Differences between a Plectrum & Tenor Banjo used in Irish Sessions

Differences between a Plectrum & Tenor Banjo used in Irish Sessions

Hi folks, I was recently at a session and noticed that the group’s tenor banjo player had a slightly shorter neck on his instrument compared to Tenor Banjo. Question is, if I were to purchase a new Irish tenor Banjo what should I look for to make sure I’m not buying a Plectrum?

Thoughts?

Peter Corfield
http://www.CelticTurnTable.com

Re: Differences between a Plectrum & Tenor Banjo used in Irish Sessions

* compared to my Tenor Banjo…..

Re: Differences between a Plectrum & Tenor Banjo used in Irish Sessions

The easiest way to tell a plectrum banjo from a tenor is to count the number of frets. A plectrum banjo usually has 22 whilst the standard tenor has 19. The shorter banjo that you saw was probably a short-scale tenor banjo which has 17 frets.

Re: Differences between a Plectrum & Tenor Banjo used in Irish Sessions

Good point… So what is typically played around 17 or 19?

Re: Differences between a Plectrum & Tenor Banjo used in Irish Sessions

19 fret is the most common tenor in Irish music. The short scale banjos have advantages if you have smaller hands or arms and some prefer the tone which can be lower. The 19 fret banjo will usually have a brighter tone and can be louder if so required.

Re: Differences between a Plectrum & Tenor Banjo used in Irish Sessions

Does anybody use a plectrum banjo in Irish music?

Re: Differences between a Plectrum & Tenor Banjo used in Irish Sessions

I’ve been using one for some time with capo second fret. I adjust the tuning to GDAE from there. In doing so, I’ve had to make some adjustments to the intonation because of the string tension. But it has worked fine…

Re: Differences between a Plectrum & Tenor Banjo used in Irish Sessions

Plectrum?
Dang near killed um!

(ahem) Sorry -

I did read once where Kevin Griffin (one of my favorite banjo players) learned on a plectrum banjo. He must have some extra long digits…

Re: Differences between a Plectrum & Tenor Banjo used in Irish Sessions

A full sized plectrum has the same length neck as a five string banjo, just without that little half string. A whole different beast than either size of tenor banjo. I have one I inherited, and tune it like the top four strings of my guitar, which I am told was a common tuning for it back in the era between the World Wars, when it was a more common instrument than it is today.

Re: Differences between a Plectrum & Tenor Banjo used in Irish Sessions

If you’re thinking of getting a new banjo to play ITM, buy a 17 fret or a 19 fret instrument. As was said above, the 19 fret is more common, having a fuller sound, but it is perfectly acceptable to play a 17 fret model. I played one for years. However, if you haven’t got fingers like one of the Na’vi in Avatar, forget about a plectrum banjo. To use it comfortably, you’d have to stick a capo on the second fret and that will adversely affect the tone.

Re: Differences between a Plectrum & Tenor Banjo used in Irish Sessions

My late friend Perry Bechtel was one of the early masters of plectrum banjo. He preferred the CGBD tuning even though he also played the guitar (in standard tuning) (The 14-fret Martin was allegedly developed for him).

Re: Differences between a Plectrum & Tenor Banjo used in Irish Sessions

A 17 fret banjo still has full tone, The only weakness is the low G string which you really just have to learn to have a feel to make it sound right.

Re: Differences between a Plectrum & Tenor Banjo used in Irish Sessions

17 frets is the way to go - I have a 17 fret Dave Boyle and it is fabulous - my playing improved so much since I got it in favour of a mid-range 19 fret I can’t begin to explain the difference - just get the best you can afford and I recommend 17 frets every time - it makes life so much easier and I can’t tell any difference in the tone - I tried out several 19 frets before deciding on the DB and have no regrets at all

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Re: Differences between a Plectrum & Tenor Banjo used in Irish Sessions

I much prefer 17 frets to 19 frets, but I’m probably shorter than many (with hand size to match) that prefer 19. One solution to the floppy g string is to tune it up to a. This is a common tuning for Enda Scahill. My own banjo sounded much better tuned adae, and I never missed that g note, except as an occasional drone.

Re: Differences between a Plectrum & Tenor Banjo used in Irish Sessions

It’s what you feel right with and I have a 17 fretter that was the first one I took to sessions. I’m so pleased I switched to 19 frets though - it’s better all round IMMHO. The one thing is the extra stretch, but you do get used to it and your hand span stretches. My hands are not large, but with most tunes I can now get by without changing hand position - this was impossible when I first started. There are some troublesome tunes for which I am learning to shift my hand up, and some involve sudden pecks up at the B on the e-string. 19 is best if you can, 17 is fine if you can’t.

Re: Differences between a Plectrum & Tenor Banjo used in Irish Sessions

Proper setup is I believe the key to success with either banjo. Having bought a 19 fret after learning to properly setup and play a 17 fret I’ve come to the conclusion that a capo at the 3rd fret is the best solution for me anyway.

To my mind all the 19 fret gives you is the option to use lighter strings. Having very short fingers and no desire to experience tennis elbow again I’m happier with a shorter scale length. I’m sticking with aDAE anyhow, it works for me. It’s amazing what a difference head tension, action, string gauge and tension and pick make to a banjo. Much more so than scale length.

What’s really interesting is the differences between a £750 banjo (Ashbury AB55) and a £250 banjo (Stagg something or other, also sold as Ashbury AB35). All you’re paying for is some fancy engraving upon tone ring and a bit of walnut and polish for the neck. Its all done on CNC machines these days, and given the amount of setup required to make either banjo any good at all craftsmanship can’t be used as an excuse for the price difference. So my advice if you’re looking for one would be to save the £500 for another instrument or put some of it towards a setup if you don’t want to do it yourself.