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 ARCHIVED TOPIC: Irish tenor banjo makers

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joan 4 kids - Posted - 06/21/2009:  21:35:45

Has there been a list put together that contains Irish tenor banjo makers (new and vintage)? As I am considering purchasing an Irish tenor and not sure whether new or vintage at this time, I find it time consuming to check each company to discern whether they include new 4-string Irish tenors in their product line, what the model number is, or whether they have older models out there and what those model numbers to look for are.

Thank you!


Bill Rogers - Posted - 06/21/2009:  23:58:05

Irish tenor banjos are no different than other tenor banjos. Only the tuning (and maybe setup) are different. So you want to look at all makers. Players seem about evenly divided (far as I can tell; I'm not one) between those who prefer 17-fret and those who prefer 19-fret models. There are more 19-frets extant than 17-fret, and as far as I know, more being made today.


pernicketylad - Posted - 06/22/2009:  04:53:17

Tom Cussens in Clarenbridge, County Galway, Ireland, makes Irish Tenor Banjos.
The company is called Clareen Banjos. I think he makes his banjos specifically for Irish Music and to respond naturally to the GDAE standard tuning.
As far as vintage tenor banjos go, it seems that alot of Irish players like Paramounts and Vegas from the 1920's....only an observation.

There are three types of people in the world.....those who can count and those who can''t!

mikeyes - Posted - 06/22/2009:  07:29:31


You can play Irish music on any tenor banjo as long as it is playable. The usual tuning is GDAE, an octave below a mandolin, and that tuning uses Mandolin gage strings. As a result you will have to do a little setup on any banjo that is currently tuned cgda (widening the slots at the nut and on the bridge, adjusting the action, etc.)

As mentioned above, there is no such thing as an "Irish tenor banjo" per se, but some 17 fret instruments (Gold Tone does this) are marketed as such. This is an historical reference to Barney McKenna, one of the prime forces in the Irish banjo community, who uses a 17 fret instrument. The Irish have a long history of using those instruments that went out of fashion for their music, mostly because they became available at a reduced price so the banjo is no exception - wooden flutes, penny whistles, melodeons, concertinas and 17 fret banjos all fit into this meme. (Of course you can't find them cheaply any more, even a good penny whistle will cost over $100 these days.)

As for a banjo for you, all the existing American banjo makers and assemblers will sell you a tenor banjo setup for GDAE, you can buy vintage banjos - preferably from a dealer or BHO classifieds so you can complain if something is wrong - which can easily be setup for GDAE by a luthier, or you can even make one yourself from parts supplied by Stew-Mac, FQMS and others. I've done all three with good results.

Pernicketylad points out that there are banjos makers in Ireland who specialize in banjos for GDAE. Tom Cussen is one and David Boyle is another. Both make superb banjos and you can't go wrong, but price might be a factor.

Check out the classifieds here for tenor banjos, almost everyone here will be honest and fair with you and will help you with any questions you might have.

Mike Keyes

joan 4 kids - Posted - 06/22/2009:  11:59:30

Thank you all for your recommendations! I was concerned that just any tenor banjo's neck may not support the heavier gauged strings for ITM. And that by purchasing a so called Irish tenor banjo, I'd be assured it was built to support the necessary strings.

Thanks again!



mikeyes - Posted - 06/22/2009:  12:18:04

The amount of tension on a GDAE set is about the same as the cgda set, in some cases less. If you google "string tension calculators" (quote marks included) you will be able to find a few and try them out.

Mike Keyes

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