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Six-string banjo -- what pitfalls should I look out for?

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Jan 24, 2020 - 6:15:06 AM
103 posts since 4/29/2011

I'm thinking about trying to build a six-stringed banjo with a low G string (got the idea from watching Sarah Jarosz). I assume I'm going to have to make my own bridge and tailpiece. What other issues/problems/difficulties should I be thinking about?

Jan 24, 2020 - 6:33:13 AM

381 posts since 2/6/2018

Jan 24, 2020 - 6:46:45 AM
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2041 posts since 4/7/2010

I stock 6-string No-Knot style tailpieces. Nickel plated, $32 plus $5 for postage in the US.

Bob Smakula
smakula.com

Jan 24, 2020 - 7:00:23 AM

5236 posts since 12/20/2005

Ome makes a really good adjustable 6-string tailpiece but it is difficult to locate on their website.
I had to call them but they were very helpful.

Steve Davis has made several 6-string tailpieces for me. All were outstanding.

Edited by - Leslie R on 01/24/2020 07:01:30

Jan 24, 2020 - 7:33:10 AM

884 posts since 11/22/2007

Check out the piece I wrote about 6 strings for BNL last January called The Other 6 String Banjo.
I have 2 Romero 6 string tailpieces that I would be willing to sell.
Mike Smith of Kateyz bridges has built me a number of 6 string bridges that are superb.
String guage is important, especially for the extra bass string if you use a 25 1/2 in. scale like I have. I'm currently using a .40 phos bronze.
I would be glad to respond through email about my 6 string experiences over the years. They are great fun.Good luck.




Jan 24, 2020 - 7:36:07 AM

2827 posts since 5/29/2011

When I built my six string I used one of these tailpieces and strung it with ball end strings. I also took a 3/4" five string bridge and filed the ebony top down to flat so I could renotch it.


 

Edited by - Culloden on 01/24/2020 07:37:51

Jan 24, 2020 - 8:52:50 AM
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701 posts since 5/19/2018

If you have neighbors who live close by...

Jan 24, 2020 - 10:09:37 AM

661 posts since 8/26/2009
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Are these low g 6 string mostly used for old time?

If used for 3 finger picking is it possible to get any tabs?

Phil

Jan 24, 2020 - 10:17:39 AM

884 posts since 11/22/2007

I use mine or clawhammer but Sonny Osborn and J.D, Crowe used 6's in the 70's. No reason not to incorporate it into any style I would think. Don't know of any tabs except my clawhammer tab in BNL of Julianne Johnson, with MUCH help from Dan Levenson. Personally, I don't use tab anymore.

Jan 24, 2020 - 10:29:42 AM

661 posts since 8/26/2009
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I use tab less and less, but was thinking it would be nice to be able to work the sixth string in on songs I already play, especially melodic style fiddle tunes? I can usually make up a break on most anything when jamming or playing out but at my age, afraid I might mess up what little I know on the 5.

If Bob Pieckiel will be at spbgma later this month in Nashville, I know he promotes the six string but probably in clawhammer?

Jan 24, 2020 - 12:40:48 PM
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12595 posts since 6/29/2005

My limited experience with them in  terms of "issues/problems/difficulties" as you ask, would be to say that the low bass will be weak unless you use a larger pot.

Jan 24, 2020 - 12:51:24 PM

884 posts since 11/22/2007

Hi Ken. Using a .40 phos. bronze string for the low bass leads to a reasonable volume. Also a somewhat higher bridge helps a lot.

Jan 24, 2020 - 1:48:08 PM

6698 posts since 8/28/2013

As Ken suggests, use a larger pot; 12-14 inches might work. I would also use a longer-than-usual scale (27 inches?) so that a long string can be used on that low G. A longer string will sound better because you can get the required tension without having the string become too stiff.

The few 6 string banjos I've encountered all used guitar scale lengths and 11 inch pots, and all of them sounded awful in the lower register.

Jan 24, 2020 - 1:57:39 PM

884 posts since 11/22/2007

Mine sounds fine to my ears. 12 inch pot, 3 inches deep with a whyte Laydee tone ring. 25 1/2 scale. Listen to my recordings and see what you think.

Jan 26, 2020 - 12:06:48 PM

Dragonslayer

Mozambique

227 posts since 10/9/2019

Fan frets might help?

Jan 26, 2020 - 2:28:25 PM

5236 posts since 12/20/2005

There are a number of ways you can tune a 6-string.
On an 11 inch pot, to me, a low G sounds a little muddy.
Not so much on a 12 inch, deep rim banjo.

I always liked open D tuning f# D F# A D.
I put a low A on string 5, and a high D on 6, same as on the 1st string. This is kinda like 2 standard tunings combined, open G interval on 2-6 and open D on 1-4.

You can use the same tuning interval on up to G. That would be g D G B D g. This works well for an 11 inch banjo.

For lower keys, I like large rim banjos, up to 14 inches, with a long scale, around 27 inches.

This works well for clawhammer and for 3-finger playing.

Anyway, good luck and best wishes. The main thing is find what you like and don't stop playing.

Jan 26, 2020 - 2:30:26 PM

2764 posts since 2/18/2009

I've made a few 5+1 or 6 string convertible banjos with a 12" pot and 25-1/2" scale length. I haven't noticed that the low strings are much quieter than the others, even when set up as a guitar banjo with the low E. I haven't tried how an 11" pot would work. I have mostly used raw brass hardware for these banjos and the only source I am aware of for brass tailpieces is Rickard Banjos, but there may be others I haven't found out about. I use a standard length bridge blank but with 6 strings the outer ones are much closer to the ends of the top. I haven't had any problem with this, but if you wanted to make a longer bridge with the same amount of margin at the ends that you have on a 5 string bridge I don't see why that shouldn't work just fine too.
Zach

Jan 26, 2020 - 4:03:35 PM

12595 posts since 6/29/2005

quote:
Originally posted by G Edward Porgie

As Ken suggests, use a larger pot; 12-14 inches might work. I would also use a longer-than-usual scale (27 inches?) so that a long string can be used on that low G. A longer string will sound better because you can get the required tension without having the string become too stiff.

The few 6 string banjos I've encountered all used guitar scale lengths and 11 inch pots, and all of them sounded awful in the lower register.


I made two last year, both 14" with 27" scales, the 14" and 27" scale were absolute requirements of the client, who has a had a lot of experience, and has a collection of 6-strings.

I recently got a commission to make a 6-string if I could demonstrate to the prospective client that it would have a decent bass.  I'll quote him: "Thus far, however, the production six string instruments I've listened to sounded awful.  My guess is that the 5th and 6th strings are just too deep for the standard banjo design.  The sound is muddy.  Perhaps you have figured out how to get around this problem.  I am open to your suggestions here."

I sent him sound samples of the two 14" ones, and his response:

"I am now satisfied you can build a nice sounding 6 string...none of the 6 string banjos currently on the market are worth having.  Your 6 string design will fill that gap"

Anyway, for what it's worth, I'm making him a 14", and I have Leslie on this forum for teaching me that lesson—Thanks Leslie!

Edited by - Ken LeVan on 01/26/2020 16:10:17

Jan 26, 2020 - 6:33:19 PM

5236 posts since 12/20/2005

Ken, I was just astonished with the skills you bring to the table.
Both banjos do get used, a lot.
One is tuned to D, the other is tuned to C, but I'm going to change it from C to E. C is just a little too much low. With the tuning I described, that puts the 5th string at F.
I know you can use a capo and all, but I like to let the strings ring.
I promise, your client is going to love the banjo.

Jan 27, 2020 - 6:13:01 AM

6698 posts since 8/28/2013

Ken,

It's interesting to know that you have already built banjos with 14 inch pots and 27 inch scales.

I made my suggestions based mostly on the physics of vibrating strings and their limitations, and not from any banjo building experience.

Jan 29, 2020 - 3:47:55 PM

1969 posts since 2/7/2008

quote:
Originally posted by crmdgn

I'm thinking about trying to build a six-stringed banjo with a low G string (got the idea from watching Sarah Jarosz). 


I'm fascinated by this. Is the low G played (fretted), or is it just a drone? 

Jan 29, 2020 - 3:54:51 PM
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884 posts since 11/22/2007

Either/both

Jan 30, 2020 - 1:59:37 AM

1257 posts since 10/11/2012

Hi crmdgn

Here's another possibility for a six string banjo.

6 String Oettinger Tailpiece

A 6 String Oettinger Tailpiece allows adjustment on the down pressure of all six strings on the bridge.

You can read more about the Oettinger Tailpiece on my little web site I have set up.

They will soon be available in nickel silver too.

Please feel free to contact me if you require further information. 

Jan 30, 2020 - 2:55:40 AM
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5236 posts since 12/20/2005

I have one of Lyndon's 6-string Oettinger tailpieces.
Overall design is well thought out. The craftsmanship is incredible. Each adjustment knob is smooth as can be. Structure is rock solid.
To date, this is the best tailpiece I have owned.

Jan 30, 2020 - 5:00:19 AM

1257 posts since 10/11/2012

quote:
Originally posted by Leslie R

I have one of Lyndon's 6-string Oettinger tailpieces.
Overall design is well thought out. The craftsmanship is incredible. Each adjustment knob is smooth as can be. Structure is rock solid.
To date, this is the best tailpiece I have owned.


Thanks Leslie. I really appreciate that...

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