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 ARCHIVED TOPIC: 6-string banjos that still have a drone string?

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:

dukedog - Posted - 01/30/2012:  19:24:45

I havn't been able to find anything from searching around on this topic so maybe someone on here knows anything about this..


I'm wondering if banjos exist that have an extra bass string on them but they still retain the drone string for adding some range and voicing options for non bluegrass and old-time songs. Maybe I should be messing around with alternative tunings instead of this option but I keep wishing I had a low string I could hit when I'm jamming (frailing) and playing classic rock songs or anything bluesy/funky.

Edited by - dukedog on 01/30/2012 19:27:34

The Old Timer - Posted - 01/30/2012:  19:32:52

Sonny Osborne and JD Crowe played 6 string banjos, like a 5 string, but with an extra low bass string, back in the 60s and 70s.

FatManMary - Posted - 01/30/2012:  19:47:13

Sonny is playing one here:


dukedog - Posted - 01/30/2012:  19:55:57

nice thanks for that.

Now next question.. is there a name for these or are they custom made?

Slick Rick - Posted - 01/30/2012:  20:37:57

Like this?

tdennis - Posted - 01/30/2012:  20:41:22

(BTW,   William Temlett & other English makers were building 6 & 7 banjos w/ a drone,  c. 1850-60's).   Lyon & Healy  also made some 7 string banjos. 

Edited by - tdennis on 01/30/2012 20:43:35

Will1717 - Posted - 01/30/2012:  22:11:09


What your describing is really quite common. A true 6 string (not a guitar banjo) is basically a 5 string with a low G string added. With the low G string it definitely kills the theory that you can't play a sad song on a banjo! If you ever get to Clifftop search out Jimmy McCowen. Jimmy plays a 6 string built by David Large, Jimmy has to be one of the best players that I've ever heard and is a true master at playing a 6 string with the low G string. When you hear what Jimmy can do with a 6 string I'm amazed that more banjo players haven't opted for that extra low string.

Bill Rickard  smiley

Helix - Posted - 01/31/2012:  02:34:09

I think it would be perfect for your cargo banjo - that's where you play anything.

Study what width & depth you want at the nut and the heel, the rest will fall in line.
The 24 fret scale looks intriguing, don't it?

mikehalloran - Posted - 01/31/2012:  05:25:14

Plenty still around if you are into 100+ year old banjos. 

dukedog - Posted - 01/31/2012:  08:47:10

Is there a specific name for these besides "6-string Banjo?" When I search using that term, all I see is a huge number of banjitars. The Gold Tone that was linked is the only one I've seen for sale that's even close to my price range (and that's a stretch probably), the other that I saw was custom built and was running around $2,500.

I would also think they would be more popular than they appear to be, who doesn't want more range?

Edited by - dukedog on 01/31/2012 08:48:03

RBuddy - Posted - 01/31/2012:  09:08:48


Welcome to the hangout!

I think I can explain some of your questions. First, the 6 string banjo makes a bunch of sense to me also so I built one over the past year. It was a prototype, being I hadn't built one before and it also had a full length "6th" string tuned high. Reason for the full length 6th was so with the change of a nut and bridge it could be set up as a "gitjo or banjitar" with guitar strings and satisfy the banjo curious guitar players.

So I put it out in the field with a good player who personally loved it set up as a 6 sting banjo. But he reported back that when he often passed it off to other banjo players they gave him an odd look and said something like "what am I supposed to do with that extra string?" So folks spend a lot of time mastering an instrument and only a very few of them want to go through the hassle of learning what to do with "extra" strings. So odd ball instruments don't often gain a big following. If most had 6 strings probably few folks would want to play a 5 string, just the way it goes.

Today I'm setting it up in a third configuration. As a "5 string banjo" except with a double fifth, so the drone string has a drone string kind of like a 12 string guitar is paired.

A bunch of pickers are coming over to give it a road test this weekend.

I built the instrument to be convertible and just fun to play around with. It has a 12 inch head to help take advantage of the lower bass strings.

Picture attached, Brian

Finally got the Remo Black Suede Head I'd ordered


dukedog - Posted - 01/31/2012:  20:23:05

Nice, that one looks pretty sharp... so was that one originally a banjitar and you just converted it by using new strings? I'm also curious about why you need a different nut and bridge to convert it, do the banjitars differ somehow?

It seems like that might be the cheaper route for me, as I can't find any other 6-string banjos w/ a drone, and I could just install spikes where needed to emulate the drone string.

Rooster59 - Posted - 01/31/2012:  20:36:36

Mike Toppins, who plays banjo for Bobby Osborne was playing a six string (with a drone) that Arthur Hatfield built for him when I saw them last summer. It sounded good too.

tdennis - Posted - 01/31/2012:  20:37:02

You could use any modern 6 string banjo (banjitar), & just tune the 6th to the high g drone,by getting the appropriate gauge string( no need for a spike).  

dukedog - Posted - 01/31/2012:  21:20:11

Just based on my brief googling, .009 strings look to be the lightest gauge you can get. Based on my [limited] experience with setting up my banjo it makes me wonder if you would be able to tune a full length string to a high g without it breaking. It might be different with a banjitar though.. I've never messed around with one and adjusted the tuning.

Edited by - dukedog on 01/31/2012 21:21:28

mikehalloran - Posted - 01/31/2012:  21:28:47


Originally posted by dukedog

Just based on my brief googling, .009 strings look to be the lightest gauge you can get. Based on my [limited] experience with setting up my banjo it makes me wonder if you would be able to tune a full length string to a high g without it breaking. 


An .009 will certainly tune up that high - so will a .010 or even a .011.

You can find .008" plain strings easily. E string on an Ernie Ball Extra Slinky set if memory serves (haven't played a set in 40 years) but you have to remove the ball - easily done. I think Dean Markley has a .0075 single available.

Edited by - mikehalloran on 01/31/2012 21:29:39

tdennis - Posted - 01/31/2012:  21:40:12

Banjitars have scale lengths in the rage of guitars, (quite a bit shorter than a 5 string banjo), so a light  gauge string will go up to a high G.  

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