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Overwhelming urge to play the banjo, good beginner banjo?

Discussion in 'Other Guitars, other instruments' started by Fretting out, Oct 5, 2020.

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  1. unfamous

    unfamous Tele-Meister

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    Yeah, I know.

    I invite you to take 3 bluegrass banjo lessons and you may may discover how the string arrangement and RH technique are definitive to bluegrass banjo, which is what the op specified.
     
    Last edited: Oct 6, 2020
  2. DougM

    DougM Poster Extraordinaire

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    Epiphone and Gretsch have some decent entry level ones.
     
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  3. Dave Hicks

    Dave Hicks Tele-Afflicted

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  4. stormsedge

    stormsedge Friend of Leo's

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    I've had a Kasuga 5 string for >40 years...it has held up well. I haven't seen very many around or for sale. Believe it may be a Mastertone copy.

    IMG_3143.JPG IMG_6824.JPG

    And I have my Dad's Leedy Collegian tenor (4 string) banjo that he received second hand in ~1932. It is still a player. (No photo).
     
    Last edited: Oct 6, 2020
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  5. trapdoor2

    trapdoor2 Friend of Leo's Gold Supporter

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    Well...

    I have been avoiding bluegrass for 30 yrs...but I can still play all the Scruggs stuff I started out with in the 70s.

    I don't have much experience with beginner's banjos but have played a number of the "Goodtime" varieties...they have all been well built and good sounding banjos. Deering makes good stuff.

    There are hundreds (if not thousands) of Gibson based banjos out there. I have a custom one based on the Gibson design.

    My first "good" 5-string was a Washburn B-16. They're decent asian-made instruments...and you can find them used for cheap.

    Good advice to search thru Banjohangout. I've been on there since 2003...
     
  6. Musekatcher

    Musekatcher Friend of Leo's

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    Yes, there are misnomers in the banjo world. There is a difference in a 6 string banjo, and a guitar banjo.

    A 6 string banjo, is still a banjo, with banjo gaged strings, tuned like a banjo, played like a banjo, and was popularized by folks like Sonny Osborne (Osborne Brothers) and Tom Jackson (with James Bryan and Norman Blake). It still has a short string on top, interestingly still called the 5th string. The sixth string is the ADDED string, which is tuned some pitches below the 4th string. So the top string is always a high, drone string, and always called a 5th string. Its interchangeable with a 5 string banjo, meant to be played fingerstyle, or clawhammer style.

    A guitar banjo, is a six string guitar, with guitar strings, tuned like a guitar and played like a guitar but with a banjo head. Without the shorter drone string, it can't emulate a bluegrass banjo, and doesn't strum well at all, so it can't emulate a tenor or plectrum banjo. They were devised in the 1920's and only in production a short while. They were designed as you would expect, for guitarists who wanted a banjo voice, without having to learn another instrument. They were very unsuccessful. And, its important to note, that banjos evolved to tenor and plectrum banjos, which evolved into tenor and plectrum guitars, before the guitar banjo was attempted. The recent batches, are really for the same purpose: to sell to those who want a banjo, but don't want to learn to play one.

    That said, a guitar banjo can be charming. You can single line some stuff, and get a banjo kind of thing. You may can cross pick or fingerstyle some stuff and product some interest, but will be very unsatisfying if you want to emulate a banjo. It will never pick-strum out a decent "I'm Looking Over a Four Leaf Clover" like Eddie Peabody, it will never roll on "Foggy Mt Breakdown" like Earl Scruggs, and it will never claw out "Big Scioty" like Adam Hurt. And it will never sound like, or play like a guitar. Its really an unexploited instrument as of today.
     
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  7. SomeGuyNamedRob

    SomeGuyNamedRob Tele-Meister

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    I invite you to go re-read the OP where no mention of bluegrass is made before you jumped in with your no true Scotsman fallacy. Server time stamp and post order shows that the Bluegrass issue came 11 minutes after my post was made, and 3 minutes after your deciding to play arbiter of what is and isn't "a banjo" before doubling down with ad hominem.

    Had that been established prior, I may have only asked if the OP planned on transitioning via Chicago tuning before making the full jump. But that's not necessary now as the OP stated later in the thread that he's already been tuning to open G on his guitar.
     
  8. SomeGuyNamedRob

    SomeGuyNamedRob Tele-Meister

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    Back in January, I was also looking at possibly picking up a banjo just to have something "different" as a sound.

    The guy at the shop suggested getting into it by using the Chicago tuning and then moving to a standard banjo tuning once the mechanics were a little more familiar. Is this something that's commonly suggested to guitar players moving over, or would it be more the other way, with guitarists being encouraged to try switching over to an open G tuning (the way the OP is doing it)?



     
  9. thesamhill

    thesamhill Tele-Holic Silver Supporter

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    @Fretting out If you're looking to actually learn the banjo, rock on! I don't have much to say about the $600 range instruments, I defer to others on your actual question.

    That said...

    If you're more looking to add a few banjo tunes to a set list, rather than learn the instrument itself, you can do just fine with a low-$ banjo. I've been playing a 5-string "Norma" for 25 years and I honestly don't think I've ever had any problem with it.

    I can right-hand fingerpick pretty fast, so I learned a few banjo tunes to play in the cover band I was in. My job is to play really fast on about 3 songs... then pick back up the guitar :) That's really the trick about playing banjo, I think- knowing that you're more like "horseradish" than "chocolate sauce" :lol:

    Another $0.02 from me:

    If you're gonna play banjo, I say go all in. Get some cobalt-plated picks. They are bright and fast! As a bonus- if you have a nickel sensitivity, the brass/cobalt picks are great. I can wear them for a few hours without getting hives on my fingertips. (If not, I'm sure the nickel/cobalt ones are great too).

    https://www.elderly.com/collections...cts/cobalt-plated-020-brass-finger-picks-pair


    Do you have room in your heart for the 5-string banjo?

     
  10. Musekatcher

    Musekatcher Friend of Leo's

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    Its not common for a 5 string, but is common on a tenor or plectrum banjo. Its not as helpful on a 5 string as you'd think. I did that later, just to explore different tunings. Lets look at it, and why.

    The bottom four on a guitar are DGBE. The same tuning is called "Chicago tuning" on a four string banjo. Like guitar, a four string isn't tuned to an open chord. So, its a given that you're always stopping (fretting) strings at any time for chords.

    The bottom four on a 5 string banjo are DGBD (typically, since the 20's, there's more history for other tunings, too much to share here). That's an open G chord, with a D in the bass. No fretting needed for the home position.

    The complexity of the right hand, and the rolls are a keystone to the 5 string sound. So you are always exploiting that open tuning, whether you are playing over a G chord, or a C chord, or a D chord, or Am, or any complimentary chord. For instance, a common first change in the key of G is a good ole C chord. You can make a full C chord and roll over it on a 5 string, but if you leave the 1st D string open, you get a nice extended chord, or a 9th chord or sus2. And all you did, was leave one string open. Now make the full C chord again, but this time, leave the B string open. Now, you have a major 7th C chord. Or, you also have an Em chord. And so on. Its all about the right hand and the bunches of eighth notes all blending together, the way a strum blends the strings together, but with the added beauty of sequential notes. Strumming a major 7th, or a 9th chord is cool, but an arpeggio or folded sequence is cooler.

    Now, take the same concept, and realize you always have an open G string, which is the 5th string. When you make a D chord, you still have this G string, which is a quirky 4th note, making it a sus4. In this case, its almost of an opposite advantage. I find a strummed sus4 is nice, but for some reason, that G string never sounds quite satisfying when picked in a roll. Its ok, but it definitely builds anxiety and makes you ready for the next change? At anyrate, its now part of the vocabulary. And, Earl Scruggs in his brilliance, exploited this very dissonance, in the Balled of Jed Clampett, think of the banjo part during "and up thru the ground came a [bubbling crude]".

    Probably more than you wanted to know. Now I didn't say this, so don't shoot the messenger, but a guitar banjo is also known as a lazy mans banjo. Bless they hearts.

    PS - Duke Ellington totally got 5 string banjo, "It don't mean a thing, if it ain't got 5 strings".
     
  11. wrj01

    wrj01 TDPRI Member

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    Well, this popped up on the Banjo Hangout this morning.
    https://www.banjohangout.org/topic/369250
    I personally think banjo is easy to learn, chords are basically simple, especially clawhammer. Three finger is a little harder, but practice makes perfect.
     
  12. trapdoor2

    trapdoor2 Friend of Leo's Gold Supporter

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    First, I haven't thought about Tommy Jackson in a very long time! Tommy "parked" his 6-string Stewart with me for about 6 mo. when he needed cash to make a rent payment. He came back and traded me a piece of his art-glass to get it back. Interesting guy...great player.

    The first production Guitar banjos were children of the 1880s. S.S.Stewart offered them in his 1890s catalogs. Many other makers cataloged them at the turn of the century. Gibson was making them in the 19-teens. I believe Lange produced the first resonated ones.

    Frankly, most guitar banjos sound like a trashcan lid with strings. The only person I've ever heard who could make one sing is Norman.

    In the 1880-1890 period in England, 6, 7 and 9 string banjos were common enough for there to be a market for tutors. These all had "5th" strings (technically a chanterelle)...but there were designs with two...and sometimes one at the 5th and one at the 7th fret.
     
  13. SomeGuyNamedRob

    SomeGuyNamedRob Tele-Meister

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    This actually all makes sense as I was looking more at 4 string variants than 5 string. Thanks for the info.

     
  14. Musekatcher

    Musekatcher Friend of Leo's

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    You are correct on all accounts except one. Tom's 6 string was made by Marion Kirk, and uses a LW 11 13/16" pot. There would only be one definitive way I'd know that...;)
     
  15. Peegoo

    Peegoo Poster Extraordinaire

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    Oh, come on! That's like seeing an ugly baby and exclaiming, "Bless its heart." ;)


    Once you get your banjo you have to learn how to cut monkeyshines like Leroy Troy does on his custom "_old Tone" banjer:

     
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  16. trapdoor2

    trapdoor2 Friend of Leo's Gold Supporter

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    Must be a different banjo. I didn't know he had one of Marion's. The one he was using in the 80s was a Stewart. I'm a Stewart collector...but I never could make friends with that bass string.

    BTW, I own Marion's luthery stuff. :D

    LOL, it didn't dawn on me that you were someone I knew...until just now. :D The world is small!
     
    Last edited: Oct 6, 2020
  17. davidge1

    davidge1 Friend of Leo's

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    When someone says they're looking to play banjo, you can just assume they mean a 5-string banjo – to play either bluegrass or folk style like Pete Seger. If they meant tenor banjo, they'd say so.

    The main thing this thread shows is that looking for banjo advice on a guitar forum is probably not the best idea.
     
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  18. kLyon

    kLyon Tele-Holic

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    It is. Good ones are always heavy.
     
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  19. kLyon

    kLyon Tele-Holic

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    About 15 years ago I was working on a film soundtrack, and the producer wanted banjo on something. I thought, right: I can either hire a banjo player for $250 or buy a banjo for $250 bucks and fake it.
    So I went to the local pawnshops. Every one had rows of unsold, crappy sounding banjos - all probably made in the same Korean factory, with different brand names on them. Nothing impressed me. Then at one shop, the guy said, we have another Korean one that just came in... I'll go get it.
    He struggled down the stairs with it (clue number one: it was heavy) and I opened the case. Gold Star. (Clue number two: the pawnshop guy thought it was "just another Korean banjo" because, at the time, pawnshops were full of cheap GoldStar microwaves and such: GoldStar was LG before LG became LG...). It was a Gibson Mastertone copy and sounded great.
    I've still got it, and I'm still faking it)
    (But during this time I'm actually practicing using those damned, torturous fingerpicks))
     
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  20. Peegoo

    Peegoo Poster Extraordinaire

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    As a sole source of banjo info? Sure. But it makes perfect sense to ask here because the OP can gain perspectives from other guitarists that also play banjo. Same frame of reference.
     
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