I have been playing Classic Banjo on my A-scale Fairbanks & Cole banjo because I find it easier to reach the chords on the short scale. The banjo has a 24" scale, and is tuned to A with Nylgut strings. Because I have small hands, some of the chords are still a reach for me even with that short scale. I might be interested in trying a banjo that can be tuned to the normal G scale, even if the scale were slightly longer (but not too much).

My Bart Reiter scale length is 26 3/8", and my Goldtone Maple Classic is 26 3/4". Both of those are way too long.

All of my Nylgut strings are unwound. Here are the gauges I have on the banjo:

1st 0.45mm  
2nd 0.525mm  
3rd 0.675mm  
4th 0.90mm  
5th 0.55mm 

If I were to look at banjos that could be tuned to G, and still have a short-ish scale, what would I look at? String brands & gauges? Scale lengths?

The A-scale banjos made by Deering and Goldtone both claim that they can be tuned down to G, but they are designed for frailing, and they both have frailing scoops, and they are set up to use steel strings.

Ideas? Thoughts? Dope-slaps?

Thanks to all in advance.

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Fairbanks and Cole did not make an  A scale banjo. Your specimen has a shorter scale than the average, but I think it wasn't meant to be tuned higher. "A-Scale" is a new-fangled idea and belongs to a different sort of music. You can tune it to G. Average weight strings will feel slightly slacker, that's all.  

Classic banjo chords are a bit of a reach for pretty much everybody when we first learn them. You have seen the videos of Rémi Dalmasso, yes?  Surely your hands are larger and your fingers longer than his. If he can do it, so can you. It takes some time and patience. Older hands are harder to train but I was over 60 when I began trying to play these forty dollar chords. Some of Cammeyer's chords stretch for 5 frets . As first it seems impossible if not deranged. And then a bit at a time it comes more easily. 

It could be that it was designed to be pitched one step above concert in "D" as this was a short lived concept to increase the brilliance.  But chances are it is as Jody wrote-- a small banjo pitched at "concert."

Well, they were $40 chords then...inflation surely has them up to $60 now? ;-)

I agree with the 'not an A scale' concept. A 24" banjo of that vintage was generically tuned to gCGBD. Stewart used even shorter scale lengths on his banjos for women ("American Princess" and "Lady Stewart"), both were designed to be tuned to 'standard' (gCGBD/gDGBD).

Forty dollar chords is what I heard them called when I was first learning to play string instruments in the middle of the last century. Also the rural southerners I sometimes played with had a memorable name for any chord that wasn't a tonic, dominant or subdominant (1, 5, 4) major chord. Anything else was an "Off Chord". As in "we do that song, but without the Off Chord".   

Trapdoor2 said:

Well, they were $40 chords then...inflation surely has them up to $60 now? ;-)

I agree with the 'not an A scale' concept. A 24" banjo of that vintage was generically tuned to gCGBD. Stewart used even shorter scale lengths on his banjos for women ("American Princess" and "Lady Stewart"), both were designed to be tuned to 'standard' (gCGBD/gDGBD).

Sorry, I was off by an order of magnitude. Your $40 chords are now worth $400 (£280). At least they sound lighter in American dollars. I'd hate to have to make a 280 pound chord!

These chords might be even more expensive depending on whether one calculates from the year in which  the Banjo Solo which employs the chords was composed, or from the year in which the banjo was built!

Just think of what a bargain one is getting when purchasing a vintage banjo which has been filled up with valuable chords during its long life.  One might be getting thousands of dollars worth of Expensive Chords along with the banjo. 

Trapdoor2 said:

Sorry, I was off by an order of magnitude. Your $40 chords are now worth $400 (£280). At least they sound lighter in American dollars. I'd hate to have to make a 280 pound chord!

Yah, but you never know if it might have been simply filled with cheap ones. I have an Orpheum Brass Band tenor with horrific fret wear over the full span of the neck. I think those were all cheap chords as expensive ones just don't wear out frets like that.

A well bought, expensive chord lays on frets like silk on fine Corinthian Leather. They susurrate like the voice of Mel Tomé and smell like the streets of Boise after a rain.

Wow! I had no idea. But that must be true, as the words are so…so.. so…so literary and verbal all at once. 

 I'm wondering about new banjos. Do they fill em up with chords at the factory or does that get done at the retail level?  And what is the price of expensive chords if purchased in bulk at Costco?   And old-time banjos, especially new A-scale ones, do they get filled up with only single notes if they are built for Round Peak music?  

Re: your Orpheum BB tenor, you got off easy because a tenor banjo has single courses. I recently got a great sounding, much-used 1941 Gibson f 4 mandolin whose frets were unevenly worn. Each fret produced 2 different pitches when the double courses were fingered. I replaced them all with wide new gold (copper alloy)  EVO frets. Much better.

Trapdoor2 said:

Yah, but you never know if it might have been simply filled with cheap ones. I have an Orpheum Brass Band tenor with horrific fret wear over the full span of the neck. I think those were all cheap chords as expensive ones just don't wear out frets like that.

A well bought, expensive chord lays on frets like silk on fine Corinthian Leather. They susurrate like the voice of Mel Tomé and smell like the streets of Boise after a rain.

The problem with openback banjos is that the chords all fall out of the back.  You lose them as soon as you play them.

The Zitherine banjo holds them all in.   Same with the Dobson patent banjos.  They get so filled up with all those chords that they sound bad (yeah, that is the real reason).

"Bluegrass" banjos only know three chords so you get change.  You can shake the change out of the slots in the sound protector plate to keep them sounding good.

It would have been better if I had gotten Mr. Tormé's name right. :-(

New banjos are 'smart' and you simply download a chord app. As all American banjo chords were discovered prior to 1923, they're in the public domain and may be used with impunity. No more expensive chord core charges, no weighty stacks of chords to encumber your playing. I've had Round Peak chords in my phone for years...no need for giga-chords of memory either.

I'm envious of your F4, I've always liked that style...almost bought a 19-teens F2 once.
 
Jody Stecher said:

Wow! I had no idea. But that must be true, as the words are so…so.. so…so literary and verbal all at once. 

 I'm wondering about new banjos. Do they fill em up with chords at the factory or does that get done at the retail level?  And what is the price of expensive chords if purchased in bulk at Costco?   And old-time banjos, especially new A-scale ones, do they get filled up with only single notes if they are built for Round Peak music?  

The 40s F4s are few. (that's sounds like the first line of a comic poem, even a limerick).

They were made of spare parts. Mine has a Loar era 1920 *mandola" headstock, complete with Fern inlay. And the fingerboard has no extension "peninsula" over the oval hole. It sounds like a bell. My cousin found another just like it that's pristine. Mine's beat up but that's ok.

Let's see now:

The 40s F4s are few

My cousin has one that's like new

Gibson build it from boards

And filled it with chords

And sent it from Kalamazoo.

There! That took 50 seconds and its elegance reflects the time put in.


Trapdoor2 said:

I'm envious of your F4, I've always liked that style...almost bought a 19-teens F2 once.
 

Gad! Step away from a thread for a day and it gets populated with bad puns.

Disregarding terminology for a while, my banjo is a Fairbanks & Cole, which is stamped clearly on the perch pole. It has a 24" scale, and it is tuned to A, which is where it was tuned when I got it back from the Music Emporium after being restored to playability. According to mugwumps and the serial number, it was built around 1890, after Mr. Fairbanks broke up with Mr. Cole. Evidently, Mr. Fairbanks continued to use Mr. Cole's name on the company without his permission, which caused problems. But I digress.

Jim Bollman thought that it was probably a lady's banjo or a child's banjo.

Whether or not it was considered an A banjo by Fairbanks seems irrelevant. 

Anyway, it has always been tuned to A since I have owned it, and I don't remember tuning it down to G. I will try that and see how it plays.

WRT Rémi Dalmasso and his playing, I am very impressed. He has a great banjo future ahead of him. However, I suspect that his young fingers are way more flexible than my old fingers. If I push too hard on the banjo or if I play too long I get that numbness and tingling thing going on in my hand. Then I have to quit for a while to heal. So I am cautious about pushing too hard.

I suspect that my banjo is full of cheap chords since that is mostly what I can play. When I try to play the more expensive chords I usually have to give back some change.

P.S. The limerick is super.

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