Hi all, what is your experience with sympathetic resonance from the 4th string? I ask this question with an awareness that some open string resonance is desirable and contributes to the overall sound of the instrument. But beyond a certain point it becomes distracting. I'm finding that even with chords that don't contain C or G, I'm still hearing quite a bit of ringing from the 4th string. I'm wondering if this has anything to do with set-up and not just my questionable playing technique. I have a natural head at what I would judge as medium tension, a Morris-style bridge (the kind with 5 little feet), and nylguts. 

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Oh yes, I sure know what you mean.

First, some possible solutions. Some of what you are hearing might be coming from resonance between the bridge snd tailpiece. Rubber grommets, or weaving a ribbon or leather strip through the strings will silence most of that. Also make sure that your 4th string is perfectly tuned.   Also, are you using a Nylgut set with an unwound bass? I have never heard one of those that sounded good to me. The wound 4th string in Aquila sets from 15 years ago caused me no trouble. I've even used it in combination with nylon trebles.  Anyway, try replacing the bass with a different string, something wound, and of a lighter gauge and see if that helps.

As for my own experience, on one banjo it was so bad I couldn't stand it. It was a 19th century English banjo with a 6th bass string. No matter what I tuned it to, the extra bass string  caused so much sonic mud when I played the other strings that I removed the string and all was well after that. On the plus side I have sometimes, especially with metal strings, used a bass course that was of a diameter wider than would be expected to be used with the other strings. The overtones from the bass strings added body and beauty to the notes played on the higher strings. One can easily go too far though and then the bass will sound like it has a cold.

Hi Ethan,

Unfortunately at this time, I am only able to reply to you briefly.

I may have misunderstood you, but if it is the resonance of the open 4th string creating an occasional dissonance that you find distracting, then that is what I too have been experiencing since beginning to learn to play.

I suggest that you experiment playing the basic 1st position chord progressions in the keys of C, G, and D, picking all four strings together, initially as written, with the open 4th string and then with your middle finger stopping it at the second fret. Follow this by playing the chords as arpeggios and then try some simple exercises and tunes that are based on the same progressions. Hopefully, you will notice an absence of dissonance when the 4th string is appropriately fretted, even though not being struck. 

I am still working through the Ellis and the Barnes and Mullins tutor books, wherein what I have described is not written about as a specific technique. However, fretting the fourth string is indicated in many instances, particularly in the 2nd banjo accompaniments. I practice keeping the 4th string fretted, where it is possible to do so, for any passage or phrase that requires it.

Kind regards, Ian.

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