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The Upside Down....Tenor Banjo


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I bought a tenor banjo a year ago which is tuned GDAE like a fiddle/mandolin. I've been playing bass as my only instrument for 30+ years so I'm considering tuning it EADG with heavy guitar strings, effectively down tuning it a 4th just so I can simply pick the thing up and play.

Has anyone here tried this with success?

 

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I play mandolin too so it made sense to have my tenor banjo tuned to GDAE. I like the crossover. If you play guitar, it's probably not a bad idea. I worked in a band a few years ago with a guitarist who played a tenor banjo tuned like the top 4 strings of a guitar DGBE and it sounded great. I think ultimately it won't hurt to try and just see what works best for you.

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3 hours ago, Cat Burrito said:

I play mandolin too so it made sense to have my tenor banjo tuned to GDAE. I like the crossover. If you play guitar, it's probably not a bad idea. I worked in a band a few years ago with a guitarist who played a tenor banjo tuned like the top 4 strings of a guitar DGBE and it sounded great. I think ultimately it won't hurt to try and just see what works best for you.

I've not come across anyone using EADG on a Tenor Banjo.

 

I think they call DGBE 'Chicago tuning' and you can probably get string sets from Eagle music for it.

 

GDAE is used by most Irish players. The Trad Jazz tuning is CGDA, they tend to use it for chords rather than single-line stuff.

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Or just the top strings from a guitar pack? EADG would be a bit pointless (but great for bass). Presumably though you'd want it for banjo style playing rather than bass? Personally I play extremely unconventionally and we use these instruments for 80s post punk / goth stuff. So we put flanger / chorus / delay on them. Sometimes I play lower register variations of bass parts, other times right up high for lead melodies. In previous bands I was playing more country / folk / bluegrass so thinking more conventionally. It's all just a nice busman's holiday from the bass.

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I had a Goldtone Irish tenor banjo for a while, along with a Warren Ellis electric tenor guitar and an Ozark acoustic tenor guitar. I experimented with a few tunings on these instruments and settled on D G B E - the equivalent to the top four strings of a regular guitar, also known as Chicago tuning, and the same tuning most often used on a baritone ukulele. The chords in this tuning were very straightforward for my clumsy fingers to learn and play.

 

I no longer have these instruments as I rekindled my relationship with my six string guitars which had been neglected, as well as my tenor ukuleles (G-C-E-A), and I reached the limit of my brain's capacity to learn and compartmentalise three different sets of chords without getting confused.

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I don’t play banjo at all, but my tuppences worth is based playing cello (CGDA) while being a bassist. The thought of it was a head wreck until I got one and just tried learning scales, and then a few pieces. They fell into place surprisingly easily. Improvising/jamming is a whole other ball game because my head/fingers want to default into the patterns/notes that I know from bass. So, before trying the new strings, maybe try it as is and learn a few tunes specifically for it?

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3 hours ago, Gareth Hughes said:

I don’t play banjo at all, but my tuppences worth is based playing cello (CGDA) while being a bassist. The thought of it was a head wreck until I got one and just tried learning scales, and then a few pieces. They fell into place surprisingly easily. Improvising/jamming is a whole other ball game because my head/fingers want to default into the patterns/notes that I know from bass. So, before trying the new strings, maybe try it as is and learn a few tunes specifically for it?

 

I'm impressed by your adaptability.  I played cello as a teenager; when I tried to pick it up again five years ago, I discovered that I couldn't play in fifths (cello string interval) any more. 

I've still got the cello, but it's tuned in fourths...

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I used to play tenor using Irish tuning ( like a mandolin). Think of it as a backward guitar, you can literally reverse chords. Friends play with Chicago tuning and therefore use the “top half” of chords. Many of those turn out as 1 finger shapes so couldn’t be easier and you can buy suitable strings.

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i've played around a little with alternate tunings on banjo and Mandolin, i found the "upside down" tuning of the mandolin a bit of a pain after years of playing guitar, i briefly tried tuning in fourths like a guitar but didn't have the money to try the custom string gauges that would have given proper tension (i was a poor student at the time) so the mandolin got sold.

 

My Banjo is a 5 string so the tuning is far more guitar like and i found this easier.  For a tenor i think i'd go for the Chicago tuning, as you already have a high E i would use one of the online string tension calculators to work back to determine the most ideal gauges for the other strings then buy the 3 to convert the current set (assuming the current strings are fresh)

 

I've found that the tensions for many sets are all over the place, especially the g on many acoustic instruments tuned in 4ths, it's often way higher tension than the other strings. 

 

Individual loop end strings are easy enough to get, as an alternative you could contact Newtone and have a custom set made to suit whatever tuning you want (not actually that expensive)

 

Matt

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