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Oct 26, 2020 - 8:33:34 PM
11 posts since 10/26/2020

Hi I am new on the forum. My background is advanced classical guitar playing. I make interesting arrangements of pop/classical material setting the pieces into diverse worldwide musical genres.
I started off learning 4 string chord/melody banjo in grade school.
I would welcome advice as to the feasibility of using nylon strings for a 5 string , as I.can not afford to wear down my nails on reg banjo strings, and prefer nails rather than thumb and finger picks, for both speed and
I would like to try my hand at banjo. , even try alternate tunings , doing both traditional and new arrangements I can make. any advice on strings and this way of playing are appreciated. Ray

Oct 26, 2020 - 8:59:07 PM

608 posts since 1/28/2013

I started out on 4 string tenor at 12 years old when Washington Square by the Village Stompers came out and was a top 10 hit in the early 60's. I went to 5 string after College. I use thumb and metal finger picks on banjo and guitar. There is no reason you can't use nylon strings on a 5 string, especially an open back. I understand this was common in the early1800's. But today there are picks that basically are like real fingernails, you might want to check them out before you start with the nylon strings and bare fingers. But with 5 string as far as Bluegrass you really can't play it without finger picks. You can't get the speed and accuracy required with bare fingertips. Picks are a must to achieve that driving sound.

Edited by - jan dupree on 10/26/2020 21:03:04

Oct 26, 2020 - 9:35:03 PM

2197 posts since 1/16/2010

The feasibility of using nylon strings for a 5 string banjo??? Why that’s how it’s supposed to be done Ray old buddy.

The original Forefathers of the banjo used gut, and later nylon. “Guitar style”, also known as “finger style”, was the most popular form of banjo playing back in the 1890’s through the 20’s...preceding bluegrass, it was a very intricate and complex style. If you are not familiar with them, check out Vess Ossman and Fred Van Eps...two fingerstyle masters from the early years . Their playing is unmatched by anybody today.

Lots of folks still use gut/nylon...there is quite a following of “classic” banjo players out there...that is, folks dedicated to the early ragtime fingerstyle of banjo. Joel Hooks, the executive secretary of the American Banjo Fraternity is a member here, and I’m sure will give you some better advice once he reads this.

Either way...have fun and enjoy your banjo adventure. Nylon banjo strings are very easily sourced, so hopefully you will be picking in no time!


Oct 27, 2020 - 7:34:11 AM
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5706 posts since 9/21/2007

Dow pretty much covered it.

I would like to add some points though. Since you play classical guitar you will be versed with position playing. There is no need to use all the scordatura or "alternate tunings" for banjo.

You are also likely able to read. That is good because there is many lifetimes of regular banjo music published in notation available (for free/ public domain). Notation was the standard for regular banjo until the folk revival.

Check out there is endless amounts of music and instruction books available.

Please note that there was two "systems" of notation for the banjo and it can be confusing. I have written an article that covers this in more detail than anyone ever wanted (if one wants to go there). But basically in the US the banjo was a "transposing" instrument and was noted as if it was pitched in A (4th string-- banjo pitch was given by the 4th string. Pitch was raised to C but the notation (in the US) remained the same.

So for now, look for music published in C, "Universal Notation", or "English System".

While what we now call "Classic Banjo" was traditionally played with bare fingertips (much like the Spanish guitar before nylon strings), there is no reason why you can't play with nails. You won't be "historically informed" but that does not seem to be your goal, so it is all good.

A great learning book is the Mel Bay Banjo Method by Frank C. Bradbury. Bradbury was the star student of Fred Bacon. While the music is pretty plain, using it as a course of study will teach you all you need to play any solo at your playing level. It is still in print, but you can find used copies for very cheap.

Oct 27, 2020 - 9:49:24 AM

11 posts since 10/26/2020

Thank’s for all the insightful advice . This really helps make my journey easier.
I also have a Turkish instrument called cumbus, that was invented in the 1930’s which was adapted from the american banjo so that the instrument would stand out n an ensemble . It’s fretless and player like an oud. Trying to play an occasional chord in tune on the instrument is a challenge.

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