Creek Don't Rise

6-String Gibson banjo with a 14" head
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Author:  paulrace [ Sun Dec 27, 2015 11:07 pm ]
Post subject:  6-String Gibson banjo with a 14" head

A reader writes:
I have A 1920's era Gibson 6-String Banjo I believe it is a GB-4. This instrument belonged to my Fathers Uncle it has collected dust in the basement for far to many years. I recently had it repaired and set-up by Mandolin Brothers In Staten Island New York. I have never played a musical instrument in my life. Am I in over my head trying to learn to play something so unusual? How do I start? Do I use beginning Guitar books or are they useless to me? Is there a 6-string banjo for dummies book? You article was both informative and frightening to me as an extreme novice. But thank you for it as it has given me an insight as to what it was intended for. Your help and insight would be greatly appreciated. Thank you.

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As far as I can determine (from old advertising, etc.,) this was a brother to the "cello banjo," a four-string that also had a 14" head. They were made largely to add lower pitches to "banjo orchestras," not to be individual performing instruments.

With the big head, this is very similar to the banjo that Johnny StCyr used to play bass lines in early jazz recordings. Other than that, you won't hear these often outside of "banjo orchestra" recordings where it's hard to pick them out.

Set up properly, it uses the same chords as a guitar. But playing JUST chords won't sound quite right because the lower tones will be louder in proportion to the upper tones, and maybe a little muddy. Picking individual notes, at least on the lower three strings, will make it sound much more compelling.

What kinds of music do you like?

A bluegrass guitar book (not banjo) might help. A blues guitar book might help. Playing lead guitar styles will also work.

Please let me know if you have any other questions, and also let me know how things progress.

You're not the first person to ask about this sort of thing. Maybe next year I'll start my own tutorial.

Best of luck - Paul

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