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Aug 4, 2021 - 2:31:36 AM
30 posts since 11/22/2020

I have concluded (after 8 months of learning the 5 string) that I love to strum as well as pick.

Particularly since I got myself a bumblebee thumb pick I have been able to strum whilst still wearing my picks for Scruggs style - which I want to be able to play in a folk band at some point soon...like Mumford and sons style. I like the way the picking drives the music.

But, I also love to strum in a rather animated folk rock style.

The bumblebee pick allows me to strum, but of course the drone string can be a pain in the neck.

I'm playing gDGBD tuning. So I'm toying with the idea of getting a 4 string with DGBD tuning.

Though I'd rather have only one banjo. I guess that's just not practical because of the drone string.

Any advice much appreciated.

Aug 4, 2021 - 2:41:36 AM

144 posts since 12/4/2007

Look at tenors.

You might remove the drone string and tune in 5ths to try that with your exisitng banjo

I play guitar and mandolin and was never able to effectively make the transition to Clawhammer or Scruggs style. Recently acquired an inexpensive Recoding King Tenor Guitar our of curiosity, and took off in that direction easily in GDAE tuning. Now I am am getting into tenor banjo and trying different scale lengths until I find the right one for my application, which is old time and Americana.

Aug 4, 2021 - 3:12:05 AM

Bill H

USA

1698 posts since 11/7/2010

Check out Tom Nechville's style of playing:  Banjo strum

Aug 4, 2021 - 4:26:21 AM

1938 posts since 2/4/2013

Strumming is usually a horrible thing on a five string banjo. I put in some back of the fingernail strums now and again for emphasis but I use a lot more of pinching chords. Down with the thumb and up with two or three fingers a bit like Tom Nechville shows. As this pinch style is how I play just varying the number of strings I'm up pinching depending on if it's the melody or the chords I'm emphasising.

Aug 4, 2021 - 4:27:39 AM
Players Union Member

Emiel

Austria

9948 posts since 1/22/2003

The five-string banjo minus the 5th string is called a plectrum banjo. You could buy of those. It's usually tuned CGBD, but DGDB is not all that uncommon.

You could also remove the 5th string, but that is not necessary. There is a professional banjo player who uses one banjo for both plectrum style and 5-string playing. He has found a way to mute the fifth string. There are YouTube videos. Unfortunately, I cannot remember the details nor his name. Maybe someone else knows…

Aug 4, 2021 - 5:15:14 AM
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3920 posts since 5/29/2011

Any excuse to buy another banjo is always good, especially if you have to explain it to the better half.

Aug 4, 2021 - 5:33:18 AM

30 posts since 11/22/2020

Hi,

Thanks for the responses so far.

Actually, I forgot I already have a tenor banjo GDAE (which I rescued from a pawnbrokers) because I am familiar with the tuning (being a trained violinist) but I dont find the pitch to be particularly inspiring. It has been gathering dust since a few weeks after I bought it.

Could I replace the existing strings with DGBD? I guess that would be a significant amount more tension on the instrument, moving from G2-D3-A3-E3 to D3-G3-B3-D4 ?

...though now I come to think about it, the reason it is tuned to G2-D3-A3-E3 is because those are the strings I put on it... So it could even have originally been a jazz tenor, which is C3-G3 -D4 -A4 which would be more tension than I would need.

Joe

Aug 4, 2021 - 5:57:55 AM

1938 posts since 2/4/2013

I'm not sure that plectrum or tenor banjos are good for folk style strumming anymore than 5 string banjos are. Pinching works far better. You can ignore the drone string if you want or add it in on some chords as well.

Aug 4, 2021 - 9:22:09 AM

34 posts since 4/10/2008

There is a world class plectrum player (he's in the 4 string Hall of Fame) Doug Mattocks who also plays tenor and 5string. You can find him on You Tube.
These days he plays mostly plectrum. But he uses his 5string banjo. He super glued a little hook onto the head to hold the drone down, out of the way. But he always uses a regular flat pick to play - his picking technique is so sophisticated that he does both up and down patterns. Those would be very difficult to accomplish with a pick that worn on a finger.

Aug 4, 2021 - 9:35:40 AM

11003 posts since 4/23/2004

I just cut a little notch in my bridge on the side. The 5th can be pulled out of its normal place and "park" it in the side notch. I position the notch so that the 5th string lays on the frets, no resonance, etc., and it is out of the way.

Instant plectrum...and I don't even detune the string.

Aug 4, 2021 - 9:47:27 AM
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17 posts since 7/5/2021

quote:
Originally posted by Josephpetrie

Hi,

Thanks for the responses so far.

Actually, I forgot I already have a tenor banjo GDAE (which I rescued from a pawnbrokers) because I am familiar with the tuning (being a trained violinist) but I dont find the pitch to be particularly inspiring. It has been gathering dust since a few weeks after I bought it.

Could I replace the existing strings with DGBD? I guess that would be a significant amount more tension on the instrument, moving from G2-D3-A3-E3 to D3-G3-B3-D4 ?

...though now I come to think about it, the reason it is tuned to G2-D3-A3-E3 is because those are the strings I put on it... So it could even have originally been a jazz tenor, which is C3-G3 -D4 -A4 which would be more tension than I would need.

Joe


Yes you'll just need to get slightly lighter gauge strings to maintain the same tension. D'Addario 9-30 Tenor set works pretty good for DGBE (Chicago Tuning), it would probably work for DGBD as well. 

Aug 4, 2021 - 12:07:12 PM

3920 posts since 5/29/2011

You could also try using plectrum strings or a five string set keeping the fifth string for a spare first. Tuned in standard G tuning you would be putting less tension on the neck than a set of tenor strings would.
When I was a senior in high school(40 years ago) we did the musical "Alexander's Ragtime Band." We had enough musicians in the school to form a stage band with piano(complete with thumb tacks in the hammers), upright bass, saxaphone, trombone, drums, and tenor banjo. I didn't know how to play tenor banjo chords back then but I had an old Kay tenor banjo tuned in open G. It worked fine with five string banjo strings and sounded like a tenor banjo when combined with everything else.

Aug 4, 2021 - 12:20:27 PM
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376 posts since 10/8/2018

I too started out as a five string player and used most of the tricks mentioned above to deal with that pesky fifth string.

Doing it this way is okay if you are basically a five string player but if you ever get more serious about playing plectrum banjo, then sooner or later you are probably going to want a real four string plectrum banjo.

The bridge on a five string banjo is usually set up with the strings spaced a bit further apart to facilitate finger picking, while plectrum banjos usually have the strings spaced a bit closer together in order to facilitate chord strumming.

I tried the DGBD tuning for a little while but found it limited by the fact that basically every chord you play contains that same "octave" sound caused by the two D strings. And in my travels, I've never encountered a competent plectrum-style player who uses that tuning.

Either DGBE or CGBD tuning sounds much better in my opinion...

Good luck!

Edited by - guitarbanjoman on 08/04/2021 12:24:09

Aug 4, 2021 - 5:18:28 PM

1528 posts since 1/28/2013

Tenor Banjos are set up for strumming, and 5 string banjos are set up for picking and frailing. It's hard to get any kind of quick chord changes with a 5 string. Sweet City Woman was strummed on a 5 string but all he was doing was slow playing 2 chords the whole song.

Aug 5, 2021 - 10:24:10 PM

Randrew

Canada

9 posts since 8/29/2012

So I play tenor now and love it so much, but before I played a 5 string banjo for a few years. Personally I love the sound the drone string adds to strumming. I never got into it as much as I felt I could have but for me keeping the drone string in key was a huge part but also gave me a lot of versatility in sound. For example, try dropping the drone string down 1 Semi-tone to f# and strum in the key of d. I never took it much further than that but the next step is getting spikes on your 5th fret so you can keep that drone string in the keys you play. That may help.. or not, good luck!!

Aug 5, 2021 - 11:07:28 PM

58082 posts since 12/14/2005

String it how you want, and strum it how you want.
Because it's YOUR banjo.

My first stringed instrument was a uke, and I find it a LOT simpler to uke strum while singing, and save the fancy picking for when I'm NOT singing.

Check out some of my MP3s and videos.

Aug 7, 2021 - 12:10:44 AM

376 posts since 10/8/2018

Here’s another aspect of the 5 string down to 4 string problem… tone rings.

In my previous incarnation as a fiver, my banjo’s tone ring was a big heavy Gibson clone from Stew-Mac… and it sounded really great for the kind of Bill Keith style stuff I loved to play…

But ever since crossing over from the dark side, I have never met a 4-string player who has that big heavy kind of tone ring… come to think of it, I have never actually seen or been able to play a Gibson plectrum banjo….
 

...and maybe I never will because it seems they have a habit of disappearing from the marketplace, only to return years later as five string conversions!

But if there are any 4-string Gibson players out there who would be willing to weigh in about their tone rings, I would be very interested to hear whatever you have to say…

Thanks,

Will

Edited by - guitarbanjoman on 08/07/2021 00:13:07

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