A banjo is a rousing musical instrument that occupies a very important space among traditional American musicians. As with other stringed instruments like basses or guitars, banjos can be found in different models which can have six, five, and four strings.
Before the 20th century, banjos were only available in five and four-string models. For keeping up with all the that arose for new music styles, both types diversified at some key points in Banjo’s history. So let us have a look at the fork in banjo’s history.
The five-string banjos stand as the go-to instruments for folk, country, bluegrass, and old-time musicians. The four-string Banjos may sound blasphemous to the clawhammer and Scruggs-style players. But it is the Pinnacle of one distinctive style for those banjoists who like to play with plectrums. Nowadays, you will also find many six-string banjos & a handful of other hybrid types like the Banjo Mandolin (banjolin), Cumbus (banjo meets the Turkish Oud), and banjolele.
Although there is a consensus about the five-string Banjo being the better choice to play clawhammer. Many users argue that the 6-string banjos feel a little too much like the regular guitars & lack the magic which makes the banjos unique. Let us now discuss the Banjo types based on the number of strings they have.
What are the strings on a banjo called?
Number of strings
The standard banjos include five metal strings that are tuned as D, C, G, D, and B. The four (C-G-B-D) strings are made tuned from the instrument’s head, which is upward from the middle C (notated).
The 5th string is the shorter string which can precede the C string. It’s called the thumb or drone string & is fastened to screws that remain in the neck midway.
4-STRING TENOR BANJOS
The tuning of standard tenor banjos is A, D, G, and C, using gifts & the same as the cello or viola. It can be tuned to Irish Tuning too, that is G, D, E, and A, again using fourths. This can also sport Chicago tuning: D, B, G, and E, which is the same as the first 4 Guitar strings.
4-STRING PLECTRUM BANJOS
The tuning of standard plectrum banjo is C, G, D, and B, which is the same as the ‘Drop C’ tuning. Also, it can be tuned to Chicago tuning too, which the guitarists will undoubtedly feel at home while using it.
The Six-String Banjo
1 of the rarer banjo types which still enjoys a very passionate following is called the six-string banjo. There are other names for the six-string banjos which are banter, banjitar, and so on. This kind of banjo includes both the drum of the banjo & the neck of a guitar. The strings are E-A-D-G-B-E, instead of the standard banjo strings of D-B-G-D.
I own a music instruments shop. My go to instrument is a banjo. My business makes it easier for me to access the instruments from various brands and of various types. I will give my honest opinion here to help out others in choosing the right instrument for them.