I'm basically a beginner using a 5-string. My musical interests are varied, so it's tempting to get a 4-string plectrum as well. My reasoning is that it is generally tuned the same way as the 5-stringer, thus I only have to build on the chord set I already know.
Does this make sense or am I overlooking more important factors?
Can I just get by - at least for the moment - with the 5-string and just not strum the fifth string?
Plectrums seem harder to come by. Are there any good sources for beginners?
A plectrum is the same as a 5 string without the 5th string. I have a 5 string I use for a plectrum, I just removed the 5th string. If you want to play plectrum and 5 string on the same instrument you can just avoid the 5th string. If you wish to concentrate on plectrum I would remove the 5th, as it tends to get in the way.
The standard tuning for a plectrum is slightly different. 5-string is an open G chord DGBD while plectrum is CGBD so there is tons of common ground. Same number of frets, same scale. If you're more comfortable sticking with the open G tuning, do it
Lots of people just drop the 5th string and play with a flatpick. Jamaican Mento mostly uses banjos like this because 5-string banjos are cheaper & more plentiful in the islands than plectrums.
Plectrums ARE hard to find. Keep an eye out on eBay... a lot of sellers don't know the difference between tenor & plectrum, so do what I do... count the frets! Gold Tone and Deering Goodtime both sell great entry-level instruments
Improvisation is the ability to talk to oneself. ~ Cecil Taylor
Plectrum style on a 5string does work, but if you're going to play both styles, you'll eventually want to add a plectrum to your "tool box." I like to use slightly heavier gauge strings on my plec than on my 5's, and chording up the neck and flatpicking that 4th just works better on a real plec.
Jamaican Mento mostly uses banjos like this because 5-string banjos are cheaper & more plentiful in the islands than plectrums.
True, NYCJazz, but let me just throw in a little point here: in Jamaica I've seen lots of five strings banjos (for the reason you point out and NEVER with a fifth string), a couple of six-string banjos, plenty of banjo-ukuleles (more than anyone would ever suspect), even one post-WWII photo (IIRC) of a banjo mandolin, but strangely enough I've never even heard of a plectrum banjo in Jamaica. Everyone wants a tenor. (Why, most I know who have 5-string banjos capo them up a few frets to make them easier to play like a tenor.)
In the for what it is worth category, When I started to play banjo in England in the sixties the five string tuning was gcgbd and referred to a "classical tuning." That is the tuning that Pete Seeger's book begins with. As to Plectrum tuning I have swapped between dgbd and gdbe - much depends on which side of the bed I got out of and then what I am playing. Plectrum is fun and much nicer when it is not a five string minus one. There seem to be plenty of plectrum necks around for building projects. Mine is based on an old Gibson neck. I have found others for sale and made up banjos for guitar playing friends so as to expand their options. Besides - contrary to my wife's opinion - you cannot have too many banjos! Ian