Been playing guitar about 27 years, jazz mostly. I love early jazz styles and I'm considering branching out into tenor banjo.
So I'm looking for advice on inexpensive starter instruments, and string gauges for those who use Chicago tuning.
Thanks in advance!
From a practical approach, you'll be better off going with a plectrum banjo, which will give you three more frets (22 as opposed to 19). There are many very fine Chicago Style players out there playing plectrum banjos. One of the best and most talented is Paul Scavarda.
Here are two versions of Paul playing Russian Rag.
Paul with Howard Alden: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dN57ti7Mv7M
Another option you have is to get a five-string banjo and simply take of the fifth peg. Functionally you will then have a four string plectrum banjo in your lap. And the resale value will make things easier to sell if you ever decide to trade up or part with it. Meanwhile a medium gauge set of banjo strings (5 string) will work fine for your tuning in Chicago style.
Edited by - Omeboy on 11/13/2019 14:35:21
Thank you, this is very helpful and totally makes sense.
Any recommendations in a budget 5 string? Should I be looking open back or resonator?
On the subject of budget oriented banjos, I was pleasantly surprised by the quality of a budget class banjo some years back. I had a nice student guitar I wanted to trade and ran across a new Oscar Schmidt OB-5. This banjo has an aluminum rim, which also functions as the tone ring. The tone is surprisingly good and sweet for a budget instrument, but what really impressed me was the neck. (I had been playing high end plectrums for several decades.) It felt so good in my left hand: so easy to play and very well produced, as opposed to the unfinished feel that many budget instruments have. This banjo comes with a resonator, which is what you'll want for jazz playing. The resonator will give you projection as opposed to open back which will diminish the sound since your body will absorb at least half of it. On the whole, the Oscar Schmidt OB-5 is a great little budget banjo that won't dent your wallet too much and still play and sound better than any of peer group. And of course, you can play it plectrum style by taking off the fifth peg. (A little warm up of the metal aspect of the peg with a soldering iron will make it pull right out as if softens the glue. Just remove the set screw and the plastic tuning button before you put the heat to the metal aspect.) Or you can leave the fifth peg on without stringing it up. Whatever suits you best. So go find an OB-5 in a music store and try one out.
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