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Favorites in Tenor Banjo-Uke (17” scale length)?

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Dec 29, 2019 - 6:14:48 AM
98 posts since 9/30/2016

Hello, All.

I am looking for loud, very short scale banjoid instrument, to set up low GDAE for session play. I will use (fat, probably) classical guitar strings, and have had fine luck with that scale length on a tenor uke; sort of like a fifths-tuned mini-tenor guitar. 17” scale length, plays nicely. But, can’t be heard in sessions, even my me. Any suggestions from the several available ones I see online? Duke, Deering, Firefly, Gold Tone, others???


Thanks!

David

Edited by - dcolpitts on 12/29/2019 06:17:05

Dec 29, 2019 - 6:51:27 AM

DRH

USA

302 posts since 5/29/2018

I've seen 17 fret and 19 fret tenors. Went looking for one yesterday for GDAE tuning. 17 inch overall scale seems short for a banjo. Are you sure you don't mean fret count?

Dec 29, 2019 - 10:46:49 AM

98 posts since 9/30/2016

Yes, Doug. 17 inch. It is short, which is why I wonder if any have played the banjo-ukes in that scale length. I do indeed have that octave below fiddle on the 17 inch tenor uke, but need more volume. In fact, my late Dad’s old Stella tenor banjo sounds nice when capoed all the way up to the “viola” CGDA, but I want lower in the short scale.

Thanks, and regards,

David

Dec 29, 2019 - 11:39:23 AM

DRH

USA

302 posts since 5/29/2018

Keep us posted on what you find. I was mulling the idea of a 6 string banjo because I can finger pick a guitar well. A few too many hand injuries are limiting my progress with five string, which is thumb-intensive.

Unfortunately, every 6 string banjo I've heard sounds like poop. It only recently occurred to me that Irish tenor (GDAE) is just violin/mandolin tuning at a lower octave. I played those instruments years ago so now I'm on a quest to find an Irish tenor banjo.

Dec 29, 2019 - 3:29:38 PM

98 posts since 9/30/2016

Will do, Doug. I was never able to do anything worthwhile with 6 strings, nor 5, nor any “irregular” tuning like a uke, even, until someone at an Irish session told me what you figured out about GDAE tuning. More importantly to me, it’s the “fifths” part that opened up the string world for me. I got a set of Aquila soprano fifths for a little kit-built uke, et voila! I got my late Dad’s old Stella tenor banjo set up and playable in GDAE, and the same for a succession of other old or crude little string machines: a couple of baritone ukes, a toy child-size guitar, a very cool Gibson trap-door mandolin banjo, a new Córdoba tenor uke....I probably am leaving some out. But the linear and regular tuning of GDAE (or CGDA, or any other fifths the capo leaves me at) along with the forgiving nature of the nylon and wound nylon strings mean the tunes are just sort of there for me. I can even pick tunes out on a fiddle, but won’t go there. I really want the lower GDAE in 17 inches scale, and loud like a banjo should be. I just spent an hour or so looking, and the OutdoorUkulele Banjolele has a synthetic pot and neck, and 17” scale, and is loud, but the unique tailpiece, bridge arrangement may not allow the fat strings I need to get down to that octave.

If scale length is not so crucial to you, you could set up a spare 6 string with four in fifths; people do it a lot, I read.

Good luck in your tenor quest!

David

Dec 29, 2019 - 6:09:11 PM

98 posts since 9/30/2016

Hold the phones! I just sat down with my 19 fret tenor banjo and my tuner and capo, and got the 5th fret to be GDAE, as I want, with an effective scale length of 17”, which is what I want. I don’t know why I didn’t like this before, or frankly, whether I really tried it this way. It isn’t too soft on the low G, and it really is easy to play, reach-wise, for my hand. I will try to make some sort of sound sample, since I know some others are interested in low scales with short lengths, too. It may sound lousy to a “real” banjoist, but for an aging novice, it represents progress! I’ll mention it on the “Irish” thread, too.

The string set is, as I recall, a “hard tension” Pro-Arte classical set, with perhaps a single .052 or .054 G string, so it gets low without super spaghetti texture.

Dec 29, 2019 - 6:17:05 PM

DRH

USA

302 posts since 5/29/2018

Thanks, David. I'm currently on a quest for the perfect Irish tenor. Looking forward to your sound clips.

What is the scale of your 19 fret tenor? I ask because some people complain that the 19 fret neck is uncomfortably long. They seem to prefer the 17 fret neck.

Dec 29, 2019 - 7:05:40 PM

98 posts since 9/30/2016

The 19 fret has a scale length of about 22.5 inches. At 17 frets, it would be about 20+ inches, still. I can play it a bit like that, but the magic for me seems to start at the much shorter 19 inch or the current 17 inch. Yes, many people manage on the 17 fret as a “shorter” version, but still too long for an old rookie like me. Your mileage may vary, of course, and I may be panned for wanting shortcuts. But I’ll be 69 next week, and want to get quicker quicker, as they say. If you are experienced with full size guitar, the reach may not be a big factor for you. I have just read somewhere (here? Maybe.) that the extra scale length makes richer sound, even if capoed up. The neck length may have something to do with extra sound, but I don’t know.

I believe most good new tenors and very many older builds can be set up to be the “perfect Irish tenor” in the right hands, of course. My Dad’s hundred year old Stella was pretty basic then, but it has held up and responded to new head, bridge, strings and fiber washers to tighten old friction tuners. As they say, give Enda Scahill or Barney McKenna my banjo, and they’ll sound like themselves. Conversely, give me theirs, and I still stink...

The Irish thread on this site has a ton of information, and the folks there are very generous with their time and advice. Ask there, and you won’t be short of informed opinions.

Good luck. It’s fun, in’t?

David

Dec 30, 2019 - 3:55:12 AM

39 posts since 5/31/2009

Number of frets dont matter. Length of scale matters. Less frets generally equals shorter scale, but there exceptions.

My old beater banjo is an 18 fret, with just under 21 inch scale. A friend of mine plays on 22 or 23 inch scale. If you look at the Gold Tone banjo website, youll see most of their Irish models are in the 19.5" range.

Dec 30, 2019 - 5:26:56 AM

98 posts since 9/30/2016

True. So, back to the original question, perhaps: Does anyone recommend a banjo-like thing that has a short scale, around 17 inches? I can play my tenor capoed up to that, but it’s way bigger than I might need for carrying out to play.

Thanks!

David

Dec 30, 2019 - 7:21:13 AM

166 posts since 4/5/2016

I think you'll have a hard time getting a recommendation for an instrument set up in a way that no one has any experience with. Maybe find a Uke forum and find a recommendation for a banjo Uke that people think is well made?

There's a number of banjo ukes at my local music store. The Goodtime one has a full size 11" pot on it and if you feel that you can get a decent sound from that scale length then that seems like a good option.

Dec 30, 2019 - 8:04:22 AM

98 posts since 9/30/2016

Point well taken, Nate. Thank you. I will try to find a
Good Time to try. Meanwhile, I am back at work with strings on the old Stella, and hoping to figure out how to post my crude sample of how that sounds capoed way up to a 17 INCH scale length.

I believe the 11” pot might make the difference with the short scale; the polycarbonate Outdoor brand is that big, too, so I’ll try to have a look at one of those as well.

And yes, the uke folks all have something to say about their banjo ukes, though almost no one seems to be trying what I am looking for; they usually play in the stringing and range intended (concert and tenor uke lengths) both quite a bit higher than the “Irish tenor” GDAE I want.

Thanks again, and regards,

David

Dec 30, 2019 - 11:01:21 AM
Players Union Member

Helix

USA

12345 posts since 8/30/2006

Dude, take a look at the Gibson banjo orchestra. They seemed to use the 11" as a base for several type of necks.

I just bought one of the Stromberg Voissonet mandolin banjo necks with original high quality tuners. I'm really going to enjoy playing it. Mandolin was my first instrument. Can't get it out of my system.

I f you have old time tuners that are perhaps tooth worn in places, just rotate your tuner shafts 180 degrees and start on new teeth.
In many cases, they just had better quality metallurgy, deeper specs.

The banjo uke should not be orphaned out. She's a banjo, one of our sisters.

I make 4-strings of various scale lengths and I eat Gibsons. Happier new years. ( ))== ::}


Edited by - Helix on 12/30/2019 11:03:58

Dec 30, 2019 - 11:34:32 AM
Players Union Member

Helix

USA

12345 posts since 8/30/2006

I have a couple of ideas, and several 4-strings of various scale lengths, glad to confer off forum, this is a not a sales message.

Are these mostly played in venues where people are talking louder and louder? Then which frequencies do a better job of touching their heart strings? and can cut through the great Yamma Yamma. That's slang for human sociality. We meditate quietly, but not to socialize.

A lady came into our open stage with a 19-fret custom rig with about a 1" rez gap, she knocked us out. I learned a lot there. Resonators are also frequency clippers.

Side: Our 501.c..03 Acoustic music showcase recently received a 19 fret Oscar Schmidt from the '30's in a new Gold Tone case.
The donor wants a newer or younger player to play this instrument, collectors need not apply. Contact me through this forum or my website to get details. this is like a conservancy. An obscure artist named "Vernetta" played this banjo. A suggested donation of $200 will help our entire program. Feel free to contact me through the hangout.


Dec 30, 2019 - 11:38:13 AM
Players Union Member

Helix

USA

12345 posts since 8/30/2006

Perhaps a mandolin banjo neck with 4 strangs.

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