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View Full Version : Banjo tuned like a Uke?



JackLuis
12-01-2015, 12:39 PM
I loaned my tenor to my neighbor so he could learn the uke. He has a banjo, that he never learned to play. Can his banjo be tuned like a Uke and used to learn Uke chords?
My other neighbor plays guitar and I got him converted to Tenor Uke so he and I practice pretty often. I thought if Paul could tune his banjo like a uke I might be able to get my tenor back?

kypfer
12-01-2015, 01:10 PM
In theory, yes it's possible, however if it's a "normal" 5-string banjo it'll probably be easier to play "as a ukulele" with a capo up at about the 5th or 7th fret or so, simply because the sheer neck length and consequently relatively wide fret spacing of a 5-string banjo will make a lot of ukulele chord-shapes a bit of a struggle on open strings, especially for a beginner.

Another problem you may run into, again, assuming a 5-string banjo, might be getting nylon strings long enough to fit. Taking into account the tailpiece, strings for my 5-string need to be the best part of 36" !!

Of course, if he's happy with a steel-string "ukulele" there should be less of a problem ;)

Booli
12-01-2015, 05:36 PM
Aquila makes several sets of strings for banjo that are not metal strings, such as the 5B set which are Nylgut, and some of their others which are also either Nylgut or their REDS strings, see here:

https://www.stringsbymail.com/banjo-strings-654/aquila-banjo-strings-655/

You might be able to tune the banjo like a baritone uke, aka chicago tuning DGBE (leaving off the shorter 5th string), with the above strings, but I'd be careful that tuning to GCEA in that getting A-440 (A4) on a longer scale instrument you will likely just snap the A string from the extreme tension required at that scale length to tune that high. I read that some folks have gotten by using 0.017" fluorocarbon fishing leader as the A string, but never tried it myself.

I also read some threads over on banjo hangout of folks doing DGBE tuning with the 4 thinnest strings from a classical guitar set on a banjo, and using higher tension strings on the shorter scale of 23" of most banjos as opposed to the 25.5" scal of classical guitars which the strings are designed at pitch for a certain tension (typically 15lbs for the wound E-A-D bass strings, and 18-22lbs for the plain nylon G-B-E strings) so to get the right feel on a shorter scale you can use 'hard/high' tension or if still floppy, you can use 'extra hard/extra high' tension) but I'd start with the lower tension otherwise you can warp the neck and/or the pot of the banjo.

Proceed with caution and at your own risk. I cant be held accountable for improper string use. Do your own research.

D'Addario has a string tension calculator web app, that walks you through all the steps and for us math impaired folks, they do all the heavy lifting for you.

see here:

http://stringtensionpro.com/

Also, you might get lots more banjo-specific info over on banjohangout.com, and I'd search that forum for 'uke (or ukulele) tuning on banjo' and 'nylon strings on banjo' before making a new post over there and asking, as I've seen a few discussions about this topic, but dont have the links to them...

hope this helps...:)

JackLuis
12-01-2015, 08:45 PM
Considering the above and the fact that the banjo weights as much as doberman. I think I ought to just buy him a Makala Shark and wish him a Merry Christmas.

Then I'd get my tenor back.

Thanks for the info.

Booli
12-01-2015, 09:07 PM
Considering the above and the fact that the banjo weights as much as doberman. I think I ought to just buy him a Makala Shark and wish him a Merry Christmas.

Then I'd get my tenor back.

Thanks for the info.

LOL - that'll work too.

If it were me, I'd get the Dolphin either from MIM or Uke Republic with their expert setups included, and that way, as a gift, you should have no backlash due to the uke being unplayable or having intonation issues.

Yea, what puts me off the banjo (and banjolele) is all the darn steampunk hardware involved on the things. I find my 8lb electric guitar to be painful to wear on a strap nowadays, and some of these banjos are like tying a concrete block to your strap.

I found the 'Minstrel' banjo after seeing Rhiannon Giddens on tv last week on that PBS 'Craft In America' special (Janeray1940 put up the link to watch it online over in that thread in case you missed it - Kamaka, Martin and 1 or 2 other makers were featured).

The Minstrel banjo is fretless, and has a minimum of metal on it, basically just the tension hoop and 6-8 j-hooks are metal, and ALL the rest is wood except for the banjo drum head. One of these might be in my future :drool:

JackLuis
12-01-2015, 10:18 PM
Well I got his banjo and it was missing the fifth string, so I tried tuning it, the strings had been slackened and the open geared tuners a bit stiff. I found that with a capo on the sixth fret,(?) I was able to tune it to GCEA. The strings are Old, (older even) and it sounded terrible. It's heavy and cumbersome.

I picked up my Ohana spruce top concert and played it. It might weigh a pound. The Fremonts rang like a bell when I played a G-C-D7 song. Such a relief from the train wreck of that Banjo.

Ukuleles Rule!

Booli
12-01-2015, 10:39 PM
Well I got his banjo and it was missing the fifth string, so I tried tuning it, the strings had been slackened and the open geared tuners a bit stiff. I found that with a capo on the sixth fret,(?) I was able to tune it to GCEA. The strings are Old, (older even) and it sounded terrible. It's heavy and cumbersome.

I picked up my Ohana spruce top concert and played it. It might weigh a pound. The Fremonts rang like a bell when I played a G-C-D7 song. Such a relief from the train wreck of that Banjo.

Ukuleles Rule!

Yes, ukuleles are awesome for lots and lots of reasons!

But be careful - lest the banjo-police among your uke-playing brethren here on UU come a-calling with pitchforks and a noose!

Different 'strokes' for different folks and all.

I like Fremonts on certain ukes too. :)

JackLuis
12-02-2015, 08:34 PM
No offense meant to the noble banjo really. I'm sure with new strings it would sound... like a banjo.:D :D

Louis0815
12-02-2015, 11:22 PM
Yea, what puts me off the banjo (and banjolele) is all the darn steampunk hardware involved on the things. I find my 8lb electric guitar to be painful to wear on a strap nowadays, and some of these banjos are like tying a concrete block to your strap.
You should spend a minute or two on a Firefly Banjolele (http://www.magicfluke.com/The-Firefly-Banjo-Ukulele-s/1514.htm) then - it gives you banjolele experience without all the steampunk stuff....
Or the BanjoUke (http://banjouke.com/) from NZ might be worth another thought: tenor banjolele at a mere 650 gms (1.5 lbs), shipped anywhere for 219 USD

Booli
12-03-2015, 12:00 AM
You should spend a minute or two on a Firefly Banjolele (http://www.magicfluke.com/The-Firefly-Banjo-Ukulele-s/1514.htm) then - it gives you banjolele experience without all the steampunk stuff....
Or the BanjoUke (http://banjouke.com/) from NZ might be worth another thought: tenor banjolele at a mere 650 gms (1.5 lbs), shipped anywhere for 219 USD

Yes, I've got 4 ukes from Magic Fluke Company (each in different tunings and different solid wood tops, and different strings) so I am well versed in their product offerings, but the Firefly does not come in tenor scale as of yet, and I prefer tenor scale (17") or longer.

I'd seen that Banjouke Kiwi, but I am really put off by the headstock shape, it reminds me of the cartoon of 'Woody Woodpecker' too much. I just cant get past the look of it.

But thanks for the suggestions.

I've already got two of these @ $99 each, (18" scale length):

86016

http://www.zitherheaven.com/mm5/merchant.mvc?Store_Code=ZH&Screen=PROD&Category_Code=BJ&Product_Code=B4TNFT

On both instruments I replaced the friction tuners with Grover 9NB geared tuners. One is tuned GCEA (Aquila GCEA Nylgut baritone strings, tenor Nylgut GCEA strings could not get up to concert pitch without snapping) and the other is CGDA with different strings taken from a Thomastik-Infeld CF128 classical guitar string set.

The only metal on them are the geared tuners and the brass string ferrules, and they sound like a banjo (to my ears, anyway), and I've go no desire for any other uke-sized banjo since getting these. Fret edges are smooth and it plays very easily. HUGE bang for the buck with these.

Were I to go for a larger banjo, I'd go for a 'Minstrel Banjo' as I had said previously, and likely tune it as a 'cello banjo' tuned in fifths with GDAE (which is two octaves below where a mandolin is normally tuned)

However, I am not a banjo player, and for the most part find the sound of most banjos and banjoleles too loud and harsh (I have very sensitive hearing) unless a specific song calls for it and I'm trying to channel some George Formby, otherwise I prefer other ukes.

Thanks for your help. :)

CulpRJ
12-08-2015, 07:55 AM
If I may chime in, I play my banjo like a ukulele. First I removed the 5th string and the tuning peg (just gets in the way). Where it was tuned DGBD (open G), I changed it to DGBE by tightening the first string. Now it's baritone tuning. Capo on the fifth fret makes it GCEA. Easy!

I often play it without the capo (G6 tuning, good for practicing barre chords), on the second fret (A6 same as my tenor uke), or at the fifth fret (C6 standard uke tuning).

JackLuis
12-10-2015, 02:06 PM
If I may chime in, I play my banjo like a ukulele. First I removed the 5th string and the tuning peg (just gets in the way). Where it was tuned DGBD (open G), I changed it to DGBE by tightening the first string. Now it's baritone tuning. Capo on the fifth fret makes it GCEA. Easy!

I often play it without the capo (G6 tuning, good for practicing barre chords), on the second fret (A6 same as my tenor uke), or at the fifth fret (C6 standard uke tuning).

I got it tuned but the fret spacing thru me off more than the jangly sound of it. It was also too heavy, since I'm a delicate snowflake I just went back to my concerts. ;)

I got my tenor back yesterday and wow, it's wide too! It took me a few minutes to get back in tenor mode. I keep it in my rotation so I don't get too accustomed to Concert necks.

phil_doleman
12-11-2015, 08:48 AM
I play a short scale tenor banjo tuned to Chicago tuning (low 4th DGBE), with metal strings. Banjos are available in lot of different sizes- the scale length of most 17 fret tenors is not a great deal more than a baritone uke. A 19 fret is a bit longer, and a 5 string banjo a bit longer still. The 'plectrum' banjo is usually the same scale length as a 5 string (in fact, many players simply remove the 5th string and peg from a 5 string) and is often tuned DGBE or something pretty close (trad. plectrum tuning is CGBD, some others use DGDB). There are a multitude of tunings (Irish, Jazz, Chicago, plectrum, DGBD). I suppose what I'm saying is that there's probably a banjo/ string configuration that would work just right in any given tuning!
HOWEVER! (there's always a 'but' isn't there?), you'll find that banjos then to have narrower nut widths and tighter string spacings, which can really throw you if you're used to your uke. Nothing a bit of practice won't get you past, but worth thinking about.

Here's my old 17 fret tenor tuned Chicago/ baritone uke.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Fpn4Qay5_Rc