Ukulele Players Can Adapt To Tenor Banjos and Tenor Guitars For Louder Music

Ukulele players can make use of other instruments without learning a whole new set of chords. While researching the history of popular entertainment in America, I came across references to "plectrum banjos". These were the same as five-string banjos but without the short high-pitched string and were used for ragtime and dixieland jazz music. Reading further, I found that an alternative tuning for this instrument, which was called the Chicago tuning was the same as for the lowest four strings of a guitar: DGBE, and that the same strings were used as were used on a five-string banjo but without the short string. I had already bought an old tenor banjo which I had tried to put to use by stringing it with metal guitar strings but the sound wasn't right and the action was too hard. I bought a set of gut strings for a five-string banjo and used four of them and the sound and action were great. If you are a ukulele player and want to play with a traditional jazz band, the tenor banjo set up this way will fit right in and have plenty of volume. Later I noticed that the banjo player in Woody Allen's band had a banjo with a shorter neck. This type of tenor banjo has a neck with 17 frets instead of the usual 19 frets which makes the scale length about the same as on a baritone ukulele. The new Aquila Nylgut classic banjo strings work well with this type of banjo tuned DGBE (the same as a baritone uke. See the ukulele banjo page of this site for a picture of a tenor banjo. Playing a tenor banjo set up this way is a piece of cake for a ukulele player since it is tuned just like a baritone ukulele. As you have probably already guessed, nothing about this setup is new. As I later learned from reading Eddie Condon's biography, he started out playing a ukulele and later switched to a tenor banjo that was tuned "like a ukulele". Still later he switched to a plectrum banjo that was tuned BDGC and had to relearn all the chords. A plectrum banjo is like a 5-string banjo without the little little short fifth string and has a longer neck than a tenor banjo. In the bands that played from the 1890's until the early thirties the banjo was preferred over the guitar bacause it was much louder and the sharp character of the sound fit the jazz style that was popular in those days. In the later thirties,music began to be played a little smoother and the archtop guitar was developed to give the guitar enough volume to be heard in an orchestra. At that point, Eddie Condon changed instruments again, taking up the four-string or tenor guitar which he tuned the same a a plectrum banjo because he liked the way the chords sounded with that tuning. The most common tuning for the tenor banjo and the tenor guitar is in fifths but this is very different from the ukulele tuning and will be a problem that will make playing too complicated. Use the baritone ukulele tuning as described above and you are on your way to high-volume (unamplified) sound. If you don't know who Eddie Condon is, look him up. He was one of the most significant promoters in the drive to gain recognition of American jazz as a unique and worthwhile art form. Look for his records at garage sales and online auctions.

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