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Odd question - tuning an Irish tenor banjo upside down?

PostPosted: Sat Sep 26, 2020 2:50 pm
by cassius987
I'm wondering if anyone has experimented with an Irish tenor banjo tuned in reverse - in other words, EADG instead of GDAE. (To be clear, I don't just mean reversing the strings, I mean tuning to a low E and a high G.) If so, I'd be curious to know what gauges you used for this.

Re: Odd question - tuning an Irish tenor banjo upside down?

PostPosted: Sat Sep 26, 2020 5:21 pm
by cjj
Interesting question, seems it might be easier for bass players to understand.

I've only got experience with 5-string banjos, usually tuned open G...

Re: Odd question - tuning an Irish tenor banjo upside down?

PostPosted: Sat Sep 26, 2020 6:02 pm
by jps

Re: Odd question - tuning an Irish tenor banjo upside down?

PostPosted: Sat Sep 26, 2020 8:32 pm
by scott_s
cassius987 wrote:I'm wondering if anyone has experimented with an Irish tenor banjo tuned in reverse - in other words, EADG instead of GDAE. (To be clear, I don't just mean reversing the strings, I mean tuning to a low E and a high G.) If so, I'd be curious to know what gauges you used for this.

Have you played a mandolin before? If not, you might give the regular tuning a try first. It's interesting in how some "guitar" chords can be flipped around, some can't, and some previously-unusable shapes now can be used. :)

For inverted tuning, something like 0.0095, 0.014, 0.022w, 0.034w looks good on the string tension calculators. Can't speak to the sonic balance... ;)



EDIT: I oopsed on the 2nd string. Should be 0.014, not 0.0014!

Re: Odd question - tuning an Irish tenor banjo upside down?

PostPosted: Sat Sep 26, 2020 9:58 pm
by cassius987
scott_s wrote:Have you played a mandolin before? If not, you might give the regular tuning a try first. It's interesting in how some "guitar" chords can be flipped around, some can't, and some previously-unusable shapes now can be used. :)


Closest I have come was to trying CGDA (also 5ths) on bass. Fun, but I couldn't really make it work.

scott_s wrote:For inverted tuning, something like 0.0095, 0.0014, 0.022w, 0.034w looks good on the string tension calculators. Can't speak to the sonic balance... ;)


I may try it!

jps wrote:http://www.askbelaf.org


The link doesn't seem to work... Thanks though!

Re: Odd question - tuning an Irish tenor banjo upside down?

PostPosted: Mon Sep 28, 2020 3:34 pm
by jdogric12
I've discovered (YMMV) a big part of the guitar-adjacent instruments' sounds (like mandolin and banjo) come from their chord voicings, which is a result of the different intervals the strings are tuned to. This is why the popular instruments that are made like banjos but strung as a 6-string guitar have never really won me over. You could tune a banjo like a guitar, and individual notes will sound like a banjo, of course, but to the experienced ear, "something" will be missing. Would be fun though to play around! But take it from me, it is very rewarding to simply learn a new instrument as it is. I'm currently learning flute and clarinet. It's a wild ride.

Re: Odd question - tuning an Irish tenor banjo upside down?

PostPosted: Mon Sep 28, 2020 6:02 pm
by cassius987
jdogric12 wrote:I've discovered (YMMV) a big part of the guitar-adjacent instruments' sounds (like mandolin and banjo) come from their chord voicings, which is a result of the different intervals the strings are tuned to. This is why the popular instruments that are made like banjos but strung as a 6-string guitar have never really won me over. You could tune a banjo like a guitar, and individual notes will sound like a banjo, of course, but to the experienced ear, "something" will be missing. Would be fun though to play around! But take it from me, it is very rewarding to simply learn a new instrument as it is. I'm currently learning flute and clarinet. It's a wild ride.


I agree! Although I am not making as big of a jump, I am going back to acoustic guitar after abandoning it for the bass almost two decades ago. I am also taking up singing more seriously. So the appreciation for new instruments and methods is definitely well received on my end.

My primary hesitation is how broken my brain felt trying to play the bass CGDA... but maybe the issue is that it was the bass I was trying it on, and not a banjo (or GDAE, or another instrument tuned to 5ths). I have managed to memorize a few banjo, mando and dulcimer tunes now and then and fake it convincingly. What I would hope to get (eventually) is the theoretical familiarity to be able to improvise like on bass/guitar. I guess, as always, it just takes practice, but I appreciate folks humoring my question nonetheless.

I will say this much: One idea I had was to get kind of a chirpy/tinny "bottom four strings of a guitar" sound and have the banjo as a kind of twangy parlor guitar. For example, Radiohead's "Creep" is super easy on barred EADGBE tuning and could be replicated on an EADG instrument. I am not sure how I would adapt it (or another major/minor barre chord song) for GDAE or CGDA banjo.