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 ARCHIVED TOPIC: Tenor Banjo - Extended Fretboard - Opinion?

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beezaboy - Posted - 05/10/2009:  06:45:15

Thread strarted over in Collectors' Corner brought into issue the desireability of a tenor banjo which fretboard extends over the head.
From a players standpoint what is your opinion about an extended fretboard? You'll see a divergence of opinion in Collectors' thread:
The banjo in question was presented by BHO member MYLO and a photo is on his homepage:


Compass56 - Posted - 05/10/2009:  07:48:51

The standard fretboard is more than enough for me.

banjocollector - Posted - 05/10/2009:  09:33:47

I have to agree that 19 frets on a tenor banjo are more than enough for me and from a purely personal point of view, aesthetically, I do not like the look of the fingerboard overhanging the vellum.
(But hey - do I wish I could play well enough to need them !)


NYCJazz - Posted - 05/10/2009:  09:38:50

Tenor banjo... I don't see any big advantage musically. That high E is a half step above Louis Armstrong's highest note, I believe!

I can see it's usefulness on the plectrum, however. The pitch is enough lower that a few frets above that high C would be useful and still be pleasing.

Either way, extended fretboards look way cool!

The Banjo savors strongly of the plantations through which the back streets of New York City run. ~ Joel Chandler Harris, 1883

Dogface - Posted - 05/10/2009:  16:42:43

I like the look mostly but it does allow you to get that last F...if that's important. I personally never play that far down the neck. My fingers are way too bulky for the smaller fret spaces.


If there are no dogs in heaven then when I die I want to go where they went...

Will Rogers

neplusultra - Posted - 05/10/2009:  21:28:39

I love extended fingerboards...ok, I've owned one since '84, a plectrum. Mine curves so I get an extra fret on the C string, two on G and three on B and D. This lets me gliss up to an Eb...which I find useful. It wasn't until about ten years ago when I immersed myself in Harry Reser's charts that I truly found the value of the extra fret...Lollypops, in A, has a run up to the C#...I was playing this one day and the teacher of my youth, Charlie Tagawa, heard me and came over to see how I hit that note cleanly...I looked up and smiled and said, "that's why I paid the big bucks for the custom neck" Just this year I got around to stealing Doug Mattock's version of Malaguena as well...since he plays it is C it uses a lot of Db chords...I can gliss or roll up to a 2nd inversion Db which even Doug can't do when he plays.

Gotta agree with NYC...I love the look. I do notice that many people who play my banjo don't like the extended fingerboard because the strings are a bit higher off the head. I'm used to it, I guess, plus I have a 10 1/2 inch handspan so I don't mind the extra room. Sean Moyses cringed when he saw my fingerboard...something about physics etc. and that extended fingerboards ruin the sound...but, again, I don't think his Pietsch Vox compares to my Renee Karnes Bacon. Again, just an opinion thing.

Edited by - neplusultra on 05/10/2009 21:29:54

Polle Flaunoe - Posted - 05/11/2009:  11:44:29


This is a "Mission Impossible" - most 4-string members have likely never ever seen a banjo with this feature - and maybe only a handfull have played an example.

This is a little like asking a common car driver: "What´s your opinion about the KERS systems, as found on some Formula One race cars?".

The extended fretboard as a standard optional feature on a tenor goes back to early/mid 20s. From ´27 and forward you´ll not find this feature on lower grade banjos - only on custom built high graders. I´m talking only about tenors in the 20s, as plectrums were rare then.

Why - it had something to do with the music styles in those years - and the skills of pro-players then.

We don´t have video´s etc. showing, how the pro´s in the mid 20s did benefit from an extended fretboard.

Today only very skilled/advanced players - sometimes playing the old stuff - do prefer a banjo with this feature.

As shown in the previous thread at Collector´s Corner Buddy Wachter did write me words like these "The extended FB and the raised neck is a must for virtuoso tenor playing".


Do forget about Sean Moyses remarks ´bout your banjo - Sean is a friend of mine and plays soloist banjo at an absolute top-level - only he does not have any specific technical knowledge regarding banjos. I do for sure know this - he has several times demonstrated this lack for me in person - LOL!

Kindly regards


minstrelmike - Posted - 05/11/2009:  11:52:51

I play 5 string and have fretted the string directly on the head using the fingernail much like a fretless player does and it gets a fairly nice sound.

Another option for those who make necks, Deering has an option to put another two frets on the end near the head. Gives you two more notes and it still fits in the same 5-string case. Not sure about the measurements on a tenor but it ends up being a lot shorter than adding them on the end Pete Seeger did ;-)

Mike Moxcey Fort Collins, Colorado, USA

diarmaid - Posted - 05/11/2009:  14:36:40

looks pretty cool to me!

neplusultra - Posted - 05/11/2009:  14:56:34 took me about 2 seconds to disregard Sean's comments. We were in a large room at a convention and Renee happened to be about 20 feet away from us. I pointed in her direction and suggested that perhaps Sean might want to discuss the design flaw with the architect. We both laughed and went on to discuss the other important issues that are addressed at banjo know, pick type, string gauge, how many tenor players does it take to change a light bulb?

beezaboy - Posted - 05/11/2009:  19:50:23

Polle: I think you are correct in your estimation that most tenor players have not encountered the extended fret tenor banjo. Further, IMO the vast majority of tenor banjoists are not virtuosos and the extended fretboard would be somewhat of a hindrance. The strings will be higher from the head the thickness of the fretboard. Cosmetically the extended fretboard looks like an afterthought. I also appears fragile with no under support from the neck. Tightening the head is also an issue for if you bring her down the strings are yet higher from the head. Further, some like to strum at the neck/rim junction which the extended fretboard inhibits. So, in my view the extended fretboard is but a curiosity. Looks interesting but, like a plastic or metal pick-guard, has little funtionality for the average tenor me.


banjocollector - Posted - 05/12/2009:  01:28:46

Well said Beezaboy, and that just about sums it up for picky old me !


NYCJazz - Posted - 05/12/2009:  07:52:53

Here's Cynthia, proving you don't need an extended fretboard to be a virtuoso!

The Banjo savors strongly of the plantations through which the back streets of New York City run. ~ Joel Chandler Harris, 1883

Compass56 - Posted - 05/12/2009:  09:42:29

That's not fair. She could do the same thing on a tomato can.

I don't like the idea of extended fretboards for a variety of reasons. The main reason is that I don't like the sound of high notes on a tenor. I try to avoid notes higher than that G at the 10th fret. If I have to go higher I will do so, but only out of neccesity. I think Cynthia may have something to do with that. When ever I went high during our lessons, she would frown disaprovingly.

Edited by - Compass56 on 05/13/2009 08:53:50

Polle Flaunoe - Posted - 05/12/2009:  11:52:58

I quoted Buddy Wachter and wrote:

"The extended FB and the raised neck is a must for virtuoso tenor playing"

Yesterday I watched some tunes at YouTube with the tenor player Maurice Bolyer. He did use the non-existing high F on his 19-fretter several times during these.

In fact it´s not so much the high F - it´s often the high G, that you´ll miss on a tenor, when playing virtuoso stuff.

Regarding the very high notes - f.ex. one octave higher than your top-G, Tony - you´l need a high quality banjo, set up for best possible sound egality all over the fretboard, for producing these with a beautiful sound and a full specter of overtones.

Regarding sound egality - do listen to Cynthia´s latest CD "attractions" with this in mind - you´ll perhaps notice, that her banjo is missing this somehow - her B-string has a sound very different from the other strings.

I´ll meet Cynthia here in DK in october - I´ve lately had some funny writings with her - I´m looking forward to experience her live. Maybe I can even teach her not to "frown diaprovingly", when she hears a high tone from a top-banjo. LOL!



NYCJazz - Posted - 05/12/2009:  14:55:10


I'm sure you'll be able to teach Cynthia many things! LOL

The Banjo savors strongly of the plantations through which the back streets of New York City run. ~ Joel Chandler Harris, 1883

aroblin - Posted - 05/13/2009:  03:45:29

Hi, Polle and Ne Plus Ultra--

I play a B&D Silver Bell #1 with extended fingerboard. What set-up do you recommend?

With lots of respect and interest,


Compass56 - Posted - 05/13/2009:  08:08:57

Hey Polle:

Thanks for the interesting, informative post.

To be precise, I don't think the frowns came from the high notes. Those frowns came from the way I played the high notes. (and, no, I can't blame the banjo. My Deering Maple Blossom is a high quality instrument that is set up [by forumite Jason Burns] superbly.)

Polle Flaunoe - Posted - 05/13/2009:  23:17:57


For a B&D Silver Bell I recommend these set-ups:

11" High Crown
REMO Weatherking bottom coated for tenor and Chicago tuning
REMO Renaissance for Irish tuning

Jim Farquhar 5/8" 3-legged with Taqua inlay and standard spacing

Nickel wounding
Tenor 010-016-024W-032W for solo playing
Tenor 010-013-024W-032W for rhythm playing
Chicago 011-014-024W-032W
Irish 014-024W-032W-040W (maybe even 042W)

Kindly regards


aroblin - Posted - 05/14/2009:  03:35:10

Thanks, Polle.

What do you think about skin heads on a B&D Silver Bell? I prefer the tone. But skin is noisier than plastic in the fingers-down position.


neplusultra - Posted - 05/14/2009:  10:55:38


I don't give a lot of thought to my tenor setup as Plectrum has been my primay axe since the late 70s. But, I do differ from Polle a bit...just preferences.

5-star, clear. I find them a little crisper than Remos, but must admit that I have not used a Remo in years. Renee Karnes has always uses 5-stars on any banjo that I have had her setup for me.

Farquar, 2 legged, Cherry with Ebony insert, 1/2. (but my tenor does not have an extended fingerboard, just my plectrum) I ditched the taqua inserts about a year ago. I went to Renee Karnes' and we spent an hour swapping out every bridge she had in stock this one just lit up the banjo. However, on my plectrum I use a 2 legged Maple w/Ebony, 17/32. (I find that bridges are so vital to the sound and yet each is so unique, and thankfully so easy to swap out, that I just need to try everyone I can get my hands on to see what happens.)

010-014-022W-030W (standard Tenor CGDA)
010-014-022W-017 (I currently have my tenor setup the way Maurice Bolyer did, with the lower C tuned up an octave)

aroblin - Posted - 05/15/2009:  03:44:09

Thanks, neplusultra---

Very interesting! I had no idea Maurice Bolyer tuned his C-string up an octave. Must make for some very nice voicings. What great info. Thanks.

Several months ago, I tried some slightly heavier strings on my B&D Silver Bell #1 extended fingerboard--.032, .023, .017, .011. Unfortunately, the action went very high.

I then lightened up to 009, .013, .022w, .030, but the action remained uncomfortably high. The banjo is now out for service with a vintage banjo man I respect very much. Live and learn.

NYCJazz - Posted - 05/15/2009:  18:52:25


I've been thinking about tuning my tenor as a plectrum. Maybe I'll try that octave C string thing. That may produce a really unique close chord effect!

The Banjo savors strongly of the plantations through which the back streets of New York City run. ~ Joel Chandler Harris, 1883

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