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 ARCHIVED TOPIC: Just picked up tenor banjo...

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VividBlack - Posted - 03/16/2009:  19:42:16

Where do I start?

I've decided to take up my great grandfather's old banjo. Epiphone Recording A, if that means anything to anyone around here (doesn't much, to me, if I'll be honest with my ignorance).

Real old, this one. From the 20's.

I have little previous instrumental knowledge (halfheartedly pursued violin in school for some four years, came away with little).

What I have to go on are some instructional books from the 60's (my dad's), and this website.

Haven't learned much, just the C scale in two octaves. Excuse me if I sound really stupid... don't know much, but I hope this place can help.

Any recommended songs for beginners? Anything, really.

flatfoot - Posted - 03/16/2009:  20:27:21

>>>my great grandfather's old banjo. Epiphone Recording A, if that means anything>>>>

You have a real fine instrument there. Worth restoring.

I got a tenor banjo from my dad also. Didn't like the jazz banjo repertoire much. I really got into it, though, when I realized that it could be tuned GDAE and used to play Irish and Celtic styles.

Look into a variety of style and try lots of things. Plenty of players on You tube to get ideas from.

Good luck



Bill Rogers - Posted - 03/16/2009:  21:24:31

Probably worth $1,500 or more, depending on condition.


diarmaid - Posted - 03/17/2009:  05:18:15

very nice banjo, in fact one of the best sounding models of banjos ever made, what type of music do you want to play, the tenor banjos are very well suited to jazz and irish music (among others).

NYCJazz - Posted - 03/17/2009:  11:48:26

Way to go!

I started tenor on my grandfather's banjo... but his instrument wasn't nearly as good as yours!

Buddy Wachter is probably the best jazz tenor banjoist around. Eddy Davis is right up there, too. Look them up on YouTube Also, do a search on YouTube for WyattUrban. He specializes in filming banjo performances. His father was a tenor banjoist.

Here's my former teacher, Roy Smeck, back in 1926. The banjo is at the end of the video:

Here's a pretty good book for understanding chords on the tenor:

If you're into taking lessons, my current teacher, Cynthia Sayer, has students she teaches over the internet via Skype. She's a plectrum banjoist, but most of her students are tenor players.

You will get plenty of support here. Us 4 string banjo players LOVE to see new interest in our instrument!

"Only put off until tomorrow what you are willing to die having left undone."

- Pablo Picasso

VividBlack - Posted - 03/17/2009:  16:52:24

Thanks, everyone.

diarmaid, I think I'll go with flatfoot's suggestion, and give either a try. However, I may gravitate towards Irish music.

NYCJazz, I think I'll try teach myself some rudimentary stuff before I think about lessons. As for the book, I'll order one, once I get the proper funds. I'm pretty lacking in resources, so maybe I'll have it in a couple months.

diarmaid - Posted - 03/18/2009:  00:40:45

If youre more likely to play Irish stuff, i would recommend tuning it gdae and using mandolin strings on it, or Tom Cussens Clareen banjo strings. Theres some really great instructional material for playing Irish stuff tuned gdae, by Gerry O'Connor, and recently, stuff by Enda Scahill (Banjoed is Enda Scahills banjo hangout username).

heres some free lessons from youtube to get you started theyre played on the mandolin, but the tuning and finger positioning is identical to a gdae tuned tenor banjo, before this, it would be worth learning simple scales, which should be practiced until thy can be played fluidly and effortlessly up and down, later adding ornamentation as you progress.

Edited by - diarmaid on 03/18/2009 00:42:34

mainejohn - Posted - 03/18/2009:  04:56:21

If you think it needs restoring, don't try and do it yourself...take it to at least one professional luthier for opinions. I learned the hard way...I inherited my Dad's Epiphone Peerless tenor 45 years ago and because I didn't know any better, it ended up being butchered.

John Coleman
Scarborough, Maine

Bill Rogers - Posted - 03/18/2009:  11:21:00

While most Irish players tune GDAE, Gerry O'Connor, arguably the best there is, plays in standard tenor tuning--CGDA. His book is tabbed in GDAE, but he notes that he doesn't normally play in that tuning.


mikeyes - Posted - 03/18/2009:  11:58:51

Gerry usually capoes up two and plays daeb which suits his style a lot better. But I have seen him play GDAE with amazing results, too.

Tim (VividBlack),

You have, as you have probably surmised, a professional level banjo, one that is loved by all :grin: and one that a lot of people would like to have. The Epi A is suitable for all sorts of music and especially prized by Irish players. When I was your age I was offered a B&D Silver Bell and having such a great instrument meant a lot to me over the years as not only was it a blast to play, but the quality of sound made me want to play better.

Depending on where you live, you can have that banjo looked at by an expert or you can post pictures - show as much of the banjo in several pictures as you can - and the experts here can comment. Setting it up for the music of your choice will not be a problem, in fact I would be glad to contribute a bridge and some strings for your style if you need one. We can steer you towards good teachers and other resources as you need them, too.

Mike Keyes

VividBlack - Posted - 03/19/2009:  20:20:54

Thanks for all the support, everyone.

I just got the banjo (refuse to say 'my' just yet) back from a luthier. He took a look at it, restrung it, and that was all that it needed. It's in pretty good shape, apparently.

I have it tuned CGDA, might keep it like that and give a go for a while.

I have a Mel Bay beginner's book, taught me a few scales so far, and I can... uh... just barely play Yankee Doodle. Nothing great, I know. Haha, I'm proud of that, regardless.

pilgrim1 - Posted - 03/31/2009:  04:06:58

I've been playing Irish since Pontius was a Pilot, and have never felt the need to stray from GDAE. But whatever does it for you, go with it. If you use tabs, bear in mind that the vast majority are published in that tuning. Triplets rule!

Come winnow all my folly and you may find
A grain or two of truth amongst the chaff. ...........W.S. Gilbert

Roger the Dodger

rudykizuty - Posted - 04/13/2009:  07:31:03

Originally posted by VividBlack

I'm proud of that, regardless.

As you should be!! Even the best players started out in the same place as everyone the beginning!!!

Anthony Herner

yellowdog - Posted - 04/13/2009:  07:58:54

VividBlack, check out my free tenor instructional book (free computer PDF file download) described in the instructional materials section of the classifieds on the forum. It's the "For Trade" (not actually a trade but free) and is the seventh item listed. The book is about building chords graphically but includes chord theory for both CGDA and GDAE tenor tunings. I think you will find parts of it helpful in understanding your Mel Bay book. Great banjo! Have fun with it.

Frank Geiger

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