6-String Banjo (no guitars involved)

2009.11.17

I’ve read about 6 and 7 string banjos over the years (that is, banjos with 5 or 6 long strings and a short drone sting – not guitar-banjos/guitjos/banjitars etc.) and thought it would be good to have the extra range to be able to play the high part of a tune an octave down, or to give the effect of Tommy Jarrell’s ‘John Brown’s Dream’ tuning (with the low D tuned down to G). Well, after finally hearing a 6-string played, by Chuck Levy courtesy of the internet, I decided to get one. A little hunting and I got a 7-string beauty made by J. Viner, I’d guess from the 1880s or 1890s, which needed a little work. It was missing a tailpiece and bridge so I made those. Someone had glued a piece of an old bone domino in place of the nut but had never cut it down or notched it, so I worked it into something useful (and a good story!). I have it set up as a 6-string. I’d put 7 strings at first, but you need pencil size fingers to play it that way, the strings are so tightly spaced. The action is horrible but I’d have to recut the heel to fix it and I don’t feel like doing that yet. Here are some pictures, and below that a video of ‘Tater Patch’ on it, going down into the lower octave.

7-String Banjo by J. Viner

7-String Banjo by J. Viner

7-String Banjo by J. Viner

7-String Banjo by J. Viner

7-String Banjo by J. Viner

7-String Banjo by J. Viner

7-String Banjo by J. Viner

7-String Banjo by J. Viner

7-String Banjo by J. Viner

7-String Banjo by J. Viner

7-String Banjo by J. Viner

7-String Banjo by J. Viner

Here’s the video of ‘Tater Patch’ in the equivalent of gGDGBD (actually tuned down to around E with minstrel gauge Nylgut strings plus a classical guitar low E). The danger with it is I get so used to the spacing that going back to a normal 5-string discombobulates my hand! I end up drop-thumbing to the 1st string instead of the 2nd that I’m aiming for… (May 2012: after a few years that’s not a problem anymore, but it did take some getting used to!)

9 comments

  1. THAT WAS JUST GREAT!!!

    Eric Suchman, January 12, 2010
  2. Thanks Eric!

    hunter, January 12, 2010
  3. Great old banjo incredibly well played.

    Pete Huey, January 15, 2010
  4. That thing sounds so rad…looks like it could use about 10 more brackets or so, eh?

    billygoat brink, February 3, 2010
  5. Yeah, it’s a pity, they seem to have run short on brackets that day at the shop…

    hunter, February 4, 2010
  6. Wow! The Hounds Of Hell let loose! That is an amazing sound, and that is definitely the way to play a banjo, not the prissy little way I play. I’m in awe. Amazing, amazing, amazing!
    Rob (hiding under the table)

    Rob MacKillop, May 4, 2010
  7. Ha! Thanks Rob. Nothing prissy about your playing – elegant would be the adjective I’d use. I love watching your videos.

    Hunter

    hunter, May 4, 2010
  8. I just watched Sarah Jarosz playing and singing Annabelle Lee. She was playing clawhammer on a six string banjo, but she was playing it – as far as I can tell – the same as if she were playing a five string. What is the sixth string’s purpose or advantage, or what is the preference for someone playing clawhammer on a six string rather than a five string?

    Kitt, March 2, 2012
  9. It extends the range on the banjo. Like in this video I repeat the first part of the tune an octave lower, which you couldn’t do on a 5-string. It also gives a kind of low drone, just by vibrating sympathetically or by whacking it occasionally.

    Yours,
    Hunter

    hunter, March 2, 2012

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