The reader replied:
I did not expect such a quick answer. Thank you. I really appreciate you took the time, despite the work day and all that staff... (I know to much what you mean!)
Actually, you're confirming some of my thoughts. I was very intrigued with the new Goodtime Solana 6 strings banjo of Deering. Price is still reasonable for giving a serious try and it has this nylon strings that are obviously a dream for a classical guitar player!
But does it still sound like "real" banjo, even with nylon strings? And why do you recommend to look for an open-backed banjo? I thought the back resonator would make it more powerful. But it may not be needed.
Last, my question was probably not clear enough, but I was wondering whether you would know about music sheet dedicated to 6-string banjo? There must be some traditional transcriptions of 4 or 5 string banjo hits for a 6-string one, I guess. Actually, I don't really know where to look for.
As for your own technique, I'll be curious to learn about it when I decide and buy my banjo! Your proposal to share is very nice of you.
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Here's a quick answer to something you implied.
If you want to play specific Bluegrass hits like "Foggy Mountain Breakdown" you need a 5-string banjo. I wrote the sheet music out for it once for a guitar player trying to play it on a six-string banjo and he just swore at me that I must have written it out wrong. Sorry I've lost the file. The Drone string playing a high G at least once every beat is an important part of any Bluegrass and many folk banjo parts.
My earlier response was based on my assumption that you wanted to try to broaden your tonal pallet, not necessarily to sound like any specific banjo player. Nylon-string banjos sound plunkier than steel-string banjos, and they don't "ring" or sustain nearly as long, but it's an authentic sound that some people like. Again, if you can find a steel-stringed six-string whose neck you can adjust to, you might prefer the sound of steel string.
As far as sounding like a "real banjo" is concerned, I pick my five-string in a style that was popular sixty years ago, before Bluegrass became popular. To Bluegrass fans today, I don't sound like I'm playing a "real banjo," even though it's the same instrument. So "real banjo" is relative.
One reason I recommend that guitar players lose the resonator when they go to a 6-string banjo, is that 6-string banjos go nearly an octave below 5-strings, and those low strings add a muddy resonance that isn't there on a 5-string. If you buy a 6-string with a resonator, try to get one you can take the resonator off of so you can try it both ways. You can't take the resonator off of a "pop-top" banjo without turning it into a deadly weapon.
One more thought - this week, I'm playing my 5-string in our current church for the first time ever. They're performing a Mumford and Sons-style song called "Build Your Kingdom Here" by the Rend Collective. The banjo player on THAT track (and Mumford and Sons and most other Celtic bands) plays continuous arpeggios, a technique adopted by several Irish bands in the 1990s. It gives equal emphasis to every quarter of every beat of every measure. I COULD do it but I'm more comfortable playing a folk banjo roll, which gives more emphasis to the first and third quarter of every beat. Only two people in our church are even likely to hear the difference, the song goes so fast. Even Americans who love and think they know Celtic music don't know the difference.
The irony is that once folks realize I play banjo, they always ask me to play "Foggy Mountain Breakdown" or some other Bluegrass hit. I can do it when I have my five-string, fortunately, but I prefer not to. When I have my six-string banjo, I CAN'T do it. And they always want to know why. I haven't gigged for years with my banjos (I mostly play "flattop" guitar), but if I ever start again and take a banjo, I'll probably have to take both - if for no other reason than to prove to banjo bigots that I really "can play banjo."
Sorry, that's more than you probably wanted to know. The point is that "sounding like a banjo" means different things, and you'll get into some weird cultural baggage if you worry too much about what your banjo sounds like to other people. Whatever you do, plan on making it your own.
If this doesn't make any sense, I apologize, it's been a VERY long day. But at least it ended with some banjo playing.
Have a great rest of the week,