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FAQ Main Menu > > Banjo

Banjo Information and FAQs


American development of African origins (related to the Kora etc., but with a guitar type neck). Found with 4, 5, 6, 7 and 8 or more strings, popular types are the 5 string, Tenor (4 string), Plectrum (long neck 4 string), Banjolele (Ukulele Banjo), Banjolin (Mandolin Banjo).


The Banjo developed in America from its African origins, and is now immensely popular, due to its unique sound, suitability for a wide variety of music, and because it is so easy to play. Common types include the 5 - string, the tenor with four strings, the mandolin banjo or banjolin with eight and the ever popular uke banjo with four nylon strings.


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Five String Banjos
The 5 string is used for Bluegrass music, usually in the style popularised by Earl Scruggs, and players look for a resonator and tone ring. For old time clawhammer or frailing styles, an open backed simpler model is better. Finger style classical banjo also uses the 5 string, but is less common now. Used for bluegrass and country music, and for old time and song accompaniment in the British Isles.

Bluegrass players favour banjos with a resonator back. Old time players often favour the open back variety. Many tunings are used, especially in old time music, but the most common are gDGBD and gCGDB.

The long neck 5 string (almost always associated with Pete Seeger) is 3 frets longer than the usual 5 string. The fretless instrument (often strung with gut or nylon strings) was favoured by some old time players because it allows the player to follow more closely the fiddle playing. The 5 string was also used for jazz and earlier popular music.

The Tenor Banjo is used extensively in both Irish traditional music, and Traditional Jazz. It has a shorter scale than the G Banjo, and 4 strings tuned CGDA, but it is common for Irish musicians to retune down to GDAE using thicker strings. Used in jazz and popular music earlier this century the tenor banjo has 4 strings and is usually tuned CGDA.
The Irish and Scottish traditional players put heavier guage strings on them and tune them down to GDAE, an octave below mandolin, fiddle etc.
They also favour instruments with a shorter scale length (17 frets rather than 19) because it makes using the same fingering as the fiddle possible.
Tenor banjo should not be confused with plectrum style which was used much like the tenor but has a longer neck (22 frets) and a different tuning. Jazz players like the extra frets because they can use the same chord shapes and patterns in different positions.

Other Types
Several other styles of banjos exist, the most popular are Uke Banjo (or banjulele) with 4 nylon strings tuned CGEA (or a tone above that), as popularised by George Formby, The Mandolin Banjo (or banjolin), The Plectrum or 4 string G, and even the Guitar Banjo, which makes the sound available to all guitarists, and was used again for jazz - we don't recommend it for guitar players wanting a bluegrass sound.