Creek Don't Rise

Alternate Tunings on the Six-String Banjo
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Author:  paulrace [ Thu Apr 23, 2015 9:56 am ]
Post subject:  Alternate Tunings on the Six-String Banjo

Occasionally someone who transfers from guitar and thinks the low notes sound "un-banjo-like" tries a different tuning, say replacing the lowest string or two with higher strings. Here's a note from a reader who did just that:


Regarding the 6 string banjo -

My wife got me one from Amazon, for about $160.00. As you found, the poor thing desperately needed setup - which I expected.

I found that after I set the Banjo up, I felt that there was way too much bass coming through for my liking - SO, I changed strings

and tuning in the following ways:

1) instead of phosphor bronze strings, I am using a nickle steel (electric guitar) set - SIT 1046 as my baseline set.

2) I threw away the lower two strings - 0.036 and 0.046 and substitute in a 0.013 and 0.017 respectively.

3) my tuning is: e a D G B E (strings 5 & 6 are tuned an octave higher than standard tuning).

I play a lot of "travis style" fingerpicking, that includes "string sweeps" with the fingers - to accompany singing.

I have found that with this setup, the 6 string banjo sounds exceptionally pleasing to my ears.

I just thought I would throw this idea out.

Author:  paulrace [ Thu Apr 23, 2015 9:58 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Alternate Tunings on the Six-String Banjo

Our reply to the reader above:

Thanks for getting in touch,

I prefer nickel silver on my 6-string banjo, too. I use the full range of the thing, so I have it tuned like a guitar, but I know several six-string pickers who replaced the 5th and 6th string with higher string.

If you're comfortable singing with it that's the most important thing. I've been going back and forth between 5-string and 6-string banjos, playing the same songs, and trying to get comfortable on both. Have played my 6-string in ensembles several times, but want to be "bulletproof" before I take it out solo - there are two many jerks who think I'm playing it because I don't know how to play a five-string. :-)

As for 5-string, I grew up just as bluegrass was becoming popular, so people began thinking of it as a bluegrass instrument. I confess that I fell into that trap too, taking it along on gigs but only getting it out for the "hillbilly" songs or whatever. Now I'm trying to play mainstream folk and folk-rock songs on the thing, which requires getting good in keys like D that modern banjo players never play. The big thing isn't technique, it's staying focused - I'm so used to playing these songs on guitar that my mind wanders when I'm singing them, and my fingers haven't learned to take charge of the banjo in my absence like they do on guitar. So, I'm still learning, what can I say?

If you post any youtubes or whatever, please let me know.

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