Stupid Question About Tenor Banjo Tuning and Setup

Stupid Question About Tenor Banjo Tuning and Setup

So the government refunded me some of my taxes (what a country!) and I really would like to get a tenor banjo. I have a 5 string banjo, that I tune to either Hillbilly G or Mountain Modal, and I’ll even pick some of these tunes on it, but I really would like a 4 string tenor to play this music on. So here comes the stupid question…tenor banjos in these hills are tuned CGDA, but I know that Irish players tune it to GDAE, just like the fiddle. Am I looking for a 17 fret neck? …a 19 fret neck? …does that even matter? or do I just tune the silly thing down a fourth? if so, should I look for a particular gauge of strings, or will any old set of tenor banjo strings do the job?

I got my flame retardent coveralls on, so feel free to rip away. It’s Friday so if you feel like some sport, then fair enough. We are talking banjos afterall. Of course any insight into tenor banjo setup for this music will be greatly appreciated

Re: Stupid Question About Tenor Banjo Tuning and Setup

How many strings does a banjo have? Five too many. What’s the best way to tune a banjo? With wire cutters. What do you say to a banjo player in a suit? Will the defendant please rise.

And then there was the banjo player who spent a summer at a music festival, staying at a lovely inn, spending lovely time with the innkeeper’s lovely daughter. When he came back the next summer there she was, with a three-month-old baby. "Why didn’t you write and tell me? I"d have rushed back and married you, and the baby would have had my name!" "Well, when we found out I was pregnant, we had a couple long talks about it, and we all decided it would be better to have a bastard in the family than a banjo player."

Seriously though… I don’t play banjo but I know that the fellow in our group who does has a little tiny thing that he tunes A-D-A-E, like a fiddle, but one octave down, and with the bottom string to A instead of G. Maybe that will help, but mostly I posted just to tell my terrible jokes.

Re: Stupid Question About Tenor Banjo Tuning and Setup

well, fair play to ya. That was a good tip about using the wire cutters to tune the silly thing, though

Re: Stupid Question About Tenor Banjo Tuning and Setup

GDAE - an octave below fiddle - is standard for Irish trad (although Gerry O’Connor uses CGDA). Either 17- or 19-fret is fine - it’s down to preference. PLayers making thetransition to banjo from mandolin often prefer the shorter scale. Just be aware that you’ll need to change the string gauges if your switching over from CGDA to GDAE - and you ideally want slightly heavier gauges for a 17-fret neck than for 19-fret neck.

If you happen to play viola or cello, you might prefer to stick with CGDA 🙂. But it makes sense to me to use ‘fiddle’ tuning, since much of the music was composed on or evolved around the fiddle.

Re: Stupid Question About Tenor Banjo Tuning and Setup

@Nate

17-fret or 19-fret? Personal preference, but:

17-fret - easier to play (less of a stretch - e.g. up to high "B")
19-fret - superior tone (and costs more money)

Strings? Personal preference, again.

Try these guages (gages) for starters:

E - .013" plain
A - .020" wound
D - .028 wound
G - .040 wound

Then (for each string) you can experiment (if you wish) with a few thou. either way until you have achieved the optimum for your particular instrument.

The non-standard tuning "A-D-A-E, like a fiddle, but one octave down" mentioned by tdrury above is a useful alternative tuning if you play mostly in D-Maj and A-Maj (and the relative modal keys).

Good luck!

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Thanks, buddy! That’s good to know that 17 or 19 fret necks don’t make any difference. I was really wondering about that. I do want to use the fiddle tuning since I play fiddle already. So if the one I buy isn’t already set up for Irish music, I’ll look to pick up a set of heavier gauge strings.

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Thanks lot Mix! Giving me a starting point for string gauges really helps alot. I also appreciate you explaining the difference between the 17 and 19 fret necks. I didn’t really know why there were two sizes, but the tradeoff between playablity and tone gives me some idea about what to look for when I go and try some of these out

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@Nate - a few more variables to ponder:

String windings - the wound stings are available as steel-wound, brass-wound or bronze wound. Agian, it’s down to personal preference but I would say that brass-wound or bronze-wound strings give a more mellow tone.

Plectrum thickness - again, opinions differ - but somewhere between 60mm and 75mm should suit.

Finally - and most controversially - should yout TB have a resonator - or not! Many would say NOT for ITM.

But as against that, well-known players like Gerry O’Connor use TBs with a resonators (and so did the late Barney Mackenna).

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One final thought - when you have bought one, don’t practise it outside your local tax office …

.. they’ll charge you MORE tax next time … 😉

Re: Stupid Question About Tenor Banjo Tuning and Setup

I should take a loan and buy a really expensive one and then claim the interest on next year’s return. It’s a loop hole our congress put in to help prop up the high end banjo manufaturers. I know people say that we need to just let them go out of business, but the banjo industry employs literally dozens of people

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I was going to buy a new car in 2008 ( I do quite a bit of milage and need a solid car for work), so using the depreciation from the car I didn’t buy, I bought a good banjo, if the scrapper of a car I’m running as a result, lasts one more year, then it’s been a raging success.

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Yeah I have a 17 fret tenor; when I got it it had a Dixie land jazz setup, which is shifted up by one string, DAEB I think? Those strings were too light to tune it down to GDAE so I looked around and there are tenor banjo string packs that say "Irish" on the packaging and they work great! Got the pack of strings at the local music store.

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Re: Stupid Question About Tenor Banjo Tuning and Setup

@jjw - that’s good to know about those "Irish" tenor strings. I saw those, too, and was wondering if they were the real deal or just alot of packaging and nonsense

@solidmahog - brilliant! I never thought of deducting the depreciation on things I thought about buying. Good luck keeping the old girl on the road!

position

Aye, Nate, we’ll see how she pans out, I’ll still have my banjo, when the old girl dies.

On the issue of strings, a good place to start would be; .36 .26 ".16 plain or .18wound" .11 or a little heavier .38 .28 .17p or .20w .12 for 19 fret, the heavier will work well on short scale banjos of intermediate scale length 17 fret, (intermediate scale length banjos; 21 and a bit" rather than short shorties of 19 3/4") But some shorties need to be well strung for them to sound.
.46 or .44, .32 or .34 .22w .13 there are few regular poster on here who use much heavier gauges.

Either way, you want to get some single guitar strings to make up your own sets until you know the best gauge/ for your given instrument, whatever you decide get, just cut the ball off with a snip, snip along the string ball end outer groove, taking care not to damage the loop rebated in the ball grove , and off they pop. The loop can be a little tight so, I oval them out with the nib of a ball point pen, until they’ll fit

I like the 21" and a bit, 17 frets, myself; less troublesome tuning issues with lighter string and a better, much better, character of tone than found on slightly shorter but more heavily strung instruments, I’m using ".38 .28 .20w .12".

23" - 19 fret scale length should sound better tone wise, but playing these 19 fretters involves a bit more fret hand position shifts and planning.

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I use a 22fret open backed Goodtime which I think is usually referred to as a plectrum banjo. It sounds fine but it is too long and I’m often told that is slowing me down. Most others around here use 17fret. D’Addario produce a set of strings, J63I "Irish Banjo". The "I" is important, their J63 set is quite different. The gauges in the set are .012, .016, .024 and .036. Interestingly, in the data on the package they say that the quoted tension measurements are for a 26¼" scale length, which is the 22fret.
I’m relatively new to banjo, coming to it from mandolin. The mando was too quiet for me to hear myself in pub sessions. The banjo allows me to do that but at my playing standard I’m not looking for volume to make me too obvious to others.

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I play Irish tenor banjo and set them up for people.

My personal preference is for 23" 19 fret necks on a pot with a tone ring and a resonator (though neither is essential - it’s just that you’ll have the option of being heard if you have them)

The stings on my banjos are 12, 16, 24w, 36w - phosphor bronze winding (note, the 2nd string is plain)

The most important thing about any banjo is the setup - something that’s conspicuously missing from many of the instruments I come across.

Books have been published on the topic, but the best is out of print at the moment. Knowledge of 5 string setup is only partly helpful in setting up an Irish banjo. There isn’t a single "gold standard" formula for Irish tenor setup in the way that people believe there is for 5 string bluegrass banjos ("just like Earl’s").

Beware "expert" advice on banjo chat rooms - much of it is garbage. Some makers - certainly Gold Tone and Deering - issue handbooks with their banjos that contain lucid advice on setup.

Don’t be intimidated by all this - get yourself a tenor and some decent strings and have a go

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Re: Stupid Question About Tenor Banjo Tuning and Setup

I can’ t comment on a tenor banjo as I play a tenor guitar. However, I have found a shorter scale length is better which is why I detune my tenor and capo it at the second and fourth frets for CGDA and DAEB tuning for TIM fiddle tunes while I wait to find a nice vintage tenor banjo of my liking.

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"Finally - and most controversially - should yout TB have a resonator - or not! Many would say NOT for ITM."

As far as I aware, most tenor players of note in Irish music play resonator banjos most of the time (Gerry O’Connor, Mick O’Connor, Eamonn Coyne, Angelina Carbery, John Carty, Charlie Piggot…). Some banjos are felt to be "too loud" for sessions and accused of "drowning out the other players", but that is surely more the fault of the player than the instrument; perhaps there are some banjo players that should be playing open-backed banjos.

The real resonator vs. open-back snobbery comes in with 5-string banjos in bluegrass and oldtime music. Walk into a bluegrass jam with an open-back and they’ll laugh at you; walk into an oldtime jam with a resonator banjo and they’ll shoot the resonator right of the back of it.

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Resonator for me. Makes holding the thing in a good playing position more natural, in my opinion. Volume is in the hands of the player.

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All Moldy: "the quoted tension measurements are for a 26¼" scale length, which is the 22fret. "

Never heard of a 22-fret banjo. Do you mean a 21-fret banjo (also called a plectrum banjo)?

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"Never heard of a 22-fret banjo."

Plenty of them here:

http://www.andybanjo.com/trolleyed/6/index.htm

I had one with 23 frets. It was stolen in Paisley, so if any Buddies here see one…….

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22 fret is quite a popular number of frets for the plectrum banjo.

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Well, I stand corrected. Seen plenty of four-string banjos with 21 frets, but never with more. Are they more common in America maybe?

Also, I’ve never seen other than a 17 or 19 fretter being used for ITM. But I guess that it’s possible.

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The plectrum banjo apparently came about from an adaptation of the 5 string banjo, and 22 frets is a 5 string standard.

I used my 23 fret model for ITM, but it was a tad unusual. It did mean I could use lighter strings and retain the tuning of an octave down from the fiddle. I used my pinky where many players of a shorter scale length banjo would use the ring finger - and it meant shifting position for the high b. It did develop the pinky, though, and it seemed to make the use of the pinky on the fiddle that bit easier.

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By "retain the tuning", I don’t mean the tuning of the plectrum banjo, but the "Irish" tenor banjo tuning.

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I play both 17 fret and 19 fret, and I don’t really notice the difference much. If you get used to playing with a good, relaxed left hand, the difference in scale length is somewhat negligible. Where you get into trouble is if you firmly plant your left hand and try to pivot up to reach the B. Then it feels like a long way away!

I am a proponent of vintage banjos too. If you get one from a reputable maker from the 1920s-1930s, they are very well made, and retain their value much better than a modern banjo. (Reputable makers might include William Lange - Paramount, Orpheum, Langstile. Vega, Bacon & Day, Ludwig, and Weymann all made great banjos. I tend to avoid the Slingerland, and other budget banjos of the era, but even those can be set up well and sound good.)

millionyears is right, the setup is really the key. There are a lot of factors that affect the tone, including the tone ring, the head, the bridge, the tailpiece, string material, etc. The good news is that all of these are reasonably easy to tweak yourself, and generally only take a wrench and screwdriver to play around with.

With vintage banjos, or ones set up for the common CGDA tuning, there are a few things to look out for. If it’s a real precise setup, you will need to modify the nut and bridge to allow for larger gauge strings, otherwise, the string will bind in the nut, make plinking noises when you’re tuning, and will occasionally break strings. Any luthier will have nut files to get the grooves to the right gauges. Also, with the heavier strings for Irish, they’re often strung with more tension, too, which can pull the neck forward a bit, and make the action too high. There are a lot of things that can be done about that, including adjusting the neck (some are more adjustable than others), using a lower bridge, etc. But a good setup is key.

String gauges and material are somewhat of a personal preference. I prefer to have my strings all about the same tension (there are tension calculators out there that will help). On my 19 fret banjos, I tend to play .011, .018 (wound), .028, .042 in Nickel. And even then, the G string can be a bit floppy, but it doesn’t feel right if I go heavier…

And lastly, there’s the plectrum preference. I prefer nylon, and I use the "Brain Picks", which have a little sandpaper texture to them, so that they’re easy to hold, even with a relaxed grip. I play with .053s most of the time, but will occasionally use a .060 if I need more volume. Plectrum choice is very personal, and a lot of people wouldn’t dream of playing with a pick as light as I play with. But it’s good to experiment with different ones when you’re starting out, taking into consideration both feel and sound, until you find your comfort zone.

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"Also, I’ve never seen other than a 17 or 19 fretter being used for ITM. But I guess that it’s possible."

I met a lady one year in Drumshanbo who played Irish trad on a beautiful old Gibson plectrum banjo - I don’t remember how many frets to the neck. She had bought it as a beginner, not knowing there was anything unusual about it. By the time somebody pointed out to her that it was a plectrum banjo, it was too late, she had already learned to play it - and had not apparently found the longer scale to be an obstacle.

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ATT ; NATE RYAN….just seen your post about looking for a tenor banjo..I actually make tenor banjos here in Ireland county wicklow..All genuine handcrafted .If your interestd ,leave a message. I have a facebook page also ‘AL’S BANJOS .

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I would recommend buying a short scale banjo. Mine is a Dave Boyle, that might be out of your price range for starters but I really do think it’s worth spending as much as you can on a beginner banjo. If you are looking for a real bargain check this out http://www.donedeal.ie/for-sale/stringinstruments/4550484
I paid almost €3,000 for my one! I teach the banjo to both children and adults and I find the really cheap banjos a nightmare to keep in tune etc. Also, the the tone from them tends to be fairly dead. I always recommend students to change their strings to guitar ones.
Personally, I use GDAE tuning as I play the fiddle too. I use custom light Elixir guitar strings. http://www.strings.ie/elixir-11050-polyweb-light-12-53/?setCurrencyId=1 I’ve tried a million different brands and I finally settled on these. The gauges are E- 16, A- 24, D- 32, G-42. Hope this helps! 🙂

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I just setup a 19-fret instrument with the following gauges, all stainless steel:

12p
16p
26w
36w

I use a similar set on my 17-fret, both are extremely comfortable to play.

Re: Stupid Question About Tenor Banjo Tuning and Setup

Hi I’m another confirmed Dave Boyle disciple, his short scale is just fabulous - they are pricey but if you can stretch to it they are really wonderful instruments
I use the Tommy Cussen Irish strings at £11 set which are great but will try the custom light Elixir guitar strings recommended by Sherryc just for comparison
(I’ve also tried loads of strings but not elixir yet)

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Re: Stupid Question About Tenor Banjo Tuning and Setup

I came to ITM having played trad Jazz on tenor banjo and bluegrass mando for many years. I began learning the Irish tunes on mando, but found out in a hurry that I was all but inaudible surrounded by pipes, accordions, flutes, whistles and fiddles.

After an informational sit down with John Williams here in Chicago, I decided to slap a capo on the 2nd fret of my 19 fret Paramount Style A tenor, taking the standard tuning up from CGDA to DAEB. I left my old strings on (D’addario J63-09p, 16p, 23w and 30w.)

The benefits for me are as follows:

1. Max stretch in open position is a breeze.
2. Open D on bottom (almost no tunes go lower) and open B on top (almost no tunes go higher.)
3. Tension and tone are balanced on all 4 strings, with a ton of punch and lets me control volume with attack. This combined with a heavy pick allows for great dynamic range as well as ease of playing triplets.
4. If I pull off the capo, I can still play dixieland on the same banjo.
5. Tension is way lighter than the guitar or mando, so I have to keep up my callouses and finger strength giving both those instruments their due.
6. Oh yes… it sound great and will not be subdued by the pipes, accordions, flutes, whistles and fiddles… unless I want it to be… like on the tunes I’m not yet up on.

Just one person’s experience.

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Back to the fret numbers: I’ve got a 21 fret, tuned in fifths. I was actually inspired to pick up trad. Irish banjo from my grandfather and he ended up finding a decent used one for my birthday. He was if the opinion that I should capo the top two frets and treat it as a 19 fret so I’d be able to reach a little easier, but I found that I didn’t have a problem with the longer scale as long as I’m careful about the B’s on the E string.

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You have a plectrum banjo.

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Hi – well, I’m an absolute Newbie 1st.Class when it comes to banjos – so much so, that I’ve only just bought my first Tenor Banjo and it hasn’t even been delivered yet!
I joined The Session to try to learn what would be the best way for me to tune it when it gets here, and reading through all your above comments, I’m struck by one thing: so far, you all seem to come from a mandolin background or, at least, have mandolin associations, inasmuch as you only talk about either ‘Standard Tuning’ or ‘Irish Tuning’ – both of which are tuned in ‘straight fifths.’
What about ‘Chicago Tuning’? I’m sixty-six and I’ve come to the banjo via the guitar and, more recently, the banjolele, where I’ve only ever been a rhythm player – so it seems logical to me to be tuning my banjo to Chicago Tuning, like the top, four strings of a guitar. The banjo-ukulele is also tuned the same way, and so that seem the best way for me to go!
No-one on here, so far, has mentioned this way of tuning, so I would value some of your opinions and experiences… I’m looking for guidance and ideas, please..?

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Hi Steve. Most, if not all of the banjo players here are playing melody, and straight fifths is the way to go for that. There is one guy who occasionally shows up at our session with a banjo tuned Chicago style, but he is strictly a rhythm player.

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That would be fine. Dont worry about it.
The advantage of tuning in 5ths is it give a greater range, on the banjo you get a low G a 5th below your D so for fiddle tunes its better, but the whistle and uilleann pipes only go to D …. So your in good company.
I think 5ths is a better way to go personally for 4 str instruments and it will only take half hour to get your basic chords and a couple of days. If that for your scales. Its very intuitive, much more so that chicago .
There is a natural symmetry . Saying that , for Barre type solos , ie any position , the Chicago is better . So it depends on what your aim is.
My guitar is tuned EADGDae. So its like a bass on the bottom end and tenor guitar on the top.gives me 4 full octaves. It has advantages and disadvantages .To suit my style of fingerpicking tunes with A drone, and D drone . I also drop my bottom E to D and raise my G to A

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In fact its easier to play tunes in chicago than 5ths . I speak from decades doing just that( on guitar)its just not standard ….and a bit more restricted in some ways, but less restricted in others.
Unless youve done it you dont actually know. ….. Cheers

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I have a banjo tuned in Chicago for playing jazz, but for Irish music I don’t see the point, unless you’re playing everything in 2nd position. Unlike CGDA (or DAEB with the capo at the 2nd fret) you’re still having to reach for the high B, and you don’t have the low G for fiddle tunes you get with GDAE. Seems like the worst of all worlds, unless you’re a guitar player who can’t figure out a new tuning.

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Well , its not a matter of cant ! Thats a bit harsh, , rather learning everything again,.its just as easy , eaisier in some ways to play any D tune. Why tune the guitar EbgdAE Instead of 5 ths? It has its advantages .
So its a transition process to a new instrument and it all depends on what his aims are. I mean why play the Banjo anyhow…. 🙂 i could go further with that but on a banjo thread Id probably get lynched.

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Nah, I played electric guitar for years. Irish tunes only really opened up for me when I first tried them on mandolin which shares its tuning with the Irish tenor banjo and the fiddle where much of this music was developed in the first place. Hello Irish music.

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I was fortunate perhaps in starting to seriously play mandolin the same time as I started learning tunes on guitar, I had no problem and although I dont have hundreds of tunes like I Do on mandolin I have enough.
Electric guitar is a different instrument , the sustain means techniqes are very different . We are talking about a banjo with minimul sustain. If youd persisted ,with an acoustic instrument, then you would have discovered that its not a bother to play tunes .
For example the monnaghan jig is easier in this tuning just as a random choice. I can play it and many in both systems. Less finger work on the left hand and more string crossings on the right.
I cant think of any tune that is harder anyhow, just different.
We are not talking about mandolin or fiddle by the way. Do you play banjo? Big difference size wise…..

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Yes, I play banjo. It’s tuned GDAE just like my mandolin and fiddle. It just makes more sense for this music.

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I agree because it goes to low G. But other than that what advantage do you see? Its not tuned like your fiddle because its an octave lower and a lot bigger , same octave and fret spacing as a guitar, so skills on one are almost directly transferable to the chicago tuning on banjo….. Which is the OPs interest. I understand what you mean though.
If pipes flute and whistle only go to D then every tune suitable for them is suitable for chicago. Thats enough to keep the OP busy …..

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Jig, I am not going to get sucked into another of your endless oddball arguments, sorry.

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. This is a discussion forum…. Thats what we do, Discuss things….. Thats reasonable then to include opinions from all sources, if only one view is ‘acceptable’ then there would be no discussion, just mutual grooming.
😎 just because I don’t agree with you is no cause to be rude.
The OP asks a sensible question and deserves sensible answers, Its not a stupid question at all, perfectly reasonable to use a non standard tuning if it suits him .
It gives him a way in to the tunes without relearning a new system that is advantageous only for tunes that use the G string.
Every pipe tune bar the few odd really old tunes are just as easy , and arguably easier in some cases on the system he feels comfortable with.
We all have different aims and one size does not suit all.

Re: Stupid Question About Tenor Banjo Tuning and Setup

Will, I wholeheartedly agree that the OP should play his instrument in whatever way he is comfortable with. But a tenor banjo isn’t the same string length as a guitar, a 19 fret banjo is about 2 1/2" shorter than a guitar, and a 17 fret shorter still. That difference in length is crucial because it means you can stretch enough to play a finger per note on the banjo, as opposed to a finger per fret as on a guitar. On an instrument tuned in fifths that is very convenient as it means you can play up to the next string with three fingers. But if you use Chicago tuning you only need two fingers, but are constantly crossing strings or changing position. For melody playing instruments tuned in 5ths are very much easier - the question shouldn’t be ‘why are banjos tuned in 5ths?’ it should be ‘why aren’t guitars tuned in 5ths?’ The answer is simply that the string length is too long for you to be able to play a scale without moving your hand.

That said, the only banjoist I enjoy playing with uses Chicago tuning. BUT she does it on a plectrum banjo (which IS the same length as a guitar) and only ever plays travis picked accompaniment on it, if she wants to play melody she switches to mandolin.

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I’m the OP and after 3 years, I play a 19 fret open back tenor tuned GDAE. If I tune it GDAE, then every fiddle tune I already know, I know on a tenor banjo.


the comments from 3 years ago about string gauges helped a lot getting set up. Since guitar is my main instrument, tenor banjo really is the best instrument for me to play this music on as a melody player.

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Well I did say I thought it was a better system because it gives you the G string, glad you found your way. You didnt say you were a fiddler in the OP? Or is that new as well? Hmm thats not the OP i was responding to?

Regarding guitar length i tune my guitar EaDG DAE fifths then 4ths It has a 650 mm string length so yes I suppose it is a bit of a greater stretch but I only notice when going to a shorter instrument.

Oh i see what happened. Nate started the thread yrs ago but steve parkes came on with a new question 3 days ago, so i thought he was the OP. Hes 66 and is buying a banjo . My advice is to him that if he feels comfortable with chicago then thats fine. He has the entire piping repertoir under his fingers with ease .
Cheers

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yes, Will, I started this one when I went looking for a tenor banjo 3 years ago. I started playing this music when I picked up fiddle about 8 years ago now. I also fool around with whistle and concertina. But most Irish tunes I know I know on fiddle, so a tenor banjo in fiddle tuning is a slam dunk. If I ever found a session to go to, I’d go armed with a tenor banjo.

But I’m a trained musician on guitar and bass and have played gigs since I was 14. So if I want to really play Irish music, I should play it on fretted strings played with a pick, since that is my native language. On fiddle, whistle, concertina, and any other instrument I might pick up, I’m just a duffer.

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Not sure what that explains Will, that picture make your guitar 635mm or 25". The difference between your guitar and a standard 25.5" is less than the difference between a Strat and a Les Paul (and most people don’t even realize there is a difference), whereas a 19 fret banjo is equivalent to capoing your guitar at the second fret.

Re: Stupid Question About Tenor Banjo Tuning and Setup

Same with me Nate, guitar and bass since i was a kid , Then i was given a lovely old mandolin by a friend of my dad About 17 then yrs later i got into banjo then later on about 20 yrs ago the fiddle .
Ok mark , maybe this one explains my ease at playing tunes on my guitar without noticing much difference betwen a 580 banjo and a 635 guitar, after all its only a few mill difference per fret right? What is the formula to work it out ?

http://www.turboimagehost.com/p/25992841/image.jpg.html
I play tunes on the one on the left too. 😎

Re: Stupid Question About Tenor Banjo Tuning and Setup

Whoa..! Now you’ve made me do a double-take..! Never, in my life (and I’m 66, remember!) have I seen, nor heard of, a SEVEN-string guitar..! What’s the idea of that, then, chaps? Is it still CALLED a guitar, with 7 strings, or is it a new instrument I never heard of before?

Re: Stupid Question About Tenor Banjo Tuning and Setup

Steve…and I say this only in good humour…the seven string has been around for decades. I first heard one in the 60’s. Of course there are some who say that if you remember the 60’s you weren’t there! Several Jazz and classical players play them. I was going to write up the whole history but Google has done a far superior job. By the way have you ever seen an 18 string guitar? And what about those other abominations, the 5 and even 6 string basses, and 5 string fiddles? Wait, I’m all worked up now. I have to go and pet my cat to get my blood pressure down!

Re: Stupid Question About Tenor Banjo Tuning and Setup

"580 banjo and a 635 guitar, after all its only a few mill difference per fret right?"

A Few millimeters per fret, or 19mm at the 7th fret, or the difference between being able to reach it with your pinkie and having to move your hand.

Re: Stupid Question About Tenor Banjo Tuning and Setup

Sorry Ross! All I did then was show my ignorance, I’m afraid!
I’m not a professional musician like some (or most?) of you might be (?) so I feel a little bit out of my depth here! I was singer in a ‘group’ when I was at school (didn’t play any instrument), and I just taught myself to strum chords on a guitar independently.
I was never particularly good at that, either, as I could never master bar-chords, so that set severe limits on how much I could progress. My sense of rhythm was good, though, so I’ve always confined myself to occasionally singing at home accompanying myself strumming the chords on the guitar.
I NEVER have been able to pick a tune in individual notes, although my younger son has become quite brilliant at playing lead, once he discovered ‘boxes’ years ago.
I more recently got myself a banjo-ukulele and then wondered why the chords on it were so easy to learn! It took me a while to work out that the uke is tuned the same way as the top 4 guitar strings (but usually in a different key).
That made me want to try a 4-string banjo - especially after watching some amazing trad jazz players on the streets of New Orleans on YouTube! I didn’t know about ‘Chicago tuning’ at that time - I thought I was going to struggle with a wierd (to me) new system, but then I read about the three ways to tune a tenor banjo and I realised the Chicago way was what I’d been used to for the past fifty-odd years. I only want to strum chords and play rhythm, so that’s the way to go for me!
I did try a mandolin recently, too, but I think that was a big mistake. Not what I do.
Probably because none of my family are professional musicians and Irish music has always been right on the edge of our radar and not our favourite genre (sorry!), I really have never come across a seven-string guitar before, Ross, nor most of the strange configurations of instruments you mentioned, either!
I’m not disrespecting them in any way, please understand - I was just genuinely gobsmacked to see that photo! I’ve seen four, five, eight and twelve-string banjos before, but never a seven-string guitar!
I must ask the question my highly proficient guitarist son would surely ask if HE saw that photo: What is the advantage of the seventh string?

Re: Stupid Question About Tenor Banjo Tuning and Setup

"What is the advantage of the seventh string?"

I’d say it depends on what you’re doing on the guitar (and possibly the tuning itself?). There are bass guitars with an added 5th string (typically tuned to a low B, unless I’m mistaken). Some electric guitar players want a deeper sound (as in darker riffs, more powerful chords and what not). Similarly, there are bouzoukis with three, four or five courses of strings.

Regarding banjos with different numbers of strings, it’s also down to the approach. A four string (in the Irish world) si used for tunes, a five-string is for bluegrass/oldtime (and tuned accordingly), a six-string (a.k.a. guitar-banjo) is for guitarists who want a banjo sound, an eight-string would be a mandolin-banjo (in effect, like a four-string), and a twelve-string would be… well, a twelve-string guitar-banjo.

Re: Stupid Question About Tenor Banjo Tuning and Setup

Depends how you tune it.
In practice my guitar is mostly tuned eadADAD so lots of drones going on. Either in D or A .

Re: Stupid Question About Tenor Banjo Tuning and Setup

Talking about banjos with different numbers of strings, I have a five string tenor. I took a redundant six string guitar tuned banjo (19 frets), replaced the nut and the bridge with 5 slot ones made from blanks and tuned it GDAEB. I had to order some .008 gauge guitar strings for the B string and used an ordinary irish tuning set for the other four strings. It works really well, sounds good, and has the advantages of both GDAE and DAEB. As a relative beginner I find the open B makes it much easier to play and I like the slightly wider distance between the strings. You do need a few spare high B strings. I removed the un-used tuning peg to prevent buzzing so it looks a bit odd.
An alternative tuning is FCGDA which enables you to play in standard C tenor tuning, and irish G tuning if you capo on the second fret. The F string needs to be heavier.
I would like to claim credit for inventing the "five string tenor banjo" but I am sure lots of people have done this before. However I have never seen or heard of one.