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Development of the Early 4-string Banjo Family

Posted by BrittDLD1 on Friday, September 4, 2009

 

Hi--

Got on a roll, discussing the development of the early 4-string banjo family -- c1910.

 

See Topic:  http://www.banjohangout.org/forum/topic.asp?TOPIC_ID=156822

 

 

EDITED 10/4/09 --

I have done some additional editing (from the original Topic text) to clarify certain 

statements. EJB

 

------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

 

In this post, I'd like to call attention to the PHYSICAL development
of the EARLY 4-string banjo FAMILY,

To do that, we have to first understand the physical development of
the "modern" 5-string c1910 -- on which, the tenor's physical
structure is based.

The following scale-lengths show the approximate general range, found
for the 5-string Regular Banjo, by the time its development settled-out --
around 1910. The range is based on 3 primary Fairbanks-Vega scales:

--- 26-1/4" --- 27-1/2" --- 28" ---

These F-V scales became standardized across the industry -- and are still
the standards. (Ultimately, they all go back to Stradivarius' violin scale,
of 12.8 in / 327 mm --- with the fret intervals based on Pythagorean
mathematics.)

But... be aware that there are also plenty of weird and strange banjos out
there -- which do NOT adhere to the typical industry standards for scale
length.



S.S. Stewart created the 5-string banjo "family" in the early-1880s. His
Banjo Quartet consisted of:

. . . o the 5-string Piccolo Banjo

. . . o the 5-string Banjeaurine (later spelled Banjorine, with a smaller head size)

. . . o the 5-string Regular Banjo

. . . o the 5-string Cello (or Bass) Banjo.

Using the later c1910 standard scale lengths (from which the 4-string banjo

family eventually evolved):

A 5-string Regular Banjo typically had a 26" to 28" scale -- and was
tuned gCGBE. It typically had 22 frets to the body, and the head size
typically increased with the scale length:

--- 10-3/4" dia. --- 11" dia, --- 11-1/2" to 11-3/4" dia,---

4-string Plectrum Banjos are DIRECTLY equal to the earlier 5-string Regular 

Banjo sizes, and scales -- and use the same "classic" tuning of the 4 long 

strings: CGBD

The scale-lengths of the various quartet banjos, turn out to be in approxmately

proportional increments of the Regular Banjo scale-length:

--- 1/2 scale --- 3/4 scale --- 1-to-1 scale --- 1-1/4 scale ---

 

(NOTE: all scale length ranges, and proportions, given are typical -- but only 

approximate. The actual scale proportions are based on the specific fret-

increment calculations used. Certain makers used slightly longer or shorter 

scales.)



The 5-string Banjo Family -- c1910:

o The 5-string Piccolo Banjo ---
. . . o 13" to 14" scale --- 1/2 the scale of a Regular Banjo
. . . o Tuned an octave above the Regular Banjo --- gCGBD
. . . o 10 to 12 frets to the body --- (22-fret neck capoed at 12th fret)
. . . . . . . . .more w/ extended board

o The 5-string Banjorine ---
. . . o 19.5 to 21" scale --- 3/4 the scale of a Regular Banjo
. . . o Tuned to cFCEG = Regular Banjo capoed at 5th fret
. . . o 17 frets (22-fret neck capoed at 5th) --- more w/ extended board

o The 5-string Regular Banjo ---
. . . o 26" to 28" scale
. . . o Tuned to gCGBD
. . . o 22 frets -- more w/ extended board

o The 5-string Bass/Cello Banjo ---
. . . o 32-1/2" to 35" scale --- 1-1/4 the scale of a Regular Banjo
. . . . . . . . .(NOTE: A longneck folk banjo has a 32-1/2" scale)
. . . o Tuned an octave below Regular --- gCGBD --- using heavier strings
. . . o Head size from 13" dia to 16" dia
. . . o 17 to 22 frets (depending on head size) -- more w/ extended board



The 4-string Banjo Family -- c1910 to 1925:

One thing becomes pretty obvious at this point:
The EARLY 4-string banjos were built on the "bones" (frame) of the 

earlier 5-string banjo family. 


Each of the main instruments had similar physical sizes, and scale lengths, based 

directly on the common sizes of rims and necks used for the various 5-string banjos -- 

but the 4-strings used different tunings, and string gauges:



o The 8-string Mandolin-Banjo, or 4-string "Melody" Banjo -- 

..  Is basically the same size as the 5-string Piccolo Banjo.


.
. . o 13" to 14" scale --- 1/2 the scale of a 5-string Regular Banjo
. . . o Tuned to same range as violin or mandolin --- GDAE
. . . o 10 to 12 frets to the body --- (22-fret neck capoed at 12th fret)
. . . . . . . . . more frets w/ extended board


o The Early  4-string Tenor -- 

..  Is basically the same size as the 5-string Banjorine


.
. . o 19.5" to 21" scale --- 3/4 the scale of a 5-string Regular Banjo
. . . o Tuned to CGDA --- same range as a Viola or Mandola
. . . o 17 frets (22-fret neck capoed at 5th fret) --- more frets w/ extended board

. . . o Earliest types were openback, some were later equipped with a flush-fitting 

. . . . . . . . .  "hubcap" resonators,  but no flange.


o The  4-string JAZZ Tenor (c1925) -- 

..  Is basically the same size as the 5-string Regular Banjo, capoed at the 3rd Fret.


.
. . o 22-1/8" to 23" scale --- Longer Scale, 19 Frets, higher tension
. . . o Tuned to CGDA --- same range as a Viola or Mandola
. . . o 19 frets (22-fret neck capoed at 3rd fret) --- more frets w/ extended board

. . . o Usually equipped with full 13" resonator and flange.


o The  4-string Plectrum Banjo -- 

..  Is basically the same size as the 5-string Regular Banjo 


.
. . o 26" to 28" scale
. . . o Tuned to CGBD -- same as longs strings of Regular Banjo
. . . o 22 frets -- more frets w/ extended board


o The  4-string Cello Banjo -- 

..  Is basically the same size as the 5-string Cello Banjo


.
. . o 32-1/2" to 35" scale --- 1-1/4 the scale of a Regular Banjo
. . . . . . . . . (NOTE: A longneck folk banjo also has a 32-1/2" scale.)
. . . o Tuned an octave below the Tenor --- CGDA
. . . . . . . . . (Same range as Violoncello, or Mandocello -- using heavier strings)
. . . o Head size from 13" dia to 16" dia
. . . o 17 to 22 frets (depending on head size) -- more frets w/ extended board


Best-
Ed Britt

 



3 comments on “Development of the Early 4-string Banjo Family”

mainejohn Says:
Friday, September 4, 2009 @1:32:41 PM

Very interesting...thanks for sharing that.

Tom Berghan Says:
Sunday, September 13, 2009 @12:22:16 PM

Good research Ed.
However, you lost me on the 3rd and 4th paragraphs. You write "Ultimately, they all go back to Stradivarius' violin scale of 12.8 in / 327 mm"

What does Stradivarius' mensur of 327 mm have to do with the three banjo mensur you stated? And, by the way, since it's invention in early 17th century Italy, the violin has had a range of mensur just as the 5 string banjo has.

But I am interested to understand your point about the relationships of these mensur. Thanks! Tom

clawhammertim Says:
Thursday, November 5, 2009 @8:38:27 AM

Ed you totally rock!! I've been asking these question for years and have never gotten what to me was an understandable answer. This is terrific info -very concise and logical! thanks for posting it! Tim Rowell

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