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 ARCHIVED TOPIC: 17 fret tenor vs 19 fret 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/144701

sinebar - Posted - 04/06/2009:  06:18:33


So what is the reason for a 17 fret tenor banjo? What difference does 2 frets make?

Mumble Peg - Posted - 04/06/2009:  06:47:24


19 frets are usually around a 23" scale. 17 frets are usually around 20" scale.

The shorter scale and resulting closer frets were originally made for ladies and younger people. Banjo orchestras and bands were very popular back in the 20's, and this allowed them to particpate.

Today, many Irish and Celtic style players favor them because it is an easier transition from fiddle and mandolin, all having the same tuning, GDAE, and a short scale.

The style is more single notes and fewer chords.

“If you don''t read the newspaper you are uninformed; if you do read the newspaper you are misinformed.”---Mark Twain

sinebar - Posted - 04/06/2009:  07:16:37


quote:
Originally posted by Mumble Peg

19 frets are usually around a 23" scale. 17 frets are usually around 20" scale.

The shorter scale and resulting closer frets were originally made for ladies and younger people. Banjo orchestras and bands were very popular back in the 20's, and this allowed them to particpate.

Today, many Irish and Celtic style players favor them because it is an easier transition from fiddle and mandolin, all having the same tuning, GDAE, and a short scale.

The style is more single notes and fewer chords.

“If you don''t read the newspaper you are uninformed; if you do read the newspaper you are misinformed.”---Mark Twain





Thanks that was very helpful.

DanielT - Posted - 04/06/2009:  09:14:32


quote:
Originally posted by Mumble Peg

Today, many Irish and Celtic style players favor them because it is an easier transition from fiddle and mandolin, all having the same tuning, GDAE, and a short scale.


Mumble Peg, just out of curiosity - have you met any Irish / Celtic players who favor 17 fret banjos? I've not met a single one and I can't think of ever coming across one in a session. What's your experience?

Mirek Patek - Posted - 04/06/2009:  09:44:42


See also http://www.banjohangout.org/forum/t...IC_ID=132130

Mirek

-------------------------------------------------
http://www.youtube.com/user/mirekpatek
http://www.geocities.com/patekstylebanjo

Mumble Peg - Posted - 04/06/2009:  09:57:03


You will both both preferences. I believe the short scales are more popular with beginners and amateur players. Most of the top pros use the long scale, with resonators and usually the better brands, Vega, Bacon, Paramounts, etc.

For many years I rebuilt dozens old short scale, open back, no or simple tone ring, basic banjos to supply several music stores specializing in Irish music and instruments.

Here is a comment from www.irish-banjo.com

Long or short scale tenor?

All tenor banjos are not created alike, they come in two distinctly different flavours.
The "normal" or long scale tenor banjo has 19 (or so) frets and a scale length of 55.5-58.5 cm (22-23").
The short scale tenor has 17 frets and a 50.5-54.5 cm (20-21.5") scale length. Apparently it was invented in the 1920s for mandolinist who wanted to double on the banjo.

The short scale tenor is actually often called "Irish banjo" and some people seem to believe that this is the Irish instrument, only for Irish music and the only banjo for Irish music. That's an over-simplification to put it mildly. Lots of Irish musicians play a long scale tenor banjo, and the short scale one is definitely known from other music traditions too.

The advantage of the short scale is that you can play it with "mandolin fingering," that is each left hand finger covering two frets. That means you can finger a tune just like you would on a mandolin and fiddle and also easily get the same phrasing.

The long scale tenor banjo usually requires "guitar fingering" (one finger for each fret) unless you happen to have large hands. This means you have to rethink the fingering, and it also means the highest notes are slightly harder to reach.

There are disadvantages to the short scale too, of course. A shorter scale means less tone and - especially with the low "Irish" tuning more intonation problems. The low G string gets very slack with a short scale, and some banjoists finds that string virtually impossible to use effectively.

None of the pros and cons of either type are that vital though, and there are great musicians producing great music both with long and short scale models. In the end it's a question of personal preferences, and perhaps even simply what instrument you happen to have.

If you're in doubt, I recommend you start with a long scale banjo. That is the most common variant, and it's fairly easy to temporary convert it to short scale if you like, just tune the instrument one note down (FCGD if you're in Irish tuning) and put a capo on the second fret.



“If you don''t read the newspaper you are uninformed; if you do read the newspaper you are misinformed.”---Mark Twain

NYCJazz - Posted - 04/06/2009:  11:28:52


quote:
Originally posted by Mumble Peg

Most of the top pros use the long scale, with resonators and usually the better brands, Vega, Bacon, Paramounts, etc.






I can think of one top professional that plays 17 fret tenors.

Eddy Davis... the musical director for Woody Allen's jazz band.

Eddy explained to me that the 19 fret scale put on a substantial additional tension on the strings as opposed to 17 fret models. I've noticed that I always had trouble tuning the A string on my tenor without it breaking. I'm sure it has a big effect on the sound because of the tension.

Eddy currently plays a 17 fret Nechville electric tenor banjo.





Improvisation is the ability to talk to oneself.
~ Cecil Taylor

mikeyes - Posted - 04/06/2009:  15:04:49


Almost every top pro that I know plays a 19 fret instrument (Barney Mckenna being the exception, but then I don't know Barney) and they use mandolin fingering too. A lot of them don't have huge hands either, they just adjust.

As mentioned above, 17 fret banjos are harder to tune and intonate and they have a different sound from the 19 fret instruments. The original tenor banjos (circa 1915-1925 or so) were 17 fret until manufacturers started making 19 fret instruments which sold better due to musical tastes changing and bigger bands. B&D went from the 17 fret instruments to the 19 fret instruments in their top line banjos about then. You could still get 17 fret instruments, but most pros wanted the sound that they got from the longer instruments and the extra frets to play on.

The 17 fret instruments were just part of the evolution of the tenor banjo and all that changed as the use of the banjo changed. The modern ones are usually due to marketing (the "Irish tenor banjo" doesn't exist per se, it is just good marketing by such entitities as Gold Tone) and to some extent to individual needs. There is no technical reason for a 17 fret banjo now, but a lot of players like them. I have several myself that I play in sessions - I just got a very nice Bacon Style B in an auction. But my main instruments are 19 frets long because they sound better to me.

Mike Keyes
http://www.banjosessions.com
http://www.mikekeyes.com


Edited by - mikeyes on 04/08/2009 13:02:49

DanielT - Posted - 04/06/2009:  15:47:06


quote:
Originally posted by mikeyes

Almost every top pro that I know plays a 19 fret instrument (Barney Mckenna being the exception, but then I don't know Barney) and they use mandolin fingering too.


Yeah, me too...and the story I have on Barney is that David Boyle made his 17 fret instrument because he was having a hard time with his old Paragon. Not a big deal by any stretch - people can call a banjo whatever they want - I'm just fascinated at how deeply engrained the 17 fret-Irish banjo association is, given how infrequently I see 17 fret banjos at sessions.

pilgrim1 - Posted - 04/06/2009:  16:32:47


I play a 17 fret simply because I have short fingers and the shorter scale enables me to cover more frets without too much hand-shifting. Speeds things up, I reckon. OK, they do sound a little different, but only someone familiar with the finer points of banjo-playing would know the difference, and THEY don't figure largely in our average pub audience!

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

Roger the Dodger

Tom Banjo - Posted - 04/06/2009:  22:22:49


I went back and forth on which to get, and ended up with 17 frets. I love my banjo, but I do wish I had gone with 19 frets. There's just not as much power with 17 frets, and you have to deal with either floppy low strings or or really high string gauges. 17 frets is good to get over that initial learning curve, but once you're past that it's not as needed, IMHO. I sometimes tune my guitar (with a scale of 25-26") to 5th tuning and can play it just fine, so I know that 19 frets wouldn't be difficult for me anymore.

aroblin - Posted - 04/07/2009:  05:04:37


Hi, All--

Interesting discussion.

I play a 17-fret Washburn Style C and a 19-fret B&D Silver Bell #1, both from the mid 1920s, both tuned C-G-A-D. They differ in many ways, but both sound and play great.

The 17-fret Washburn has an extremely fast neck and low action. With a plastic head and 1/2-inch bridge, I string it .011 .015 .024 and .036. I gig most with the Washburn--playing Jamaican mento, pop standards etc.--because it's fast, rugged, replaceable if damaged and a joy to hear.

It doesn't have the rich overtones, ravishing timbre or volume of the 19-fret Silver Bell. I'd say the tone of the 17-fret Washburn is a little funkier, thunkier and plunkier. Still beautiful, though, especially in folk genres.

I once tuned it Celtic style, G -D -A - E and didn't care for the sound. As others have written, the G string was virtually useless.

The 19-fret Silver Bell is a different animal, perfect for my studies of maestro Buddy Wachter. I have it strung .009 - .013 - .022 - .030., with a higher bridge and a skin head. The neck isn't quite as fast as the Washburn, and the action goes a bit too high for me with heavier strings.

Lacking a modern fibreglass case, I have never gigged with this beautiful and, for me, irreplaceable, instrument. But I sure love to play it at home.

Bottom line: There are great banjos in both 17 and 19 frets. Try them and see what suits you. Experiment with different set ups, heads and string gauges until you get a thrill.

Enjoy yourself, your music and your banjo.


ruraltradpunk - Posted - 04/07/2009:  21:52:42


Top pro who plays a 17 fret tenor banjo - Angelina Carberry. I sat across from that banjo every Thursday for 8 months when I was taking lessons from her and I think it sounds the business. She also let me have a wee go of it once while she adjusted the bridge on mine and her's (an Oakwood) was lovely to play.

I play a 17 fret Stomberg open back. I like it, it's comfortable to play and that certainly aided me when I was starting out. I knew nowt about the whole 17 fret vs. 19 fret thing when I purchased it. It was merely the result of spending an entire afternoon at Tom Cussen's shop trying out every single banjo there. The Stromberg was the last one I picked up that day, and I very nearly didn't - not because it was short scale, but rather due to it being an open back. The minute I started playing it I knew it was the one I wanted.

Life is too short to get your knickers in a twist over the whole "Irish Tenor Banjo" tag, or to berate someone for using that term. I'm Irish and living in the States now - I don't really care whether or not 17 fret banjos are commonly spotted at sessions -lots of stuff matters in life, that however doesn't...

Cheers,
Jill

Tom Banjo - Posted - 04/08/2009:  00:19:57


Another interesting thing about Angelina's banjo that differs from the banjos of most other top players is that it has a 12" rim and is open-back.

DanielT - Posted - 04/08/2009:  06:37:42


quote:
Originally posted by ruraltradpunk

Life is too short to get your knickers in a twist over the whole "Irish Tenor Banjo" tag, or to berate someone for using that term.


Yeah, I s'pose you're right.

NYCJazz - Posted - 04/08/2009:  07:32:53


quote:
Originally posted by Tom Banjo

Another interesting thing about Angelina's banjo that differs from the banjos of most other top players is that it has a 12" rim and is open-back.







What happens to a 17 fret neck when it is on a 12” pot? Different scale or is the bridge moved more to the center?





Improvisation is the ability to talk to oneself.
~ Cecil Taylor

Padre - Posted - 04/08/2009:  11:16:45


nope
I had a Orpheum 2 and it had 21" scale
as far as I remember 21" that's a shortest scale for 19" tenors

------------------
If a frog had wings, he wouldn''t bump his ass hoppin''

mikeyes - Posted - 04/08/2009:  12:55:23


There are differences between 17 and 19 fret instruments, but they are not qualitative in the sense that one is better than another. Much of it depends on the quality of the instrument and there are fewer high quality 17 fret instruments out there than there are high quality 19 fret instruments. Part of this has to do with a) 17 fret instruments were the only tenor banjos when the tenor banjo was in its development stage - the better made banjos from the late 20s and the 30s were more likely to be a 19 fret instrument and b) cheap banjos (or entry level banjos, some were well made even though they cost $35 especially the Bacons and Vegas) that flooded the early market were almost always 17 fret to take advantage of the fad. So you have a quality difference not based on fret numbers but on timing of the manufacturing and demand for cheap instruments.

The other aspect of this is that the cheaper 17 fret banjos don't tend to be setup very well and it is a trait of the short neck that they are harder to intonate and tune because even slight changes in setup can cause problems due to the small distances needed for tonal change. (I hope that makes sense, anyone with experience with 17 and 19 fret banjos will tell you that the 17 fret ones are more sensitive.) You can set the 17 fret banjos up well, it is just a little tougher because of the narrow windows of optimal sound that they have. But if you have a well made Bacon/Vega/Gibson 17 fret banjo and it is setup well, you will have a wonderful banjo. (I know there are others such as the Lange banjos that work well too.) Once dialed in they can be just as loud and sound just as good as a comparable 19 fret banjo. But they are harder to dial in and if you are not used to setting up your own banjo, it may be hard to realize the best out of a 17 fret instrument.

My 17 fret hall of fame includes Bacon Style B and Style B Special, early B&D Silver Bell #1, B&D Super Banjo (all Bacons 1924), 1923 Gibson TB-3, 1924 Vega Little Wonder, 1925 Vega Style M, and one Slingerland Maybelle of unknown time period - the other Maybells not so good. Each of those banjos sound great once set up well with the right head tension, strings and bridge. The G strings were killers and they were all loud with complex tones. Similar 19 fret banjos also sounded good, but different due to the added neck mass and string length. So it is a matter of both quality and setup for the 17 fretters, just like their larger relatives.

Mike Keyes
http://www.banjosessions.com
http://www.mikekeyes.com


Edited by - mikeyes on 04/08/2009 13:40:31

fred davis - Posted - 04/08/2009:  13:06:12


I play a 17 fret as well as a 19 fret 6 string and yes intone can be a problem , But anyone who has tuned a mandolin well knows this problem I also use a #45 string on the 17 as a G due to shoulder problems I love playing the shorter necks

Greenmeat - Posted - 04/08/2009:  14:40:50


I play Ome custom made 17fret tnor banjos with a 12" pot. I have played everything and this suits me best. For what I play and the sound I want this fits me best. I also had Tom Nechville make me a 17fret electric Meteor, so I can compete in a younger market. Eddy Davis

clawhammerjazz - Posted - 04/08/2009:  15:08:26


Hi, Eddy. It's great to have you join us! I believe Jimmy Mazzy also plays a 17 fret tenor. --Cjazz

ruraltradpunk - Posted - 04/08/2009:  20:56:19


What Mike says regarding there being fewer quality vintage 17 fret tenors out there makes total sense - three of the nicest 17 fret tenors I've played were all modern ones: Angelina's Oakwood, a 17 fret Dave Boyle that was on consignment at Custy's in Ennis, and a 17 fret Clareen Oyster or Pearl at Tom Cussen's shop.

Cheers,
Jill

NYCJazz - Posted - 04/09/2009:  07:02:23


Hi Eddy!

Welcome!



Improvisation is the ability to talk to oneself.
~ Cecil Taylor

Mumble Peg - Posted - 04/09/2009:  10:24:01


Most, but not all, R&L Orpheums were 17-fret open back.

Tom Banjo - Posted - 04/09/2009:  11:09:46


quote:
Originally posted by NYCJazz

quote:
Originally posted by Tom Banjo

Another interesting thing about Angelina's banjo that differs from the banjos of most other top players is that it has a 12" rim and is open-back.







What happens to a 17 fret neck when it is on a 12” pot? Different scale or is the bridge moved more to the center?





Improvisation is the ability to talk to oneself.
~ Cecil Taylor



I guess if you got the neck from a banjo with an 11" rim you'd have a bridge closer to the center. If the neck was made with the intent of using a 12" rim it could go either way.

mando1946 - Posted - 04/10/2009:  16:47:15


17 fret versus 19 fret does not really translate into scale length, which is more the heart of the matter here. I, too, have a 17 fret instrument with a 12" pot. The scale length is a little over 22", closer to the 19 fret norm. I had this instrument built to my specifications, which included a 12" pot and a scale length of 22", give or take an eight of an inch. Next, I specified exactly where I wanted the bridge placed, as that would have a major impact on the tone. Number of frets was simply a necessary consequence of these determinants, which just happened to be 17 in this case.


Edited by - mando1946 on 04/10/2009 16:50:02

Greenmeat - Posted - 04/10/2009:  18:33:08


Altho maybe what you say is correct, about the scale lenth could be what ever you want, the reason I play 17fret necks is because I want the less tension on the strings. The sound I want is not that tight string sound. And I use the 12" pots with no tone ring so I can have a natural sustaining sound. I use a no knot tailpiece for the same reason and the bridge being more in the center of the pot also helps with the natural sound. Now, it is not true that my kind of sound is not loud! Because of the fullness on natural vibrations it is louder than my 19fret conventional resonator instruments.Also, if you use nice geared tuning pegs it is very easy to tune and the intonation is perfect. I use mini schaller pegs and for you who think it's not proper, just look at the tuners on the original banjos. Eddy Davis

fergaloh - Posted - 04/11/2009:  03:20:57


Its true most professionals play 19 fretters. I play irish and my gibson is 18 fret, 21 inch or so scale. I find the ease of playing far outweighs the difference in sound and as Mike Keyes always says, if set up right theres no hassle. Intonation can be a pain too but, my hearings not that sensitive!! Overall a 19 fret set up well, will probably be better than short scale set up well


Klondike Waldo - Posted - 04/11/2009:  07:24:48


quote:
Originally posted by aroblin

Hi, All--

Interesting discussion.

I play a 17-fret Washburn Style C and a 19-fret B&D Silver Bell #1, both from the mid 1920s, both tuned C-G-A-D. They differ in many ways, but both sound and play great.


I hope you meant CGDA


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

aroblin - Posted - 04/12/2009:  04:14:34


Yes!

Thanks, and thanks to all the participants in this discussion. I'm happy to have a place we can talk about this.

Andrew

1fiddle2play - Posted - 04/13/2009:  10:09:15


If you are going to play 17 fret tuned GDAE the Strings get a bit floppy and sloppy to say. So to fix that you will need to try thicker strings which will raise the string tenson when brought up to tune verse the lighter gauge strings. Once you figure out the gauges that work best write it down so when you order more strings you will have it right the next time around. Also this is a excellent trick to use also..Use a wound string on all strings except for ur E string. To answer the question 19 verse 17 fret> It is mostly all abt the hand comfort making cords. I think most like the 17 fret for comfort but the 19 does sound better...

banjered - Posted - 04/13/2009:  13:37:17


This is probably anathema to Irish tenor banjo players but I use the CGDA strings and tune it to DADA. The two base strings C&G are raised one whole step (two frets) to D&A which of course makes the strings less floppy on a 17 fretter. I had a beautiful 19 fret tubaphone that I got rid of because I preffered the mellower sound of the Vega 17 fret skin head. With this tuning I can easily play 90% plus of the tunes in the key of D and G, it is easy to reach the high B (second fret on the first string) and because it is a modal tuning between a major and a minor, the banjo is in tune with itself in an open tuning and I often get some drones going on depending on the tune.

The Irish tenor banjo is not a result of research and development but happenstance. If I had the bucks I would have made for me a five stringer tuned ADADA still in the 17 fret scale.

A sample of this tuning/approach is at http://cdbaby.com/cd/jbtcmr where you can hear Kingdom Coming & Soldier's Joy.

pgroff - Posted - 04/13/2009:  20:34:06


Hi Tom,

I have also been thinking about a "tenor" banjo with 5 long strings.... I would go for GDAEB, in other words the Irish tuning an octave below a mandolin, plus a high B string. That's a big range of open-string pitches and gauges so I have been thinking about a wide bridge and big pot. Maybe a short-scale, or capo'd-up, guitar banjo with a customized nut would be the easiest and cheapest way to try this out.

PG

Tom Banjo - Posted - 04/13/2009:  21:43:53


Reading tom clunie's post reminded me of one thing that 17 frets has over 19 frets. If you're playing Irish style, you can get a set of strings that are packaged for CGDA and then tune up to DAEB without needing a capo and without having to worry about the tension being too much. Seems to me that DAEB would be a bit much for 19 frets, considering the gauges given in most banjo sets. I had mine set up like that for a while, but ended up switching back because I missed being able to drone on the low G.

will cramer - Posted - 04/15/2009:  09:26:37


Hi gang, I purchased a Deering Sierra tenor a few years back and they did not have a 19 fret ready to go so I took a chance and had them ship me the 17 fret they had. At first I was disapointed with the sound but I realy loved the shorter scale as I have small hands. It took me about a year of experimenting with heads, tailpieces, bridges and strings to get the big sound I wanted. In the end it all worked out very nicely and I love my 17 fret job. I use my old Weymann for dixi gigs and it has the full 23 inch scale. I think it's a matter of string tension, head tension and down bearing pressure from the tailpiece to insure a full sound with the shorter scale. All the best, Will. ( )--::

DanielT - Posted - 04/15/2009:  10:28:45


quote:
Originally posted by pgroff

I have also been thinking about a "tenor" banjo with 5 long strings....


I have a friend who had a guitar built like this, except he added a low C string (which is heavy like a piano string). A bit hard to play until you get used to it, but it sounds great and opens things up pretty nicely.

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