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Apr 20, 2024 - 9:16:39 PM
83 posts since 4/24/2019

I just saw a video where the banjonista said 19 frets was the best for the Irish tenor. Everything I've heard until now indicated 17 was the right number of frets.
Does it matter?

Apr 21, 2024 - 12:02:45 AM
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martyjoe

Ireland

517 posts since 3/24/2020

What really matters is scale length. Tenor banjos for Irish style playing most often have an 11” pot, a metal stretcher band and a 7/11 bridge placement so a 23” scale banjo will have 19 frets on this format. I make some tenors with 10” pots 23” scale that have 21 frets. My 23 .5” tenors on a 12” pot all have 17 frets. So labeling the number of frets is simplistic and a bit misleading. The most correct reference is “scale length”. Around 1920 most banjo makers went from the 21” scale to 23” scale for their top models. This gave the banjos better tone and more volume. I believe that this was necessary to compete with trumpets and clarinets in Dixie bands of the day. 23.5” became the limit for tenors because that’s the maximum length that the A string could take in CGDA tuning. Hence 23” to give a little more margin.

Apr 21, 2024 - 12:34:07 AM
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Enda Scahill

Ireland

104 posts since 4/28/2008

It’s about tone and fret stretch. 19 fret is that most common as a lot of Irish made banjos were modelled on the Epiphone Model A/B range. The tone from an arch top 19 fret will be most like the bright Irish banjo tone that most associate with the music. 17 fret banjos clearly are shorter and are often preferred for their smaller frets and shorter necks. The tone tends to be a little deeper and rounder. Some prefer that tone.

Personally I prefer a 19 fret as i find the 17 fret a little limiting in terms of tone, volume and brightness

Apr 21, 2024 - 8:14:03 AM
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5711 posts since 5/29/2011

Labelling the 17-fret banjo as an Irish tenor is more of a marketing ploy than a reflection of what Irish banjo players prefer. I suppose it is easier for instrument manufacturers, marketers, retailers, etc. to fit instruments into neat little categories.
At one time the 17-fret tenor banjo was called a Ragtime banjo, and the 19-fret was called a Dixieland banjo. The tenor banjo was seldom heard in Ragtime music.

Apr 21, 2024 - 4:59:52 PM
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rcc56

USA

5093 posts since 2/20/2016

The real answer to this question is "whatever suits you best."

I get the impression that folks in Ireland lean more towards banjos with a 23" scale.
Folks in the US have a way of following fads and marketing, or whatever a favorite player might say.
Me, I prefer a shorter scale, but that's just me and I dance to my own drummer.

10 years ago, new tenor banjos were practically unavailable in the US. Now that more folks have gotten into the music, half a dozen manufacturers have jumped on the bandwagon. It is not unlikely that at least half of them don't even have anyone on the staff that actually plays tenor banjo.

A best buy in tenor banjos are old Vega Tubaphones and Whyte Laydie style R's. They can be found in the $800 - $1200 price range. They may need some attention to get them into playable condition, but they are a better grade instrument than a new Gold Tone or the equivalent.

If you can, try several different instruments to get an idea of what fits you before you buy one.

Edited by - rcc56 on 04/21/2024 17:01:05

Apr 21, 2024 - 9:33:52 PM

83 posts since 4/24/2019

I have an '30's era 17 fret that's good enough for me, a rank beginner. With the generous help of advisers on this forum I've managed to upgrade the tuners, tail piece and strings so that it doesn't buzz like an electric fence any longer. I'm having fun and learning a lot from Enda, with his videos and books. This forum is amazing for the expertise generously offered. Many thanks.

Apr 21, 2024 - 10:09:34 PM
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martyjoe

Ireland

517 posts since 3/24/2020

quote:
Originally posted by Jehoshaphat

I have an '30's era 17 fret that's good enough for me, a rank beginner. With the generous help of advisers on this forum I've managed to upgrade the tuners, tail piece and strings so that it doesn't buzz like an electric fence any longer. I'm having fun and learning a lot from Enda, with his videos and books. This forum is amazing for the expertise generously offered. Many thanks.


Now what you can do is measure from the nut to the 12th fret. Whatever that tells you double it and that is your scale length. THEN we will know the size of your banjo. 

Apr 22, 2024 - 6:46:22 AM
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83 posts since 4/24/2019

quote:
Originally posted by martyjoe
Now what you can do is measure from the nut to the 12th fret. Whatever that tells you double it and that is your scale length. THEN we will know the size of your banjo. 

It's 21 inches.  I just received some strings from Trad Banjo that should give it a better sound than the strings I have on it now.  Thanks

Apr 22, 2024 - 6:19:32 PM
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DSmoke

USA

1434 posts since 11/30/2015

I was misled by the information available to us in the US as I was learning about the "Irish Tenor Banjo". There is no such thing as an "Irish Tenor Banjo", it's just a tenor banjo that is tuned GDAE to play Irish music. You will also find out if you keep digging that this wealth of information on the internet is going to tell you that your tenor banjo action height should be 1/8". That is also wrong.

I will disagree slightly with Enda in that the modern banjos are built based on the Gibson Mastertone design, but with a 23" scale length instead of 22". The main reason is because the bluegrass demand has the parts available for this. I'm not sure why Cussen, Boyle, and Jones never ventured too far from that design. Jim Patton took influence from Weymann and Vega and built a modern and improved version of a vintage tenor banjo. The American makers don't really know the ITM banjo world and consistently miss the mark with their banjos.

I point this out here often, and will do so again. We must identify banjos based on the scale length, not the number of frets. There are both 17 and 19 fret banjos with the same scale length.

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