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 Playing Advice: 4-String (Jazz, Blues & Other Trad Styles)
 ARCHIVED TOPIC: Folk music on plectrum bano....

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:

cb56 - Posted - 07/01/2018:  07:37:49

I'm pretty sure one of the Kingston Trio played plectrum from time to time. I know Dom Flemons does. Any other suggestions on folks to listen to?

Ancient - Posted - 07/01/2018:  07:43:13

I say you can play any kind of music you want on the plectrum banjo. Just because it has typically been used for old jazzy stuff, doesn’t mean it can’t do other music. It’s up to the player to explore the possibilities. I, sometimes, play some Irish and Celtic tunes on plectrum. Folk and old time tunes are fun, too.

mike gregory - Posted - 07/01/2018:  08:01:53

My uncle gave me his old Slingerland plectrum banjo, in 1962, during the height of what Arlo Guthrie refers to as "The Great Folk Music Scare".

I played whatever I could figure out.

Kingston Trio, Peter, Paul & Mary, Limelighters.... makes no diff.

As musical genius Frank Zappa said to an interviewer: "Music is just a bunch of notes."

And, as Milwaukee-based clawhammer expert Ken Haferman said, directly to me:

"Kid, it's YOUR banjo. Play it any damned way you want!"

cb56 - Posted - 07/01/2018:  08:06:42

Right, I'm just looking for examples of players who are doing (or have done) that.

deestexas - Posted - 07/01/2018:  09:05:58

Bill Keith removed the fifth string and played plectrum style as a member of Jim Kweskin's Jug Band from 1964 to 1969.

GrahamHawker - Posted - 07/01/2018:  09:49:11

I just played some tunes on my banjo without using the fifth string. No ones come to arrest me yet. It does sound better with the fifth string getting involved though.

jazzbanjo - Posted - 07/07/2018:  20:31:18

Listen to Tom Dooley by the Kingston Trio. Bob shane is playing the lead line to the song on a B&D plectrum banjo. He also plays the lead on "A Worried Man." Dave Guard played the 5-string but just played roles. The plectrum banjo played the lead. The plectrum was tuned like a guitar but it still was a plectrum.

mipake - Posted - 07/11/2018:  11:49:34

I play in a small group. lately I use the plectrum to play rhythm about 40% of the time. I also play Scruggs style on five string and some clawhammer. It depends of the song and how I thing the banjo will sound best. So here are songs I will use a plectrum for in our next performance. King of the road, Low Bridge (Erie canal), Here today, Bottle of wine, Blue Bayou and Margaritaville. No I am not playing what Is thought of as traditional plectrum but I am getting a lot of use out of the banjo. I find a strum pattern that works. I believe a lot of people would try plectrum if they did not think it had a style of play that was mandatory.

Ryk - Posted - 07/11/2018:  15:23:35

At about 3:30 in this clip you can hear a solo plectrum player playing both parts to Dueling Banjos. We're limited only by our imagination and the willingness to take the time to make things happen.


Lew H - Posted - 07/11/2018:  16:29:25

Check out the Irish group, We Banjos Three, for some bluegrassy sounding 4 string.

And Cynthia Sayer for jazz plectrum.

There's lots more on youtube of both.

Edited by - Lew H on 07/11/2018 16:30:11

stanger - Posted - 07/14/2018:  17:26:07

Good videos, Lew.
Cynthia is using a more traditional plectrum style, while the guy in the Irish group is playing his banjo a lot like guitar players cross-pick the guitar.

Essentially, cross-picking is playing bluegrass style rolls and patterns in an arpeggio, just using a flatpick instead of the fingers. A strumming style with a flat pick can sound identical to one played with the fingers.

While the chord shapes are different on the banjo, the right hand work can be identical. A plectrum can be played finger style just as easily as a guitar can; the styles differ, but the sounds are similar to those on the 5-string.

While a plectrum is mostly used in it's own C tuning, a player can always tune to any tuning he wants. I've played plecs in open G, open C, open D, and they are just as good sounding as they are on a 5-string. The banjos are identical except for the 5th string, so it's natural they should.

Omeboy - Posted - 07/14/2018:  18:03:36

Finger picking the plectrum:

Asturias (Leyenda) - Albeniz - Banjo - Jamie Dupuis

Lew H - Posted - 07/14/2018:  21:07:46

stanger , I forgot! Sometimes I do Travis picking on banjo, usually without using the 5th string, so it's much like using a plectrum in open G tuning. I hope to post a Travis picking version of "Make me a Pallet on your Floor" sometime soon with just a bit of 5th string notes .Here's an example I posted a while back. with no 5th string use.

stanger - Posted - 07/14/2018:  22:20:39


Originally posted by Lew H

stanger , I forgot! Sometimes I do Travis picking on banjo, usually without using the 5th string, so it's much like using a plectrum in open G tuning. I hope to post a Travis picking version of "Make me a Pallet on your Floor" sometime soon with just a bit of 5th string notes .Here's an example I posted a while back. with no 5th string use.

That was a great version of that tune!

Playing a plectrum in open G sounds just fine to me, and there are a lot of tunes where G tuning is easier to play them. Anyone who knows how to play a guitar in open G could drop right on to a plec with no trouble at all. A ragtime tune like yours really shines on a plectrum, but if you use the Mother Maybell Carter scratch, a plec will work as good as a 5-string on a lot of folk songs and Carter family songs. Maybell played a 5-string in her style.

Since I like to cross-pick a guitar with a flatpick, the plectrum works for me played that style. 

I've never cared for the 'Chicago tuning' on a plec, though- that' tuning is identical to the top 4 strings on a guitar, which would make things even simpler for a guitar player, but I have always thought Chicago was the worst of both worlds- it is harder to make full chords with, and is lacking on the bass. Maybe it's just me, but it always sounds to much like a guitar and not enough like a banjo for me. I've heard some players who do very well with it though.



stanger - Posted - 07/14/2018:  22:28:39

Here's a really rare duck-

A plectrum guitar. I've had it for a couple of years now, and it's all factory stock. I saw pictures of these guitars for decades, but they'e incredibly rare; this one is the only one I've ever played or seen in person. It's a Nick Lucas model Gibson, 1930.

The sound is singular, and so is the body. The long neck forced the soundhole to be moved downward on the top, which caused the X-brace to be shifted inside, and the bridge had to be moved to accommodate the longer scale. All those changes worked, though, as the guitar is very sweet sounding, bright, and when leaned into is scary loud.



Edited by - stanger on 07/14/2018 22:31:38


banjot - Posted - 07/25/2018:  06:51:00

Oscar Jenkins, who recorded with Tommy Jarrell and Fred Cockerham, played a five string with the fifth string (& peg) removed. Kirk Sutphin plays that style on Oscars banjo. I believe there are examples of both on Youtube.

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