Other Equipment

I’m Banjo illiterate…Help!

1

What is standard tuning on a Banjo? My wife has a friend who inherited her grandfathers Banjo and my wife says she's bringing it home for me to string. I don't know if it's a four or five string but I seem to remember Googling this a few years ago with tremendous results. Way too many options. What do most go with?

2

The correct answer is: it's a banjo-- who cares about tuning? But in essence, it depends on the type of banjo and the type of music played.

4-stringTenor banjo is often tuned in either viola tuning (C G D A-- low to high) or octave mandolin tuning (G D A E).

5 string bluegrass banjo (or standard old-time 4-string banjo is most often tuned DGBD (low to high) on the main strings, with the 5th (top drone string) tuned to High G.

In the tenor case, you can use the open G string on your guitar as a reference for the G in either Tenor tuning and go from there-- in case of the 5-string, The low D on the banjo matches up perfectly with the D string on your guitar.

4

I tune my tenor like a guitar. Dgbe. Guitar chords apply.

Joke..... What's the difference between a banjo and a trampoline?

You take your shoes off to jump on a trampoline........

6

I tune my tenor like a guitar. Dgbe. Guitar chords apply.

Joke..... What's the difference between a banjo and a trampoline?

You take your shoes off to jump on a trampoline........

– munman

That tuning, sir, is known as "cheating."

And I don't take off my shoes to jump on an accordion either.

7

It's probably going to be a 5-string bwoogwass banjo, which is depwessing. You'll tune it to open G and go all Deliverance and Foggy Mountain Shakedown on us. DON'T BWING IT TO THE WOUNDUP!

If by chance it's a tenor (a far more honorable instrument, if still a banjo), the 5ths tuning like a mandolin/violin/etc is interesting to learn. (It's tuning every string to the 7th fret of the string below it.) Gives you wider-spaced chord voicings, and is the way string players other than guitarists relate to stringed instruments. For me, it's a different way of thinking - apparently much more logical, without the weird 3rd interval from G to B that interrupts the 4ths tuning we guitarists have grown up on. (Without that 3rd, though, our 2nd and 1st strings would be C and F, and that makes for some wacky chords.)

Anyway, I've never been able to make what intervallic-chord-shape instincts I have adapt to 5ths tuning. It's the logic that defeats me. None of my guitar instincts work, so I just have to learn the shapes. Guys will tell you it's just a "guitar upside down" - but that doesn't help me at all.

Unless you want to go on an adventure, though, yup, you can tune it like the 4 top strings on a guitar and immediately have the weird experience of playing an instrument in rock & roll and hearing it in the backwoods of Alabama.

DON'T BRING IT TO THE ROUNDUP.

8

But that goes against the whole "no rules" thing, doesn't it. Of COURSE you can bring it to the Roundup. We ought to have a bluegrass jam sometime.

10

OK, as a recovering banjo player, I gotta say somt'in' about claw hammer....the other way to play that durned drum with strings stretched over it. Essentially, sky's the limit in tuning the thing. You got your standard vanilla G tuning mentioned above. Then you got your Mountain Minor; aka Sawmill, aka G Modal (gDGCD). And here's a funky one, gDGAD ("Willie Moore")

Then there's double C (gCGCD). How about Open C (gCGBD), or really, really Open C (gCGCE). And I ain't even touched the D tunings yet.

So here are a few just to confuse the heck outta youse.

  • f#DAF#AD (Ruben's Train)

  • f#BEAD (Cumberland Gap)

  • f#CGAD (Dock Boggs' "Country Blues")

  • aDADE (double D, good for any fiddle tune in D)

Ain't had enough, yet? Need an F tuning? I got one for you; fDGCD.

And I barely scratched the surface.

11

Well, I like clawhammer. Especially on an older (gut-stringed?) looser thuddier instrument. Makes sense it has more interesting tunings.

But wouldn't we then say there are three ways to play the durn thing? Plectrum, bluegrass pickin', clawhammer?

12

Well, I like clawhammer. Especially on an older (gut-stringed?) looser thuddier instrument. Makes sense it has more interesting tunings.

But wouldn't we then say there are three ways to play the durn thing? Plectrum, bluegrass pickin', clawhammer?

– Proteus

You forgot "frailing" (or "beating") as a method of extracting noise from this contraption. While similar to clawhammer, it's technically different.

13

Its not cheating! Its plectrum tuning. I also use the irish tuning,mostly at bluegrass jams where mandolin and violin players already know the notes and chords. I am very happy about my gretsch roots short scale tenor

14

I have a 6 string banjo that tunes E A D G B E.

15

Well it's a four string.

17

At the upper bout. Guess it needs a new head.

18

Not sure what brand, Kay? Maybe?

I haven't seen a serial number or any other markings than this.

19

A coworker of my wife wanted to know if someone could re string this for her. It was her Fathers and he passed away. It's got a good heavy body, maybe mahogany. I went with Tartan Phantoms recommendation CGDA. Heck I wouldn't know where to start playing a banjo. It won't be coming to any roundups with me.

20

I always tuned my Tenor Banjo like a guitar, but if it's a 5-string, you have to tune it properly to be able to Scruggs it.

21

All strung up. Luckily someone marked the bridge with a pencil line.

22

My Mom & Pop store (the one with the too-expensive WF) has a six-string banjo on the wall. I was in there today and found myself playing "Classical Gas" on it just for the hell of it. No picks, just the pads of my finger to keep the racket down.

Trouble is, I drew a small crowd. One person was heard to mutter something heretical, but someone else said they never knew a banjo could be played that way....

(I put it down before the mob grew too big.)

23

Yay! Dave got a tenor! A tenor banjo is capable of stuff I can't even believe. (Not in my hands. I believe everything I do on it.)

Look up Johnny Baier, though. Blow yer mind.

24

i almost brought mine to the round up.......next year! moo waa haa! evil laugh implied.......maybe jody will rock your brains....who knows!


Register Sign in to join the conversation