A long time guitar player, about two years ago I acquired a very nice and not inexpesive Pisgah five string openback banjo. I love the sound of it. Lately, for reasons I could explain if anyone wants to know, I have considered playing jazz/blues rhythm style on a tenor or plectrum banjo. Before I invest in another banjo, I would like to explore whether it would it be feasible/adviseable to try out the jazz/blues rhythm style of tenor or plectrum banjo on the banjo I already own? I fully appreciate this would not be a long term solution. It's a possible interim step based primarily on financial considerations. If my idea would work, how would I go about implementing it? For example, should I simply ignore the G drone string and retune the other strings? Should I remove the G drone string and retune the banjo to a tuning more appropriate for tenor or plectrum jazz/blues rhythm playing? Would either or both of those things put my banjo at risk? This topic may have been covered in previous posts that I did not find. If so, I would appreciate it it if someone would simply point me to the right place. Thanks.
Take the 5th string (the drone) off the banjo or loosen it so it can be off the bridge and flat on the head and out of the way. Tune your low D string to low C. Now you've you the standard plectrum tuning of CGBD. You five string is now a plectrum for all practical purposes---same tuning---same number of frets on the neck (22). Your banjo will never know the difference and this has been done thousands of times.
There is absolutely no reason you should hesitate to use your 5-string to play plectrum style banjo. In fact, you can see evidence that this done in 1920's dance bands, as seen on old Vitaphone short films.
Either ignore or remove the 5th string and use the opportunity to find your way around plectrum tuning. If you listen closely to reissues of 1920s 78s, you'll hear quite a bit of banjo (uke-style) strumming either on four or five-string banjos. Fate Norris and Gid Tanner both played this way. And if you really want to be authentic, probably 95 percent of non-strummed banjo recorded on 78s was played fingerstyle - not clawhammer.
[I play clawhammer too, and enjoy doing it, but it's really mostly a revivalist fad.]
Sadly, most banjos set up for clawhammer today have that irritating scoop at the end of the fingerboard, effectively reducing your possibilities if you are interested in playing up the neck.
Barry, I’m doing exactly what you’re askin’ about doing. I haven’t taken the 5th string off yet, but I am gonna do it. The strings need changing anyway.
Many of the gDGBD tunes in my clawhammer book, don’t have notes on the 4th string, and some only a few open string ones. So, if you leave the 5th string on you’ll still be able to play clawhammer — easy peasy. Two noise makers from one.
I mostly prefer using a pick, but, if my fingernails weren’t so wimpy, I might prefer clawhammer.
Another legit alternative would be to remove the 5th string, put on the first 4 strings of a guitar set, & tune it like a guitar. This would allow you to immediately use the guitar skills you have, & avoid learning a whole new chording system. (This is called "Chicago" tuning.
As an emergency fill-in for a banjo player in a dixieland band, on a float in the 4th of july parade, I just loosened my 5th string, pulled it over and tucked it into the "hip" on the side of the bridge. Out of the way of my flatpick.
Any OTHER time, I don't USE a pick, and DO work all five strings.
So, as suggested above: Chicago tuning, no 5th string, and wham, bam, Magic Shazam, you're playing JAZZ BANJO, instantly!
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