Creek Don't Rise

5-string tuning on a 4-string banjo
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Author:  paulrace [ Sun Nov 03, 2019 11:58 am ]
Post subject:  5-string tuning on a 4-string banjo

A reader writes:

I have a 5 String Banjo but have great difficulty due to arthritic fingers in doing anything other than strumming so have no use for the 5th string. I am therefore thinking of buying a 4 string but cannot locate a 21 fret plectrum so am buying a 19 fret 4 String Tenor. Can I tune it to open G?


Simon, I wish I had no idea what you were talking about, but I'm getting to be "of a certain age," too.

You can tune a 19-fret 4-string like a plectrum (or to open G like a banjo) with no problems at all, though you may need to experiment with different string gauges.

There's a chart of recommended string gauges for different kinds of 4-string tuning near the bottom of this page. ... banjos.htm

If the 4-string you bought was tuned for "Irish" playing (EADG, counting from your toes up), the strings will be too fat to tune to open G banjo tuning (DBGD, counting from your toes up). Especially the lowest two strings - you'd have to tighten them dangerously and you'd hurt your banjo if you didn't put your eye out.

If the 4-string was tuned as a true tenor (ADGC, counting from your toes up), you'll be pretty close except for the G string, which will be too taught. If you want to keep the other strings and replace that one, try to get a wound 18 gauge for it. They're hard to find but will make your life easier.

On the other hand, if you need to change strings period, consider trying out a set of MEDIUM plectrum or 5-string banjo strings. Yes, I know you'll get an extra string, but the gauge is the same as the first string so you can keep it as a spare. If they just seem too taught, you can always go to a light gauge plectrum or 5-string set. But to me, they seem too loose on a tenor - the neck is so much shorter.

Best of luck, please let me know how things work out,


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