Banjo Hangout Logo
Banjo Hangout Logo

Premier Sponsors

834
Banjo Lovers Online


 All Forums
 Playing the Banjo
 Playing Advice: 4-String (Jazz, Blues & Other Trad Styles)
 ARCHIVED TOPIC: plectrum vs tenor


Please note this is an archived topic, so it is locked and unable to be replied to. You may, however, start a new topic and refer to this topic with a link: http://www.banjohangout.org/archive/124129

Klondike Waldo - Posted - 08/11/2008:  12:34:47


I'm thinking about getting another banjo to play some Dixieland or sing-along type of music and I can't make up my mind whether to go with tenor or plectrum. Any ideas,advantages/disadvantages? FWIW I tried playing tenor years ago and never really got into it - never really lit me up like playing 5 string does.

deligo ergo renideo,
Bob Cameron

carteru93 - Posted - 08/11/2008:  12:46:32


If you're used to a 5 string, go for plectrum. Same neck length (roughly), tuned to a normal 5 string banjo tuning with 4th string down to C. Make it that much easier than mastering a new neck scale and new tunings

____________________________________
Pick till yer fingers bleed!!

Gold Star GF-200/Hatfield

Gus Bloch - Posted - 08/11/2008:  14:47:22


If you already play fiddle or mandolin, the tenor is also tuned in fifths and so is easier to learn, Tenor seems to cut through the loudness of horn players better, but a properly set up plectrum works very well, even in a parade. The tenor is great for single string melodies with chord stops. the plectrum is a great chord machine and melodies are based upon chords. I like trying to play both, but right now, the Plectrum is the go to unit for the Dixieland band and solo jazz gigs. As I learn the tenor more, this could change. It hasn't been too hard to learn to read music on either, but a tenor tuned Irish GDAE suits the range of my voice (baritone), so that is very useful for sight reading fake charts to learn to sing new songs.
The Plectrum is tuned CGBD, so it does relate somewhat to open G five string. www.Ultimate Banjo.com has excellent method books by David Frey and wall charts available for both instruments.

Compass56 - Posted - 08/11/2008:  17:50:14


I don't know what's better for you, but the tenor (CGDA) is definitely better for me. There are many great players on both instruments. I would go to YouTube and check out some of these people to help you make your decision:

tenor: Eddy Davis, Jimmy Mazzy, Narvin Kimbell, Steve Caddock

plectrum: Cynthia Sayer, Dave Marty

(Of course, you can hear Buddy Wachter on both instruments.)

tenorbanjoguy - Posted - 08/11/2008:  18:15:41


Lots of Dixieland players play both. I recently started playing plectrum (I am a self proclaimed tenor player) and if I had to choose, I would probably go tenor only because I am more familiar with it at this point. If I was left on a desert island with one banjo, I wouldn't care which one, I could happily play either. The symetrical layout of the tenor is a real advantage for moving things around efficiently and it does "cut" as previously mentioned. The plectrum has wonderful overtones, much like the five and gives it a nice full sound. For these reasons the tenor is GENERALLY acknowledged as a preferred band instrument where the plectrum is touted as being better for soloist work. Watching Eddy Davis on tenor and Cynthia Sayer on plectrum on the same stage at the same time, this obsevation weakens for me. Also as my pal Compass points out, Buddy Wachter can do it all on either. Coming from the five I would think the plectrum would be more comfortable. You could remove the drone string and tune to plectrum tuning and give it a go with no committment. Should give you a good idea what plectrum sounds like! You would not be the first!!

Compass56 - Posted - 08/11/2008:  19:18:38


Tenorbanjoguy mentioned "watching Eddy Davis on tenor and Cynthia Sayer on plectrum on the same stage at the same time." I was lucky enough to see the two of them play together on the night of June 18th at a small bar in NYC called the National Underground. (Plectrum banjoist Andy Bean was also on stage for some of the songs.) Six or seven videos have been posted on YouTube from that night. If you want to watch those clips, go to YouTube and find wyatturban. He posted all of the clips. One can really hear the differences between tenor and plectrum when both are played together. Also, there is a good clip of Steve Caddock and Cynthia Sayer playing together on YouTube. That one will also show a nice comparison and contrast of the two instruments.

Klondike Waldo - Posted - 08/12/2008:  06:34:00


I've worked with some very good tenor and plectrum banjoists back in my tuba player days (Including Jimmy Mazzy,and Mike Hashem who's on the BHO with whom I played for several years). I tried playing tenor several years ago, just didn't get it at the time, nor did I stick with it on a different tenor tuned plectrum maybe 10 years ago. I'm just kicking it around in my head for now. A good buddy of mine up in Dover -Foxcroft, Ronny Coates, plays both. I do play a little mandolin and have started on fiddle, so maybe I should wait a while until the right banjo calls me out to dance. Thanks for the insights. Right now I'm just in teh daydream phase.

deligo ergo renideo,
Bob Cameron


Edited by - Klondike Waldo on 08/12/2008 06:35:56

yellowdog - Posted - 08/12/2008:  07:31:03


Bob, when choosing between tenor and plectrum I think it is a good idea to be guided mostly by how each banjo sounds. This assumes that you can listen to excellent players playing excellent banjos such as Eddy Davis on tenor and Cynthia Sayer on plectum, which you can do on YouTube as was suggested in an earlier post here. You will probably prefer either the clear, open harmony sound of the tenor or the smooth, closed harmony sound of the plectrum. I say that because the sound should define the goal - everything else is related to getting there. If this sound comparison is a tie or close to it I would I would consider other advantages of each tuning. The logic of the tenor's fifths tuning in building and understanding chords would be high on my list of tenor advantages. This logic is explained in my free 31-page book, "Build Any Chord, Anywhere", which you can download from the "Links" page of my website. Lesser tenor advantages are lighter weight, suitability for Celtic music and sessions, a choice of two different neck lengths, etc. And additional advantages of the plectrum are....uh....let's see...hmmm....Sorry, I have to go now!

Frank Geiger
frank.geiger@yahoo.com
www.geigeracousticdevices.biz

Klondike Waldo - Posted - 08/12/2008:  08:04:56


quote:
Originally posted by yellowdog

Bob, when choosing between tenor and plectrum I think it is a good idea to be guided mostly by how each banjo sounds. This assumes that you can listen to excellent players playing excellent banjos such as Eddy Davis on tenor and Cynthia Sayer on plectum, which you can do on YouTube as was suggested in an earlier post here. You will probably prefer either the clear, open harmony sound of the tenor or the smooth, closed harmony sound of the plectrum. I say that because the sound should define the goal - everything else is related to getting there. If this sound comparison is a tie or close to it I would I would consider other advantages of each tuning. The logic of the tenor's fifths tuning in building and understanding chords would be high on my list of tenor advantages. This logic is explained in my free 31-page book, "Build Any Chord, Anywhere", which you can download from the "Links" page of my website. Lesser tenor advantages are lighter weight, suitability for Celtic music and sessions, a choice of two different neck lengths, etc. And additional advantages of the plectrum are....uh....let's see...hmmm....Sorry, I have to go now!

Frank Geiger
frank.geiger@yahoo.com
www.geigeracousticdevices.biz



and, of course a tenor may be tuned as a plectrum, but not vis-versa. A lot to think about here, thanks to all who posted.

deligo ergo renideo,
Bob Cameron

Compass56 - Posted - 08/15/2008:  04:17:52


So what did you decide?

Klondike Waldo - Posted - 08/15/2008:  04:39:28


quote:
Originally posted by Compass56

So what did you decide?





I still haven't decided- I'm in no hurry and I like to weigh all my options if I can. (and I don't have any cash at the moment)

deligo ergo renideo,
Bob Cameron

Klondike Waldo - Posted - 08/24/2008:  15:52:07


quote:
Originally posted by Compass56

So what did you decide?




Tenor for the time being. I picked up on eBay an old Maybell which may need some TLC to make it a player, but we'll see.

deligo ergo renideo,
Bob Cameron

Klondike Waldo - Posted - 09/04/2008:  17:05:30


Update- the Maybell arrived today. It appears that all she needs is a tailpiece and strings- there were two bridges in the case pocket. The case is in worn but serviceable condition. I think i'll have her up and around in a week or two. The case will need a little more work, but no big deal. ;-)

deligo ergo renideo,
Bob Cameron

Compass56 - Posted - 09/05/2008:  04:37:20


Congrats. I had a Maybell once. It had a metal pie pan quasi-resonator. That was my first tenor, and I loved it.

Klondike Waldo - Posted - 09/05/2008:  17:09:05


This one has a full wooden resonator and a heavy one-piece flange.

deligo ergo renideo,
Bob Cameron

Compass56 - Posted - 09/07/2008:  08:16:05


Any day that any 4-string banjo is called to serve is, to me, a very good day.

banjopocolypse - Posted - 09/19/2008:  09:22:09


I went through the same thing a few months ago. All I knew is that I wanted to play "dixieland". I scoured the internet for advice, then I sorta leaned towards tenor. then I went to a local shop here called Buffalo Brothers. They had a Deering goodtime tenor there in the shop. The guy showed me how to play a c,f, and g. I sat there for about 30 minutes and decided that was good enough. They didn't have a plectrum in stock, so I never did get to try that out, but I didn't care. That tenor was good enough for me. I bought it and went home and haven't looked back since. I'm so stoked about my tenor banjo. I love it.

mikehalloran - Posted - 10/12/2008:  07:06:59


I normally play a tenor for 4 string work except when playing in a show orchestra. For pit work, I grab a plectrum as I switch back and forth between it and the guitar. It's just easier that way for me.

Mike Halloran

tenorbanjoguy - Posted - 10/12/2008:  09:44:35


Mike, do you keep the plectrum tuned in "guitar" tuning then? Is that what makes it easier to switch back and forth?

Ken Olmstead
Anchorage, AK

Compass56 - Posted - 10/12/2008:  10:09:35


Mike, I had the same question for you as Ken. Do you tune your plectrum like a guitar?

We have a really good plectrum player here in Birmingham named Doug McCullough. He tunes his plectrum like a guitar (D, G, B, E. low to high), and he gets a great sound.


Edited by - Compass56 on 10/13/2008 01:14:40

brokenstrings - Posted - 10/12/2008:  21:44:50


Pardon my ignorance, but couldn't you just have used your 5-string, ignoring the fifth string, to play Dixieland?

Jessy

Frailaway, ladies, frailaway!

Compass56 - Posted - 10/13/2008:  01:14:09


You're right Jessy. Many player do use a modified version of a 5-string banjo to play Dixieland. Typically they remove the fifth string when doing so. The 5-string open G tuning on the first four strings (D, G, B, D, low to high) is usually altered to play this music. Many players lower the fourth string from D to C. That gives them C, G, B, D, --standard plectrum tuning. Other players tune the thing D, G, B, E--the first four string of a guitar.

Klondike Waldo - Posted - 10/13/2008:  13:05:06


quote:
Originally posted by Compass56

You're right Jessy. Many player do use a modified version of a 5-string banjo to play Dixieland. Typically they remove the fifth string when doing so. The 5-string open G tuning on the first four strings (D, G, B, D, low to high) is usually altered to play this music. Many players lower the fourth string from D to C. That gives them C, G, B, D, --standard plectrum tuning. Other players tune the thing D, G, B, E--the first four string of a guitar.





DGBE is also called Chicago tuning, BTW.

deligo ergo renideo,
Bob Cameron

dhergert - Posted - 10/14/2008:  08:36:46


I've also dabbled. I play 5-string for many genre, including in a jazz band and it works out fairly well, I'm using a few spoofing techniques to simulate ilght strumming, interspersed with fingerstyle single string work... But for some jazz band music you just have to have the strummed-banjo sound. For that purpose I was lucky to be able to pick up an old 1923 Vega Style M Tub-A-Phone tenor openback a couple of years ago. It's a pretty nice, nearly all original banjo and I've been very pleased with its tone.

I tune this banjo to open Bb and for the most part use 5-string chording in chord melody style, sort of like a Bb plectrum. I know my neck pretty well in this tuning, including muting techniques and transposing to other keys, so I can concentrate mostly on right hand work. I know these are a lot of compromises but at this point in my life I'm not ready to push back to my mandolin days and re-learn everything in 5ths.

My biggest difficulty is strumming; after doing various kinds of fingerstyle for nearly 40 years now, my right wrist just has not got the feel for strumming and trying to do so still feels very very strange. I can do some pretty good single string obligato work, and some light, relatively slow strumming, but the beautiful, fast inter-rhythm strumming seems like it's lightyears away. Any hints on getting closer to this would be very appreciated.

Best,

-- Don
http://home.att.net/~dhergert
http://mysite.verizon.net/don_hergert


"If you must use your banjo as a snow shovel, do so:
only don''t wonder if it sounds dull afterwards."
-- S.S. Stewart catalog, 1896.

yellowdog - Posted - 10/14/2008:  10:33:16


Don, I've always admired the jazz strumming techniques of Baltimore tenor banjoist Jim Riley who has studied drummers' rhythms and incorporated them into his strumming techniques. He sells a casette tape covering these for $15 and it is probably just what you're looking for. If you try to listen to Jim's tape all the way through you are certain to fall asleep before you get to the end, but if you study and practice one strumming stroke at a time it should be just what you need. Jim is a wonderful jazz tenor banjoist and I don't know of anyone any better when it comes to jazz banjo right hand strumming techniques. You can learn more at this site:
http://www.garyandmaria.org/banjo/jimriley.html


Frank Geiger
frank.geiger@yahoo.com
www.geigeracousticdevices.com

tenorbanjoguy - Posted - 10/14/2008:  10:37:02


Don, I can't recommend Buddy Wachter's Homespun Tenor Banjo video highly enough. It is probably the best right hand instructional materials out there. It is where my strumming ability came from. The biggest thing is that it all comes from the wrist. Aside from Buddy's instruction on the subject, I have found one illustration to be helpful with getting the "feel" of it. Put the banjo down and find a sturdy hard cover book. Hold it flat against your chest or stomach where your banjo would normally rest. Get your pick properly positioned in your hand and put the pick on the book as if it was the strings. Strum the book like you would the banjo from the wrist. This is the feel and it is hard to do it "wrong" as the book limits the motions possible in your hand. What I tell people trying to learn is to "play" the book for a few minutes, then try and translate that on the banjo. Go back and forth for a few weeks and if you follow Buddy's instruction as well, it is a matter of committing it to muscle memory. Hope it works for you!

I have not tried Jim Riley's tape but he is an amazing banjoist and I would not hesitate to drop $15 bucks on his tape as well if I was trying to develope my right hand. In fact, I may have to order it to get mine to a higher level! :)

Ken Olmstead
Anchorage, AK


Edited by - tenorbanjoguy on 10/14/2008 10:41:22

dhergert - Posted - 10/14/2008:  11:19:54


Thanks Frank and Ken...

These are great references.

I think I'll try the book thing first, Ken, to at least get my wrist into action. Once that has started happening and I start feeling the natural wrist flow of the strum, the instructional media will probably start making some sense and I'll get them then.

Thanks for these suggestions, I really appreciate them.

Best,

-- Don
http://home.att.net/~dhergert
http://mysite.verizon.net/don_hergert


"If you must use your banjo as a snow shovel, do so:
only don''t wonder if it sounds dull afterwards."
-- S.S. Stewart catalog, 1896.

Compass56 - Posted - 10/14/2008:  17:52:23


Aside from all of the educational resources available, I would recommend some intense listening. (That's the way the jazz masters from yesteryear did it.) Order a bunch of CD's from the masters of the 4-string banjo and try to emulate what you hear that you like. You might want to check out a few of my favorite players:

Cynthia Sayer, Don Vappie, Narvin Kimbell, Jimmy Mazzy, Eddy Davis, and Buddy Wachter

Hangout Network Help

View All Topics  |  View Categories

0.0625