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Apr 7, 2024 - 1:55:42 PM
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683 posts since 5/20/2008

So, you would think I would know the answer to this, given I've played both 5-string and mandolin/fiddle for years. But. I'm thinking seriously about getting a tenor banjo for Irish sessions. I can play up to speed on the mandolin, but it's too quiet. And I don't have the speed on the fiddle I'd like for high-end sessions. What is the shortest scale I can play for GDAE tuning? I'm clear I don't want mandola tuning. I have fairly small hands, and a bit of arthritis at age 69, and I want as short as neck as possible. So, 19 fret? 17 fret?

Thanks in advance for the help.

Matt

Edited by - Matt Buckley on 04/07/2024 13:56:49

Apr 7, 2024 - 2:51:29 PM

72 posts since 12/23/2019

I got my first banjo at 69. I have arthritic sausage fingers.
I believe the Gold Tone IT-17 has a scale length of 19¾". I had a GoodTime 17 fret and the frets were noticeably farther apart than the GT.

Apr 7, 2024 - 4:06:41 PM

3405 posts since 5/2/2012

I have a GT CC-IT, which I haven't played for awhile. Some of the tunes I played, having to reach for the 5th fret on the 1st string with my pinkie on occasion, the shorter scale on the 17 fret neck worked OK for that. But I've got large(ish) hands.

Apr 7, 2024 - 5:55:02 PM
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DSmoke

USA

1443 posts since 11/30/2015

Please have a read of this article I wrote:
tradbanjo.com/pages/buying-adv...nor-banjo

There are some great vintage short scale banjos that will perform well in a session. I prefer the large pot Tubaphones and Orpheums. Shoot me a message, happy to help.

Apr 7, 2024 - 7:52:05 PM

11387 posts since 4/23/2004

I play a Bacon Blue Ribbon tenor and a Paramount Style A. The Bacon is much easier @ 17 frets...but the Paramount can damn near cut thru concrete.

Apr 8, 2024 - 5:01:51 AM

3405 posts since 5/2/2012

Will just throw this out. I found an "off the shelf" GDAE string set to be just OK for the 17 fret. The 4th string is, as I recall, 36 gauge. I considered getting something a bit stouter, like a 40, but never got around to it. Once you make a decision on a banjo, you might ask for suggestions about strings for that specific maker/model.

Edited by - thisoldman on 04/08/2024 05:04:18

Apr 8, 2024 - 5:54:36 AM

KennyB

Canada

229 posts since 10/25/2007

Matt:
Banjos "cut through"better than mandolins for several reasons. Banjos are louder, and they play an octave below fiddles, mandolins, boxes etc. and two octaves below whistles.
17 fret banjos are easier on the left hand, but the low string is often too slack. The D'Addario string set for Irish banjo tops out at 36, but their information says they're sized for GDAE tuning on a 26 inch scale. I talked to Gold Tone and they suggested a 40 on a 19 fret banjo. Even higher would seem to suit for a 17 fret.
And there's the option of DAEB tuning, i.e. lose the low G string, shift everything over by one, and add a high B, still playing an octave below fiddles, without notes below D, which is most tunes, and eliminating the pinky stretch for the high B note. Everything you can play on a mandolin, you can then play an octave lower by shifting down by 1 string in that tuning.

Apr 8, 2024 - 9:14:06 AM

683 posts since 5/20/2008

Thanks, all, for answers thus far. And Dan, great article. Very helpful.

Matt

Apr 8, 2024 - 4:00:02 PM

DSmoke

USA

1443 posts since 11/30/2015

Matt Buckley I see you're near Burlington, I have a banjo friend there you might know. I'll send you a message which should end up in your email.

Apr 9, 2024 - 10:41:09 AM

596 posts since 4/11/2019

Matt Buckley

You could also use an old, sturdy banjo uke.

I set up an old Gretch Clarophone that way once. It absolutely screamed, even the electric guitar guy was looking at me with the side eye.

Apr 9, 2024 - 11:16:09 AM

2488 posts since 2/9/2007

How about a mandolin banjo, or melody banjo (same thing but single strung)?

If you have the $$ to spend, the National RM1 resonator mandolin has a sweet, balanced, full mandolin tone and at the same time a frightening amount of volume!

Apr 9, 2024 - 1:42:28 PM

683 posts since 5/20/2008

quote:
Originally posted by Dan Gellert

How about a mandolin banjo ....


I dunno, Dan.  A few years back someone showed up with a mandolin banjo at a high-end Vermont ITM session in Montpelier.  After about two sets, the gentleman was respectfully informed he needed to stop, immediately.  The piercing sound was ruining the session.  I know, as I was there.  He also had with him a WW1 era Gibson mando (A-1 or A-2, I think), and he played that instead.  Nice guy, and he responded well.  His mando had a wonderful sound, although not loud enough, but at least the guy wasn't thrown out on the street.  smiley

Dan -  Great memories of seeing/hearing you perform at the Champlain Valley Folk Festival years ago.  Sadly, The CVFF is gone, but it had a great run for about 30 years.

Edited by - Matt Buckley on 04/09/2024 13:44:20

Apr 9, 2024 - 3:29:02 PM
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2488 posts since 2/9/2007

quote:
Originally posted by Matt Buckley
quote:
Originally posted by Dan Gellert

How about a mandolin banjo ....


I dunno, Dan.  A few years back someone showed up with a mandolin banjo at a high-end Vermont ITM session in Montpelier.  After about two sets, the gentleman was respectfully informed he needed to stop, immediately.  The piercing sound was ruining the session.  I know, as I was there.  He also had with him a WW1 era Gibson mando (A-1 or A-2, I think), and he played that instead.  Nice guy, and he responded well.  His mando had a wonderful sound, although not loud enough, but at least the guy wasn't thrown out on the street.  smiley

Dan -  Great memories of seeing/hearing you perform at the Champlain Valley Folk Festival years ago.  Sadly, The CVFF is gone, but it had a great run for about 30 years.


Playing a M-B so as to produce sounds which can reasonably called musical does indeed demand an uncommon level of technical control, and an even rarer amount of restraint.  

Apr 11, 2024 - 5:51:15 AM

683 posts since 5/20/2008

Well, to get started, and until I find something more to my taste, I briefly considered the Gold Tone IT-19.  But, looking carefully at the photos, I saw that the inlays were shamrocks !!   And the headstock inlay a "celtic" design.  Might be fine for others, but just too "Irish" for me.   

Anyone have experience with the Deering 19-fret Artisan as an entry level instrument?  

Apr 16, 2024 - 6:42:48 AM

270 posts since 9/6/2016

I have the standard Goodtime 2, not the Artisan version, but they are fundamentally the same.

I took up tenor seven years ago and I have found the Goodtime 2 to be a wonderful instrument. I like the warmer sound I can get versus something with a tone ring.

Jack Ray, a wonderful jazz player, used a Goodtime 2 for a long time. If you search around on YouTube, you’ll find some great videos by him. In fact, check out his version of Royal Garden Blues here:

youtu.be/nqTrNeO2QoQ?si=dTWb9ALof1VdQUJL

Apr 30, 2024 - 6:03:20 AM
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11387 posts since 4/23/2004

I've recently been watching Enda Scahill's youtube channel. Enda tunes his G string to A, giving him ADAE.

I decided to try that. My tune book has ~70 pretty common ITB tunes...only one needed a low G and the 4 others (that actually use the 4th string) simply moved those few notes two frets lower.

So far, this new tuning appears to be an improvement! The increase in tension on the 4th string makes it sound and feel better too.

Edited by - trapdoor2 on 04/30/2024 06:03:45

May 30, 2024 - 5:24:28 AM

11387 posts since 4/23/2004

I've just finished scanning James Finnegan's, "The Big Book Of 365 Irish tunes" for low G usage. I found only 4 tunes which use the open G string. That's ~1.09%. All the rest can be played using the ADAE tuning!

Funnily, I noticed this "problem" back in the 80s when I first started playing Irish tunes. It bothered me enough that I wrote a tune just so I could use the open G string. It never occurred to me to change my tuning...

May 30, 2024 - 4:24:39 PM

DSmoke

USA

1443 posts since 11/30/2015

quote:
Originally posted by trapdoor2

I've just finished scanning James Finnegan's, "The Big Book Of 365 Irish tunes" for low G usage. I found only 4 tunes which use the open G string. That's ~1.09%. All the rest can be played using the ADAE tuning!

Funnily, I noticed this "problem" back in the 80s when I first started playing Irish tunes. It bothered me enough that I wrote a tune just so I could use the open G string. It never occurred to me to change my tuning...


I find the open G very handy as a drone note.

Jun 12, 2024 - 8:50:34 AM

1408 posts since 8/17/2007

quote:
Originally posted by Knows Picker

Matt Buckley

You could also use an old, sturdy banjo uke.

I set up an old Gretch Clarophone that way once. It absolutely screamed, even the electric guitar guy was looking at me with the side eye.


Jun 12, 2024 - 9:33:04 AM

1408 posts since 8/17/2007

I would hate to stir up a debate about the use of anything "UKE" in old-time music jams. I became embarrassed about 10 years ago at a well-known event in TN. A morning jam was held the first day of this fine event and I sat away from the group, in hopes of getting a feel for the musicianship of the whole. My axe was my 1922 Fairbanks-Vega Tu-ba-phone melody banjo. My ears liked what they were hearing, when the lady leading the jam, turned around and asked if I were playing a banjo-uke. I jumped up and walked to her, describing my instrument. I handed it to a gent close-by, advising him of it's weight and saying that it was NOT a toy. I was so disturbed that I went straight to my car and returned with my Flatiron F5 Artist mandolin. It was a silly, childish reaction on my part, as I had NOT been condemned. I am almost ashamed of myself for not staying long enough to be asked to stay with my banjo.

Anyway, the scale of my melody banjo is 13-7/8", and it brings to mind those of us with arthritis, and/or short fingers. I read so much about 'numbers of frets' instead of scale lengths. I know it sounds rather short, but the rim diameter is 10-1/8" (Style S) . Remember, the "melody"/"tango" banjo has only 4 strings, tuned GDAE (36-24-16-10). It is very easy to dampen the sound with a variety of absorbents; I like natural sponges. A mandolin banjo minus 4 strings should be acceptable anywhere.

Jun 12, 2024 - 11:01:11 AM

1408 posts since 8/17/2007

quote:
Originally posted by Knows Picker

Matt Buckley

You could also use an old, sturdy banjo uke.

I set up an old Gretch Clarophone that way once. It absolutely screamed, even the electric guitar guy was looking at me with the side eye.


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