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how far can you tune strings on a banjo?

24 Jun 09 - 05:47 AM (#2663356)
Subject: how far can you tune strings on a banjo?
From: matt milton

OK, following on from that thread about guitars, tuning up, tension and damage, I'd be interested to know what holds for the 5-string banjo.

I've been experimenting with different tunings recently. Presumably you can't hurt a banjo tuning any strings down, but how far up can you tune a string before you risk putting it under too much strain?

I imagine with the top 5th string the answer is "when the string breaks", but what about the other 4?


24 Jun 09 - 06:18 AM (#2663364)
Subject: RE: how far can you tune strings on a banjo?
From: Georgiansilver

All the jokers will surely think "As far away as possible"


24 Jun 09 - 06:41 AM (#2663367)
Subject: RE: how far can you tune strings on a banjo?
From: Richard Bridge

It's a hypothetical question. Do you know anyone who actually can and does tune a banjo?


24 Jun 09 - 06:50 AM (#2663369)
Subject: RE: how far can you tune strings on a banjo?
From: Nick

Being as most 5 string banjos have all the strings on I'd say the answer is 'not far enough'.

But having now had two very brief banjo lessons I might yet see the light and move to the dark side (is that a mixed metaphor?)


24 Jun 09 - 07:43 AM (#2663378)
Subject: RE: how far can you tune strings on a banjo?
From: Banjiman

Nick,

Welcome to hell!


Why would you need to tune a banjo up very high? Just use a capo.

I use quite a few standard & non standard tunings (double C, Triple C, E Modal, G Modal,aDGAD etc) none of these seem to do any harm. I also tune the banjo down to F# or F.

But I can't see any reason for just tuning it to a higher key.

Open to suggestions though.

Paul


24 Jun 09 - 07:48 AM (#2663380)
Subject: RE: how far can you tune strings on a banjo?
From: nickp

I guess other factors would be gauge of string and length of fretboard


24 Jun 09 - 08:06 AM (#2663386)
Subject: RE: how far can you tune strings on a banjo?
From: Dave Hanson

A good trick is, when you get it in tune, get it welded. [ preferably to the back of a bus ]

Dave H


24 Jun 09 - 09:08 AM (#2663426)
Subject: RE: how far can you tune strings on a banjo?
From: GUEST,BanjoRay

How come the mention of banjo always brings the pillocks out in droves?


24 Jun 09 - 09:18 AM (#2663430)
Subject: RE: how far can you tune strings on a banjo?
From: GUEST,BanjoRay

The round Peak players frequently tuned to open A - ie up a tone from the standard tuning.


24 Jun 09 - 09:21 AM (#2663431)
Subject: RE: how far can you tune strings on a banjo?
From: Banjiman

BanjoRay..... a genuine question. Why tune up rather than capo?


24 Jun 09 - 09:29 AM (#2663437)
Subject: RE: how far can you tune strings on a banjo?
From: GUEST,Jonny Sunshine

Tune a banjo? It can't be done....

No, seriously, I'm sure I've seen old-time style players tuned up a whole tone from double-C which makes perfect sense if you're only ever playing in D (or maybe A and variations thereof). And it sounds really nice and bright.

Banjo strings tend to be under lower tension than other instruments, so you can probably tune upwards a bit more than you could on a guitar.

The nature of a five-string banjo makes capos a bit more problematic, seeing as you need a separate 5th string capo (or something else ). If you're using lots of different tunings you might just find it just as easy to tune up.


24 Jun 09 - 09:57 AM (#2663448)
Subject: RE: how far can you tune strings on a banjo?
From: The Sandman

I have been using gCGCE,its like playing in open g,but every melody note is moved up a string FROM THE G TUNING,I think Tom Paley uses it sometimes,its great for singing in c.


24 Jun 09 - 10:13 AM (#2663458)
Subject: RE: how far can you tune strings on a banjo?
From: Stringsinger

The thing is to get around using different tunings. The long neck Seeger style banjo doesn't do this so well. A smaller scale banjo with lighter gauge strings does it better but
you don't get a big sound. Depends on the style.

I like "Little Birdie" tuning a lot. gCGAD.


24 Jun 09 - 10:32 AM (#2663471)
Subject: RE: how far can you tune strings on a banjo?
From: Jack Campin

What happens AFTER you've retuned it?

I play the cumbus (Turkish twelve-string fretless banjo). I have twice lent it to people who turned out to be idiots and retuned it. One was an Irish player who retuned it in fifths like a bouzouki and the other was trying to learn the Arabic oud and retuned it basically down a fourth. It was a miracle it didn't break from what the Irish guy did to it, and you'd have thought the Arabic-music wonk would have realized there was something wrong when it felt like strumming wet spaghetti and the neck angle shifted so the strings buzzed at the bottom of the fingerboard.

It took about a week before it would stay in tune properly after the Arabic player and about three weeks after the Irish one.


24 Jun 09 - 11:21 AM (#2663513)
Subject: RE: how far can you tune strings on a banjo?
From: Richard Bridge

If you can't stand the ribbing, don't play the banjo!

More seriously, it seems to me (as a non-banjo player although I did once rebuld a banjo-mandolin and have played a tenor in mandolin tuning) that the banjo has a more serious structural problem than the guitar in re-tuning, although the pot is usually metal.

First, the skin is quite elastic (unless you are a bluegrasser with a plastic skin done up tighter than a piccolo snare), so tune one string up and the increased pressure on the skin pushes the bridge in and puts the other strings flat by varying amounts. This also varies the action. And vice versa. In the guitar the top is stiffer so this effect is much less.

Next there are different types of rod mechanisms across the pot. With many, the change in string tension will tend to twist the sides of the pot, which will also change the neck angle. In the guitar the top to some extent resists thrust (which a skin does not) so IMHO the effect is less.


24 Jun 09 - 11:34 AM (#2663526)
Subject: RE: how far can you tune strings on a banjo?
From: Songbob

Essentially, you can tune each individual string one step (2 frets) higher, with maaaaybe one more fret of tightness available. Open C tuning, for instance, is gCGCE, so the 1st string is a whole tone higher. Now, Appalachian players do tune a whole tone higher across the board (C --> D, G --> A, for instance), but I don't think you'd get away with tuning to open D (aDADF#). That 1st string would snap in a second. And yes, I know there's another open D tuning (f#DF#AD), but I was envisioning open C tuned to D.

What can help is to have a good wrap of string around the tuning posts. Some people put the string through the hole in the post and tune it with no slack, so that the kink where the edge of the post meets the string is less than two turns around the post. Not enough. It'll do for a guitar 6th string, but not a banjo string. Leave enough slack when stringing so that you get at least four (4) windings of string around the post when it's up to pitch. Better even would be 6, especially on the shinner strings (1st & 5th). When you put tension on a string, it pulls against the weakest point, the kink where the formerly-straight string gets wound around the post. If there is not enough friction from winding around the post, the tension is focused on the kink, which is the weakest part of the string. Give it lots of help. It only takes a few extra seconds to use enough wingings, and you won't begrudge the time when you have to replace a broken string.

So up two frets is a safe option, and careful winding of the strings will protect you from a nasty ping! when tuning.

Bob


24 Jun 09 - 12:31 PM (#2663602)
Subject: RE: how far can you tune strings on a banjo?
From: Rapunzel

"a genuine question. Why tune up rather than capo?"

Because often you only want to tune up one string not the whole lot.
For example, I mostly use standard G tuning, but frequently up-tune the top D a whole tone to cheat when playing in Em (my favourite key). Only snapped on me once so far and it probably was due a new string anyway. I do use very light gauge strings which probably makes it withstand more re tuning.
I also sometimes up-tune B to a C to play in G modal tuning and have never had a problem.

On the subject of capos - a great 5th string capo is the Woodies G-Band. Does the job perfectly - I couldn't bear to drill into the neck to install a Shubb.


24 Jun 09 - 12:36 PM (#2663609)
Subject: RE: how far can you tune strings on a banjo?
From: BTMP

I was running an errand once and had a friend's banjo in the back seat of my car. I went into a store for just a minute and realized I had not locked my car! Sure enough, when I got back to the car, someone had put another banjo in the back seat ...


24 Jun 09 - 01:03 PM (#2663635)
Subject: RE: how far can you tune strings on a banjo?
From: Banjiman

"Because often you only want to tune up one string not the whole lot."

Yes, I understand that (see previous posts). My question was in relation to tuning all 5 strings up instead of using a capo. (as per original guitar question) I can't see the benefit...... surely much better to capo up and either have spikes fitted or use a fifth string capo as well?

BTE Rapunzel, I think you've heard me playing in Double C........


24 Jun 09 - 01:09 PM (#2663643)
Subject: RE: how far can you tune strings on a banjo?
From: matt milton

well I rarely tune the 5th string above G - just the occasional very brief forays to G sharp or A for 1 song here and there - mainly because seeing (and touching) that little string wound so tight just feels wrong to me. but maybe I'm being a wuss.

I haven't actually found myself wanting to tune many strings up much - I generally stick to the standard C, G and D tunings, with minor-key variants of them - and I also think I prefer the sound of my open-back 5-string tuned down rather than up if anything.

One of the tunings I was playing around with was this:
e-B-G#-B-D

Which is an E-ish dominant 7th tuning. (The 5th string and 4th string being tuned down, the 3rd string being tuned up a semitone.) It's great for bluesy or psychedelic-sounding stuff because of the very rich dominant 7th chords that it lends itself to. I tried some variants moving the 1st string up to a G#, and/or moving that low detuned B on the 4th string back up to a D or an E. But preferred having that nice low B.

Thanks for the tip on string-winding Songbob.


24 Jun 09 - 01:11 PM (#2663646)
Subject: RE: how far can you tune strings on a banjo?
From: Peace

"how far can you tune strings on a banjo?"

Same as a guitar: until they snap.


24 Jun 09 - 02:04 PM (#2663690)
Subject: RE: how far can you tune strings on a banjo?
From: The Sandman

Stringsinger, with the greatest respect,I know who you are,an ex member of the Weavers,and Pete Seegers replacement,but I prefer Little Birdie,in gCGCE, I find it easy to play and easy to sing in C,but what would I know I am really a concertina player.


24 Jun 09 - 02:44 PM (#2663719)
Subject: RE: how far can you tune strings on a banjo?
From: Charley Noble

"one step (2 frets) higher"

For all strings in my experience before they begin to snap. However, with some older vintage banjos such as Stewarts, you really don't want to stress the neck that much.

Cheerily,
Charley Noble


24 Jun 09 - 03:55 PM (#2663772)
Subject: RE: how far can you tune strings on a banjo?
From: Sorcha

Til they break?


24 Jun 09 - 07:45 PM (#2663930)
Subject: RE: how far can you tune strings on a banjo?
From: GUEST,BanjoRay

Banjiman - the Round Peakers like Fred Cockerham would tune up for two reasons, I believe.
1. It is believed by some that a tuned up banjo sounds better than a capoed banjo (don't know about that)
2. The Round Peakers often use fretless banjos, where a capo is not really usable.
Cheers
Ray (off to Dent/Sedbergh tomorrow)


25 Jun 09 - 10:30 AM (#2664324)
Subject: RE: how far can you tune strings on a banjo?
From: Banjiman

Thanks Ray,

The fretless bit makes sense.

Paul


25 Jun 09 - 12:26 PM (#2664415)
Subject: RE: how far can you tune strings on a banjo?
From: GUEST,Russ

To my ears, my banjo sounds better when I tune it up rather than capo it up.

Russ (Permanent GUEST and banjo player)


26 Jun 09 - 12:16 AM (#2664998)
Subject: RE: how far can you tune strings on a banjo?
From: Artful Codger

BMTP, send me the extra banjo, please! I only have a fiddle and a concertina to annoy people with.


26 Jun 09 - 02:01 AM (#2665015)
Subject: RE: how far can you tune strings on a banjo?
From: Anglo

I frail, and generally use light gauge strings. I have model railroad spikes for the 5th string at the 7th and 10th frets (i.e. 2 frets and 5 frets higher than standard). But generally when I capo up to the 2nd fret (or the 3rd - which I use a lot because I'm primarily a singer rather than an old-timey tune player) I happily tune the 5th string up to accommodate, rather than use the spike.


26 Jun 09 - 09:46 AM (#2665221)
Subject: RE: how far can you tune strings on a banjo?
From: banjoman

Most banjos will stand going a bit above concert pitch. However using a capo is a better option and there are several new type 5th string capos available now that eliminate the previous problems.
I currently have a wide range of banjos from a seeger type long neck to a Gold Tone Plunky which is the smallest 5 string I have ever played and is tuned in C. My Picolo banjo is tuned in A and the long neck in E. I also use a standard 5 string in G tuning. All this means that I do not have to keep retuning.

For all the jokers whose ears prick up at the mention of banjos, keep the jokes comming as I can turn most of them onto melodeon players who are a far more sorry bunch than us lot

Keep pickin'


26 Jun 09 - 05:38 PM (#2665524)
Subject: RE: how far can you tune strings on a banjo?
From: Artful Codger

Jokers? I was serious: I wouldn't mind a free-range banjo. (I lent mine to an acquaintance and it never returned; maybe they torched her house.) So remember me in your wills. ;-}


26 Jun 09 - 09:49 PM (#2665671)
Subject: RE: how far can you tune strings on a banjo?
From: Charley Noble

I'm actually surprised that no one suggested taking a chop saw to the banjo neck so that the strings could be tightened to a higher key without snapping. Of course that would assume that some of you "cretins" had some sense of musical theory.

Clearly there needs to be a law passed to protect banjos (and banjo players) from social and physical abuse.

Charley Noble, who is more amused when he is sober


27 Jun 09 - 12:05 PM (#2665946)
Subject: RE: how far can you tune strings on a banjo?
From: oombanjo

Paul The 6 string/the old fretless i played the last time at KFFC was tuned down to low E and three octives the third,fifth. and sixth
The old windsor has three spikes that in open G take it up to C.and whenin double C it goes up to F cheers john


27 Jun 09 - 02:10 PM (#2666002)
Subject: RE: how far can you tune strings on a banjo?
From: DADGBE

This is actually a more complicated question than it would appear to be at first glance.

Modern bluegrass instruments won't be hurt by tuning the strings up but the action will change because of added downward pressure on the head. They're usually set up with light gauge strings and the aggregate tension is not very high. On the other hand, older, more lightly constructed instruments could be damaged by greater string tension and are often set up with medium or heavy strings which apply lots more tension.

Next, what's your string material? The commonest is metal which has a relatively small range of variability between the lowest tension which will produce a good tone and the highest before it breaks. Nylon monofilament which is used in thicker gauges can be placed under greater stress before breaking than steel. I've seen a neck snapped off by a set of fairly heavy nylon strings - nasty!

Gut is also used in thicker gauges and is strong enough to possibly damage an instrument. Flourocarbon fiber strings are even stronger and also can sound great over a much wider range of tension. It's really easy to damage a lightly made instrument with them but, with a bit of care and common sense, they're the best sounding strings I've found for old timey playing.


28 Jun 09 - 08:32 AM (#2666417)
Subject: RE: how far can you tune strings on a banjo?
From: GUEST,Jez

Hi,

What banjo do you want to tune up, a 4 or 5-string banjo?