Creek Don't Rise

Vintage Kay Questions
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Author:  paulrace [ Thu Sep 27, 2018 9:33 am ]
Post subject:  Vintage Kay Questions

A reader writes:

Hi; I just bought a Vintage Kay 4 String Open Back Banjo. I read your article On these Banjos. Can I cut the Twentieth Fret off and get a shorter Rod? Make Nineteen Frets?

Thanks for getting in touch. Â

Cutting up your banjo will just ruin it. Here's why: In the 1950s and early 1960s, 4-string banjo was going out of style. Sales of beginner 4-strings didn't justify making 21-fret, 19-fret, and 17-fret banjos. So the cheap banjo makers like Kay and Harmony stopped making 17-fret banjos altogether. And to satisfy people looking for 19 OR 21 fret banjos, they made 20-fret banjos as a compromise. Depending on which strings you used, you could still play any popular 4-string style on the things, and that saved them a lot of money at the time.

If you NEEDED a 19-fret banjo and wanted to cut into yours, you'd have to take off the FIRST fret - the one by the nut. If you shortened the neck by taking off the 20th fret, you'd have to move the bridge down toward the tailpiece by about half the distance you removed, and that would affect the tone of your banjo.

This instrument will play just like a 19-fret banjo if you use the right strings. If the neck seems too long and you really feel like you need it shorter, just keep watching ads for a 19-fret or 17-fret version.

I hope this makes sense. So here's my real question: What kind of music do you plan to play on your banjo?

Have a great day,
- Paul

Author:  paulrace [ Thu Sep 27, 2018 9:34 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Vintage Kay Questions

The reader replied:
Good morning Paul: I haven't received it yet it's a fixer upper. It is a Vintage Kay 4 String Banjo, It needs refinishing, it's peeling, frets board needs sanding. My dad restored the finish on Guitar, Pianos, Organs and furniture. When I get it , it has to be taken all apart. What brand of strings and strength?


There are two different common tunings for four-string banjo. "Jazz Tenor" tuning is used for Ragtime, Dixieland, etc. It's based on Viola tuning, with the strings going A,D,G,C starting from the string closest to your toes and going upward. "Irish Tenor" tuning is used for folk music and Celtic-inspired songs. It's tuning is based on mandolin/violin tuning, but an octave down. E,A,D,G, starting from the string closest to your toes.

Irish tuning lets you play a half-octave lower than Jazz Tenor, so if you don't want to play Dixieland, it will give you more range.

Thats why I asked you what kind of music you planned to play on your 4-string.

Once you've settled that, there's a chart at the end of this article that gives you string recommendations. ... _banjo.htm

Though your banjo will have 20 frets instead of 19, use the 19-fret recommendatons.

The short version, if you're going to play Dixieland, get Tenor banjo strings. If you're going to play Celtic or other folk traditional music, consider getting Irish banjo strings. In both cases, I would recommend light strings.

Hope this helps,

- Paul

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