Posted by jrjenks on Wednesday, May 26, 2010
A check-in on the Banjo versus TV project — J.R.'s ongoing plan to spend more time on his banjo than on TV. This post covers 5/16/2010 through 5/22/2010.
The Banjo versus TV project faces an existential question.
When I started this project I set out the rules that determine what counts as banjo time, what counts as TV time, what counts as both and what counts as neither.
But those rules didn't anticipate this question: What do I do about the time I spend on the Gold Tone Mandobanjo 850 that I just bought (for $267.77, cheap!) on eBay?
...is really a mandolin...
...with a banjo head. It's got eight strings (four identically-tuned two-string courses) like a mandolin. It's got the same scale length as a mandolin. It's tuned in perfect fifths, g d' a' e'', like a mandolin (and like a fiddle).
And if it's a different instrument than the banjo then I shouldn't count time spent on it as banjo time, just as I haven't counted time spent on other instruments as banjo time. Since I started this project in 2008 I've played various jug band instruments: kazoo, washtub bass, washboard, spoons and bottles. I also took a couple of months of guitar lessons so I could learn to follow along with the guitar player at a jam. And I've never counted the time spent on those instruments as banjo time.
Consider the banjolin.
The banjolin is really just a Irish tenor banjo...
...with a shorter scale length. The banjolin is tuned to g d' a' e'', one octave higher than the Irish tenor banjo's tuning of G d a e'.
The mandolin-banjo is just like a banjolin except that the mandolin-banjo has four two-string courses of strings instead of four strings. Same scale length, same tuning.
So the banjolin is a shorter Irish tenor banjo and the mandolin-banjo is an eight-stringed banjolin.
If I were playing an Irish tenor banjo (which I don't own, yet) I'd certainly count the time as banjo time. If I were playing its shorter cousin the banjolin (which I also don't own, also yet) I'd count that as banjo time, too. After all, I've counted the time spent on my sawed-off banjo...
...as banjo time.
So I should treat time spent on the mandolin-banjo the same way I'd treat time spent on the Irish tenor banjo or the banjolin: as banjo time. The extra four strings shouldn't make a difference.
All things considered, I'm going to count mandolin-banjo time as banjo time. Welcome to the family, new mandolin-banjo!
Things I learned at this week's banjo lesson:
Also in the last week:
For most Mastertone style banjos using a Remo Weatherking head, setting the head around 89 will give you a nice bass response with a clear treble, and going up to 90 or 91 will brighten the tone considerably. Different heads, like the 5-Star and Ludwig heads are thicker material, and will have better clarity around 92-93. Personal preference does play a role, so you can start with the tension around 88 and tighten the head evenly until you find the tone you like best.
Thursday, May 27, 2010 @4:43:33 AM
LOL :) I have an old Belltone banjomandolin from the 1930s that is in good shape and I have it under my bed--so pull it out and play fiddle and celtic tunes in the morning. It is great fun--but definitely is more of a mandolin even if it looks like a banjo. :)
Mary Z. Cox
Thursday, May 27, 2010 @8:26:54 AM
I have owned several Fairbanks-Vega mandolin banjos, Style K and Style S models. I suppose the Gold Tone offering, despite it's rather small head diameter, can qualify. Who is to say a 8-1/2" head or even a 12" head cannot qualify? There are definitely more parts involved with the rim portion of the instrument versus the neck part, leading most folks to believe the instrument is a banjo, however, it is played with a pick like a mandolin. Of course, some types of banjo are played with a flatpick, too, so I would give the edge to it's being a "banjo".
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