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Thread: mandolin same tuning as a tenor banjo?

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    Registered User Dean Campbell's Avatar
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    Default mandolin same tuning as a tenor banjo?

    Hiya Guys, i hope nobody minds me asking this question about banjos and mandolins, i have been into my mandolin nearly a year now, and i am making nice steady progress, but i have just realised that the mandolin is in the same tuning as a tenor banjo, but because i have a 5 string banjo i was thinking about converting it into a four string tenor banjo, then i would be able to easily play what i have learnt on the mandolin and play it straight on the banjo, anyone done this? how did it go? i have long since realised that the five string picking is not for me
    thanks all

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    Registered User Jill McAuley's Avatar
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    Default Re: mandolin same tuning as a tenor banjo?

    Some tenor banjos are tuned GDAE, favored by players of Irish traditional music like meself, and some tenors are tuned CGDA. Not sure about converting your four string into a tenor as the scale length will be different - just looked it up and the standard scale length of a 5 string banjo is 26 and a quarter inches whereas the scale length of of standard 19 fret tenor banjo would be somewhere in the range of 22 to 22.125 inches. Might be better off selling or trading the 5 string for a proper tenor banjo.
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    Default Re: mandolin same tuning as a tenor banjo?

    You could try tuning it in 5ths and just remove the 5th string and capo accordingly.

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    Registered User Dean Campbell's Avatar
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    Default Re: mandolin same tuning as a tenor banjo?

    Quote Originally Posted by Jill McAuley View Post
    Some tenor banjos are tuned GDAE, favored by players of Irish traditional music like meself, and some tenors are tuned CGDA. Not sure about converting your four string into a tenor as the scale length will be different - just looked it up and the standard scale length of a 5 string banjo is 26 and a quarter inches whereas the scale length of of standard 19 fret tenor banjo would be somewhere in the range of 22 to 22.125 inches. Might be better off selling or trading the 5 string for a proper tenor banjo.
    thanks..yeah you may be right, i may be wasting my time

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    Quote Originally Posted by AndyV View Post
    You could try tuning it in 5ths and just remove the 5th string and capo accordingly.
    thats a good point, thanks

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    Default Re: mandolin same tuning as a tenor banjo?

    Something needs to be clarified here. The only banjos that can be tuned exactly the same as mandolins are mandolin-banjos and ukulele-banjos. They can be tuned G [directly below middle C] - D - A - E.

    All of the other banjos can be tuned one octave below a mandolin; to G [an octave and a fourth below middle C] - D - A [directly below middle C] - E. This is called "octave" tuning or "Irish" tuning.

    Tenor banjos were usually tuned to C [one octave below middle C] - G - D - A until "Irish tuning" increased in popularity in recent years.

    To put a 5 string banjo into octave or "Irish" tuning, try the following string gauges: .036" or .038" for the G, .024" for D, .014" for A, and .009" for E. You'll have to find a way to keep the 5th string tuner from rattling.

    I find that early Vega Tubaphone style M tenors with a short scale [~ 19" to 20"] and short neck are nice for "Irish" tuning, as are the early Gibson "trap-door" banjos. Either can be found in good condition for under $1000, sometimes for as little as $500. A short scale tenor will need strings slightly heavier than above for "Irish" tuning.

    A Vega style M will be a considerably better banjo than just about any new modern tenor in the same price range.

    Warning: If you try to tune a tenor, plectrum, or 5 string banjo to G [directly below middle C] -D-A-E in true mandolin tuning, you are liable to put a broken first string into one of your eyeballs before you ever get the instrument up to pitch. It is also dangerous to try to use C-G-D-A tuning on a five string or plectrum banjo.
    Last edited by rcc56; Dec-16-2019 at 1:27am.

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    Default Re: mandolin same tuning as a tenor banjo?

    I have had a Windsor tenor banjo since the early seventies - the only one I've ever owned and I play it at most of my gigs.

    It has quite a short neck which makes it ideal for Celtic music. I buy individual strings and use a guitar 42 on the bottom G, 30 on the D, a 21 WOUND string on the A and an 11 or 12 on top.
    They're meant to be loop end strings but I don't worry about that - I just tie a knot at the ball end and make a loop that way.

    Note: I have tried using an unwound string on the A (for example a spare B guitar string or something) and it's no good. However I have tried an 18 wound string and it was ok. I'm not sure why the wound string is necessary but it seems to be the case.

    It depends what kind of music you want to play on your banjo. Trad jazz players like a long neck for a chordal style and tune CGae, so perhaps your converted 5 string might work there. Celtic players like a shorter neck and play it like a mandolin - albeit an octave down. Hardly anyone uses a banjo-mandolin.

    Frankly if you don't see yourself using your instrument for 5 string picking, I would cut your losses and get rid of it.
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    Default Re: mandolin same tuning as a tenor banjo?

    You can tune an instrument any way you want AS LONG AS you use appropriate string gauges. It takes a bit of research and experimentation, but it can be done. That said, before I decided if I wanted to add tenor banjo to my repertoire I bought an inexpensive Gold Tone Irish Tenor with 17 frets and a 12-inch head. The cost was well under $500. It comes tuned GDAE. Deering also makes an Irish tenor with 17 frets, but with an 11-inch head. Again, these can be had for under $500. The Deering is also made here in the US.

    I prefer the the 12 inch head. I believe the scale length is 19 3/4". https://www.goldtonemusicgroup.com/g...truments/it-17

    If you are interested in Irish banjo playing give a listen to Gerry O'Connor, as well as Seamus Egan (who incidentally has a new album out). And certainly, don't miss the YouTube channel of our own Jill McAuley.
    There's nothing better than first-hand experience.

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    Default Re: mandolin same tuning as a tenor banjo?

    When you say you can EASILY play the same mandolin tunes I would think twice on that. Very much longer scale so with all respect due, I doubt you'd be ab;e to EASILY play your mandolin stuff. Best bet is a proper short scale tenor banjo tuned same as mandolin. Lovely change when you play one then the other.

    Hope this helps.

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  14. #9

    Default Re: mandolin same tuning as a tenor banjo?

    Why not just learn the 5 string banjo? They are fun and they repel a lot of folks you don’t want to hang with anyway.
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    Registered User Dean Campbell's Avatar
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    Default Re: mandolin same tuning as a tenor banjo?

    Thanks for all the input guys, as a few have said, i will just purchase a tenor banjo instead of trying to tune the 5 string into a tenor, i may as well just do it right...

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    Registered User stevo58's Avatar
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    Default Re: mandolin same tuning as a tenor banjo?

    Well, I play tenor (C-G-D-A) and mandolin. The intervals are the same, but obviously the tenor is a fifth lower, like a mandola. Nevertheless, whatever I learn one one, I try on the other, without Transposition, and am surprised how often and how well it works out. Having said that, so far I’ve found that mandolin arrangements work well on the tenor more often than the opposite, but that may also be due to the sorts of music I’ve been playing on the respective instruments.

    My point being that why even bother tuning the tenor a fifth higher? It’s not hard to transpose a fifth, and you can use all the same fingerings.

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  19. #12

    Default Re: mandolin same tuning as a tenor banjo?

    OP:

    You didn't tell us what make of 5-string you have, but if it's a "Gibson Mastertone style" (either 1 piece flange or 2 piece flange), there are probably hundreds of tenor necks out there that you can pick up for a song and dance -- cause nearly everyone else is converting old tenors to 5-strings...

  20. #13

    Default Re: mandolin same tuning as a tenor banjo?

    This is my tenor banjo... tuned in fifths, for sure.


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