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Banjitar Lesson Series - Mind Your Tone!

Thursday, October 17, 2013

It’s all about tone in this article! Banjitars have to be handled a little differently than their guitar cousins. If any of you play guitar you already know the tone changes depending on where you’re hitting with the pick. You can play over the soundhole for one tone, near the bridge for another, and towards the fingerboard for yet another. Where you are picking at depends on the tone you want. So try experimenting playing a tune you know picking where you normally do, in between the fingerboard and bridge. Then try picking right at the edge of where the fingerboard meets the body or a little on top of the fingerboard, much like is taught in clawhammer style on a 5 string banjo, and then closer to the bridge. Hear the difference? 

I’ve included a very simple arrangement of “Shortnin Bread” purely for the sake of example of tone. Play this once as it’s written. Now depending on your guitjo, it might sound fine, or like mine, it may sound murky. Mickey Cochran covered this on a DVD about 6 string banjo that he asked me to watch and review for him (which I did on another blog). His personal take on good tone was that anything played on this instrument should be played mid-way or higher up the neck for a better sound. He definitely didn’t like the way open chords sounded on his and discouraged others from playing them. He felt them to be too muddy. 

More recently, out of curiosity, I purchased another DVD made by another guitjo player,and I have to tell you, I was shocked to hear this dude tout that the 5th and 6th strings should never be played at all, along with not touching the fretboard below the 5th fret. I was absolutely blown away by such bad advice. (The presentation was pretty awful too--needless to say,this individual is staying anonymous).

Here’s my take: if you have 6 strings, you’re going to use all 6 strings. And, in saving the best for last, here’s a gem of a tip for you: use a guitar capo. If you have one, place it on the 5th fret of your guitjo and play that “Shortnin Bread” tab with the capo on. Hear the tremendous difference? You get a much brighter sound by using the capo.

So--have fun and experiment, see what works best for you (which will change depending on the song you’re playing). If you have any questions,please email me at with “banjitar” in the subject line. 

Get the Shortnin' Bread Tab >


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Playing Since: 2004
Experience Level: Purty Good

[Teaching] [Socializing]

Occupation: Online music store/Handicrafts

Gender: Female
Age: 56

My Instruments:
Gold Tone AC-4 tenor in mandolin tuning, ,Fender Rustler 5 string banjo,Gold Tone AC-5.

Favorite Bands/Musicians:
Mike Seeger,Abigail Washburn,various western swing bands.

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Visible to: Public
Created 5/30/2010
Last Visit 9/27/2019

Played guitar since I was a kid,got my 1st 5 string in the ?'s but wasn't able to really get into playing it till around ?. Got into tenor in fall of 2018. @mandolinchick on Twitter.

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