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 ARCHIVED TOPIC: 6-string banjo in jazz

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Veerstryngh Thynner - Posted - 04/13/2018:  08:41:52

I'm usually in BHO's 4-string jazz section. And from there I received the surprising news that the great Django Reinhardt may have started out on 6-string banjo!

Johnny St Cyr famously introduced 6-string banjo to jazz. So if it's true that Django started out on 6-string banjo, he's in good company.

Personally, though, I'm not a big fan of 6-string banjo, since I always found it a bit half-baked, as an instrument: not quite guitar - but not quite banjo either, if you want my honest opinion. Useful, of course, for guitarists wishing to acquire a taste of banjo. But even then: an accomplished 4-string banjo player's plectrum hand is likely to be more 'percussive' (or, perhaps, more 'syncopatative', if you like) than an accomplished guitarist's, to my mind. And it's by this token, I believe, that I can see the difference.

I wonder what 6-string banjo players' views are on this. Am I expressing a controversial opinion here? Or even a bias?

Veerstryngh Thynner 

Greg Denton - Posted - 04/13/2018:  08:59:20

You might find this article from the Deering Blog interesting:

Culloden - Posted - 04/13/2018:  10:56:18

A banjo-guitar was developed so guitar players could play banjo without learning a whole new instrument. The tenor guitar was developed for the opposite reason.

tdennis - Posted - 04/13/2018:  12:00:42

The banjo guitar is not really a half baked concoction. It is an instrument unto itself, that requires a unique approach. I've found that both banjo players as well as guitar players may be disappointed by trying to apply their respective techniques. The BG has a loud strident voice w/ little sustain & does not react well to strumming. They overload easily & can be muddy when chording & strumming.

Veerstryngh Thynner - Posted - 04/21/2018:  14:00:15


Thanks very much for posting that article on 6-string banjo. Really educative and illuminating.


You'll never hear me saying again that 6-string banjo is half-baked. Promise.

Veerstryngh Thynner

hobogal - Posted - 05/06/2018:  00:26:01

This is a really great album by Seva Venet who plays 6string banjo (as well as tenor and banjolele)

BobTheGambler - Posted - 05/06/2018:  08:59:51

Check out some videos of Tuba Skinny. They generally have a six-string banjo in the rhythm section, and I think it sounds great.

Veerstryngh Thynner - Posted - 06/03/2018:  13:59:39

Tuba Skinny is indeed a very enjoyable band. But I respectfully disagree with what you're saying about the six-string banjo in their rhythm section, Pete. Apart from adding a bit more volume, it doesn't bring in much extra, in my view, strumming the same four-in-a-bar as the resonator guitars.

If I were in the former person's shoes, I'd go about differently. No four-in-a-bar for me, leaving that to the resonator guitars. I'd rather improvise around the beat (i.e. before and/or after it), gently, yet unmissably, staying in the background. As, perhaps, backing vocalists might do, while supporting the solo voice. On a four-string tenor banjo/tenor guitar, anyway, since I don't play six-string myself.

Veerstryngh Thynner

Edited by - Veerstryngh Thynner on 06/03/2018 14:10:28

haildixon - Posted - 06/29/2018:  14:36:38

The 6-string in TS is pretty subtle as far as the rhythm, but pops out in arrangements where it has lead lines and more well-known parts. Then it's really nice contrast and make me glad that I haven't heard the banjo constantly fingering around the melody the whole time. Also, doodling around on it, in the context of the songs that TS plays, pulls those songs into more a folky/jug-band direction, which works some of the time, but just some of the time.

Lew H - Posted - 06/29/2018:  18:53:25

My impression is that the banjitar player with Tuba Skinny switched from regular guitar to banjitar to be louder. I've seen him playing both in various videos. He does sometimes play a bit of lead. Basically, though, I think he wants to be heard among the horns, and the wood bodied guitar didn't cut it. Great band, by the way!

Veerstryngh Thynner - Posted - 06/30/2018:  02:07:10

To haildixon,

Fingering around the melody is not what I meant. If I were in TS's banjo player shoes, I'd play AROUND the four-in-a-bar beat of the resonator guitars. But certainly not in single string "counter" melody the whole time, since yes, that would indeed be annoying. And, I figure, considerably in the way of soloists, too.

Syncopating around that four-in-the-bar beat of the resonator guitars IN CHORDS is what my approach would be. Introducing a counterpoint, you could say, to that staunchly unchanging pulse. Playfully "riffing" on it, as it were. And by creatively "walking" before and after the beat. Adding variety, in other words, to rather monochrome rhythm section basics, in my view.

If of the banjo no contributions outside of four-in-the-bar strumming are required, it has just been added to improve projection, one would reasonably conclude. In this respect, one sole 6-string banjo easily outperforms two resonator guitars. So if that was the logic followed, just one sole banjo would  have sufficed, surely. Two resonator guitars plus a 6-string banjo overdoing it a bit, in my opinion.

Moreover, if the banjo in TS's rhythm section doesn't contribute soloistically at all AND invariably strums along with the guitarists instead, I really fail to see the added benefit of it. Those two guitarists excellent accompanists, but also accomplished soloists. In the latter respect, though, that banjo player has nothing much to say for himself, to my taste. And he is at best pedestrian as accompanist. Totally devoid of fantasy, on the face of it. So of the TS rhythm section he is the weakest link, as far as I'm concerned.

Veerstryngh Thynner

Edited by - Veerstryngh Thynner on 06/30/2018 02:20:54

haildixon - Posted - 06/30/2018:  17:16:38

The banjo player's name is Jason Lawrence, and he's an excellent musician. I've played alongside him in that band and in others. Your characterization of his abilities, his playing, and his role in the band, is grossly incorrect. 3 chordal rhythm players may seem like a lot to you because maybe you have never played to a big room of dancers without amplification, but that rhythm section is one of the best in town, if not the world, for that very reason. Ensemble playing is about the sum-of-the-parts, not what you can do, personally. We all have personal preferences when it comes to enjoying what we hear. I personally don't care for soloist banjo styles like Lee Floyd, but I'd be an idiot to say anything negative about it because he's doing him. To just characterize another player as 'pedestrian' or 'devoid of fantasy' when you have NO IDEA what they're going for is just pretty poor form.

Edited by - haildixon on 06/30/2018 17:17:25

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