View Full Version : From Mando to Tenor Banjo

Dec-16-2003, 4:09pm
Lately, I've been daydreaming about getting a tenor banjo, probably after seeing Norman Blake play one for a couple tunes on a video.

I know very little about the instrument, and related resources on the internet are scarce.

Question 1: I don't want to get out of the GDAE scale, and from what I've read, the shorter-scale "Irish" Tenor Banjo is more receptive to this tuning, as opposed to the "regular" Tenor Banjo, which is designed for a CGDA tuning. Have I been misled on this issue?

Question 2: I wouldn't want to spend alot of money, and the only "beginner-end" builder seems to be Gold Tone. Does Gold Tone have any competitors at this end of the market?

Dec-16-2003, 4:14pm
I can't really answer question #1 as I use mine in standard tenor tuning of CGDA. It's really not that hard to figure out the differences, as you just move the patterns over a string to be in the same key as a mando. I have a friend with a tenor guitar that's tuned GDAE, and it just doesn't sound right, plus the strings are floppy...

For your second question, I'd recommend taking a look around on eBay. I bought a tenor banjo for about $150 off of there, and couldn't be happier with it. Obviously, you'll have to shop wisely, but it was a heck of a lot cheaper than a Gold Tone, and it may give you a chance to realize whether you like playing a tenor or not at a lower price point.

Dec-16-2003, 6:15pm
I'll second Mandofiddle's comment...I paid $220.00 for mine from Ebay and also have it tuned CGDA. I love playing it, long stretchs and all! My only advice is try to buy from some one with 5 or more positve feedbacks, they seem to "care" a little more about there rep., than some of the zero feedback scammers which have been pooping up ever-more frequently lately.:cool:

Dec-16-2003, 6:25pm
You can tune a 19-fret tenor GDAE, you just have to use heavier strings to keep the tension up so it doesn't sound "floppy". A set of tenor banjo strings intended for CGDA tuning will probably be too light. Janet Davis sells a set of irish tenor strings, 13-20-30-40 that I use, or you can buy single strings in whatever gauges you want.

I got a good deal on an older used one mail order from Gruhn Guitars. I'm allergic to buying instruments sight-unseen on Ebay and it's kind of nice having an instrument with some history behind it.

Bob DeVellis
Dec-16-2003, 8:04pm
I have a short-neck tenor (16 frets, about 21") that I tune GDAE with .012, .022, .032, .044 strings and it works fine. THe technique is different, with one longer looser string rather than two shorter tigher ones per course. Triplets and other ornaments take some adapting, but basically, much of your mando knowledge will transfer. They're great instruments and cut through the din like a buzzsaw.

Dec-17-2003, 8:57am
I tried tuning my tenor GDAE initially, but the heavy G string sounded thunky and awful. #The alternative someone suggested to me was to use conventional CGDA tuning and then capo at the second fret, which gives you DAEB. #In this tuning, your lower 3 strings are the same as the upper three on a mandolin, and you've added the B at the top (in place of the G at the bottom). #I found this works very nicely for Celtic tunes - the fingerings are all the same, the G string isn't really used very often, and the high B (which is the highest note in a lot of Celtic tunes) would have been a serious pinky stretch on the longer tenor scale.

I would have simply tuned the instrument to DAEB (rather than using a capo), but the appropriate gauge on the high B string would have been too light.

Dec-18-2003, 3:49pm
I made the switch from mando to tenor banjo about two years ago (I admit, however, that I played tenor banjo in jazz bands 30 years ago) and there is a learning curve. #My first banjo was an Orpheum #1 from ebay and it was and is a servicable #instrument. #I use the 40-39-20-10 formula for strings and because of the 17 fret neck was able to use mando strings. (this saves money and you alreadyhave a supply of strings to experiment with)
As I progressed (the Madfortrad CD is very helpful)I bought better instruments until I settled on a 1930 Vega Professional which costs around $800 or so. #This is a top of the line instrument with few ornaments - sort of like buying the cheapest best shotgun, all the guts are the same, just more gold and engraving. #This instrument is a 19 fret so the stretches are a little more.

My lessons learned are as follows:

1) Get the best instrument you can. #They are not that expensive and a lot better value for the dollar than mandolins or 5 strings for the classic instruments.

2) Experiment a little and find the right set up including head, bridge and strings. #Some instruments will even sound good with the standard strings tuned down. #both of my Vegas (the other is a Little Wonder - killer instrument) willl do this without diminishing sound, volume or tone. #And they don't sound floppy in the G string.

3) Learn from the best via CD, DVD, or lessons. #Technique is all important. #I learned that I needed to put aside my thick mando picks and use Dunlap nylon .60 picks and that my banjo will still be heard miles away and in a big session. #I also learned to tone it down in sessions as a banjo is a WMD in many cases.

4) While there are standard techniques in Irish banjo, use your mando techniques too if it sounds good. #This is considered heresy in some circles.

5) Enjoy and play the mandolin in Irish sessions too.

Mike Keyes

Ken Sager
Dec-19-2003, 11:26am
What a timely thread to find today. I just purchased my second tenor banjo last night. I wanted another to leave tuned to GDAE for variety, plus my first is a family heirloom I don't want to travel with.

I found the new (used) one at a local music shop, Intermountain Guitar and Banjo (http://www.guitarandbanjo.com), for a good price with a gig bag. It's a 20's Bruno (Vega, Weyman, etc.) openback in fair shape. It's sounds great and they're a blast to play.

Thanks for the GDAE string guage suggestions, WITHAK. I'll give it a try.

Dec-19-2003, 11:52am
I second the recomendation on seeking out older tenors. They are less collectable than 5 strings and are available and affordable. I got an old Vega F-style on E-bay from a guy with a great rating (you must be careful). It was a bargain and sounds great. Elderly, Mandolin Bros., Vintage Instruments in Philladelphia, and Bernunzo's alway have a few choice old models pretty resonably priced. As far as playing goes, I found that the sustain is much less than the mandolin so in a short while my ear was guiding my fingers to use more triplets and ornaments. It has 'backwashed' onto my mandolin playing and I find I use more triplets with less effort there too, now. I spent a little to get a good set-up done and that was worth every penny, esp. as banjo set-up is relatively fast and cheap. I play Irish music and it was an adjustment to really being heard at sessions. It's a nice addition. There are some tunes that lend themselves more to the sound/attack of the banjo or to the mandolin. Kind of interesting to see what each instrument brings to the music. Just be prepared for all the jokes that will come your way.

Dec-19-2003, 3:12pm
On buying banjos on ebay and elsewhere:

I have had very good luck on ebay but recently there have been more crooks and dummies selling banjos, esp the 5 string variety. One trick is to find a good vendor. Banjohaven, the ebay name for Vinnie Mondello, is a great source and he has had a few $1 sales of great instruments. One of his Vega Professionals went for $430 which is an amazing price. He guarantees every instrument and will take them back if you are not satisfied or if you want to trade them for another banjo. He is very well thought of by the jazz banjo crowd and if he says a banjo is exceptional, he is telling the truth. If he tells you he has a "suitable for Irish music" it only means that it has 17 frets and is a little less desireable for his jazz banjo crowd <G>. You can trust Vinnie (not financial stake here, just a satisfied customer.)

I bought my last banjo at a local music store in Madison, WI, however because not only was it a great banjo (it is always better to try one out first and buy a good 'un for a few dollars more) but the price, $800, was right. And, and this is important, I will get service on the instrument from this shop (Spruce Street Music).

Ebay can be a crap shoot and you have to watch the market closely to see if there are bargains. I bought a 5string on a very cheap "buy it now" and sold it later for 8 times what I paid for it, but for each of those there are crappy banjos touted as being great when they are not. After a while you will learn what is good and what is bad. Look at the feedback and see if the seller is knowledgable about instruments. Tenor banjos are usually not counterfitted nor scammed the way Gibson 5 strings are.

And BTW, don't bother to buy a Gibson for Irish tenor banjo, they are way overpriced. Buy one of the good names as mentioned before - Vega, Weymann, Epiphone, Orpheum, Bacon and Day, Clareen, Paragon to name a few off the top of my head. And check out the local stores. I bought a B&D in Manitowac, WI and a Vega in Madison both at ebay or less prices. And I got to see them first.

Mike Keyes

Dec-19-2003, 3:40pm
Thanks for all this great information...givin me alot to think about.

I am absolutely allergic to e-bay, so that's just not an option for me, but now I know the good names to look for.

Thanks again. Merry X-mas.

Dec-31-2003, 10:07am
I just lucked into a "original owner" situation. An extremely elderly gentleman sold me his Vegas - two Little Wonders from the late 1920's for ten times what he paid for them - new. I still got a great deal on two gorgeous instruments. To me, what's interesting is the smaller one "seems to be" a Little Wonder - 8 inch pot, 22 brackets, 14 inch scale Piccolo tenor banjo, with an Elton after market resonator.

I've been talking to Mike Holmes at Mugwumps and we're trying to figure out if Vega made this thing deliberately or if it's a modified Uke. The nut is cut for standard strings rather than reentrant Uke strings. The old Gent I got it from said his dad bought it for him when he graduated from High School in 1927 (!). And - it had always been set up to play as a small tenor.

So - if this thing works as well as I think it may ... perhaps exploring used Banjo Ukes may be another option. Plus you can sneak the little thing into a session under your sweater and spring it on the unsuspecting players when they least expect it. This one needs a little work to make playable ... results will be posted later - when I figure out the combination.

Dec-31-2003, 3:59pm
Pooping up?

(just giving you a hard time, that made me laugh.)

(because I'm very immature.)

Dec-31-2003, 4:14pm
Mike, it wasn't a Weymann style 2 tenor was it? I traded that towards my national tenor guitar at Spruce Tree recently (1 year ago or so)

String gauges for a 19-fret tenor banjo (weymann "orchestra" is my favorite type):
.052 wound
.035 wound
.022 plain
.012 plain

Dec-31-2003, 5:36pm
Having received a tenor banjo for Xmas, now dutifully tuned to GDAE, I have a question about frets & fingering in 1st position:

So far my picking has used the same loose rules governing mando frets - 1st finger for frets 1&2, 2nd for 3&4, 3rd for 5&6 and pinkie for 7th and beyond. #However, I bought a Gerry O'Connor banjo tuition video which suggests the 'rules' are different on the tenor banjo. He seems to use his pinkie on 5th,6th, and 7th frets, with one fret per finger below that (1st finger=1st fret, 2nd finger=2nd fret, etc).

Is this a matter of personal choice or is it recommended that one adopts an altered finger/fret mapping on taking up banjo?

Jan-01-2004, 9:36am
To Dan,

No, it was not a Weymann although I love those megaphonic banjos and would have bought yours if it was available. It is a Vega Professional circa 1930 and a cannon. Spruce Street Music as a great place to shop.

To ManodNoob,

Fingering an Irish Tenor is a matter of preference. I switched from the mando style fingering (using the pinky only on occasion) to the "cello" (or guitar) style as a matter of choice because I was going to get lessons from Gerry O'Connor last summer. He said that he used this style because it was more efficient but did not try to change anyone.
Mando style fingering allows you to switch seamlessy from mandolin to banjo but has the disadvantage of being harder to use (i.e. it is a little slower)in my opinion on the GDA strings. Others think that the cello style is handicapped by having no way to naturally go to the b note on the E string. (You have to switch to what I consider second position - the first finger on third fret and play the b note with the pinky, or you can slide to the b note from the first position.) The intonation and licks from the cello position sound a little different and that is not acceptable to some.
This is more like the endless arguments you see in shotgun magazines over 12 gauge versus 20 gauge - to each his own if you ask me.
After about six months of trying and endless brain ##### trying to switch between mando and banjo I have been able to make the transition without problems and have progressed on the Irish Tenor. I use the cello fingering for my Octave Mandolin too. As a bonus, I am really much better with my pinky now on the mandolin.

Mike Keyes

Jan-01-2004, 1:35pm
It could be personal choice but - it is a reality that the longer stretches at the nut end of tenor banjo (or similar scale lenght O/M or Bouzouki) kind of lock you into "1 finger, 1 fret" until you get up to about the seventh fret. Unless you have really large hands, the best you can regularly do is up to about the sixth with the pinky.

That hurts though.

Jan-01-2004, 4:29pm
Mikeyes: Ah Vegas are lovely, those are my other favorite tenors. Main reason I like the Weymanns is that they have a nice plonky sound, and also that resonator pop-off trick leaves you with a banjo that won't spear your thighs!

Good old Will. I bought my 2nd mandolin there (a Kay!), my 1st Weymann tenor, and now my National tenor guitar! I used to live 2 blocks away, dangerous.

Mandonoob: The jury is kind of out on fingerings. I have very long fingers, so I use mandolin fingerings mostly, even on my 25" scale big bouzouki. On the tenor banjo or tenor guitar, I can *mostly* get away with mandolin fingerings, but some tricks vanish (use pinky to drone on the 7th fret while playing on 245 above, etc). If your tenor is a 17-fret model, you should be able to get used to mandolin fingerings. a 19-fret is just a hair longer, and will probably prevent most folks from using mandolin fingerings. Missed you at the Duke's Head these last couple weeks by the way, I brought the Reso-mando and rattled the windows http://www.mandolincafe.net/iB_html/non-cgi/emoticons/smile.gif

Jan-01-2004, 5:10pm
Thanks for the advice guys! I'll try to make an effort to use both fingerings equal amounts and see if one eventually becomes dominant and/or feels more natural.

DanB: Yes, sorry to have missed you - I was ill one week, then I was there just before Xmas and you weren't, then these last two weeks I've been in t'North of England. I've been hearing very positive reports of what you've been doing there though! See you this coming Tuesday (Jan 6th) if you're there. I would still like you to meet Chris, the superhuman guitarist/banjoist I mentioned before. Maybe we can still co-ordinate a meet at a Lewisham session in the not too distant future.

Jan-03-2004, 7:47am
This is a bit off the tenor banjo subject, but I have some questions about banjo in Celtic music. I noticed in the archives Tabedit files for CoMando that there are tabbed Celtic tunes for 5 string banjo. Do people (other than for personal desire) play a 5 string for Celtic stuff ever? I listened to the different tunes and can imagine them on the five string-terrific. I would be very interested in hearing different opinions about this. Suggestions to literature and info on the internet about this subject would be appreciated.

I like traditional music and play some Celtic on mando. I have a 5 string and want to play Celtic on it. I just like the sound of a 5 string better than a tenor. Its a personal taste thing.
Cheers and Happy New Year!
Emily http://www.mandolincafe.net/iB_html/non-cgi/emoticons/smile.gif

Jan-03-2004, 11:29am
It works and has been done ... but to me, a five string sounds best in a Celtic setting if you play it clawhammer style. Plus the key changes in an individual set can drive you up the wall. The diatonic tuning kind of limits you to one or two keys.

Oddly - the charactor who popularized the five string banjo originally in the 1840's was an Irish immigrant named Sweeney. Several companies offer versions of his scroll head five string. (A scroll head banjo envy is somewhere on the horizon.) There is a pretty neat young group called the "Mammals" which does a lot of celtic tunes on 5 string. Pretty skilled trio with an amazing heritage. I don't have their URL but - if you look up Jay Ungar there is a link to them.

Geoff Turnbull
Jan-03-2004, 12:09pm
At the risk of being laughed at you could always go for a mandolin banjo (shorter neck).
Also the finger arrangements for each fret comes from the "natural" fiddle player don't it ??

Jan-03-2004, 12:35pm
Chris Grotewohl is a Kansas player who does *amazing* Irish stuff on 5-string, track down his record if you can, it's called "Under the Influence". Chris also plays an octave mandolin with a 5-string banjo neck on it. Really an amazing sound

Jan-04-2004, 9:21am
Thanks I will look those suggestions up. #I have started working on the clawhammer technique and can easily imagine it in many different musical settings. Since I am so new to banjo I thought I would give those right hand rolls a try.

Thanks for the info!

Follow Up: #I found Chris Grotewohl's site. #Fantastic! #Lots of mp3's, sheet music and the like. #Love his swing and blues stuff too. #I really liked "The Drunken Landlady" and "Under the Influence"

Chris's Site: #


Jan-09-2004, 1:22am
A lot of polkas work quite well frailed on a 5-string.

Jan-20-2004, 5:31pm
I saw this today on ebay. Quite fancy... http://cgi.ebay.com/ws....y=10177 (http://cgi.ebay.com/ws/eBayISAPI.dll?ViewItem&item=2373796143&category=10177)

Jan-20-2004, 5:44pm
"String gauges for a 19-fret tenor banjo (weymann "orchestra" is my favorite type):

.052 wound
.035 wound
.022 plain
.012 plain"

I have a 1918 17-fret #1 Orpheum tenor that I'd like to string in G...
So maybe lower the above gauges a tad?

How do tenors sound when strung up in G compared to the standard C?

Thanks in advance....


Jan-20-2004, 9:51pm
Bruce - I just strung up my 17 fret Little Wonder with half a set of GHS PF285, Octave Mandolin strings, for a GDAe tuning. This set is .044, .032, .022 and a plain .012. The instrument absolutely "growls". The lower two strings are amazing sounding. This is a non resonator instrument with a FibreSkyn head and a slightly wider bridge than normal. But then, I like the plonky sound rather than the raspy sharp sound ... #It makes the banjo sound - ah - friendly, rather than like a weapon.

Jan-21-2004, 6:37am
Bruce, that gauge set I posted is for GDAE. It's quite a heavy set, which suits how I approached the tenor (play it like a mandolin), many of the really hot Irish players use lighter strings and lighter picks. The heavy-strung method gives the strings a feel a bit more like a j74-strung mandolin, but may be too heavy if you are going for the bubbly, more typical heavily-ornamented TB style.

Jan-21-2004, 7:38am
What is preferable for Irish music, using an open-back banjo or a banjo with a resonator?

Jan-21-2004, 3:34pm
I don't know that there is a clear preference. I have heard from people who took the resonator off their tenor because it amplified too many overtones, but its never bothered me. If the instrument is loud enough without one, then it probably isn't necessary.

Richard Singleton
Jan-22-2004, 11:30pm
Regarding the 5 string banjo/Irish question Bugs mentioned, I would add Tom Hanway as a resource. He has a website under his name, wrote an instruction book for Irish on the 5 string. He plays regularly in NYC and also appears at the Keenan banjo festival in Ireland.

Jan-23-2004, 7:00am
Thanks! Thats a great site. He has an interesting Celtic Links. I have yet to explore it well.


Jan-23-2004, 11:49am
I've been playing my 17 fret Vega (19.7 inch scale) GDAE for a couple years. I don't play it very often and when the shop I bought strings from stopped carrying any interesting variety I got lazy and ran out of strings. To make a short story long I put on the ancient set of CGDA gibson strings that came in the banjo case when I bought it (the envelopes list Kalamazoo as Gibson's location). On reading Dane's post about DAEB I decided to try it. It works out really well on such a short instrument. I don't even need to capo.

Regarding resonators: They don't just make the instrument louder, they increase sustain and a may make the tone a bit more complex, though not always in a good way. http://www.mandolincafe.net/iB_html/non-cgi/emoticons/wink.gif I find that using the old, beat up, warped resonator I've got does lead to some nasty overtones especially when playing in GDAE. Luckily resting a pinky on the head calms things down so I get a bit more sustain without that wonky ringing noise: an excellent excuse for pinky posting. http://www.mandolincafe.net/iB_html/non-cgi/emoticons/tounge.gif

Jan-26-2004, 10:53am
I also use a tenor, a 1920s short neck Vega (19 fret). I have been using it since the mid-80's and love it. I used to sting it with silver plated wound strings for the G, D, and A, plain steel for the E (stung up mando tuning) using .043, .031, .023, .014. I now use half a set of GHS phosphor bronze octave mandolin strings (44-32-22-12). I found they sound great, and it is a cheaper way to buy strings.

In regards to 5-string banjo players playing Celtic (and New England) dance tunes, check out the late Peter Colby. He used to play with a number of fine groups until he died in 1988. His last group was New England Tradition with Bob McQuillian (piano) and the late April Limber (fiddle). He created and played a very unique style of playing tunes that was high energy, percussive as well as very danceable, and really fun to listen to. Up to that time I had NEVER heard anyone play like he did, one of a kind. He recorded with a number of dance musicians and groups, but perhaps his most distinct recording contribution was as a member of New England Tradition in their recording, Farewell To The Hollow (http://www.greatmeadowmusic.com/mcquillen.html), which can be gotten through Great Meadows Music (http://www.greatmeadowmusic.com/), which is a great label in general for New England dance music recordings. If you want to hear someone play Celtic stlye 5-string banjo at the top of his game, this recording is not to be missed. Cheers.

Jan-26-2004, 12:19pm
I heard a guy playing Irish tunes on a 5-string on stage at the festival in Guthrie, OK a couple of years ago. He referred to his music as "Greengrass". I think he is from somewhere in Kansas. Scott may know him.

Jan-26-2004, 12:28pm
I'll throw in my $0.02 worth.

I have a 17-fret Gold Tone irish tenor withOUT a resonator, and at first I thought it was too quiet/muffled, but I tightened the head up about 1/4 turn and the tone changed considerably. If you're thinking you need more volume or more projection, try tightening the head a little bit (1/4 turn was all mine needed) before dropping the considerable cabbage for a resonator.

I like the idea about using OM strings on a tenor banjo. I'm going to try that. I only have one set of banjo strings, but a handful of OM strings. Thanks!

When playing Celtic tunes, I actually prefer my banjo over the mando. It's not as expressive, but it's a lot more forgiving.

Jan-26-2004, 3:27pm
I looked at those goldtones and they look/sound great. Folk of the Wood has a little video of one being played (though not Celtically!). They look like a great deal to me.

I have a resonator mandolin that I am just now figuring to use in Irish music-duh its taken a while to figure out what I really want to do with mandolin. I was leaning toward a tenor banjo but now rethinking it. I have thought about building my right hand (and left) ornamentation on the resophonic first for when I get to a tenor banjo some day.

I love the Irish/Celtic music and really think its the thing for me.
Ta Ta

Jan-26-2004, 4:24pm
You can order the Gold Tone with a resonator, but it's obviously more expensive, and mine is plenty loud without one.

Emily, if you want to get into irish stuff, the best thing to work on is speed. I wouldn't mess with ornamentation. It's pretty easy for fiddlers to do it just because of the instrument (I used to play fiddle), but it's much more difficult with frets and a plectrum, not to mention the different hand positions. Grab some "easy" ones like 'Kesh Jig' or 'Harvest Home' and work on building speed without losing proper tempo. If you get into sessions, you'll probably have fiddlers belting out songs at an insane tempo. That's usually when I switch to the bodhran, because I'm not that fast on the mando/banjo.

Jan-27-2004, 4:27pm
Thanks! I have been working on those tunes and others on a resophonic which goes pretty well. I do like working on ornamentation as a side line hobby. Its one of those things that keeps me interested. It is some kind of compulsive attention to detail like those Irish monks that painted the Book of Kells (intense manuscripts). I just like the challenge of techniques which are similar to crosspicking.




Jan-31-2004, 12:55pm
Emily: Cool to find another Reso-mandolin player. They are fun ways to play mandolin in a noisy session http://www.mandolincafe.net/iB_html/non-cgi/emoticons/smile.gif

Regarding Tenor banjos & resonators- there is a style issue at work too. most of the trad Irish players use light strings and light picks, hence the resonator acually helps make them audible.. Folks starting on mando tend to have a heavier touch, so the resonator makes for a loud piercing tone at times. I think that if you use the floppy pick light strings style, you'll need that resonator on, but heavy pick heavy strings will make for piercing overtones and a painfully loud TB sound!

Jan-31-2004, 12:58pm
As an antecedent- here's a great recording for folks who like Tenor Banjo, Tenor Guitar, or the Irish tenor style used on Mandolin- it's from the "West Coast" Seamus Egan (not the one in Solas), and it's called "In Your Ear". My all-time favorite Irish tenor banjo CD:


Jan-31-2004, 1:37pm
I second Dan's recommendation of the West Coast Seamus Egan's CD; I heard him play at Lark Camp last summer and purchased his CD then. It's amazing playing, a great selection of tunes, and there's at least one track on which he plays mandolin insteead of TB; the other musicians are really good as well, especially the uilleann pipes player. I hope he records more music...

(By the way; I also recommend Lark Camp, if only to hear amazing session playing, by the likes of Seamus, into the wee hours.)


Jan-31-2004, 3:32pm
Keith- I'm pretty sure the piper is Todd Dennman. Look him up, he gigs in San Francisco (lives in Berkeley?) frequently, including sessions at the Plough & Stars. He is the principle at a recording label called Anair (prn "on ear") in San Francisco, right in your backyard!

Seamus was a onetime associate (roommate I think) of Shane Mitchell, the Accordian player in Dervish too..

Jan-31-2004, 3:36pm
One more follow-up (and sorry for the flood of messages.. I used to run a tenor banjo list and get excited when the topics come up!) a Weymann tenor banjo is the most bassy/least piercing tenor I've played- they are great for mandolin players to go to as they don't have a sharp/piercing treble like you'll hear in a Gibson TB3/4 etc. I only gave mine up after trying a national tenor guitar.. if I was a serious banjo player I'd have kept it really!

Here's that Weymann (style 2 tenor, maple neck & resonator) on my CD playing a set of Irish reels.. and picked hard, like I do on mandolin:

The Banjo Reel set (http://www.beimborn.com/stc/banjo_reel.mp3)

National tenor guitars are great fun, especially as they seem to have built in "compression", ie you can push them hard without getting a nasty piercing high-tone from them, so they are quite suited as a second instrument for mandolin players.

Over here in the UK folks are starting to call me "the tin man" for playing reso-tenor & mandolin. Silly but fun!

Jan-31-2004, 10:07pm

The liner notes credit one Tom Creegan on uilleann pipes; it was recorded up in Portland, OR; but published (is that the right term?), as you said, by Aniar Records (is "on ear" a bilingual pun; what's it mean in Gaelic?) in SF. The Aniar website has lots of info on Tod Dennman - wow. I think he played recently with Erin Schrader (on fiddle) at the Noe Valley Ministry in SF; not sure, but I will keep my ears open for him.

I seem to remember someone mentioning that Seamus once played with Dervish...

How is your new steel resonator mandolin doing? I'd love to give one of thos a try sometime, but nothing seems to surface anywhere around here where you can get your hands on it (like at Gryphon or Schoenberg Guitars. Tin Man is good nickname! (maybe a good name for a tune as well...)


Feb-01-2004, 11:08am
Lest we threadjack this topic, I've created a new "Some more Resonator Mandolin stuff" thread with a sound clip of my rusty reso-mando included.

Another great tenor player I'd recommend is Enda Skahill.. look for a CD called "Pick it Up" that has more incredible hot tenor banjo playing on it. Brian Kelly of www.brian-kelly.com (http://www.brian-kelly.com/) has a disk as well- he's one of the TB players many folks have heard here recently in the mp3 clips that MandoNoob posted from "Murphy's Mob" playing at the session in Richmond. Brian is currently performing with Shane MacGowan and the Popes, he's an amazing player and an 8-time All-Ireland champ on mandolin & tenor banjo.

Feb-01-2004, 3:40pm
Okay! #There are so many great things being conversed I have to go one by one. #

Toods: How do you compare that 19 to the 17 inch tenor? #I have a small hand, and lean toward the idea of 17. #Is there really a big difference in stretch?

Dan: Never apologize for posting so much great info, highjack away. #I love the "West Coast" cd. #Personally, I think that is the style of playing that I would want to focus on. #Secondly where is your rusty resonator clip, I want to hear it. #I just think these things sound gorgeous for celtic. #I am curious to hear what you are doing with it. #Also, I like your comments on the tenor banjo with resonator and light strings concept. #Thats sounds like something to experiment with. #

I never played my resophonic much until I found a session forming. #We are learning something like 30 tunes for our first set. #I don't know maybe we will eventually play for some Irish dancers-hope so. #My resonator is a senior 1931 National. #Its original ivoroid tuners wobble in the holes. #I have a first rate luthier to take it to. #What would people recommend for tuners? #I would like to match the vintage look and avoid altering the headstock. #It has a black ebony fretboard with the wide ivoroid bands on the neck. #Nickel plated brass? #I love it but the tuners have got to go. #Fairly addicted to the resophonic, but lusting for a tenor banjo.

Feb-01-2004, 4:36pm

Not long ago I replaced some tuners on a vintage Martin 2-15 mandolin (well not myself but a luthier) and I had him put on Schaller nickel platedones and replace the plastic tuner buttons with ivoroid. They look and work great, and the buttons really harmonize nicely with the other ivoroid appointments on the instrument. They are available from StewMAc online; the hole location is probably compatible, and the spec's will be on the StewMac website. Just be sure to keep hold of the originals, no matter how dysfunctional they are; having them will increase the resale value of your instrument, even in the case.


Feb-01-2004, 7:58pm
Thanks for that good info. Yeah I plan on keeping those tuners. You should see the original case its totally falling apart. I had a new case made (a mandola case-reshaped deeper). I like the idea of adding old buttons-that is a good idea.


Feb-14-2004, 12:28pm
Does anyone use tunings other then GDAE/CGDA on their tenor banjo? Would tunings like ADAE or GDAD work or would there be problems using these types of more open tunings. I use ADAE on my mando and was wondering if I could transfer it to the tenor banjo.

May-29-2004, 1:09pm
Revisiting this thread gave me the push to indulge a recent obsession, and yesterday I picked this TB up from Players Vintage Instruments. It's a real thing of beauty, with very low action all the way up the neck. It's got a 19" scale, and I've been paying it tuned GDAE. I strung it up with a 1/2 set of
J-74's that were to hand, but today I'm going to get a proper set of heavier strings for it; I'll start with the 12-20-30-40 formula.

I'm finding that with the low string tension, and light touch needed as a result, it's easier to get that back beat lilt into tunes. Also, with the extra stretch required, it's got my fret hand into a more proper position, with thumb on the back of the neck, etc. I think this will all be good for my mandolin playing.

Jun-03-2004, 4:47pm
Nice TB Keith!

Jun-03-2004, 11:13pm
Thanks Dan. I'm really enjoying it, except I'm finding that it doesn't stay in tune. I think it's the tuners. They're really beautiful, engraved brass with pearl buttons, but I think they might be worn and slipping on me. Is it typical of TB's to not stay in tune? Right now I have 12-22(wound)-32-42 on it. The tension seems plenty tight for playing, but maybe too tight for these tuners.

Any advice on this? I'd really hate to have to mess with these tuners...who do you know that can work on TB's in the Bay Area?

I've been playing it, as you mentioned earlier in this thread, pretty much as if playing mandolin, with a few extra notes where I might rely on sustain on a mandolin. It's quite a different sound than the lighter string, triplet laden, style that is typical, or traditional, but I like it as well.


Jun-04-2004, 4:36am
Keith, take it to Frank Ford of course! Probably in-shop maintenance while you wait.. I suspect it's adjusting tensions and lubricating gears, and/or letting you know if they are too worn to work well.

Looks like a '22-'24 vintage TB from the tuner plates, similar to those found on loar F5s.

Jun-04-2004, 10:58am
Yes, of course, I'll bring down to Gryphon - thanks!

Well, I haven't checked the serial number myself, but the sale listing lists it as a 1924 TB-4 (next to top of the line, Loar era). It's full of nice details. It amazes me how inexpensive TB's can be realtive to mandolins and even to 5-strings of similar provenance. This banjo even has the original price tag hangin from the rod inside - it was originally $165 - which is printed "Gibson, the music pal of the nation"); I'm sure the photos are still up at http://www.vintageinstruments.com/banjos.html

I'll post back with result of a Gryphon visit; what strings I end up using, the bridge, etc. Thanks again,


Jun-23-2004, 10:54am

I brought the TB-4 in to Gryphon; Frank Ford oiled up the tuners and pronounced them fine, which is a great relief. I've got it strung up with 12-22w-32-42 steel wound. Frank insisted that I experiment with string guages before having anything, like the MOP nut, filed. He thought one could go as heavy as 60 on the low "G." I don't think anything lighter than what I've got there now will work; too floppy. So, I'll try some a bit heavier. Any suggestions on string type? Thanks,


Jul-02-2004, 2:48am
Keith - that's a very pretty Gibson. One or two observations ... if you haven't done so yet, start looking for a Remo FiberSkyn head to fit it. The skin heads work but are very sensetive to temperature and humidity changes and that will shift the tuning dramatically. Re strings / I've gone to GHS Nickle - Burnished generally as they seem to reduce fret buzzes, last forever and don't have quite as brite a "pling" to the tone. My normal source is Just Strings #
Guitar page (http://www.juststrings.com/guitarsinglestrings.html), single strings. This type of string seems to have a less abrasive nature on the frets. These are ball ends but a little surgery will get you what you want. You may also want to try a wider footed bridge with the bigger string sets.

GDae tuned tenor banjos (to me) have a tendency of growling rather than being a high, brite, biting sound. Kind of nice sounding actually. Enjoy your new find.

Jul-03-2004, 4:57pm
Thanks Dolomon,

I'll give the burnished nickel strings a try. As I mentioned, the skin head is new. I asked Frank Ford about it, prepared to have whatever mods he felt appropriate done, but he thought it was fine. If I have trouble with it though I'll change it out for a synthetic one. I imagine that'd be a piece of work given the amount of hardware.

Mr. Ford mentioned that the original bridge for this mandolin was the really big-footed type. He said they typically get changed out after the neck angle changes over time, as a way of lowering the action. He also thought the no-tip brindge on there now was okay for this banjo. I guess I need to just put in the time experimenting with strings...

What's the best source for banjo parts, bridges, etc.?

GDAE tuning certainly is a different sound than the traditional CGDA tuning and lighter string gauges. On Dan Beimborn's CD, Shatter the Calm, his banjo (19 fret 1925 Weymann Style 2 Orchestra TB - track 12) is tuned GDAE; does anyone else record in this tuning?


Jul-03-2004, 9:29pm
Keith skin heads are a double edged sword - they give a marvelously plonky sound to a banjo but ... humidity and temperature changes wreak havoc on keeping it in tune. Play it the way it is until ...

As for bits and parts - one of the most accessible sources is First Quality (http://www.fqms.com/Static/BanjoPartsIntro.cfm)music supply. They are generally a 5 string shop but - for heads, spare strings, brackets, tuners - a pretty good and ultra reliable source.

As for playing in GDAe - virtually ALL the Irish players of note play in that tuning (Dubliners, Connoloy sisters, etc.) there is a book which Elderly offers called "Dublin Banjo" which is at best, pretty good but a bit dated in presentation otherwise The Irish Banjo (http://www.irishbanjo.com/)web site is a good collection of materials. I'd look up Irish Banjo on Alta Vista and see what they have listed.

Have fun - and start experimenting with different picks, you'll be amazed!