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Tenor banjo: Chicago Tuning
http://forums.chiffandfipple.com/viewtopic.php?f=11&t=70948
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Author:  Tim2723 [ Fri Aug 28, 2009 8:20 pm ]
Post subject:  Tenor banjo: Chicago Tuning

It was time to change strings on my 'Irish' tuned tenor, so I thought I'd experiment with Chicago tuning, since I had a set of strings for my Bluegrass five-string banjo handy.

I've had the tenor in Irish tuning (GDAE, an octave below the mandolin) for the two years I've played it. While Irish tuning is great for melody playing in ITM, I use the banjo more for chording in Irish Folk Music where the banjo fills more of an accompaniment role, although the five-string is the more common instrument for that job. While Irish GDAE tuning is brilliant for melody work, the super low G string seems to be always at the very lowest tension that a banjo can manage. There's something consistently wonky about the tone when you chord in GDAE.

I had considered switching to standard tenor banjo tuning - CGDA - but that has a different feel for me as well. Since I play guitar and ukulele, Chicago tuning seemed like a good bet. You use all the ukulele chord forms, but with the guitar's chord names. So I threw the strings on and tuned them up DGBE, just like the top four strings of the guitar. I can now play chords with all the power of the Guitar or the ukulele (both serious chordal machines, as we know), yet have enough of the Irish flavour from the lower tuning. I got a powerfull chording machine, still had the facility for the simple, basic intro and turn lines that I use in songs, and lost all the wonkiness of the Irish low tuning.

If you're a tenor player with guitar or uke experience, and next time you're ready to re-string anyway, why not spend about $4 on this experiment for yourself? I'd like to hear others' experiences.

Author:  Pondoro [ Thu Aug 16, 2018 6:35 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Tenor banjo: Chicago Tuning

[Thread revival. - Mod]

Tim2723 wrote:
It was time to change strings on my 'Irish' tuned tenor, so I thought I'd experiment with Chicago tuning, since I had a set of strings for my Bluegrass five-string banjo handy.

I've had the tenor in Irish tuning (GDAE, an octave below the mandolin) for the two years I've played it. While Irish tuning is great for melody playing in ITM, I use the banjo more for chording in Irish Folk Music where the banjo fills more of an accompaniment role, although the five-string is the more common instrument for that job. While Irish GDAE tuning is brilliant for melody work, the super low G string seems to be always at the very lowest tension that a banjo can manage. There's something consistently wonky about the tone when you chord in GDAE.

I had considered switching to standard tenor banjo tuning - CGDA - but that has a different feel for me as well. Since I play guitar and ukulele, Chicago tuning seemed like a good bet. You use all the ukulele chord forms, but with the guitar's chord names. So I threw the strings on and tuned them up DGBE, just like the top four strings of the guitar. I can now play chords with all the power of the Guitar or the ukulele (both serious chordal machines, as we know), yet have enough of the Irish flavour from the lower tuning. I got a powerfull chording machine, still had the facility for the simple, basic intro and turn lines that I use in songs, and lost all the wonkiness of the Irish low tuning.

If you're a tenor player with guitar or uke experience, and next time you're ready to re-string anyway, why not spend about $4 on this experiment for yourself? I'd like to hear others' experiences.


Is it rude to resurrect this 11 year old post? I've recently tuned a 17 fret tenor banjo in Chicago tuning. It's due to my 12 years playing the ukulele. Too early for me to critique but I'm interested in other people's opinions.

Author:  bigsciota [ Thu Aug 16, 2018 7:02 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Tenor banjo: Chicago Tuning

I would highly recommend not tuning the banjo DGBE and showing up at a session expecting to play chords, unless you are a very well-established part of the session and/or very, very good. I have played the 5-string banjo in an accompaniment role in trad, and while it can work quite well, it is not something that everyone is fond of.

I would take this opportunity to learn about 5ths tuning and melody playing. It's not that hard, and actually, for chording I find 5ths tuning much, much more intuitive and easy to manage. And that's coming from a guitar and 5-string banjo player! It's especially great for jazz, since a relatively small number of chord shapes work up and down the neck and across strings.

Author:  Nanohedron [ Thu Aug 16, 2018 8:53 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Tenor banjo: Chicago Tuning

I was wondering, is tuning in 4ths ever done? Serious question.

Author:  Thomaston [ Fri Aug 17, 2018 6:51 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Tenor banjo: Chicago Tuning

I’ve had fun tuning to DEAB. Just lower your fretting hand one string. Also, capo at 5 and you’re in violin/mandolin range. The obvious downside is losing the notes below D, but us whistle players should be used to that!

Author:  deltasalmon [ Fri Nov 02, 2018 6:16 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Tenor banjo: Chicago Tuning

I agree with Bigsciota about not trying to play chords at your first session using a Chicago tuned tenor, but if you wanted to play melodies on it I don't see that as an issue. You probably won't sound like those playing in GDAE but there are a few benefits to playing melody on a Chicago tuned tenor banjo.

1.) If you already play tunes on guitar it is an easy transfer.
2.) playing in a 4ths tuned instrument requires less finger stretching (at least in the lower octave)

If you don't already play melody on guitar though it's probably just as easy to learn it (the proper way...) in GDAE though.

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