Banjo Hangout Logo
Banjo Hangout Logo

Premier Sponsors

651
Banjo Lovers Online


 All Forums
 Playing the Banjo
 Playing Advice: 4-String (Jazz, Blues & Other Trad Styles)
 ARCHIVED TOPIC: For the love of plectrum banjos


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: http://www.banjohangout.org/archive/374390

PTOEguy - Posted - 04/16/2021:  18:24:45


So I purchased my first plectrum banjo a few weeks ago, and I'm finding it more musically satisfying that anything I've ever done. My first ukulele wasn't this fun (but I bought 20+ more over the next 8 years). My first 5-string banjo was interesting, but not this fun. Tenor banjo was fun, but lacked the feeling of having arrived at something. Tenor guitar was closer, but lacked the thingness of this plectrum banjo.

So I'm trying to figure out why that might be. Is my level of fun based on the fact the my first plectrum is my first really good banjo (a Bacon & Day Silver Bell...). There is a depth in the tone and dynamic range that is unlike anything I've played except my best ukulele (a Blackbird Clara). If this is the case would I get the same high from a really great tenor banjo?

Or is it that as a ukulele player I'm loving the fact that I have way more neck to play with? On a uke I have to fit everything around the chord shapes that are in the usable part of the neck. With the plectrum banjo I've got a full octave of chord inversions to play with.

Or is the plectrum chord shapes themselves? My hands are firmly medium size and I don't have a huge stretch so the chords feel way more natural than tenor chords - and I can retune two strings and access all my ukulele chord shapes.

Whatever it is, I'm loving plectrum banjo and can't wait for the rest of the band to get through their vaccinations so we can start playing again.

sethb - Posted - 04/17/2021:  08:13:45


Welcome to the world of plectrum banjos!  I agree that a plectrum banjo is a great instrument.  I got into it almost by accident -- my first banjo was a pawnshop 5-string.  When I discovered that you couldn't strum a 5-string because of the drone 5th G string, I just removed it, and of course then I had myself a plectrum banjo, although I didn't know it at the time. 



For me, the longer plectrum neck gives you a lot more freedom chordwise, even if some of the fingerings can be a stretch because of the larger neck scale.  And I also find that melody chord work is pretty easy with a plectrum's CGBD tuning, even if I sometimes need to adjust the key of the song in order to get most of the melody onto that D string.  SETH



 

guitarbanjoman - Posted - 04/17/2021:  09:49:07


Like Seth, I started out as a 5-string player and wound up taking off that little fifth string... that was fifty years ago now... and I’m still playing CGBD tuning.



I’ve come to find over the years that the plectrum tuning is great for some things, but not so much for others... tenor tuning is vastly superior for playing anything involving a lot of single note stuff, although when you see a virtuoso like Buddy Wachter he makes it look oh-so-easy!



But the thing about the tenor I’ve found is that in the wrong hands it’s rather high on the “annoying” scale, much like the soprano saxophone...



However, in the hands of a master musician like my friend the amazing Tim Allan, WOW! you can get all those lovely sounding chords plus dazzling single notes too.



So think carefully before choosing because it seems most of us mere mortals only have enough talent to get good on one tuning, but not both... Harry Reser and Buddy Wachter being the exceptions that prove the rule!



Alas, it seems as if no matter which tuning we wind up choosing, most of us fourstring players experience some regrets about "the road not taken"... including yours truly!



Good luck!



Will


Edited by - guitarbanjoman on 04/17/2021 09:53:16

sethb - Posted - 04/17/2021:  13:06:18


After reading Will's thoughtful post, it seems to me that tenor and plectrum banjos were each designed for a specific, primary purpose.  The tenor is tuned in fifths (CGDA), which is the same basic setup as a violin or mandolin (GDAE), which facilitates single-string melody work.  So the primary purpose of a tenor would be single-string melody, although chords are certainly possible as well, just as they are on a violin or mandolin.  But then somewhere along the line, the tenor was also used secondarily as a rhythm instrument, playing harmony chord accompaniment.  The higher voicing of the tenor made it a good addition to 1920's dance bands as well as Dixieland groups.  Although I've never played a tenor, I have heard that some chord fingerings on a tenor can be tough, in spite of the shorter neck gauge and closer frets. 



The plectrum, on the other hand, appears to have derived from the 5-string, which is mainly a single-string melody instrument tuned to gCGBD or gDGBD, and is played with the individual fingers instead of a pick (because of the drone string).  And unlike a 5-string, the plectrum's primary use seems to have been rhythm/chord accompaniment.  While some plectrum chords (like the D7 at the nut) can be tough to finger, most chord notes are within 2-3 frets of each other, due to the closer CGBD tuning.  Although you could certainly play a plectrum using single-string techniques, I don't think there are that many folks who play it this way; most are "chords strummers" across all four strings.  But it also seems that at some point in time, some enterprising folks figured out how to solo on a plectrum by playing "melody chords."  This involves carrying the melody note on the 1st (D) string, on the "top" of the chord, similar to what the right hand of a pianist does.  At least in my experience, this secondary use is a lot tougher to accomplish, and requires knowledge of chord inversions and a few other things. 



I guess my choice of a 5-string/plectrum and CGBD tuning for starters was seredipitous, and it very much suited the type of music that I like to play (Gay Nineties, 1920's and early 1930's stuff).  I'm able to do some soloing and melody chord work on a number of tunes, but am equally happy comping away on harmony chords and letting the horns take the melody and the glory.  I've also never regretted the choice, and never wondered about playing a tenor instead.  Maybe that's because I'm too lazy to start learning a lot of new fingerings and a new fretboard! 



In the final analysis, I don't think one type of banjo is necessarily better than the other; they're just different instruments that do different things.  And as Will noted, it also depends on who's playing them!  SETH

PTOEguy - Posted - 04/17/2021:  23:25:21


Interesting thoughts there - I've never been much of a single-note melody player (probably from starting on the ukulele), but melodies are way easier to pick out on the tenor. That may also be because I've worked two kids through violin lessons on the Suzuki method - which involves a lot of parental time. So while I can't play the violin, I know a lot about it, and how notes relate on an instrument tuned in fifths and that helps with the tenor.

Regarding the longer reaches on the long plectrum neck, well - I came to this instrument having nailed down my barre chord technique on ukulele and tenor and so I tend to play up the neck a little higher when i can't reach certain shapes down low. The one thing I haven't done yet is tune it DGBE and put a capo on at the 5th fret - basically turning the whole instrument into an oversized banjo uke - but I'm sure that will happen at some time.

And my choice of music is definitely in the wheelhouse for the plectrum - I play with a ragtime/dixieland pianist, bassist and occasional drummer. What the group really needs is a lyric lead instrument but I really think my family would rebel if I tried to dust off my trombone skills. So doing some chord melody stuff on the plectrum may fill some of that.

guitarbanjoman - Posted - 05/07/2021:  08:59:39


So how is it coming along with plectrum tuning, Glenn?

Tell us what you have been working on lately...

Will

PTOEguy - Posted - 05/07/2021:  11:02:40


quote:

Originally posted by guitarbanjoman

So how is it coming along with plectrum tuning, Glenn?



Tell us what you have been working on lately...



Will






I'm still really enjoying the plectrum tuning/banjo and I've been working on the I, IV, V chord progressions starting from each chord inversion - and for fun I'm working on a chord melody  version of the old hymn shall we gather at the river. And since the whole band is now vaccinated, I get to play with my church group for the first time in a long time tomorrow- I'm going to take my plectrum banjo and a tenor guitar (and maybe a ukulele and a tenor banjo)- we'll see which one gets the most use. 

banjovictor - Posted - 05/16/2021:  11:29:07


With relatively few exceptions, plectrum players were tenor players before the switch. They never look(ed) back, albeit a few retain their tenor chops.
Most switchovers I spoke to, described it as a "richer new world of music opened up" for them.
Both Buddy Wachter and Ken Aoki started on tenor. Buddy was a friend, going back to the beginning of the 1980s in Baltimore, and I have met Ken in person in Europe/Hungary. Believe me or not, he wanted to buy my banjo I had with me at the time (an OME MegaVox) albeit he played a Pietsch* at the multi-day jazz festival.

I'm a switchover too, but lost my tenor chops. What I regret, that I did not switch earlier, when things and skill were easier to acquire, albeit Buddy thought I'd be happier with a plectrum, but I kept putting it off for about 14 years... Yup, Buddy was right, I'm far happier with the plectrum; I'm polyphonic, my element is harmonies, do not care for single note playing or single note instruments. So chords, chord melody is the way to go for me.

*I also got a Pietsch while living in Europe, it's currently stuck there, along with a Renée.
Renée makes absolutely gorgeous banjos, they are works of art. But for sound currently (for my ears and for the ears of many others) Pietsch is the current very BEST - period.
I'm truly sorry to say, the Renée is for the eyes, but not for the ears...
So when I repatriate the two to the US (I hope that time will come) the Pietsch will be played, and the Renée will be a beautiful (expensive) wall decoration...

guitarbanjoman - Posted - 05/16/2021:  19:04:56


Interesting, Vic, thanks.

Those Pietsch banjos sure are lovely to look at, too.

What kind of tone ring do they have?

PTOEguy - Posted - 05/17/2021:  18:20:50


quote:

Originally posted by banjovictor

With relatively few exceptions, plectrum players were tenor players before the switch. They never look(ed) back, albeit a few retain their tenor chops.

Most switchovers I spoke to, described it as a "richer new world of music opened up" for them.

Both Buddy Wachter and Ken Aoki started on tenor. Buddy was a friend, going back to the beginning of the 1980s in Baltimore, and I have met Ken in person in Europe/Hungary. Believe me or not, he wanted to buy my banjo I had with me at the time (an OME MegaVox) albeit he played a Pietsch* at the multi-day jazz festival.



I'm a switchover too, but lost my tenor chops. What I regret, that I did not switch earlier, when things and skill were easier to acquire, albeit Buddy thought I'd be happier with a plectrum, but I kept putting it off for about 14 years... Yup, Buddy was right, I'm far happier with the plectrum; I'm polyphonic, my element is harmonies, do not care for single note playing or single note instruments. So chords, chord melody is the way to go for me.



*I also got a Pietsch while living in Europe, it's currently stuck there, along with a Renée.

Renée makes absolutely gorgeous banjos, they are works of art. But for sound currently (for my ears and for the ears of many others) Pietsch is the current very BEST - period.

I'm truly sorry to say, the Renée is for the eyes, but not for the ears...

So when I repatriate the two to the US (I hope that time will come) the Pietsch will be played, and the Renée will be a beautiful (expensive) wall decoration...




Interesting - I'm thinking of keeping tenor chops if for no other reason than I have two tenor guitars. 

banjovictor - Posted - 05/17/2021:  18:25:15


The site doesn't let me post video. The Pietsch has a spun tonering.

banjovictor - Posted - 05/18/2021:  09:10:15


I'm playing the Pietsch. The tenor (played by Tamas) is an OME pot with a none-OME tenor neck, I replaced the plectrum neck so the two (yeah, 2) good players in Hungary can play it, when they drop in my cafe on music-Thursdays to jam.


guitarbanjoman - Posted - 05/18/2021:  12:22:09


Yeah! Nice!

jon - Posted - 05/19/2021:  11:20:50


I started on plectrum at age 8 when my Dad stopped at a Chicago Pawn Shop while back East and bought me an old Birdseye maple Dayton plectrum for $43. In 1967 there was a lot of banjo playing and teachers around and by age 12 my brother (on piano) and I were working 4 nights a week. I bought a 5 string in 71’ and plunked around on it but it didn’t make much sense. In 82’ I took 5 string lessons and learned like everyone else-not really how to build a musical skill, but by memorizing a number of “licks” and string them together or play the melody. That was weird to me as on plectrum I could play what I felt or wanted on the spur of the moment.
Later I learned tenor, playing in Irish tuning-to play Irish and Contra/old time tunes.
Plectrum rules!

guitarbanjoman - Posted - 05/19/2021:  17:53:13


Tell us about your banjos, Jon?

Especially the plectrum ones...

Hangout Network Help

View All Topics  |  View Categories

0.09375