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 Playing Advice: 4-String (Jazz, Blues & Other Trad Styles)
 ARCHIVED TOPIC: Question about tenor banjos

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hoodoo - Posted - 07/20/2018:  12:16:31


I know that this must be a common question, but I’m really, extremely confused. I also know that this could be posted in the shopping advice forum, but I’d rather connect immediately with the experts.

My main question is, difference between standard and Irish tenor banjos? 

I’m not ready to splurge, but I am quietly looking for a tenor banjo to purchase sometime in the nearish future. While my interest at the moment is to play AJ Weidt and Roy Smeck-ian style tunes (early jazz?), I also want to learn celtic/irish tunes. In brief, I’m interested in playing and learning all types of music.. I currently play classic fingerstyle on a 5 string and I consider the tenor banjo to be kind of a “side project” to all of this.

For the moment, I’ve spotted the basic Cripple Creek Tenor banjo from Gold Tone. Its affordable, and given Gold Tones reputation, I’m sure that it will accomplish exactly what it was made for :

Given my casual interest, I might even consider the basic composite model for $200.

I’m worried however that I’ll be looking to upgrade soon after and wind up purchasing the more expensive, cripple creek. Thoughts?

I’m also attracted to the 4 string cello banjo. What types of issues might I encounter? Could my small hands be able to handle the stretches?


Edited by - hoodoo on 07/20/2018 15:29:15

csacwp - Posted - 07/20/2018:  15:11:10

Most Irish players prefer the full 19 fret 23'' scale length banjos to the shorter scale. By the way, the shorter scale banjos aren't really made for Irish music... A few modern companies just decided to try marketing them that way. They're all tuned and played the same way.

hoodoo - Posted - 07/20/2018:  15:33:40

Ok. Lets say that I was learning a song in tablature, would the fingering be the same for both?

KennyB - Posted - 07/20/2018:  16:03:53

There are always exceptions, but usually:
A standard tenor banjo is strung and tuned to CGDA, from the lowest pitch to the highest. Most Irish tenor players tune to GDAE, an octave below mandolin or fiddle. Some like 19 fret banjos, some like 17 frets, either tuning is possible on either neck length. You need a different string set for each tuning.
In GDAE tuning, mandolin tablature for a tune will work, you'll just be playing an octave lower.

G Edward Porgie - Posted - 07/20/2018:  19:00:20

Being tuned lower (GDAE instead of CGDA) means that the Irish tenor banjo will require heavier gauge strings. That also means that the string notches at the nut and over the bridge need to be a little wider to accommodate those heavier strings.

My advice to you as a beginner would be to decide for certain what you really want to play, either Irish tunes or the early jazz, before buying a banjo.  There is, of course, the option of playing standard Irish tunes a fifth higher, or the jazz tunes a fourth lower, but that probably won't be great for either style.

I'd hold off on the 'cello banjo. One instrument at a time will lead to faster results!

hoodoo - Posted - 07/20/2018:  19:14:22

Thanks. After review, i'll find a standard tenor banjo. As mentionned, for now i'm just looking for something to "fiddle" around with.

BanjoBelle - Posted - 08/10/2018:  19:17:26

I just got a Gold Tone AC-4 composite tenor banjo as I had wanted to get into it for doing western swing and swing jazz (and perhaps gypsy jazz!) I can't recommend the AC-4 enough. Handles great,it's light,and has a lot of punch. Very well made. Picked it up for 50% off retail on eBay. It's set up extremely well,and is a joy to play. (I also have the AC 5,and love that one too!)

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