cyr played one on the records with Louis Armstrong's Hot Five and Hot Seven.

    That's my usual reply when i get trash for not playing 5-string.


    Paul

  12. #11

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    To OP Tom. Maybe I misread your OP. Are you looking to do ragtime/dixie/jazz banjo, or are you looking to emulate 5-string bluegrass banjo? There's a BIG difference.
    Last edited by Woody Sound; 05-07-2020 at 06:20 AM.

  13. #12

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    Actually, I'm just thinking of doing songs I like, but with a totally different timbre. I think maybe I'll get a Tenor and experiment with standard tuning vs Chicago tuning but transposed up a bit. Tenor Uke is in standard guitar tuning (except for the reentrant aspect) transposed up a 4th.

    The thing is, my grandfather had this gorgeous Vega Whyte Laydie Tenor from the 1920's that my parents sold when he passed away many years ago. Darn! (They also sold his Guarneri violin, since none of the grandchildren could learn to play it, and I was already hooked on guitar!) I do still have the little worn-down tortoise shell pick he used when he was in a Dixieland band.

    Addendum; maybe this one: Goodtime Two™ 19-Fret Tenor Banjo – Deering(R) Banjo Company
    Last edited by Tom Karol; 05-06-2020 at 03:40 PM.

  14. #13

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    If You are not trying to imitate authentic banjo styles but rather inventing Your own style, the 6-string banjo (aka guitjo aka banjitar) is a good way to start. If You get hooked, just get a 5-stringer etc.

    If the 6-string banjo is ok for Neil ”Old Man” Young so it’s ok for my occasional banjo moments too!

  15. #14

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    Tom, you definitely don't want a five-string, as when you are strumming, that high 5th will get in the way. In that respect it is not like a ukulele, as you mentioned, which includes the high 4th in every chord. The high 5th on a banjo doesn't begin until the fifth fret. When jazz started, all those guys who had learned on 5-string took the high 5th off - the 4-string plectrum banjo was born.

    Most trad jazz bands would expect you to play a 4-string with 19 frets. It cuts through an ensemble better than the plectrum banjo. The voicings are unique in CGDA tuning, and are really part of the sound. Chicago tuning on a 4-string is not common, as you will have a hard time finding suitable strings for the string length of the tenor.

    I suggest you get a tenor, the Mel Bay Tenor Banjo Chord Chart, and get to work! The Chart will get you up and running with the basics, but the Mel Bay Tenor Banjo Encyclopedia will give you everything you will ever need, and more.

    You might want to join Banjo Hangout - a HUGE banjo forum, with a sub-forum for jazz tenor. Those guys are really helpful.

    On the other hand...guitar banjo, National Steel and Dobro:


  16. #15

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    That Tuba Skinny rhythm section kills. I know zilch about banjos, but the guy on the 6-string sounds suspiciously "banjo-like" in the many clips I've seen of them. Good enough, I'd say, if you don't want to put hundreds of hours into getting half-proficient on a 4-string.

    Shaye Cohn, on cornet, is worth a whole chapter on her own.

  17. #16

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    Ok, I'll chip in : about 25 years ago, I was asked into a pit band for the musical "Some like it hot" under the provision that I also play some Banjo parts. I needed that gig but didn't own a Banjo nor did I know anything about it, duh ... so I asked around and luckily found a knowledgeable guy who pointed me in the right direction : I bought a 1928 Vega Professional Tenor and started working on those new chord voicings - after 2 weeks of some heavy woodshedding I gave up and changed to the afore mentioned "Chicago Tuning" (not that I knew that term) and NEVER looked back. Nobody ever complained and with a set of 011 strings the sound was bright, loud and that musical gig was the beginning of my Old Time Jazz/Dixieland career ! For several years I played about 50 gigs a year, mostly in quartet lineups and earned some serious green besides learning great tunes, really honing my rhythm chops, developing sheer stamina and got proficient in soloing using mostly chord inversions - all that was and is very beneficial for my guitar playing. About 10 years into my Banjo life I traded the Vega for a "new" OME Plectrum banjo and found this to be even better suited for the small bands I play in : the sound was a little more mellow/fuller and it also carried further, it is not quite as strident as the brighter sounding tenor. In a larger band with drums and more horn players the tenor will cut through easier, that is a fact but if I were to buy a second banjo I'd go for another Plectrum model. They are less often on the market but usually also a little cheaper than a comparable tenor.
    Of all the 6-string models I had the chance to check out none really floated my boat. I mostly had two issues : the sound of the 2 lower strings was plucky, kinda dead with no "core" and since the banjo bridge is not compensated (same as in the resonator guitars) you get intonation problems once you play beyond the first couple of positions. Forget your fancy voicings ..... the longer scale length of the plectrum banjo lessens that dilemma somewhat but it's still a compromise when you're a stickler like me.

  18. #17

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    Quote Originally Posted by gitman
    Ok, I'll chip in : about 25 years ago, I was asked into a pit band for the musical "Some like it hot" under the provision that I also play some Banjo parts. I needed that gig but didn't own a Banjo nor did I know anything about it, duh ... so I asked around and luckily found a knowledgeable guy who pointed me in the right direction : I bought a 1928 Vega Professional Tenor and started working on those new chord voicings - after 2 weeks of some heavy woodshedding I gave up and changed to the afore mentioned "Chicago Tuning" (not that I knew that term) and NEVER looked back. Nobody ever complained and with a set of 011 strings the sound was bright, loud and that musical gig was the beginning of my Old Time Jazz/Dixieland career ! For several years I played about 50 gigs a year, mostly in quartet lineups and earned some serious green besides learning great tunes, really honing my rhythm chops, developing sheer stamina and got proficient in soloing using mostly chord inversions - all that was and is very beneficial for my guitar playing. About 10 years into my Banjo life I traded the Vega for a "new" OME Plectrum banjo and found this to be even better suited for the small bands I play in : the sound was a little more mellow/fuller and it also carried further, it is not quite as strident as the brighter sounding tenor. In a larger band with drums and more horn players the tenor will cut through easier, that is a fact but if I were to buy a second banjo I'd go for another Plectrum model. They are less often on the market but usually also a little cheaper than a comparable tenor.
    Of all the 6-string models I had the chance to check out none really floated my boat. I mostly had two issues : the sound of the 2 lower strings was plucky, kinda dead with no "core" and since the banjo bridge is not compensated (same as in the resonator guitars) you get intonation problems once you play beyond the first couple of positions. Forget your fancy voicings ..... the longer scale length of the plectrum banjo lessens that dilemma somewhat but it's still a compromise when you're a stickler like me.
    I'm sold. I retract my earlier comment. Well played!

  19. #18

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  20. #19

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    Sorry, I meant: Neil "Old King" Young.

    Some special stringing & tuning goin' on there too.

    (And of course everybody knew that The Old King is written for Young's dog named Elvis.)


  21. #20

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    I'd go with a tenor or plectrum banjo. I played a lot of banjo in payed pit jobs and learned tenor because that was the only one available back at the time. Of course 6string gets "the job done", too, but for the in the face direct (comping) sound you need a 4string (or five string for bluegrass picking). But of course you can also do more melodic / picking things with a tenor. Here's an example from a long time ago:

  22. #21

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    I've decided I definitely want a 19-fret tenor. I'll get the Mel Bay Tenor Banjo Encyclopedia (Thanks, Rob!) and learn standard tuning. I might then consider Chicago tuning transposed up by a minor 3rd - an open G major (guitar) chord form would sound as a Bb, but I'll try standard tuning 1st. Thanks for all the replies!

  23. #22

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    Quote Originally Posted by Tom Karol
    I've decided I definitely want a 19-fret tenor. I'll get the Mel Bay Tenor Banjo Encyclopedia (Thanks, Rob!) and learn standard tuning. I might then consider Chicago tuning transposed up by a minor 3rd - an open G major (guitar) chord form would sound as a Bb, but I'll try standard tuning 1st. Thanks for all the replies!
    You might want to reconsider and get a longer scale plectrum. You'll be glad not having to transpose everything and squeeze your fingers. And it WILL get you the chicks even better than guitar! Longer is better!



    Last time I'll mention it.

  24. #23

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    So, size does matter - thanks, Woody!

  25. #24

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    Banjo is a standing joke for many. In Finland, they say the world's most beautiful sound is when you throw a banjo in a trash can and it bumps into an accordion. Well, I play in an old boys' band where, soon, I'll be the only one under 80. Our typical audiences are quite senior, too. Whenever I do the banjo intro to "Hello Dolly", the audience just lights up. Trouble is, the next gen geriatrics probably prefer "Johnny B Goode" or "Day Tripper". While I'm OK with those, the rest of the band isn't.
    Last edited by Gitterbug; 05-07-2020 at 01:22 PM.

  26. #25

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    That’s a universal language of humour there ....

    but otoh ... Bela Fleck!

  27. #26

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    Quote Originally Posted by Gitterbug
    Banjo is a standing joke for many. In Finland, they say the world's most beautiful sound is when you throw a banjo in a trash can and it bumps into an accordion. Well, I play in an old boys' band where, soon, I'll be the only one under 80. Our typical audiences are quite senior, too. Whenever I do the banjo intro to "Hello Dolly", the audience just lights up. Trouble is, the next gen geriatrics probably prefer "Johnny B Goode" or "Day Tripper". While I'm OK with those, the rest of the band isn't.
    In had once an idea of a dixie band which would play all the classic jazz pieces which where made AFTER 1930s in dixie style. Like Koko, Air Mail Special, Limehouse Blues, Giant Steps, So What, Ornithology, Epistrophy, Lonely Woman etc etc. Might be fun to play, at least! I reserved a banjo for myself, of course.

    Hmm... maybe I should push this idea forward...

  28. #27

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    Wish I could join in with the Tuba.

  29. #28

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    For many years there was a trio that played New Orleans Square in Disneyland (calif).

    Clarinet, bass and 6 string banjo. That guy sounded great. Tuned like a guitar.

    I've always wanted one, but every one I've ever seen was a low quality instrument.

  30. #29

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    Once you learn it, chords on instruments tuned in fifths are easier. You don't have that wonky string tuned differently, which necessitates changing fingerings if you change strings. You can move a 5th my just moving to adjacent strings, up or down.

  31. #30

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    From Finland



    Then there's this


  32. #31

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    Quote Originally Posted by Gitterbug
    Banjo is a standing joke for many. In Finland, they say the world's most beautiful sound is when you throw a banjo in a trash can and it bumps into an accordion...
    A variation on that banjo joke ... when I first took up the banjo in the 1970s, from my older brother (a jazz guitarist)...

    He asked if I knew what jazz musicians call a "perfect pitch?" I said no.
    He said it's when the banjo lands squarely in the dumpster without touching any sides on its way down.

  33. #32

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    FYI:
    How To Tune A Tenor Banjo To Chicago Tuning
    (I still think I'll try standard 5ths tuning 1st, though.)

  34. #33

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    I took Woody's advice and just bought a 1967 Vega Wonder Plectrum Banjo!
    Elderly's price seemed a bit high ($800), but they say it's in excellent condition and comes with a new-looking HSC.
    The other ones I found (Reverb et al) needed some work; this one doesn't (I hope).
    I wanted a Vega for sentimental reasons, and this one was made in Boston a year or 2 before the company was sold to Martin.
    I'll probably tune it Chicago-style (D G B E), but I might try re-entrant (d G B E) as I'd just need to substitute a spare plain .011 or .012 for the 4th string. I'm not really getting this to play dixieland or older-style jazz; I just thought it might be fun to play whatever songs I like with a totally different sonority. Anyway, here it is (or will be when it gets here):
    6-String Banjo?-vega-wonder-plectrum-1967-exc-jpg

  35. #34

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    Looks like a nice catch. Congratulations - enjoy!

  36. #35

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    Congrats! Too bad that one wasn't on the market when I did my long-distance due diligence between several US vendors. My early '70s Fender Artist Plectrum, from Elderly as well, was markedly more expensive. They claimed an expert setup but the skin was over-tight on mine. Instead of a nice banjo ring, I got a lot of left-hand squeal and shrill, outright howling harmonics. Loosening the skin didn't help, as it was "dead" from excessive tension. It takes some getting used to hearing the skin's resonant frequency, tapping it with a rubber-tip pencil when the strings are not on. It's supposed to be between G and A. The Banjo Hangout is a great source of info and - just as this Forum - divergent opinions.
    Last edited by Gitterbug; 06-03-2020 at 04:14 PM.

  37. #36

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    Arrived yesterday, and it's great!
    It has a certain amount of wear befitting a 53 year old instrument - which for me adds to its charm - but it plays, sounds, and looks terrific. (OK, well it doesn't always sound terrific yet; I have to learn how it likes to be played.)
    Looks like it was bought new, played moderately hard for a few years and then kept in its case under a bed for most of its life.
    Boy, these things are heavy and structurally complicated! I believe I have an interesting journey ahead of me.

  38. #37

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    Quote Originally Posted by Tom Karol
    Arrived yesterday, and it's great!
    It has a certain amount of wear befitting a 53 year old instrument - which for me adds to its charm - but it plays, sounds, and looks terrific. (OK, well it doesn't always sound terrific yet; I have to learn how it likes to be played.)
    Looks like it was bought new, played moderately hard for a few years and then kept in its case under a bed for most of its life.
    Boy, these things are heavy and structurally complicated! I believe I have an interesting journey ahead of me.
    Notwithstanding the cheap jokes, a banjo is a thing of pure joy. Have a blast!

  39. #38

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    The jokes are cheap because they're so easy.

  40. #39

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    The idea of leveraging guitar technique is good - as a classical player, I got a gut(nylon) fretless gourd banjo, analogous to mid-19th century instruments and not far removed from some likely African ancestors such as the akonting. Then I cheat using classical RH technique rather than authentic clawhammer. There were a number of banjo methods from the mid 1800s that documented the music of the period, much of which was associated with minstrelsy