The Unwound Third => Gitfiddles, Harps, Washboards & Kazoos => Topic started by: Reso1 on May 05, 2004, 09:16:16 PM

Title: 6 String Banjos
Post by: Reso1 on May 05, 2004, 09:16:16 PM
I bought one, and it should I arrive by the time I return from the annual Pelican Board Walk Boogie adventure. Any advice on strings, tunings, playing styles, & capos use would greatly be appreciated. It would be cool to bring it down to the workshop except for the airline baggage nazis! (8^)

Thanks in advance!

Title: Re: 6 String Banjos
Post by: uncle bud on September 05, 2004, 12:55:30 PM
Hi Lee,

Digging this one up out of self-interest. I assume you got your 6 string banjo, so what did you get? How do you like it? Any pics? I'm seriously considering getting one after playing the Deacon's Deering at Port Townsend.

Responding to your (old) questions, even though you probably figured it all out for yourself now, the first thing I'd do is get Papa Charlie Jackson, at least vol 1 on Document, if you don't have it. Vol 1 has much of his best material (although I like all 3). It is unfortunately pre-electric-mic style recording,? and therefore fairly poor sound. Still tremendous though.

Re. strings, you've figured that out by now too, but for what it's worth, Deacon was using extra light phosphor bronze I believe, and tried silk and steels. I've heard some people like nickel wound.

There's a blues banjo site with a little info at http://www.blues-banjo.com plus a few lessons at http://www.blues-banjo.com/lessons/index.html. I've haven't tried these to see if they're any good, but there is both 5 and 6 string banjo stuff.

As for repertoire, aside from Papa Charlie, I think a lot of ragtime stuff sounds great on a guitjo. You could adapt Gus Cannon stuff pretty easily too. I'm learning Police Sergeant Blues off John Miller's Robert Wilkins video, and I think it would sound great on 6-string banjo. Same with some of Wilkins other raggy stuff.

Any of you 6-string banjoists in the know - a Deering is an obvious choice but are there others you'd look at? No sure I like the look of the (much cheaper) Gold Tones. I would like to get an old one actually. Are there problems with intonation up the neck on these older ones? I've read the Deering is designed differently to solve such problems.
Title: Re: 6 String Banjos
Post by: Reso1 on September 05, 2004, 05:27:34 PM
Uncle Bud:

I got a Goldtone banjitar GT-500. I found one used in good shape and at a good price. Check out their web site, www.goldtone.com, lots of pictures and information and sound clips too.

For me right now, it's fine. The Deerings strike me as better made, so if you've got the dough and want a higher end instrument, I might go with the Deering. However, the Goldtone is fine for a banjo neophyte such as myself! If I really had the dough, it would be cool to get a vintage tubaphone or weyman!

Great for ragtime as you mentioned, & I also like to do Jim jackson's "Kansas City" on it. Great for most jug band type tunes too. Also, the capo is your friend, as these sound better capoed up the neck.

These models with the full resonator back are heavy, so get a strap, and coming from a National player, these babies are loud! The GT-500 has a pickup on it, which in my mind is a total oxymoron! My favorite string set so far are D'Addario electric nickel wounds, EXL110W. I wasn't happy with phosphor bronze at all.

A fun thing to have if used in "responsible" hands!


Title: Re: 6 String Banjos
Post by: uncle bud on September 05, 2004, 09:04:49 PM
Thanks for the info, Lee. I hadn't been to their website yet. I still don't know about the look of the GT-500 - with that clear head and the sliding pickup and that gold color it looks like some sort of futuristic banjo! Good to hear they sound nice. Wish there was one around here to try. Is the head 10 inches? Can you take off the resonator easily and play it open back as with the Deering?

I kinda like the look of their Cripple Creek model. No specs on the website though aside from the MSRP.

Don't kid yourself: once you've bought a banjo of any kind, all responsibility has gone out the window....   :P
Title: Re: 6 String Banjos
Post by: Griffis on November 26, 2007, 09:28:20 AM
I'm curious if anyone here has any experience with the 6 string banjo. I know banjo pickers will say it's not a "real" banjo, but I am aware of that.  >:(   ;D

Anyways, I played 5-string banjo for a few years and currently play a banjo-uke and a tenor banjo, but I am thinking of a 6-string banjo to sort of augment my sound. I do play 6-string guitar in standard and DADF#AD tunings and I think a 6-string banjo would be nice to have. Get the banjo sound but still be able to Carter-pick and get those bass runs in there.

Does anyone have any experience with them or any warnings as far as brands, etc.?

Advice, suggestions, thoughts?

Title: Re: 6 String Banjos
Post by: Dave in Tejas on November 26, 2007, 11:42:15 AM
You mean a Banjo-guitar, right?
Hi Griffis.
I've seen a couple, one built by a builder in Arlington, Tx, Larry Jenkins I believe. Doesnt' the guy in Old Crow Medicine Show play a banjo-guitar? I think it would be a great way for a dedicated guitar player to expand his sound.
Title: Re: 6 String Banjos
Post by: frankie on November 26, 2007, 04:16:34 PM
Guitar-banjos really have their own sound...  I got to play with WB Reid and his wife Bonnie this weekend...  WB can play anything, but banjo guitar is something of a signature sound for him.  He's a real ace...  plays a Vega "Electric" model.  Nice...

The real heyday of the banjoid hybrid was around the beginning of the 20th century, and lots of makers were cranking them out.  Vega continued making them into the 20s, along with Rettberg & Lange and Gibson.  You can find 30s Gibson Mastertone guitar banjos, but they're generally very expensive instruments.

Anyway - old Vegas are certainly a good bet - a Little Wonder, Whyte Ladye or Tu-ba-phone would do nicely.  I've played some really nice Orpheum guitar banjos, but they're not to everyone's tastes - same with the old Gibson GB models (pre-Mastertone).  My buddy Nate in Richmond plays a turn of the century guitar banjo (can't recall the maker) with a 16 (!) inch head.  Sounds fantastic.

I've played some modern guitar banjos - none of which really turned my crank, but if you're on a budget or just dabbling, look into the Gold-Tone banjos.  Deering makes two models, but the Gold-Tone can be had for (I think) less than half of the lowest priced Deering guitar banjo.  I've seen other modern makes advertised (Tyler Mountain, for example), but never seen one in person.

Edited to add:  about modern makers of guitar banjos - just thought of two:  a friend of mine has a guitar banjo made by Kevin Enoch that's a real honey.  One member here has a fretless guitar banjo made by Jere Canote - I haven't played it myself, but I did hear it once.  Sounded great, but it may have had more than a little to do with the player.
Title: Re: 6 String Banjos
Post by: uncle bud on November 26, 2007, 09:30:40 PM
Griffis - you'll find a couple other threads on 6-string banjos by clicking on the tag of that name at the bottom left of this thread. FWIW, I am still watching out for one I like but haven't yet bought. I tried a Gold Tone Cripple Creek model (I think - the model with no resonator) and found it a little thin-sounding.
Title: Re: 6 String Banjos
Post by: Rivers on November 27, 2007, 04:55:25 AM
I have a Deering D-6 which I talk about in one of the tagged threads. It doesn't get played enough due to me being so in love with the sound of a wood guitar and there not being enough hours in the day.

A 6SB is a great weapon if you're playing regularly with, say, another guitarist and would like to vary the sound. You can get some cool effects capoing up high, the typical long scale makes this a good place to be.

Your post has inspired me to bring it out and see where I'm at with it. My repertoire of chord tricks has expanded into jazz chord melody in recent years and a lot of that works on the 6SB.

If you take the time it can be a very versatile instrument. It's a subtle thing, all too easy to get a generic sound, much harder to shape that into more distinct variations. Listening to developing 5 string banjo players personally I think the same applies, time on the job and some idea of what sound you want to get makes the difference, all else being equal. Here's a photo:
Title: Re: 6 String Banjos
Post by: uncle bud on November 27, 2007, 08:07:32 AM
I tried a Gold Tone Cripple Creek model (I think - the model with no resonator) and found it a little thin-sounding.

I'll quote myself to clarify something here. I am actually looking for one with no resonator. The thin sound on the Gold Tone was just thin sound. It didn't have that great warmth I've heard on good open-back banjos and the like.
Title: Re: 6 String Banjos
Post by: banjochris on November 27, 2007, 10:39:34 AM
I have a 1926 Vega Little Wonder that has a pretty good sound. A skin head, or at least a Fiberskyn one, makes a big difference in getting a warm tone out of it. The only frustrating thing about it is that it's made to take loop-end strings, and about the thickest one I can find is a .048 (and those aren't all that easy to find, except online). I prefer heavier strings, but that's a relatively minor complaint.
Title: Re: 6 String Banjos
Post by: Johnm on November 27, 2007, 10:57:40 AM
Hi all,
I commissioned Jere Canote to make me a fretless banjo-guitar several years ago--I think he thought I was a little nuts.  The one he made for me is a beauty, though, with an especially pretty, deep, thuddy tone, and nothing of the "icepick in the ear" quality that long-scale tenor banjos can sometimes have.  I think of the tone as being African-sounding, whatever that means. 
Jere is a wonderful maker, and very affordable, and makes open-back five-string banjos and banjo-ukes in addition to making banjo-guitars.  For mine he came up with an innovation I had not seen before on a fretless banjo:  very thin maple inlays in the fingerboard where the frets would have gone if there had been frets--virtual frets, you might say.  They are a big help with intonation, especially up the neck. 
That having been said, it is still tricky to play a fretless instrument as a chordal instrument because it is difficult to play non-barred chord positions that require fretting adjacent strings at the same fret, like an E chord in standard tuning.  It is just a bit crowded fingering the A and D strings both at their sweet spots in that position.  Until you try a fretless instrument like this you don't fully realize how incredibly forgiving frets are.
I think banjo-guitar is a great instrument and has potential to work in a lot of contexts where you haven't heard it used a lot, like in jug or string bands as a rhythm instrument.  Chordally complex stuff a la Papa Charlie Jackson often sounds good on it, too, because it has a rapid decay and doesn't get swimmy-sounding.  Best of luck finding one you like, Griffis.
All best,
Title: Re: 6 String Banjos
Post by: Flatd7 on November 30, 2007, 05:21:49 PM
I love git-jo's. I play a Vega Tuba-phone model from the 20's. Like all banjos's with real skin heads, they're tempermental to the weather. Sweaty bars can reek havoc!!! I've seen old ones that had light bulbs installed under the head. It's not for a disco effect, it's to dry up the head and bring the action back up!

I use one at every gig. Steve James turned me onto them and has a lot of great git-jo on his early records. Currently the git-jo is a big part of the sound of Old Crow And The Medicine Show. Don't need to get into the pro's and con's on them here, that's been covered before. But their record sales show that the git-jo sound is still pretty popular.

I just picked up the 1968 record of the McGee Brothers with Fiddlin' Arthur Smith on Smithsonian Folkways. Damn, the Amos Johnson Rag sounds damn good to this day. Also, check out Papa Charlie Jackson or Johnny St Cyr with Louis Armstrong. I don't have any Danny Barker, but he was supposed to be the real deal with the Git-jo.

So I say go for it. You can find a decent Vega for a reasonable price. I say "go vintage". Stay away from the big resonator's. A little goes a looooong way. I tried a GB-4 that I lusted for, but I would have had to flip the Vega which is very sweet. You can check out mine on the Tampa Red tune "That's The Way I Do" on our recent record.


Title: Re: 6 String Banjos
Post by: GhostRider on December 06, 2007, 05:56:58 AM
Merry Christmas:

If you'd like to see some pictures of a very nice Gibson GB-4 gitjo, there's one for sale on eBay right now.



Title: Re: 6 String Banjos
Post by: Rivers on December 06, 2007, 08:23:55 PM
That's a real beauty alright Alex. Any guesses on the final bid? 2.5K? 3K?
Title: Re: 6 String Banjos
Post by: uncle bud on December 07, 2007, 05:23:21 PM
Oh, sure. Just drive that price up.  :P

While I want a guitjo, I'm actually saving for a Fraulini...

eBay has certainly driven the price of old forgotten instruments into the stratosphere in many cases. If I end up scratching my six-string banjo itch at some point, it may well be with a current builder like JohnM mentions. I haven't heard it in quite some time (John, bring it to Port Townsend again!) but I remember the instrument he speaks of having a wonderful sound. The player helped somewhat as well, as I recall.  :P
Title: Re: 6 String Banjos
Post by: Rivers on December 07, 2007, 05:42:03 PM
Sorry, I'm an eBay virgin. And intend to die that way.
Title: Re: 6 String Banjos
Post by: Rivers on December 08, 2007, 08:47:29 AM
I watched the last few minutes of the GB-4 auction, it went for $2,839 which I reckon is a pretty good price for the buyer. Price was creeping up, the winner bid only once, in the very last few seconds. Quite exciting.
Title: Re: 6 String Banjos
Post by: Flatd7 on December 08, 2007, 10:50:35 AM
Here goes another one, although with a nasty heel crack. That can be a bad repair, especially if it's been glued wrong or has some other botched repair. Should go for quite a bit less.

Title: Re: 6 String Banjos
Post by: waxwing on December 08, 2007, 11:01:33 AM
Just sent seller a message asking for pics of the entire instrument, front side and back. Sheesh?!?

All for now.
John C.
Title: Re: 6 String Banjos
Post by: Rivers on December 08, 2007, 11:32:53 AM
The second one does have the trap door which is desirable. Looks a bit chewed up though!
Title: Re: 6 String Banjos
Post by: Flatd7 on December 08, 2007, 06:28:26 PM
The trapdoors are nifty, but from my experience one thing you don't need with these puppys are . . . volume. My Vega has a beautiful bridseye maple resonator that I often remove. The Gibson's have a higher action off of the head, which makes fingerstyle a but easier. Many of the Vega's are so close to the banjo head it's nearly impossible to not get finger noise from the head.
Title: Re: 6 String Banjos
Post by: Flatd7 on December 11, 2007, 04:56:23 AM
Hmmmmm? I emailed this guy about the case and crack and got the "oh, I'm sorry I'm traveling line". Strange how sooo many ebay sellers travel when they're selling items. Will be interesting to see where this goes. Some sad shoppers who missed out on the last one could get nuts and overpay. The dowel stick attaches at the heel and a bad crack can suck. Or it could just be a steam, glue and clamp. Hard to tell from the pics.

2 Hours. Very curious.
Title: Re: 6 String Banjos
Post by: waxwing on December 11, 2007, 07:49:37 AM
Yeah, I got the same "I'm traveling" response.

All for now.
John C.
Title: Re: 6 String Banjos
Post by: waxwing on December 11, 2007, 08:10:04 AM
Hmm. $2,175. Not as much as the other by more than the likely repairs, so pretty reasonable.

What do the old Vegas go for? Hopefully more in my range.-G-

Interesting bid history. The high bidder bid throughout the bidding, constantly pushing it up, getting outbid and bidding higher, then even made an unnecessary bid in the last minute. The second bidder only bid once in the final moment seeming to indicate he knew what he wanted to bid and saw no reason to play his hand before the showdown, thereby not allowing emotional bidders to take multiple bids against him. Hard to say if the price would have been lower if the high bidder had refrained 'til the end as well, I guess. Still, it's interesting to see how many folks treat ebay like a normal auction that would go until the bidding stops, as opposed to the sealed bid type of auction that is more similar to the showdowns that occur on ebay. Live and learn, eh?

All for now.
John C.
Title: Re: 6 String Banjos
Post by: Flatd7 on December 11, 2007, 01:34:07 PM
$2.2k for a GB-4 with an original case isn't bad. If it is what it says, could be a nice investment. However, I picked up what looked like a nice Vega Banjolin last year with a heel crack that was really unrepairable. It's in pieces on a shelf. I got stuck with it but could probably sell the parts (Tuners, rims, dowel stick? and make back my money. But they're pretty cheap.

A good Vega Git-Jo could cost you the same 2-3K depending on the features, condidtion and seller. A white Laydie is cheaper than a Tubaphone. Resonators and cases drive up the price.

Title: Re: 6 String Banjos
Post by: Mr.OMuck on December 13, 2007, 09:34:53 PM
I have a Stambac. Made in Geneva Switzerland. All Mahogany with resonator and a ten inch sheepskin head. Not bad, gets me through the requisite Gary Davis pieces. The question is WHY were they making guitar-banjos in Geneva?
Title: Re: 6 String Banjos
Post by: uncle bud on December 13, 2007, 09:52:16 PM
I have a Stambac. Made in Geneva Switzerland.....

The question is WHY were they making guitar-banjos in Geneva?

So they could combine banjo playing with yodelling?

(BTW, welcome, Mr. O'Muck!)
Title: Re: 6 String Banjos
Post by: Mr.OMuck on December 14, 2007, 07:57:33 AM
I have a Stambac. Made in Geneva Switzerland.....

The question is WHY were they making guitar-banjos in Geneva?

So they could combine banjo playing with yodelling?

(BTW, welcome, Mr. O'Muck!)

That's the first plausible explanation I've heard! And thanks for the welcome.
Title: Re: 6 String Banjos
Post by: bloozinay on December 26, 2007, 03:16:52 PM
I have a Framus  6-string banjo that I bought on ebay about 4 yrs. back. I use super light strings on it and it's got a real ker-plunky sound...nice for ragtime stuff. What I really like about it is that it's got a short scale. Framus probably took their tenor banjo neck and put a 6-string head stock on it. It's roughly a 3/4 scale.
I had a brain fart last year and started to put some medium strings on the beast...blew the string tree right off the head stock. I was able to fix it with a trip to the local hardware store. I see them selling on ebay for $300-400. I got kind of screwed on mine..it needed to be refretted, which I had done, but all in all, I like it!
Title: Re: 6 String Banjos
Post by: Mr.OMuck on December 26, 2007, 03:29:11 PM
I played a couple of the Framus Gitjos back in the late 60s early seventies and thought they were great! Even told Gary Davis about them and he was very interested in trying one out. Seemed his Gibson had become somewhat problematic. Couldn't quite justify the purchase at the time unfortunately, so I remain un-Framus-a-fied. Glad they're still in circulation. Enjoy.
Title: Re: 6 String Banjos
Post by: Mike Brosnan on March 27, 2009, 02:41:46 AM
Thought bringing this thread back to life would be most appropriate for my questions/comments... But I'm always OK with rearranging things if others so desire...
Last summer someone GAVE me a cheap Dean Guitjo.  I promise you I would not have paid full price for this thing, but I had no problem just acquiring it free of charge.  :D
I'm just wondering if anyone has ever dealt with one o' these beasts and what kind of upgrades folks would recommend.  I've read about Rivers' fiberskyn improvement to his Deering and I'm wondering about REAL animal skin heads as an alternative...  Would any ol' appropriately sized drumhead work?  Deer? Goat? Cat?
I also need to lower the action on this thing, so I'm thinkin' 'bout a bone nut.  Do the semi-universal laws of guitar upgrades apply to guitjos?
What else?
Ebony capped bridge/saddle?
Gut or fake gut strings?
Pardon my ignorance (and my tendency to post under the influence...).
So here it is... Notice my struggling with the high action when I move up the neck... (I recorded this shortly after I got it.  It had a half dozen socks stuffed in it at the time and I haven't been able to get it to sound this good since...):
These are the same nickel strings that came with it. 
Some o' y'all may know Devin from the Gallus Brothers (definitely worth checkin' out if you don't know 'em... http://www.myspace.com/gallusbrothers ).  I met Devin at PT last year an' then I found this vid:
A much better example of how good a crappy Dean can sound....  I emailed Devin about this and he said he didn't really do much to this thing except change the strings. [sigh...]
Any tips appreciated.

Title: Re: 6 String Banjos
Post by: Richard on March 27, 2009, 04:22:50 AM
I've used Remo Fyberskin 2 heads on my drums for years, not quite a veluum sound but they do mean you don't put a stick through 'em! Give it a try although possibly a genuine vellum head could well be thinner and more responsive, depends which bit of the poor cows intestine you get I suppose  :-X
Title: Re: 6 String Banjos
Post by: uncle bud on March 27, 2009, 09:26:52 AM
Mike, bear in mind I know very little about what I'm talking about here, but I've been surfing around looking at banjo facts recently because of the purchase of an actual 5-string banjo. Hopefully the more banjo-brainy among us will chime in as well.

I have an older 6-string banjo to which I have done nothing. The sound is pretty good as-is, though I need to tweak the intonation. By good I mean fun. It has an old frosted Weather King head (no Remo logo, just the words Weather King), an ebony-capped maple-looking bridge, a nut of unknown material but possibly bone (it has yellowed with age). I have it strung with nickel-wound light gauge electric guitar strings.

I have a skin head on my 5-string banjo. Without knowing much about banjos, I can certainly tell there's a warmer tone to it. It's got its own vibe I think. :) If you were to get a skin head it's likely to be calf or goat I think, and it is quite a process to install. See here:


If you're like me, you look at those instructions and run. But a banjo repair guy could obviously do it for you. You might be looking at maybe $10-25 for the skin, maybe $75 for the installation?? I've never tried a Fiberskyn but it would certainly be easier. You might want to try and find an instrument that has a Fiberskyn on it already and plunk it a bit to judge the tone and see if you like it.

You might want to browse here, the banjo setup forum at BanjoHangout:


And this guy did stuff to a Dean 6-string:


And Elderly's banjo head page:


Nice playing!

edited to add: FWIW, I like my banjo guitar a little bright-sounding, actually. So I'm not sure about mellowing out the tone too much, unless you are looking specifically for a different sound. It's hard to judge tone from a YouTube video. Papa Charlie's tone (what one can hear of it - later stuff on vol 3 is a good gauge, or if you have Good for What Ails You, check Skoodle Um Skoo) wasn't too mellow.
Title: Re: 6 String Banjos
Post by: waxwing on March 27, 2009, 10:16:23 AM
Edit - UB beat me to it and said most of what I've got to say I guess, and added some good links too. I'll post anyway.

Do you have any idea what string gauges are on it. I took my guitjo in to a banjo guy and the first thing he recommended was getting very light strings, like .009s. I didn't go quite that far, but lightening up helped quite a bit. String tension is perhaps more touchy on a banjo than a flattop and even a reso. It is pretty easy to get too much tension and choke off the reverberations of the head. So experimentation with string gauges is definitely called for to get a good sound.

He also put a strip of leather under the strings where they come out of the holes in the tail piece, which muted a ringing sound coming from there.

Tom at vintagebluesguitars.com (onewent), from whom I purchased the guitjo, had put a new calf skin (I think) head on it. Not top quality, but second grade, with a bit of veining showing, which doesn't bother me at all. Sound is pretty mellow. I'm no connoisseur of banjo sound, but several folks at PT liked the sound, too.

If the action is bad up the neck but not at the nut there's no reason to mess with the nut, yet. You could lower the saddle some by sanding off the feet, but another thing that Tom did was to loosen the neck and slip a thin, narrow shim between the end of the fretboard and the ring, which effectively reset the neck angled back just a bit. Action is now not too bad at the 12th, altho' tightening up the head raises the action a bit.

Changing the neck angle or shortening the bridge are both going to change the break angle (one makes it greater, the other less) and therefor change the down pressure on the head, so string gauge may need to be corrected after either operation. Fortunately, with the floating bridge you can always correct intonation after a string change. -G-

Speaking of tightening the head, I do it about every time I play. Just a sixth of a turn or two all the way around. Might be a skin thing and it's still settling in and you could avoid this with plastic.

Well, take it with a grain of salt, but that's about all I've learned in the short time I've had mine. It's a '30s Sterling, made by Slingerland. I really like the sound, especially in jug band setting, but my one beef is that the nut and string spacing are pretty narrow for my big mitts. Might try to mill and carve a new neck for it myself. Hmm? Wonder how it would look with a slot head?

All for now.
John C.
Title: Re: 6 String Banjos
Post by: uncle bud on March 27, 2009, 11:31:37 AM
I see from browsing one can get premounted skin banjo heads, which I thought was the case but didn't see at first when poking around the internet. That would save a heap of trouble, naturally, as long as there's a premounted head that fits your pot size. You pay for it, of course.
Title: Re: 6 String Banjos
Post by: Mike Brosnan on March 27, 2009, 01:08:02 PM
Thanks y'all.  I'll keep googling around but there was some useful info there.  I'm stuck on the idea of a real skin head, but we'll see how the pricing works out.  The action is high at the nut.  I can't play this thing without a capo.  I'm planning to let a pro handle all of this once I make up my mind.  I'm gonna go mess around with some five strings to compare heads in the meantime.  It sure would be nice to have a Vega instead...
Title: Re: 6 String Banjos
Post by: banjochris on March 27, 2009, 02:54:33 PM
If you do try mounting your own skin head, buy a couple in case you tear one. It can be very frustrating, but also very satisfying, to do it yourself.

The premounted skin heads, IMHO, suck. I bought one and the "flesh hoop" is so thick it tells you that you may have to file it down for each bracket on the banjo. Less hassle to mount it yourself, providing you have the flesh hoop, and if you don't have one, Bernunzio sells them in various sizes.
Title: Re: 6 String Banjos
Post by: onewent on March 27, 2009, 03:13:35 PM
Nice pickin' on that guitjo, brosna, pretty snappy..

Not much to add above and beyond what's been said, but I can clarify that I put a calf skin head on wax's Slingerland .. purchased the skin from Bernunzio and it's only #2 grade because of the veins, which are only cosmetic.  I did like you all and researched the net for instructions to mount a skin head and, as mentioned above, quickly wanted to run the other direction when reading about soaking in the tub and cloths pins etc..but, was motivated to get the Slingerland playing, so, step-by-step went through the process.  It's actually easier done than said, if you're careful and are clear of what's required at each step.  Personally, on a free banjo, this would be a fun project..the head is about $35 bucks and no other specialty tools than clothes pins and razors are needed!

have fun..Tom
Title: Re: 6 String Banjos
Post by: Johnm on March 27, 2009, 03:51:04 PM
Hi Mike,
I agree with most of what has been said here--that the sound of a skin head is preferable to that of a plastic head.  You get that deep tubby tone with a skin head that is really nice.  One minor caution:  skin heads tend to be more weather-sensitive, so changes in temperature and/or humidity will affect a skin head more than a plastic one.  The same applies with regard to tuning.  In my experience, at least, on a five-string banjo or a banjo-guitar, there is no such thing as tempered tuning--when I've changed the tuning on one string, I've had to check and at least subtly re-tune all the other strings, even though they may theoretically stay the same pitch in the new tuning.  It makes sense--the head is a membrane and altering the tension on one string must necessarily result in a certain amount of compensatory shifting on the part of the other strings.
Have fun.  Whether you are talking about banjo-guitar or an open-backed five-string, they are the perfect instruments for so much of this music, and as John C. mentioned, a banjo-guitar is a great rhythm instrument for Jug Band and ragtime-type material.
All best,
Title: Re: 6 String Banjos
Post by: Richard on March 28, 2009, 12:11:53 PM
I've been thinking about this and I would go for nice thin calf head, but as Johnm says you have to watch them. By that I mean slacken it a touch in very hot dry weather or it might split and conversely it will go a bit slack in the monsoon season. If you want drummers basic guide to tensioning a head ask!

I did try and lap a couple of drum heads many years back and found it a revolting occupation grappling with a wet, slimey, slippery bit of animal  :-X and then the bl00dy thing pulled off the hoop because it wasn't tucked in far enough - go buy one  ;)

Title: Re: 6 String Banjos
Post by: Dobro33H on March 28, 2009, 12:53:21 PM
I've had a few Tyler Mountain six-strings come through the office and they are surprisingly nice.


The frustrating thing about six-string banjos is that they tend to be nothing more than a guitar neck grafted onto a banjo pot. As a result you end up with a lot of tone problems, a crazy reach to get to the first fret and you can't sit all curled around the instrument like you can with a flattop box. Gibson came close to making the six-string banjo close to playing more like a guitar (http://ww.frets.com/FRETSPages/Museum/Banjo/Gibson/GB4/gb4.html) but even that design had some issues.

Setup on modern six-string banjos is pretty simple but you have to factor in how the instrument was built. For example, you can warm up the tone of a banjo with an solid "bottle cap" aluminum rim by simply a cotton ball on the underside of the head directly under the bridge. If the instrument is really ringing out of control you can loosen the tension on the head a little bit - and if it sounds too muddy or dull you can brighten the tone by cranking the head down.

I have done a couple of workshops on banjo setup over the last couple of years. Any of the techniques I use to set up five-string banjos can be used on a six-string.



Title: Re: 6 String Banjos
Post by: paulreso1 on April 30, 2009, 08:30:32 AM
Hi ...I wonder if there are any 6 string banjo players out there &, if so , what kind of instrument (with what kinds of strings) would you recommend for a plunky blues/rag sound - new or vintage?  I have a few old guitars, so I like the vintage vibe, but I also know old instruments can need looking after.....your views are appreciated

Title: Re: 6 String Banjos
Post by: Johnm on April 30, 2009, 08:49:21 AM
Hi Paul,
I merged your thread with a pre-existing one on 6-string banjos (or banjo-guitars or guitjos).  I hope you'll be able to find some helpful info here.
all best,
Title: Re: 6 String Banjos
Post by: paulreso1 on May 01, 2009, 12:12:21 AM

thanks for merging - I see there are quite a few 6 string banjo players here - I'd welcome their thoughts on a good instrument for playing blues & rag

thanks again
Title: Re: 6 String Banjos
Post by: uncle bud on May 01, 2009, 08:21:25 AM

thanks for merging - I see there are quite a few 6 string banjo players here - I'd welcome their thoughts on a good instrument for playing blues & rag

thanks again

Paul - I don't have a particular instrument to recommend, perhaps others will, but would say that if you are looking at one of the new bargain brands to play them first if possible. I haven't been thrilled. Depends on your budget as well. Also may depend on sock placement under the head.

I personally like the sound of an open back.

Are you looking for a vintage instrument?
Title: Re: 6 String Banjos
Post by: paulreso1 on May 03, 2009, 01:35:10 AM
Hi unclebud, I prefer open back banjos & love the vintage instrument approach to playing. I guess I don't know if there are any compromises that going the vintage way leads to when thinking about banjos (I have a modern 5 string banjo, and a couple of vintage guitars)

Any help appreciated
Title: Re: 6 String Banjos
Post by: uncle bud on May 04, 2009, 11:31:30 AM
Hi Paul - I'm far from expert. But I don't know that there would be compromises aside from the usual when dealing with vintage instruments: they can be cranky, might need repairs, set-up, new parts, can have action and intonation issues etc. Aside from the 6-string banjo threads here, you might want to look at http://www.banjohangout.org/forum/
Title: Re: 6 String Banjos
Post by: waxwing on May 04, 2009, 01:11:32 PM
Actually, due to the different body configurations, i.e., a thick ring of solid wood, with little asymmetrical string tension on the structure, verses a rather intricate thin-walled guitar body that takes quite a bit of tension, I think you will find far fewer "issues" with a vintage guitjo than a vintage guitar. Sure, frets need to be replaced, necks (and banjos have a longer neck) can warp, but the issues of cracks, top warping, bridges pulling up, etc., pretty much don't exist for the guitjo. Head torn? Install a new head. Not really such a big deal. And the neck is easily removed from the body for any necessary adjustments so a "reset" is hardly the deal it is with a flat top. Floating bridge makes intonation moot.

All in all, if you are already accustomed to dealing with a vintage guitar or two, I think you'll find less hassles with a vintage guitjo. Sure, there's a bit of a learning curve as you suss out the instrument, but it ain't rocket science.

Heck, I'm one to downplay the issues of a vintage guitar. Once you've dealt with the issues and made everything right, a vintage guitar is likely to be more stable than a new guitar. If you already know what I'm talking about then I don't think you should be worried about the issues of a vintage guitjo. Something needs fixing, you fix it.

Just rehashing what's been said earlier in the thread, but I'd go with a skin head if you can. And experiment with keeping the string tension as low as you can, either with very light strings, or by tuning low. I've seen some who tune standard to D and capo 2 to play with others. I mean, you got all those extra frets.-G- You need to find the right tension for the head to get the best tone and volume and it's very easy to choke the head with too much tension. Kinda the opposite of flat tops.

Title: Re: 6 String Banjos
Post by: paulreso1 on May 08, 2009, 11:57:24 AM
Thanks Wax & all who have replied...I'm going to go explore some options now


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