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 ARCHIVED TOPIC: tenor....plectrum?


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/131888

olderisbetter - Posted - 11/20/2008:  08:11:00


i know one has a shorter scale but what is the difference besides that? i want to get one but im not sure which. im looking to play dixieland, ragtime and old time country on it. not very into the irish styles. any suggestions?

NYCJazz - Posted - 11/20/2008:  09:35:29


I switched from tenor to plectrum several years ago.

I like the tighter harmony of the tuning. Seems to me that the chord positions are easier to grab.

The tension of the A string on the tenor is too durn tight. I was always breaking them just tuning up a new set. I think the tenor sound is thin & high compared to plectrum.

I still play tenor, but my main is plectrum.





Friends don''t let friends convert jazz banjos.

Bill Rogers - Posted - 11/20/2008:  10:24:11


Assuming you already play 5-string, the transition to plectrum will be much easier. It's the same setup without the 5th string, and customarily uses what we call "Drop-C tuning." Of the genres you list, the 5-string is appropriate for ragtime and old-time country, a tenor or plectrum for Dixieland. I think tenors are much easier to find than plectrums, but I really don't know.

Bill

neplusultra - Posted - 11/20/2008:  10:58:44


I started on tenor from one of the world's finest teachers back when I was 14. When I was 17, I was playing a gig with a large banjo band and one of the other members let me play his plectrum during a break. I found the tighter chord voicings and longer scale length really played to my strength at the time as I have strong tremolo. A year later my mom found a Perry Becthel record at a garage sale and I made the switch full time.

For me the question I had to answer was not..."what type of music did I want to play?" but, "whose playing to I enjoy listening to?" When I heard Perry's album, that question was answered and has never been revisited. I stopped taking tenor lessons and spent my practice time with my banjo, a phonograph and my Perry Bechtel (and later, Eddie Peabody records)

I later discovered Harry Reser and have enjoyed playing his stuff on the plectrum...had I discovered him earlier, I might have stayed on the tenor longer thinking that it was the best instrument for his compositions.

As for Traditional Jazz...I have always used a plectrum for this as I find the tighter chord voicings and lower register chords sound better to me. I think that many feel that the typical tenor has more punch to keep up with the horns...this is typically true, but it varies dramatically with playing style of the performer...I have never had a problem balancing my sound output to the horns I've been playing with.

I realize this next point is purely subjective but, I just enjoy the plectrum a whole lot more than I do the tenor.

jbalch - Posted - 11/20/2008:  11:05:08


I agree with what the others have said.

I would add: I keep a couple of short-scale (17-fret) tenors that are great fun. One is set up like an octave mandolin (G D A E ... aka Irish tuning). I used to play mandolin a little...so the tuning is familiar.

The other is set to standard jazz tuning (also in fifths: C G D A). The chord forms are the same...but you have to transpose because of the higher tuning.

I play mostly fiddle tunes and rythm chords. The short scale is easy for me to handle. I've had several 19-fret tenors in the past. I find those to be a little harder for me because the chords are spread out and require a little more reach.


www.johnbalchmusic.com
www.myspace.com/johnbalch


Edited by - jbalch on 11/20/2008 11:06:12

yellowdog - Posted - 11/20/2008:  11:42:10


I can't comment about the plectrum since I've never played one - only tenor. (I borrowed a plectrum banjo once to try for a few days and decided that I preferred the sound of the tenor.) Each banjo has advantages but one big plus for the tenor banjo, with either standard tuning (CGDA) or the lower "Irish" tuning (GDAE - sometimes called "baritone", or "drop" tuning), is that each string except the lowest is always tuned five notes higher than the adjacent lower string. (Counting up 5 from C you get G - Counting up 5 from G you get D, etc.) This makes finding the positions of harmony for chords (chord finger positions) easier because they are always in the same relative positions (using the harmony number system of 1,3,5 for a major chord, etc.) everywhere on the fingerboard. The 3 is always to the immediate upper left of the 1, the 5 is always to the immediate right of the 1, etc., so if you know where the 1 note is located on the fingerboard - the note named in the chord name - you can make its major chord immediately. Similar rules apply for other chords.) My website has a link on the "Links" page to download a free book "Build Any Chord, Anywhere" that explains this in detail if you are interested. The presence of the B string on a plectrum banjo destroys this regularity. But the B string makes playing closed harmony easier and makes some chords easier to finger, but you have to like the plectrum sound. - Some do, some don't. - Which goes for both banjos so you really have to hear both to decide. And then I have heard that the devil himself plays a plectrum banjo, not that it matters.

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

Klondike Waldo - Posted - 11/20/2008:  16:54:08


It's also possible to tune a tenor banjo to plectrum tuning- CGBD if you want to try out plectrum but don't have one.

I''ll never play like Earl Scruggs or sing like Luciano Pavarotti, but I''ll pick better than Luciano and sing tenor better than Earl
deligo ergo renideo,
Bob Cameron

Compass56 - Posted - 11/20/2008:  19:02:53


Instead of looking at the difference between the two instruments "on paper," a better approach might be to listen to excellent tenor players (Eddy Davis, Narvin Kimbell, and Jimmy Mazzy are my favorites.) and compare what you hear with the best plectrum players out there. (Cynthia Sayer is my favorite plectrum player.) When you compare what the true greats can do on the two instruments, you might have a better idea which is the right instrument for you.

Bill Rogers - Posted - 11/20/2008:  22:50:04


Buddy Wachter is another tremendous plectrum player.

Bill

Compass56 - Posted - 11/21/2008:  06:07:22


Buddy is phenomenal on tenor banjo as well as on plectrum banjo.

mainejohn - Posted - 11/21/2008:  06:53:21


...and from what I understand, Buddy started out on the 5 string, decided it wasn't his "thing" and moved on to 4 string. The rest is history.

Cheers,
John Coleman
Scarborough, Maine

"There are two groups of people in the world...those that organize everything into two groups, and those that don''t"

Born to Banjo - Posted - 11/23/2008:  08:14:20


Sounds like you've gotten some good info. I find the tenor to be very competitive with horns in a dixie band as it has more bark. Also works great when you don't have drums. Tighter compression on the chucks (higher end/brighter sound for more rhythmic projection.

The plectrum is a great solo instrument and works well in situations where your presentation uses a more swing style. In that setting the plectrum gives you a slightly more mellow guitar-like sound.

I have played with Buddy and Perry. Those are two masters you can learn a lot from. Unfortunately, Perry's not with us so you'll have to rely on recordings. On the other hand, Buddy does most of the masters about as well as they did themselves! Think about what sound you like, in the end, you should learn both tenor and plectrum. I'm glad I did.

Scott Whitfield,
Born to Banjo

olderisbetter - Posted - 11/26/2008:  04:23:37


what does the guy in whistlers jug band play?

Ronnie - Posted - 11/26/2008:  08:47:34


That was Willie Black. AFAIK he played tenor banjo.

www.bobbythompsonbanjo.com

neplusultra - Posted - 11/26/2008:  23:56:37


Sorry to have to correct my respected colleague from the great state of Maine, but Buddy started on the tenor and then started playing just about anything with strings. (in fact, he does lot of professional bass work...seems like bass players are always gigging)

Frankly, I'm glad he didn't start with the 5-string as I'm sure he'd have become an absolute monster (Buddy's just that way) and I wouldn't have the pleasure of working with him and trying to steal as much as I can from him on the plectrum. (thankfully with Buddy, it's not really stealing because he freely gives it away)

If I recall correctly, there is lots of info bio information on Bud's website, buddywachter.com, well worth taking the time to read.

Born to Banjo - Posted - 11/27/2008:  04:22:50


I'm looking back on the original post to try to shed some light on the original question. The tenor is tuned to open fifths, which means the string duplicates pitch on the seventh fret on each string. That means that the reach is further up the fretboard to make some chords, thus the shorter neck. (Also the first string in standard tuning is tuned high enough it requires a shorter fretboard.)

This tuning also means that there is a symmetry that exists in the tuning that is very helpful in visualizing the fretboard positions for chords and scale patterns. This symmetry is a great tool in learning to play the instrument even though you have to stretch a little more.

The plectrum duplicates pitch on the 7th, 4th, & 3rd fret from the lowest to highest strings. This creates a natural lay of the fingers in making chords bringing many structures within easy reach of the player, however, I as a player of the plectrum for only about five years have yet to find a symmetry for visualizing chord and scale structure that is anywhere close to the ease of the tenor. However, the reach for chords and partial chords as a general rule is not as awkward. (There are always exceptions.)

Everybody is different. In my 40 years of teaching this I well know. What is easy for some is harder for others and vice versa. Only you know yourself, so take your time, think about it and weigh the options.

I think the "sound" and different uses of each of the instruments have been well covered in other posts.

I know this is not "telling you" which one to play, but it may provide you with some additional information in making your decision. In making my decision on instruments, I as a general rule decide on sound quality first, ease of playing second, and style and structure of the instrument third. I hope this gives you an additional viewpoint in your decision.

Best of luck and Happy Thanksgiving to you and all our other Banjo friends out there!



Scott Whitfield,
Born to Banjo

banjofanatico - Posted - 11/27/2008:  16:55:00


If you have guitar background, you might find the plectrum easier because the tuning is closer to the guitar. I find the tenor is really good for ragtime because of the brighter tone which is good for ragtime. I believe Bob Wills used tenors sometimes in his bands, so you can use it for country music. Buddy Wachter's website seems kind of pretentious because he calls himself "America's Most Critically Acclaimed" banjo player. But maybe it's good for marketing.

David

banjoist extraordinaire


Born to Banjo - Posted - 11/27/2008:  17:34:47


David,

Not to get off the poster's thread here, but if you've ever heard Buddy play, you might agree. He's the best I've ever come across.

On the Tenor Banjo and Western Swing subject:

I had occasion to work with Smokey Montgomery, and can vouch for the fact that he played with Bob Wills. Smokey played tenor. He was inducted into the Western Swing Hall of Fame on two separate occasions in California and Texas for his contribution as a Tenor Banjo player within the Western Swing genre. He was also named a Texas Tornado, joining the ranks of Stevie Ray Vaughn, Willie Nelson, and Waylon Jennings.

I was selected as a Texas Tornados in 1995. The tenor banjo has had a big influence in Western Swing music. It's just that real folky, but swingin, rhythmic sound. My western swing band, and traditional jazz band are built around the tenor banjo. My originals and variety band, the Ballistics is built around the plectrum banjo. It is more guitar like and works better for rock, folk, and newer country tunes.

That may give our original poster some food for thought.



Scott Whitfield,
Born to Banjo

olderisbetter - Posted - 11/28/2008:  14:12:03


well, i already play clawhammer and have been doing so for a while. i kind of want a tenor or plectrum to do the same kind of music with. i have heard plenty of old time country where it is without a doubt either a tenor or plectrum banjo and not a 5 string. i know uncle dave played four string and i like the sound he gets out of them. what does he play? has anyone heard the two man gentleman band? i like the way his sounds and i am pretty sure its a plectrum. i am still deciding. another thing is.....i can play a little mandolin but have always found the chords are hard to finger. im also kind of annoyed by the tuning. i guess i am kind of leaning a little more towards the plectrum but am still undecided.

olderisbetter - Posted - 11/28/2008:  14:29:31


wait wait........so is a plectrum tuned just like a 5 string, minus the fifth string of course, in standard c tuning? CGBD? cant i just take the fifth string off of my old banjo and retune it and pick it?

Compass56 - Posted - 11/28/2008:  14:32:14


Hey olderisbetter:

I'm not an oldtime country musician, but I'll weigh in on your situation anyway. I play New Orleans jazz and dixieland on tenor banjo. I have found that some of the chord/melody arrangements that I do on tenor sound a lot like the rhythms and harmonies of the old time banjo and mandolin lines that I have heard on old recordings. I guess what I'm saying is that the tenor banjo can certainly handle the kind of music that you want to play on it. Plus, you already play a bit of mandolin, and the tenor tuning is the same as the mandolin tuning with which you are already somewhat familiar. (The mandolin is seven fret higher in pitch, but the intervals are the same.) I enthusiastically recommend the tenor to you and o anyone else who wants to smile a lot. I played 5-string banjo, guitar, and lap steel before I took up tenor. I still play all of those instruments regularly on gigs, but none of them gives me as much joy as the tenor. Join the party!

Compass56 - Posted - 11/28/2008:  14:37:08


[quote]Originally posted by olderisbetter

wait wait........so is a plectrum tuned just like a 5 string, minus the fifth string of course, in standard c tuning? CGBD? cant i just take the fifth string off of my old banjo and retune it and pick it?

Hey olderisbetter:

Most people consider gDGBD (open G tuning) to be standard 5-string tuning. You'll have to tune your bass string down from D to C to convert your 5-string to a plectrum. (Plus, you'll have to get rid of the fifth string.) The 5-stringers whom I know who play in open C tuning use gCGCE. I play 5-string in open G tuning exclusively, so I may be wrong.


Edited by - Compass56 on 11/28/2008 14:40:22

olderisbetter - Posted - 11/28/2008:  15:10:50


gCGCD is double C....... i think gCGBD is "standard C"

Klondike Waldo - Posted - 11/28/2008:  18:59:43


quote:
Originally posted by Compass56

[quote]Originally posted by olderisbetter

wait wait........so is a plectrum tuned just like a 5 string, minus the fifth string of course, in standard c tuning? CGBD? cant i just take the fifth string off of my old banjo and retune it and pick it?

Hey olderisbetter:

Most people consider gDGBD (open G tuning) to be standard 5-string tuning. You'll have to tune your bass string down from D to C to convert your 5-string to a plectrum. (Plus, you'll have to get rid of the fifth string.) The 5-stringers whom I know who play in open C tuning use gCGCE. I play 5-string in open G tuning exclusively, so I may be wrong.




gCGBD is a common 5 string tuning, though not used a whole lot in Bluegrass.
Pete Seegers book, older version at least, had a lot of tunes in that tuning. I was using it at one time trying to teach myself plectrum on a borrowed tenor. I was also learning to play bagpipes at the time and the pipes won out, so that was where that experiment ended.

I''ll never play like Earl Scruggs or sing like Luciano Pavarotti, but I''ll pick better than Luciano and sing tenor better than Earl
deligo ergo renideo,
Bob Cameron

Compass56 - Posted - 11/29/2008:  03:34:51


Many 5-string players who specialize in ragtime and classical music use the tuning that you mentioned (gCGBD). I don't know of any bluegrass or old-time players who utilize this tuning. It is definitely possible to do so, and it may yield some interesting results. If that tuning interests you, you should try it out.

Be careful, however, with what you call the tuning. If one calls a tuning "C Tuning," he is implying that the tuning in question forms a C major chord (some combination of C, E, and G notes) The gCGBD tuning that you describe features two notes outside of the I, III, V major chord format. I don't know that that tuning is called by the experts, but I would have trouble calling it "C tuning," Open C Tuning," or "Standard C Tuning" because of the presence of that IX note (the D) and that Major VII note (the B).


Edited by - Compass56 on 11/29/2008 15:48:00

olderisbetter - Posted - 11/29/2008:  06:21:59


i play in standard c (gCGBD) from time to time. i play clawhammer normally. so i guess i will toy around with that tuning on my older one and take off the fifth string and play with a pick. is the scale the same on a 5 string as on a plectrum?

Born to Banjo - Posted - 11/29/2008:  09:07:06


Older,
That's what I'd do. Since I teach all three banjos, I keep a five string in the studio and just tune the D down to a C and don't strum the 5th string. Works fine. That would be an easy way for you to learn plectrum. Scale is the same. Should work fine for you to get a feel for the plectrum tuning. Listen closely and see if that's the sound you want. I have a feeling that the sound you are looking for is probably Tenor though. That's the banjo that I most associate with a lot of the music you're talking about.
Good luck.

Scott Whitfield,
Born to Banjo

olderisbetter - Posted - 11/29/2008:  11:50:42


ya know, after researching this a bit i think that it is a tenor that i want. i guess if i want to learn both i will just make my old five string a plectrum. thanks for the help guys. now......does anyone want to trade a tenor for a button accordion? heh.

Compass56 - Posted - 11/29/2008:  12:19:58


Yeah! We have a new member in the tenor army. Be prepared to (1) have tons of fun, (2) be frustrated from time to time, and (3) anger any housemates or neighbors within earshot.

Born to Banjo - Posted - 11/29/2008:  14:37:55


Hey,
Tenor's great. Just stick your tongue out and bite it a lot while you're makin' them chords!

Scott Whitfield,
Born to Banjo

mainejohn - Posted - 11/30/2008:  04:55:05


quote:
Originally posted by neplusultra

Sorry to have to correct my respected colleague from the great state of Maine, but Buddy started on the tenor and then started playing just about anything with strings. (in fact, he does lot of professional bass work...seems like bass players are always gigging)

Frankly, I'm glad he didn't start with the 5-string as I'm sure he'd have become an absolute monster (Buddy's just that way) and I wouldn't have the pleasure of working with him and trying to steal as much as I can from him on the plectrum. (thankfully with Buddy, it's not really stealing because he freely gives it away)

If I recall correctly, there is lots of info bio information on Bud's website, buddywachter.com, well worth taking the time to read.





I guess I stand corrected. Funny what you hear in a bar at a 4string banjo convention...I could have sworn that guy knew what he was talking about!

Cheers,
John Coleman
Scarborough, Maine

"There are two groups of people in the world...those that organize everything into two groups, and those that don''t"

NYCJazz - Posted - 11/30/2008:  10:09:10


Sounds like you made a great choice!

Keep us posted on your progress!






Friends don''t let friends convert jazz banjos.

JOnkka - Posted - 12/17/2008:  10:38:50


I had a book about thirty years ago. Probably still have it that showed using a regular 5-string tuned in C tuning with the bridge cut down at the fifth string so you wouldn't hit it with the pick. I tried mine that way for a while. It worked. Cheapest conversion I could see.

banjopocolypse - Posted - 12/18/2008:  20:27:23


Hell yeah, tenor banjos rule although secretly sometimes I wish I knew plectrum. the deering goodtime tenor is pretty inexpensive and sounds awesome to me, but its the only one I"ve ever played so what would I know.

NYCJazz - Posted - 12/19/2008:  07:20:00


One nice thing about learning tenor is that, because it's tuned in fifths, it's pretty much the same as playing mandolin!

The extreme short scale takes a little getting used to, and you have to get used to transposing the chords ( up a fourth/ down a fifth) but it's an easy way to expand your musical capabilities!





It''s taken me all my life to learn what not to play.

~ Dizzy Gillespie

Compass56 - Posted - 12/19/2008:  07:56:49


I love tenor. I play 5-string also, but tenor is my banjo love. I must admit that sometimes (usually after listening to Cynthia Sayer) I wish that I played some plectrum.

Mandobanjo - Posted - 12/19/2008:  19:58:04


Mind if I jump in here, Folks?
I go back and forth over the type of banjo to buy. I think I am worrying my life away on this. I have been drawn to a Gold Tone Plectrum Special. I think it would be easier for me to learn since I am still pretty crappy at playing guitar! The Gold Tones have a great sound for the money and I think it would be cool for old timey music. Then, I get the blugrass bug and start looking at 5-strings. A friend of mine suggested I get a good Plectrum and then have someone make me another neck for 5 string play. Has anyone tried this?
Also, since you all are really a wealth of knowledge, what is a good beginning video for Plectrum Banjo?

JOnkka - Posted - 12/20/2008:  03:58:31


Get a 5-string. You can play plectrum anytime you wish with the same banjo.

Now you've got 2 out of 3 covered.

Start making noise.

billmill22 - Posted - 12/20/2008:  11:07:20


Best video is Buddy wachter's Home spun brand "Learning Plectrum Banjo" Buddy rambles on somewhat, but he has one of the greatest right hand techniques around.
I agree, if you want to jump back and forth between 5 string and plectrum banjo, get a 5 string. If you want to play like Buddy, get a Plectrum. (He's also great on Tenor)
Usually most great players start very young ( I'm sure there are exceptions), but it sure is nice to think that someone, maybe on this forum, may be the next greatest player!
Bill

http://www.banjoseen.com
"Where there is a Tub-A-Phone banjo,
there you will find Musical Happiness"

fredjohn - Posted - 12/21/2008:  00:17:18


I have a plectrum banjo.

Its tuned to D G B E, which I think is called Chicago tuning

More common is perhaps D G B D

It was made by Andybanjo in Faversham Kent UK




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