why do banjos have only 5 strings? - Jemsite
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post #1 of 17 (permalink) Old 01-25-2004, 12:33 PM Thread Starter
 
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why do banjos have only 5 strings?

I notice that most banjos are made with 5 strings, but the 5th string starts at the 5th fret.....what is the reason for this??

I'm guessing that when satch uses banjos in his music, he is using a 6 string banjo....is this correct??

I've never played a banjo, but thinking about trying my hand at one.....just wondered why the 5th string starts at the fifth fret.

Anyone know the logic behind this?
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post #2 of 17 (permalink) Old 01-25-2004, 01:56 PM
 
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Dean Guitars makes a 6 string guitar like banjo, makes more sense to me than those weird "normal" banjos...
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post #3 of 17 (permalink) Old 01-25-2004, 03:41 PM
 
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no idea why that is. I've always wondered the same thing.
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post #4 of 17 (permalink) Old 01-25-2004, 05:21 PM
 
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The reason the melody or "thumb string" as it is sometimes called is shorter than the rest is because even though it is next to the lowest string it is the highest string. The thumb plays the melody whilst the other strings provide an accompaniment or drone...kinda like a sitar in a way. Banjos come in 4 to 9 strings and often do not have frets. I can not remember the tunings off-hand...since I do not play the banjo In the 20's and 30's they did experiment in jazz bands with tuning a banjo in fifths like a violin..which were also often employeed in the jazz bands of the time..so they they could have a larger harmonic capability. The banjo is often mistakenly thought to come from aboriginal origins in Africa, but more modern musicologists know believe it finds its origins in the Arabix world, like the guitar. Hope thats not too much info Tobe
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post #5 of 17 (permalink) Old 01-27-2004, 03:16 PM
 
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Banjos did originally start life as four-stringed instruments, played with a pick like a guitar. Around the early 1900s (I think) is when the 5th string was added. Around this time, people started to experiment with various fingerpicking styles, but it did not become commonplace until Earl Scruggs perfected the 3 finger roll style of playing. This involves using the thumb, index, and middle fingers to pluck the strings. Done correctly, it's extremely quick and fluid. Scruggs is easily the most influential banjo player of all time. In fact, I cannot think of any musician who is more widely emulated than Earl Scruggs. People still end measures with licks he wrote 50 years ago. The 5 string banjo is most commonly tuned in a G major chord. The 5th string is the highest, and will throw you off when learning to play the instrument, because it's just weird to have the highest string on the bottom. So the tuning is: G-D-G-B-D. As mentioned earlier, the high G is often used as an open drone string. Slides and hammer-ons make up a large part of banjo technique, and the emphasis is more often plaecd on the right hand than the left.

It's a wonderful instrument, definitely one of my favorites. If anybody has any more questions, I'd love to answer them. I encourage anyone who is interested to get their hands on some of Earl's original recordings with Lester Flatt. Notable songs include: Randy Lynn Rag, Shuckin' the Corn, Foggy Mountain Breakdown, Earl's Breakdown, Fireball, Foggy Mountain Special, Flint Hill Special, and the Ballad of Jed Clampett.

You've probably heard some of these songs before (especially the Ballad of Jed Clampett and Foggy Mountain Breakdown) and didn't know what you were listening to.
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post #6 of 17 (permalink) Old 01-27-2004, 03:24 PM
 
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Satch used a Deering 6-string model- they're loads of fun (especially if you want to "cheat" and get that great banjo sound without learning another instrument)
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post #7 of 17 (permalink) Old 01-27-2004, 03:29 PM
 
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You can't fake the roll, though.
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post #8 of 17 (permalink) Old 01-27-2004, 11:15 PM
 
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Man...that's the truth! I wish I COULD fake the roll!

I still get a kick out of Lindsey Buckingham's technique though. Not too many guitarists pull off banjo rolls in popular music LOL
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post #9 of 17 (permalink) Old 01-28-2004, 12:38 PM
 
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Ahh, one of my favorite college storties centers around a banjo...

My friend Ben is a total hippy- this was at Middlebury, up in VT, incidentally. He's also a musician who recently got into bluegrass, so he usually had, in addition to an acoustic, a banjo and a mandolin kicking around his room, plus usually an electric bass and guitar and a djembe, and whatever anyone else happened to bring over. So one night i was chilling down there, working on a box of wine with him, and picked up his banjo. He's lefty, so i just flipped the thing over and started plucking. the drones in conjunction with the weird buzziness definately gave it a sitar-like feel, so i start doing sitar-influenced phrases. We drink more.

A couple minutes later, a few (female) friends of his i didn't know dropped in. We start talking.

"So... how long have you played banjo?"

I check my watch. "Oh, about fifteen minutes now, i guess..."

That may have been about the coolest I've ever felt. their reaction, basically a mute stare, was PRICELESS.

I don't remember the exact tuning, but some sort of an open-g sounds about right... fun instrument.

-D
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post #10 of 17 (permalink) Old 01-28-2004, 02:23 PM
 
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I think banjos only have five strings because human beings (most of 'em, anyway) only have five fingers.



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post #11 of 17 (permalink) Old 01-28-2004, 02:27 PM
 
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Quote:
Originally Posted by darren wilson
I think banjos only have five strings because human beings (most of 'em, anyway) only have five fingers.
I've never known anybody with only five fingers. Most that I know have 8 fingers and 2 thumbs


Of course, in some areas of the country where banjos are most popular, there are a lot of folks with more than five digits per hand. Of course, those are the ones that might also ask you to "squeal like a pig" if you're not careful
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post #12 of 17 (permalink) Old 01-28-2004, 05:38 PM Thread Starter
 
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what the heck is a drone?

I'd like to try a banjo.....should i settle for a 5 string? Or go with a 6? If i get a six, then it will just be like playing my guitar .............that 5th string at the 5th fret thing just looks wierd, and i'm sure it will throw me off a little, at first.
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post #13 of 17 (permalink) Old 01-28-2004, 06:09 PM
 
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A drone would be a constant pitch ringing as you play.

If you just want the banjo-type sound, a 6-string would be ideal. But, if you genuinely want to learn to play a new instrument and get the real banjo experience, I'd go with a nice 5-string banjo.
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post #14 of 17 (permalink) Old 01-28-2004, 06:17 PM Thread Starter
 
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I like that banjo tune "the feeling" that satch plays......i don't think you can pull it off easily with a 5 string. But of course, that's not why i'd want to get a banjo in the first place.

I think i'll get a 5 stringer, and maybe a harmonica and just write blues tunes with it!

I've been trying my hand at some slide guitar too.....so far, i really like it. Banjo sounds like a cool instrument to learn, and it's definitely cool for blues which i like to play a lot.

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post #15 of 17 (permalink) Old 01-28-2004, 06:37 PM
 
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I'd encourage everyone who's interested to give the classic 5 string a shot. It's loads of fun. Actually, Sonny Osborne, a respected bluegrass banjo player that you may have heard of, has done some experiments with 6 string banjos tuned in a chord, not 4ths (and a 3rd) like the guitar. He added a G string one octave lower, right below the open 5th string on a guitar. I believe that would make the tuning G-G(low)-D-G-B-D. I've heard one played, albeit briefly, and it sounds WEIRD, especially if you're really used to the sound and range of normal 5s.
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