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 ARCHIVED TOPIC: A-scale Chords

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gbisignani - Posted - 08/26/2017:  10:48:00

I'm pretty sure this topic has been talked to death but I have a question anyhow.  I have a Goodtime Parlor banjo.  It does not stay in tune when I tune to open G.  It does when I tune to A (A, E, A, C#, E).

At some point I would like to bring this to play with the group I play with (folk, country, rock & roll).  I can't ask them to capo up to the 2nd fret because their voices don't sound good there.  They have told me so.  How do I convert chords in A to sound good to chords in G ? I guess when they play G I play A but I don't know all the rest.  Is there a chart anywhere ?

Rick McKeon - Posted - 08/26/2017:  11:01:48

You need to play the same chords as everyone else, but . . .

Because your banjo is tuned a whole step above standard G tuning you simply need to move everything down a whole step or two frets from the way you would play it in standard G tuning. For example the F form G chord with its root on the 4th string at the 5th fret needs to be moved down two frets. Then the root note on the 4th string will be a G note at the 3rd fret. Make sense?

You still need to deal with the 5th string. Hopefully it will work tuned down to G.


Edited by - Rick McKeon on 08/26/2017 11:06:04

gbisignani - Posted - 08/26/2017:  11:47:02

I think I know what your saying.  That would mean that a C chord would be a barred 3rd fret.  D would be a barred 5th fret ?

Then would a D chord also be a D form on the first thru 3rd fret ?, etc, etc

Rick McKeon - Posted - 08/26/2017:  12:14:04

You got it! Except D would look just like an open C in standard G tuning. Just make a D chord in the D form and then move it down two frets (of course you end up opening up the 3rd string). Recognize the chord? In standard G tuning the open C chord is a special case of the D form. smiley

One other thing that might be helpful if you guys play off of chord charts is to simply make up your own chart for any songs you use the A scale banjo for. It would make things simpler. For instance, if the song in in the key of D, just make up a chart in the key of C. I used to do this all the time when I played guitar with a capo. My playing partner never used a capo, so I made him a chart in the actual key, but my chart reflected where I put the capo. For instance if I was playing in the key of E but had a capo on the 2nd fret, I would write his chart in the key of F# (the actual key).


Edited by - Rick McKeon on 08/26/2017 12:30:24

Bill H - Posted - 08/26/2017:  15:12:22

It is essentially like playing with a capo at the second fret. Think in terms of the three main chord shapes--An F shape at the third fret is a G chord, barre at the third a C, what you normally play as a C chord at the nut is now a D chord (V chord)

Move these shapes any place on the neck to change keys. It won't take long to figure out and get used to it once you start to play familiar tunes.

Capo at the third fret is now open C, at the fifth, open D.


WayneConrad - Posted - 08/26/2017:  15:54:53

A Goodtime Parlor should stay in tune in open G.  I do not want to discourage you in tuning it to A, but you might consider having someone look at it.  Actually, one thing you can do yourself: Check that the tuners aren't slipping.  The tuner friction adjusts with a little flat-blade screw on the end of the tuning knobs.  Clockwise is more friction.

Gondela - Posted - 08/26/2017:  16:25:35

Read Rick Mckeon's book, "Music Theory Made Really Easy ". It explains all this in a way that is almost easy to understand.
Wayne is also right on the money.

gbisignani - Posted - 08/26/2017:  16:43:44

Screws in the pegs are tight.  I replaced the buttons a while ago could it have something to do with the new buttons ?  It was a pain to change these.  I had to file out the 5th string peg.  Actually the 5th never went out of tune.  I do know that it should be setup better but wouldn't there be problems tuned to A if the setup or tuner buttons were the problem ?   

WayneConrad - Posted - 08/26/2017:  17:38:33

It's a curious problem.  Perhaps you could ask in the building & setup forum.  I'd love to know what the hardware wizards make of it.

Edited by - WayneConrad on 08/26/2017 17:41:01

mbanza - Posted - 08/27/2017:  06:51:00

The issue you describe likely stems from inadequate string tension when tuned to G.  Your scale length is about 23 1/8, so you'll need larger diameter strings to achieve adequate tension when tuned to G.  I suggest:  One and five-0.011; two-0.013; three-018w (or 0.020w, 0.016); four-0.026w. 

gbisignani - Posted - 08/27/2017:  07:04:21

I'll have to check the guages.  This might be a step in the right direction.  I originally had light guage and it was horrible.  I put medium guage on and it's better but still not good.  I'm not sure what are the actual guages being used.  Also I live in a very humid area.  The banjo is always in an air conditioned house but I noticed that the humidity can get up to 70% sometimes.

Could this be a factor ?

mbanza - Posted - 08/27/2017:  08:03:13

Humidity probably has minimal effect:  Here it ranges from about 7% to 70% or a bit more with little effect.   If you have a skin head, however, it may be a different story.

I like to have about 13 pounds tension on plain, and about 16 pounds tension on wound strings.  This string tension estimator can be very useful:

gbisignani - Posted - 08/27/2017:  08:10:35

Thanks a lot Verne...I just ordered strings from juststrings.

jmcconnan - Posted - 08/27/2017:  08:45:54

I too changed the strings on my parlor banjo to a medium gauge set. I then temporarily tuned the banjo to G but two tones higher so the strings were stretched. Now she stays in tune all the time.

mbanza - Posted - 08/27/2017:  08:48:28

You're welcome, Glenn.  If you use an unwound third string and the sound of it seems a bit off, a wound string, being more flexible, will sound better.

Fathand - Posted - 08/27/2017:  10:45:26


Originally posted by mbanza

The issue you describe likely stems from inadequate string tension when tuned to G.  Your scale length is about 23 1/8, so you'll need larger diameter strings to achieve adequate tension when tuned to G.  I suggest:  One and five-0.011; two-0.013; three-018w (or 0.020w, 0.016); four-0.026w. 

I second this idea.

WayneConrad - Posted - 08/28/2017:  07:29:13

The Goodtime Parlor comes with Goodtime Light strings, which are:

    10 11 13 21W 10

and it keeps in tune in open G with these gauges (once the strings are stretched out, as normal).

If heavier strings allow it to stay in tune (how?), then I can't help but think it a workaround for the problem, not a solution to the root cause.  That said, It's your banjo, and if medium strings keep it in tune, then problem solved.  Glenn, Do you recall if the banjo had trouble staying in tune before you changed the buttons?


mbanza - Posted - 08/28/2017:  08:03:40

Wayne, I agree, the banjo should, for the most part, stay in tune once in tune, even strung lightly (0.010, 0.011, 0.013, 0.021w).  My experience with tensions less than 11 pounds, however, is that it's difficult to play in tune unless you can avoid fretting too heavily.  The long-string sizes you list produce an estimated 10.6, 9.0, 8.0, and 10.4 pounds tension, respectively:  I know I would have problems with tensions that low and assume many others would as well.

A second problem with low tensions is that if a person tunes down to a note, rather than tuning up to it, backlash may remain because string tension isn't enough to overcome the friction setting of the tuner right away.  Slowly it slips out of tune.

I concluded that playing in tune was the actual problem and acknowledge that I could be mistaken.

WayneConrad - Posted - 08/28/2017:  08:51:17

Verne, that makes perfect sense.  Thank you for explaining it.  When I had the light string on my Goodtime Parlor, I did indeed bend the strings sharp due to my rather heavy-handed fretting.  I am pretty much an ape on the fretboard, and medium strings resist my... enthusiastic... fretting better.  

I didn't think about backlash as a mechanism.  Good point.


gbisignani - Posted - 08/28/2017:  09:29:39

Yes it did have problems staying in tune before I put the new buttons on.  I was actually in contact with Deering about this.

I bought the banjo second hand and it had a Moon bridge medium guage strings and planetary tuners.  Deering seemed to think it was the tuners but

     I'm almost positive they put them on.  The bridge was and addition the previous owner put on.  I changed the bridge about 10

     times.  I now have a compensated (forget how high) and it's about the best out of the bunch. I'm thinking that if the setup is wrong than

     I would have problems tuning in A.


gbisignani - Posted - 09/06/2017:  10:16:10

I'd like to thank everyone for their help on this.  I have to say that Verne hit the nail right on the head (is that a real expression, doesn't sound right !).  I put on 011 on first and fifth, 013 on second, 018 on third, and I think it was 020 on fourth.  So much better.  Now I'm going to try to re-position the bridge again.  Does anyone know if this is done the same way as a normal scale banjo ?  That's the way I originally did it and it seems that it's very close to the tailpiece. Approx 1.5 inches from the tailpiece.  I had to keep moving it towards the tailpiece to get the intonation correct.  Keep in mind this is the parlor banjo. .

WayneConrad - Posted - 09/07/2017:  10:01:21

Yes, positioning the bridge works the same on a short-scale banjo as it does on a full-scale banjo.

steve davis - Posted - 09/08/2017:  09:25:07

To position the bridge for best noting
tune open strings to pitch
fret strings at the 12th fret
if the 12th fret fretted notes are sharp move the bridge toward the tailpiece
retune open strings and fret at 12,again

repeat procedure until the open and 12th fret fretted notes' comparisons are 0 or Green on a tuner (or as near to 0 as possible).

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