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Dec 9, 2022 - 3:55:27 PM
29 posts since 9/30/2020

I borrowed a tenor banjo that has been gathering dust forever. The strings were very very old so I replaced them.

The length from the end of the nut to the bridge is 19 7/8" and it's equal lengths from nut to 12th fret and 12th fret to bridge. The man at the instrument shop set the bridge and marked the placement in pencil, but he did it with the old strings.

The strings I put on are these that I had lying around:
G .39 Mandolin G string
D .32 Guitar D string
A .24 Guitar G string
E .16 Guitar B string

Do these gauges sound like bad choices. They looked about the same as what was there before but they came from a random assortment of strings I had lying around.

The banjo is now so horribly out of tune with itself. For example, if I play the G string 7th fret against the open D and it is in tune, the 5th fret on D against the open G it's very horribly out of tune, about half a tone sharp on the D string.

What is going on here? What needs adjusting? Different strings? Move the bridge? Different bridge? The action is pretty high but I don't think there's enough left of the little feet to shave off enough to lower the action enough. The action is about 4 or 5 mm high at the 12th fret.

I posted pictures of the banjo with the old strings here.

Dec 9, 2022 - 4:06:05 PM
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58 posts since 4/15/2020

Sounds like you need to place your bridge properly. If the bridge is not in the right place for intonation, as you move to higher frets it will get either sharper or flatter. The bridge should be place approximately halfway for the scale length of your banjo. Not sure what it is? Measure from the 12th fret to the inner edge of the nut. Then place the bridge the same distance from the 12th fret. Now put the first string in tune. Then fret it at the twelfth fret. Is it sharp or flat? If sharp, put that bridge back towards the tail. If it's flat, pull the bridge a bit towards the neck. Check the tuning again. Move the neck in small increments (1/8") until the first string is in tune at the 12th fret. Now do the same with the fourth string. When adjusting the bridge for the 4th string, only move the side of the bridge that the 4th string is resting on, leave the side of the bridge with the first string where it was. This may mean the bridge is at an angle, and that's perfectly fine. This should let you get proper intonation across your strings. You can probably find some videos on Youtube showing how to do this.

Dec 9, 2022 - 4:32:52 PM
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2990 posts since 5/2/2012

A set of D'Addario strings for GDAE tuning are 35,24, 16 and 12. A 39 on the 4th string should be fine, but the strings on 3 -1, as you can see, are heavier gauges on your banjo. For the other tenor tuning, CGDA, the strings range from 30 to 9. A tenor is tuned in 5ths, so fret the G on fret 7 and it should be the same as the open 3rd string (D). Fret the 3rd string at the 7th fret and it should be the same as the open 2nd string (A). Fret the 2nd at the 7th fret (E). I'd check bridge placement/intonation as well, as suggested by Robert. Edit..I re-read the post, and with the measurements, bridge placement marking should get you close...but I'd check anyway.  

Edited by - thisoldman on 12/09/2022 16:39:22

Dec 9, 2022 - 4:39:14 PM
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1285 posts since 11/30/2015

If your scale length is 19-7/8" I would recommend 12, 20w, 30w, 40w for strings for GDAE tuning. I supply custom sets and keep those in stock. Your action is way too high. This could be part of your problem as you have to stretch the strings further to fret a note. My standard setup is .080" at the 12th fret. You might want to read about shimming a neck, while some will say this is not the correct way to lower the action, it is cheap, easy, reversible, and gets the job done. I pop in here most evenings. I'll keep an eye on your posts. Or, you can tag me and I will get an alert. Keep at it, you'll get there and it will be rewarding and satisfying.

Dec 9, 2022 - 7:44:12 PM

35 posts since 6/19/2021

There are videos on YouTube on how to set your bridge, making sure your bridge is set correctly would be the first thing I would try, that might solve your problem.

Dec 10, 2022 - 2:25:49 AM

Bill H


2064 posts since 11/7/2010

High action could be the problem. Is the neck connection solid? If it is a dowel stick, is the dowel/neck connection solid? If the connection is solid and the action is excessively high, this could be an issue. Otherwise, you need to fine tune the bridge position.

Dec 10, 2022 - 11:28:38 AM

29 posts since 9/30/2020

So most of you think my strings are too heavy overall? I have more mandolin EJ74 strings I can try and see if that gets me any closer.

If you can place a bridge by measuring distances, it's at exactly the right place.

Here's a close-up of the dowel/neck connection.

Dec 10, 2022 - 11:37:22 AM



2038 posts since 8/9/2019

Originally posted by sbhikes2

So most of you think my strings are too heavy overall? I have more mandolin EJ74 strings I can try and see if that gets me any closer.

If you can place a bridge by measuring distances, it's at exactly the right place.

Here's a close-up of the dowel/neck connection.

That's not how it actually works. Measuring will only get you 'in the ballpark' but then you need to find exact spot within the ballpark (like the exact row and seat at the ballpark).

You achieve this by matching the harmonics at the halfway point of the neck with the fretted notes at the same fret (on a 5 string banjo its the 12th fret harmonic and the fretted 12th fret notes that should be exactly the same).

Edited by - ChunoTheDog on 12/10/2022 11:38:47

Dec 10, 2022 - 12:10:32 PM

29 posts since 9/30/2020

So I fiddled with the bridge and it did make a difference. The measurement isn't equal anymore. I just did it by sound with the tuner.

I tried a lighter D string but it seemed too loose so put the heavier one back on.

Does changing the strings often result in drastically moving the bridge? It's quit off-center now. You can see here where the original markings are that the guy in the music shop made in pencil.

Dec 10, 2022 - 2:07:58 PM

2017 posts since 2/9/2007

Finding a <20"-scale string that will give you even just tolerably good tone and intonation at G (3 frets above a guitar's bottom E!) is a trick. Unless it's unplayably thick, it will be loose enough that any bit of stretch involved in fingering will sharpen it a lot, which necessitates moving the bridge away from the nut to correct the intonation-- the higher your action, the further you'll need to move the bridge.

Yes, you'll find that changing strings usually requires changing the bridge's position. So will the head getting tighter or looser (because it alters the strings' height), and also the strings aging with use.

Once you get the bridge set to where you get a get a correct octave at the 12th fret, though, you're still going to have to be extra careful with your fingering to get decent intonation out of an Irish-tuned tenor. The slightest bit of pull or push to the side, or even too much force in the right direction, will sharpen any note noticeably.

Dec 10, 2022 - 8:40:22 PM
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1285 posts since 11/30/2015

Never trust the guy in the music store, they rarely know how to work on banjos, and even rarer on a tenor setup in GDAE.

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