Sunday, February 28, 2021

Rule #1: It's Not a Guitar

Just because the banjitar is tuned like a guitar, it doesn't mean you can play it like a guitar. YouTube is full of people demonstrating their new banjitars and they sound like crap. It's a wonder anyone would every buy one after seeing one of those videos. The player will often strum away like he's banging on his big acoustic dreadnought, pounding on the deep bass notes. Almost always, the instrument hasn't been set up and often, it's not even tuned properly.

Banjitars need to have the head adjusted properly to optimize tone, especially when a change of string gauge is involved. It's good to have some internal dampening of some kind in the banjo. If you watch five-string banjo players, they keep a couple of picking hand fingers rooted to the top of the head to dampen unwanted resonances. If you don't do this, then you should consider putting a little piece of foam or a cloth between the head and the coordinator rod, somewhere near the bridge, to dampen the resonances. 

Even though the banjtar is tuned like a guitar, it's a different instrument entirely. The head amplifies the sound far more than a guitar's wooden top. This means that finger squeaks and palm muting are louder and much more noticeable. There is less sustain and pretty resonance. In most cases, you want to tamp down extraneous resonances. Playing with vibrato can create some unpleasant overtones.  

Playing banjitar requires a lighter touch. You have to de-emphasize the volume of the lower strings to keep things balanced. The playing position is also different. Guitarists tend to play seated in one of two positions. Classical guitarists prop their left leg up on a stool and hold the guitar on their left leg. This balances the guitar better and frees up both hands. Most steel-string guitarists hold the guitar on their right leg. (Of course, the left-handed minority reverses this.) With the steel string guitar, the neck is held almost perpendicular to the body, while the classical guitarist angles the neck upward about 45 degrees. In each case, the soundhole of the guitar is almost centered over the player's heart. The round body of the banjitar requires the player to hold the instrument on the center of his lap. The longer neck needs to be angled upward, usually more than 45 degrees. This places the head of the instrument almost level with or higher than the player's eyes.

These changes require adjustment of the player's hand positions, both left and right. This, in turn, changes the player's posture. On guitar, fingerpicking with a classical hand position, using a high, arched wrist gives you lots of power. On banjitar, a tucked, almost cramped picking-hand position works better. On guitar, fingerpicking with thumb and three fingers is pretty standard. On banjitar, thumb and two fingers seems to work better.

If you're strumming chords, you want to stay away from the low-sounding strings. They tend to overpower the sound. Try to keep your picking concentrated on the four high strings, especially if you're trying to emulate the tenor banjo in a Dixieland-style context. However, if there's no bass player in your combo, you can try walking the basses like Johnny St. Cyr did with Louis Armstrong's band sometimes. In that case, you would want to minimize chording in favor of the bass line. 

If you are accompanying a guitarist or group, you want to avoid playing the same chord voicings as the guitar player. If the guitarist is playing a standard, vanilla, G chord in first position, try using a higher inversion and playing only a few of the notes. If the guitar player is strumming, you could be fingerpicking. If he is fingerpicking, use a different, but complimentary picking pattern. If you are a fairly advanced player, try using polyrhythms, like playing six against four.

These are just a few of the adjustments guitarists need to make when switching over to the banjitar. It has it's own demands and players who accommodate the instrument find it's a rewarding effort. What kinds of adjustments have you needed to make? Leave a comment below and share your experiences with your fellow readers.

Friday, February 26, 2021

G.D. West: Banjitar Improvisation No. 1

 

I saw a guy on Reddit doing some banjo improvisations in a non-Bluegrass style, which I thought was pretty interesting. Most of my practice sessions are spent exploring what the instrument does, not working on other people's material. As a player, I'm more interested in exploring and creating, not necessarily reproducing works by other players. In some cases, I might take music from a different instrument or style and try to adapt it. After watching the guy's improvisation video, I thought I would start occasionally recording my own improvisations and sharing them out. Some of them turn out pretty good and they may end up solidifying into a more structured composition over time. Enjoy.

Wednesday, February 24, 2021

Gustavo Santaolalla: Main Theme, The Last of Us Part 2

I'm not a gamer, mainly because of my age. I was already an adult when the first Nintendo games appeared. I spent a couple of weeks trying to beat level one and two of the original Mario Brothers. When I realized that, at the end of each level, there was just going to be another dragon who was harder to beat than the last one, it seemed rather pointless. I didn't go any farther than that in playing the games. Over the years, I watched my kids (who are now adults) play various games and I respect how they have become more story-oriented.

The popular "The Last of Us" game has a pretty cool soundtrack, some of which features music from Gustavo Santaolalla. This video of him playing the main theme from Part 2 has a nice sense of drama. I love the tone of the instrument and the performance is good. It's an easy piece to learn as well.

Beautiful Recording King Custom Shop Banjitar

One of the things I love about visiting the American Banjo Museum in Oklahoma City is the plethora of art-deco banjos. This video presents a custom Recording King banjitar that resembles the glorious past banjos that you find in the museum. This is a modern instrument with an exquisite vintage vibe. I'll have to keep this in mind and get a custom banjitar made one day. This thing is beautiful!

Sunday, February 21, 2021

Lesson: Basic Fingerpicking for Banjitar (or Guitar)

 An instructional video I made for beginning fingerpickers on banjitar. 


Keith Scott Francis: Snow Patrol Cover

An enjoyable cover song. Keith Scott Francis plays well and he has a great voice. Very enjoyable!


Danielle M. Playing Cover of ‘Mr. Tambourine Man

Danielle M. plays a folky cover of Dylan's "Mr. Tambourine Man." Nothing fancy, just some basing strumming and a nice voice. We typically know the most famous version of the song recorded by the Byrds, which is a full band arrangement featuring Roger McGuinn's 12-string guitar. The story goes that they Byrds happened to be in the studio and Dylan was in the building, recording in another room in the studio. They invited him in to hear their cover of his song. When they played it for him, he remarked, "That's cool man. What song is it?" He didn't even recognize his own song!


Banjo Bill: Alternative Tuning for Banjitar

 

Banjo Bill shares a brief account of his musical origins and how he got started playing on banjitar. He has an interesting idea for tuning to get a more banjo-like sound on the six-string banjo that involves using different string gauges. I tried this out myself and made a video on it with the string gauges that I found worked best for me, but I got the idea from Banjo Bill. Nowadays I have settled on Nashville tuning for one of my banjitars instead of Bill's, but if you are looking to try his idea out, you'll find it works great.


Soul Effective: Banjitar Jamz

A multi-tracked performance that sounds pretty cool. I don't know why five-string banjoists always think we're trying to horn in on their turf? There is a whole lot of banjo innovation going on that has nothing to do with Bluegrass. The instrument seems to attract really creative people who want to do something different with it.


Brother Danny Picking Some Tunes


 Some fine Chet Atkins alternate-bass style picking happening in this video. Is that "Don't Think Twice, It's Alright" in the melody? Good control of tempo and feel throughout.

Acoustic Labs: Banjitar Instrumental

An instrumental from Acoustic Labs. I love the sound of fingerstyle banjitar drenched with reverb. It has a unique quality. There is some great arpeggio picking in the middle of this piece. Make sure you listen to the end! You don't want to miss anything here.


Saturday, February 20, 2021

Why the Banjitar (Six-String Banjo) Exists and Why You Should Play One

As I have mentioned before, when you surf around the Internet and ask questions about the banjitar, as certain as the force of gravity, someone on some banjo forum will respond to your sincere inquiry, "Why don't you learn to play a REAL banjo." That's really not very helpful. Finding people who know about banjitars is difficult. Most guitar players don't have one and most banjo players are biased against the instrument to begin with.

I live not far from Oklahoma City, where is located a wonderful banjo museum. When you visit this wonderful place, you will see a plethora of banjos of all kinds. Most of what you will find, however, is tenor banjos. The tenor or plectrum banjo is associated with "classical" banjo, Dixieland, Swing, Jazz, and Irish music predominantly. It was the dominant type of banjo for the Twentieth Century. There were community banjo orchestras all over America. They played the plectrum (pick) style of banjo. There were mandolin-banjos with eight srings, four-string tenor banjos, cello banjos, and even bass banjos! The five-string banjo had been around since the times of slavery in America, but people who wanted to play popular music needed to play in various keys. The fifth, or drone, string on the five-string banjo is an impediment in that case. If you're playing in A-flat, you don't want to risk playing an un-muted G string on the top. Players just dispensed with that high drone string altogether and found the banjo to be much more versatile. 

In the early Twentieth Century, the guitar really hadn't come into its own yet. In particular, the flat-top guitar didn't have the power to play in a band with horns and percussion until archtop guitars were developed. When that happened, many musicians who played in Jazz and Swing bands switched over to the guitar. A cross-pollenization took place during that transition. Some manufacturers made tenor guitars, with four strings, tuned in fifths, like the tenor banjo so banjo players could get a guitar sound. Conversely, some banjo companies produced six-string banjos so guitar players could cover songs that called for banjo.

That's how the instrument came to be. Historically, the banjitar is a member of the banjo family. Bluegrass didn't become a genre of music until Bill Monroe popularized it in the 1940s. Since that time, the five-string banjo has become the instrument most people think of when they hear the word "banjo" but there is much more to the banjo world than the five-string. The snooty bluegrass purist probably doesn't know any of this. That's not a big deal. He probably can't count to twenty-one without having to pull his pants down. (Just kidding! I love the five-string banjo!)

So that's why the instrument exists. The banjitar enjoyed a brief spate of popularity with the early 1960s folk boom and kind of died off. In the early 2010s, a new wave of acoustic music began to emerge and some long-ignored instruments enjoyed a renaissance, particularly ukeleles and banjitars. Keith Urban and Taylor Swift used banjitars in some of their songs, which elevated its visibility. Now you can find them in the catalogs of Musicians Friend and other online retailers because several guitar manufacturers have started to offer them again. This could be a fad for awhile, but it's a good one because there are more choices of models and brands than there has been in a long time. It's a "Banjitar Renaissance."

The next question is "Why should you play one?" There are a lot of reasons to buy and play a banjitar. Maybe you do home recording and having banjo tracks on your songs gives them something special. Maybe you're like me, a person who loves banjo music, but after decades of playing guitar, you just can't get the knack of that high drone string on the five-string banjo. You're just used to having the bass strings under the thumb of your picking hand. Perhaps you feel limited by the tuning of the five-string banjo, which is traditionally tuned to open G. It is a pain in the butt to capo a five-string banjo so playing in other keys is not easy. 

A mistake that people make, is assuming that you're trying to sound like a Bluegrass banjo. That's something that the guitar tuning (EADGBE) of the banjitar doesn't do well. You can modify the tuning and play with the various string gauges (as shown in this video) to more closely approximate the Bluegrass sound, but it's worth exploring the banjitar's own inherent properties.

The six-string banjo is its own instrument. It's not "trying" to be anything else. It has a distinct timber and tone. It is a different instrument than the five-string and the tenor banjo. It has an extended range, which can be used to good effect, musically. It has a different touch than its cousin, the six-string guitar. I think this is a common mistake that many guitarists make at the first. They think that, just because the tuning and the chord shapes are the same, they can play the banjitar just as easily. It's not the case. You have to learn to strike the strings differently and there is a different range of tone colors available. They dynamic range of the banjo far exceeds that of the acoustic guitar. It takes practice to make a banjitar sound good, even for an accomplished guitarist.

Perhaps I had an intuitive sense of this because I play 12-string guitar. The same thing applies with that instrument. Just because it is tuned the same and the chord shapes are the same, a person accustomed to playing six-string guitar might be able to make some decent sounds on the instrument, but they really can't begin to take advantage of the unique properties of it. It takes time and practice. Mastering the six-string banjo also takes time and practice. You need to find your voice on the instrument.

The banjitar has a different feel and balance. You don't hold it like a guitar. You hold it in your lap like a banjo. On a strap, it hangs differently. The fretting hand position is slightly different because of the angle and the long neck. Depending on whether or not you have an open-back or closed-back banjitar, the distance of the top of the banjo from your body varies, affecting the position of the picking hand. You may play it plectrum style for Dixieland or Swing or you might play it with fingerpicks. Your approach may change after you spend time with it. I had played guitar with fingerpicks and I thought I would do the same with the banjitar, but I was wrong. I found I liked the sound of my bare fingers on the strings more than using picks. Getting volume out of a banjo is no problem, even when playing softly, so I could play more relaxed, without picks, and get a more pleasing tone. Of course, tone is subjective, but I found that the banjitar could sound almost like a lute, when played with bare fingers.

The banjitar has a lighter touch. You don't have to strike the strings hard to project. The strings don't ring quite as long as on a guitar; therefore, you have to make sure your timing is good. The angle and placement of your picking hand can bring out a much wider variety of tones very easily. If you are an aging guitarist, there is much less string tension so even arthritic fingers might be able to coax some good sounds out of the banjitar.

When you take the banjitar as its own thing, not just as a guitar that sounds like a banjo, it opens up some interesting avenues. You'll play things you never thought to play or you'll play them in a different way. That's when the fun really starts. That's a good place to conclude, because really, it's what the banjitar is all about, having fun. Once you establish yourself and find your voice on the banjitar, it can become a defining musical step for you.

Friday, February 19, 2021

Keni Lee Burgess: 'I Can't Be Satisfied' (Muddy Waters Cover)

Keni Lee Burgess favors us with a cool example of slide banjitar. He plays a great arrangement of a Muddy Waters classic. Great voice and feel. The zing of that slide goes right to the heart, doesn't it! It's a tone reminiscent of a resonator guitar.


Thursday, February 18, 2021

Setting Up Your New Banjitar

When you buy any stringed instrument, most of the time it requires some setup work to personalize it to your touch and technique. The banjitar is no different. If you buy a budget instrument, you'll seriously need to do the setup to get it playing the way you want. Yours truly discusses some of the tweaks you'll want to make when you get a new instrument. Believe me, you'll enjoy playing a lot more if you just do a few essential things to make the instrument play its best.



Nashville-Tuned Banjitar Demo

 

Nashville tuning is actually a guitar tuning used by many studio musicians in Nashville. To get an acoustic six-string to really ring through in a dense mix, the studio guitarists often string one up with the octave strings from a twelve-string set. The result is a tuning that has a narrow bandwidth that really cuts through without hogging up the midrange frequencies. The tuning works great on six-string banjo. On my banjitars, the scale length is 26.5 inches, which is kind of long for stringing up that octave G on the third string. I tune mine down one whole step and it works great. I don't break strings and to play with other instruments, I just capo up two frets. This video shows you the details of the tuning.


Elderly Instruments Demo of Several Brands of Banjitars

This product demo by Eldon Kelly is one of my favorite banjitar videos. He is an excellent musician and he makes the banjitar sound its best. He demos several brands of banjitars and he makes all of them sound great. 


Buying a Banjitar (6-String Banjo)

If you are here, reading this, you are considering the purchase of a banjitar. This article will give you some information about some of the considerations you'll need before you take the plunge and hand over your plastic for one. 

As you look around the Internet, you'll find various articles that tell you about the banjitar and, inevitably, you'll end up on a snooty banjo forum where some bluegrass purist will say something like "Why don't you just learn to play a real banjo." Don't mind him. He's a dumb-ass. 

Chances are you are already a guitarist and you're looking for a different sound for a track on a song. Maybe you like the sound of the banjo and you don't want to take time to learn a whole new tuning. Maybe you want to play some styles of music like Dixieland Jazz that will be in keys that horns like to play in, like F, Bb, Eb, Ab, etc. In that case, a five-string banjo just isn't going to do it for you. The banjo was around a long time before Bluegrass became a thing in the 1940s. There are four-string tenor banjos with various length necks and tunings for Irish music and Jazz. There are mandolin-banjos that have eight strings. The six-string banjo is just another historical innovation in a long line of them. Don't worry about pleasing Bluegrass purists if you're just doubling on a studio date and you need a banjo sound and you don't have time to learn a new instrument.

When you look at the market for banjitars, you'll see models on eBay that sell for barely over $100 (US) and some that sell for almost $2500. What's the difference? Let me tell you the truth about this. If you buy a banjitar (or even a guitar for that matter) that is under $1000 in price,t it was built in Asia, probably in China, Indonesia, or Vietnam. If you go on the Alibaba web site and look up "banjo six strings" you will find several models. Except for the name on the headstock, they are almost all the same. The wholesale price for one of these runs between $78 and $130. Now go look at banjitars made by various companies and you'll find that the only visible difference in some of these is the shape of the headstock and the company logo on it. 

These are called OEM manufacturers and their factories crank out models under contract to big musical instrument manufacturers. If you look at the list of materials, they are all pretty much identical. Even with guitars (assuming you are familiar with them) pieces of wood, fretwire, and glue don't really cost all that much. What adds to the price is he amount of finishing work that goes into it.

If you buy a nice, imported instrument that sells for around $500 or so, it will have almost the same materials and quality of materials you'd find in a $150 instrument. The difference is the amount of time spent when the instrument is put together buffing out the finish, polishing the frets, setting the action, and tweaking the truss rod. Let's say a company pays an instrument tech $20 and hour to do the final work on a banjitar or guitar before it goes out the door. Let's say he spends three hours getting it just perfect. Their cost includes the guy's labor, not counting his benefits, workers comp, etc. That would add $60 to the manufacturing cost of the instrument. Then it gets sold to a wholesaler, who is going to put a 100 percent markup on it to the dealer, and then the dealer is going to add a 100 percent markup on it to the customer as the retail price. In the end, the $60 of labor adds at least $360 to the instrument's price.

When manufacturers send the instruments to music stores, they don't know if a specific batch of instruments will be sent to Miami, Florida or Minot, North Dakota. They set the action high so it won't buzz, because they know that's a turn-off to a potential buyer. Every stringed instrument needs to be set up for the climate it is in. The neck needs to be adjusted for the preferred string gauge of the player who owns it. The bridge height may need to be adjusted. The head will require tensioning to suit the preferences of the player. Even expensive instruments need to have this done so it's all the more needed for an inexpensive one where these steps don't get done at the factory.

If you buy a cheapie off of eBay for around $120, and if you know how to do some of this work yourself, you can be the final tech and adjust the instrument to your needs. If you can file down a bridge, cut nut saddles, set the truss rod, tighten the banjo head, etc., you can buy a very inexpensive instrument and get a good sound out of it. If you spend three hours doing these things, you just saved yourself $360, maybe more. There really isn't much of a difference in sound based on the materials, especially on a banjitar. Thus, you can make a $120 guitar play like one that is worth nearly $500. It is good to know how to do these things because, even if you buy an instrument in the $300 to $400 range, you may still have to do some of these things (or pay someone to do them for you) so the instrument will play right.

What kind of sound are you looking for? There are three distinct families of banjitars. The most common is the closed-back, which has a resonator on the back. There is an open-back design. These two varieties have distinctly different sounds. The ones with the resonator can get acoustically very loud. They can project like crazy. The open back ones are quieter and a bit mellower. They don't project as much. Your housemates might like a quieter banjo when you practice. Personally, I have both types and I don't have a preference. They are different sounds and I use them for different songs and moods. The open-back one is a lot lighter, but it's kind of neck-heavy. The closed back one is heavier, but it is better balanced.

The rim or pot of the banjo is the round structure with the brackets that holds on the head. These materials will vary, but generally they are made of laminated woods. The weight and density of the wood makes a difference in the tone. The flange is the part that holds the head on and is held down with the brackets. The flange material also affects tone in various ways. I can't say which one is better or worse because the sounds appeal to people differently. Some banjitars, like the Dean Backwoods, have an aluminum rim. In this variety, the flange and the rim are cast as one piece of aluminum. These can be very heavy and durable. It's a different sound, but not better or worse.

In more expensive banjos, there are tone rings that are made out of different types of wood or metal, like steel or brass. These also affect the sound, making it warmer or darker, with greater or less articulation. Banjos don't need these structurally, but it is a different kind of sound, more attuned to the traditional Bluegrass tone. The ones without tone rings don't sound bad. They are mellower and still sound great. The upper end Gold Tone and Deering banjos have tone rings.

The neck design on a banjitar is a big consideration, even more so than when buying a guitar. The neck and bridge placement determine the scale length, or playable length of the strings. Most guitar necks are either 24.75 inches (Gibson Les Paul length) or 25.5 inches (Fender Stratocaster length). The longer length makes the string less flexible, harder to bend, and it accentuates different harmonics. It sounds snappier, crisper than the shorter length. Banjitars can come in these two lengths, but it's not common. Most of them use banjo scale length, which is 26.5 inches. This makes a big difference in the feel. If you play first position chords on a banjitar with a 26.5 scale length, it will definitely feel different to you, maybe even a little uncomfortable. 

Some banjitars come with a radiused fingerboard (curved) like a guitar and others are flat (like a banjo). I have one that is radiused and one is flat. It only takes a few seconds to adapt from one to another once you are used to it. The flat radius is easier to finger-pick because the strings are all lined up in the same plane. The rounded ones feel more guitar-like. The thickness of the neck also varies from one brand to the other. Some have a C- or D-shaped profile. Some have an extended neck heel for more stability. This is all a matter of preference and comfort. One model, the Deering Solana's neck is designed for nylon-string playing and feels like a classical guitar's neck.

Speaking of strings, you'll get a really wide variety of sounds with different kinds of strings. Generally, lighter gauges sound better. The banjo doesn't really lack for volume and you don't need mediums to drive a wooden soundboard. Most banjitars come from the factory strung up with light gauge acoustic strings. Most people don't like the sound of them and the 0.011 gauge is a little heavy. One my open-back banjo, I use plain old Ernie Ball Earthwood strings, extra-light gauge (0.010 to 0.046). The closed back banjo uses Ernie Ball Slinky electric guitar strings (0.009 to 0.042). Some players like to get as close to the 5-string banjo sound as possible and they replace the lower sounding strings with unwound strings an octave or two higher than normal. (See video here.)

I hope you find this information useful. The banjitar is a very personal instrument and everybody who plays one sounds different, as you can see from the videos on the site. Shop around and, if you are decent at doing a little bit of setup work, you can make a fairiy inexpensive instrument to the trick for you. Good luck in your search!





G.D. West: 'Three Pieces for Six-String Banjo'

A recorded performance of three pieces adapted for banjitar by your host, G.D. West. I used my open-back Caraya banjo to record this performance.


 

G.D. West: Cover of 'Norwegian Wood'

 

This Beatles' classic lays out nicely on the banjitar and has a nice tone. This is my Caraya open-back. When I'm recording a solo banjitar, I tend to gravitate toward the open back model. I use my resonator-back models more often when I am recording or playing with other instruments. This is because they project more. The open-back model has a softer voice and a mellower tone when played by itself. 


G.D. West: Cover of John Fahey's 'When the Springtime Comes Again'

John Fahey was the "inventor" of what has become known as American Primitive Guitar as a genre. His guitar compositions lay out nicely on the banjitar. If you're looking for material to play, his tunes are a good choice to add to your repertoire.


John Rankin Deering Goodtime Solana 6 Interview


 John Ranking plays a wide variety of music and he is a product-endorser for the Deering Solano. This video is a good demo of the Solana banjo and he is one heck of a player. Very enjoyable!

The New Deering Phoenix 6 String Banjo with David Holt

An official Deering demo from Merlefest 2012. Some nice plugged-in picking here!


Dean 6 String Banjo // Guitjo // Ganjo // Banjitar // Review and Mods


 Product review of a Dean Backwoods banjitar and some modifications. It's a testimonial to the need for a good setup when you first buy a banjitar. The video talks about pickup installation, strings, etc.

Dean Backwoods Banjitar Setup

This video goes into some detail on how to set up a new instrument, including how to tighten the lugs, tap tuning, adjusting the coordinator rod, truss rod, nut slots, bridge placement, intonation, etc.


Sam Stephen Music: 6-String Banjo With Effects

Here's a kindred spirit! I love the sound of banjitar played with reverb and modulation effects. This looks like he's playing a Deering goodtime with a resonator back. Short and sweet. Leaves you wanting more.


Donovan Weaver: Leaving Home (performed on a Gibson Banjitar)

Donovan Weaver plays an old Gibson banjitar on this cut. Man, the rim on that thing is huge! Interesting tone! Sounds like he's got flatwounds on it.


Rogue Banjitar Demo

The Rogue banjitar from Musician's Friend occupies the bargain basement of banjitars in the market, but it has a respectable tone. It probably requires some setup work when you get one, but it sounds good! Nicely played.


Gregg Daly: Wagon Wheel

A nice cover of the Old Crow Medicine Show tune. Nicely performed with guitar and banjitar. Love those vocal harmonies. 


Josh West (no relation!) plays 'Trouble' by Taylor Swift

I cool cover played in the kitchen. I think I like this guy's version better than Taylor Swift's!


 

I'll See You In My Dreams Electric Banjitar and Guitar


 This is the same duet as in the previous video, doing a live performance on stage at a festival or a college. The banjitar does a great job chonking away four-to-the-bar in a swing context. The chord solo is awesome and I love how he does the walking bass thing.



Dixieland Duo, Banjitar and Guitar

The banjitar can fit into the context that would normally be occupied by tenor guitar, but the added bass strings can add a little more presence in a duet or small group. 

Travis Boudreau: 1922 Blues, Charlie Parr Cover

I love this version of this song. Well-played and sung!


 

Deering Blog: The Versatility of the 6-String Banjo

Here's a blog post from Deering's own blog. Very informative.

https://blog.deeringbanjos.com/the-versatility-of-the-6-string-banjo

 

CraigRison: Folsom Prison Blues

 

And now, from Balinese gamelan music to an old country classic. Banjitar is an instrument that can fit in to a lot of contexts. Sounds like the audience has been partaking in some adult beverages.

QiSonix: Solo Banjitar Improv #1

This is a very modern-style improvisation reminiscent of music by Steven Reich. Some of this reminds me of Balinese gamelan music. I like this because too many people think we are just trying to copy five-string bluegrass banjo without taking time to learn a new instrument and tuning. This innovative improv shows a banjoist exploring some new sonic terrain. It inspired me to do some improvisations and to record them as well.


G.D. West: Bach on Banjitar

Here's my arrangment of the Bach classic. I learned this from a book many years ago and the few classical pieces I learned really helped me with fingerstyle guitar technique. I capo up just because the tone goes straight to the heart in that range. I'm using a Caraya open-back banjitar with Ernie Ball electric strings (.009-.042).


Wednesday, February 17, 2021

Demo: Luna Moonbird Banjitar

 

Luna Guitars is a relatively new brand of stringed instruments. This banjitar, like many of the guitars, offers some interesting features, like the twilight-fade graphic on the head, moon-shaped pearloid inlays, a built-in pickup, and the black walnut fingerboard.


Jordan Sheppard: She Talks to Angels (Black Crowes) cover on a six string banjo

This guy's voice is crazy-good and the performance is heartfelt and authentic. Enjoy!


 

Ortega Guitars | Julian Scarcella plays the OBJ350/6-SBK

This young hotshot blazes on this Ortega Guitars banjitar. He's got some good hybrid picking chops, using a flat pick and the right-hand fingers for fingerpicking.



Keni Lee Burgess: 'You Are My Sunshine'

This one is kind of historical in nature. Keni Lee Burgess plays here on a "bantar" built by John Dopera, who happens to be the inventer of the National Resonator Guitar. This is in open D tuning with some nice fingerstyle chops.


Blueridge Banjitar Demo

When I used to run a music store many years ago, I loved Blueridge instruments. Their traditional styling and quality at a moderate price point made them favorites of my customers. Here is a Blueridge banjitar shopping comparison.


Jack Marti: Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring

An arrangement of a Bach classical piece performed on banjitar in standard tuning. I play this one myself, but I do it in open-G tuning. You can find my arrangement on the blog.


Gold Tone Electric Banjitar Demo

A cool-looking banjitar in a Telecaster-inspired body. Some fancy chickin' pickin' and you're ready to go! I wonder what it would sound like through some distortion?


Ueli's Six-String Banjo

Interesting video showing the construction of a banjitar. I wish they had put banjitar music with the video, but it's cool to see the build happening.


 

Eighth-Note Reverse Rolls on Banjitar


 Another short instruction video. Same thing as before, only backwards!


Lesson: Forward Rolls on Banjitar

A short instructional video I put together for beginners.


Acoustic Music Works - Chuck Lee Banjitar, 6 String Banjo, Los Brazos de Dios, Nylon Banjo

Chuck Lee's banjitar demonstration makes use of the banjitar's ability to sound somewhat like a Renaissance lute. This instrument uses nylon strings which enhances that particular tone quality. Note that the instrument he is playing has traditional friction tuners instead of geared tuning machines. I love at the end, he plays Sting's "How Fragile We Are."


Gold Tone BT-14 Cello Banjitar

Scott Cockerham demonstrates a Gold Tone cello banjitar. This instrument is tuned low almost like a baritone guitar. The nylon strings and larger rim allow for a deep, low end. I love the selections of tune he plays to show off the instrument's strengths.


Gold Tone CEO Wayne Rogers' Signature Seven-String Banjitar

Boy, this thing looks like a lot of fun! Seven strings. The top strings are paired like a 12-string so you can either get a high drone or a low bass note. It also has the scoop characteristic of banjos set up for clawhammer technique. Interesting idea. 



G.D. West: Review of Caraya Open-Back Banjitar

Here is a review on one of my banjitars. The Caraya brand is sold out of Australia. I first found them on eBay. Since I bought this instrument, I also bought one of their guitars for my wife. I have been impressed with their construction and tone.

Harvey Reid: 'O Death!'

I think this is my favorite Harvey Reid tune on banjitar. He plays it with such a great feel. His Deering banjo sounds amazing, too. You might remember Ralph Stanley singing this tune in "O Brother, Where Art Thou."

G.D. West: Cover of John Fahey's 'Take a Look at That Baby'

I have played John Fahey's songs on six-string guitar for decades. Many of them translate over to banjitar very nicely. I use a capo on this one because one stretch on an A chord is a little wide on the banjitar with a 26.5" scale.


G.D. West: 'Freight Train/Ask Me If I Care'

Again, this is your Banjitars site admin sharing a fun little medley. I used to perform "Freight Train" on guitar and I'd kind of do a short improv in the middle between verses. That little ditty morphed into a short tune called "Ask Me If I Care," which ended up staying blended with "Freight Train." This is my Caraya open-back banjo in standard tuning.



Harley Benton Banjitar Review and Demo

 

A customer video of a Harley Benton banjitar. Harley Benton manufactures and sells many guitar models that are generally pretty amazing quality instruments in their price range. This banjitar features some nice inlays that give a little more cachet than most at this price point.


Recording King 'Madison' Banjitar Review

 

A company product video showing off the details of an attractive instrument. Snappy tone and nice visuals.


Jazzy Banjitar: Blues for Wes

 Jazz soloist on a Dean banjitar swings "Blues for Wes."


Rod Stewart: Mandolin Wind on Banjitar

 

A live performance from Rod Stewart, where he gets to strum his banjitar for us! Doesn't need much more introduction than that.


Karl Golden: 100 Riffs Goes Banjo!


This is just a fun video. Karl Golden takes us through 100 iconic rock riffs, translated onto the banjitar. Reminds me of the old "Hee-Haw" show line, "That silly! Nope, merely foolish." It'll put a smile on your face.


Gretsch Dixie 6 Demonsration

 

This video gives you a good idea of the tone characteristics of one of the less-expensive name-brand banjos, the Gretsch Dixie 6. This model has a 25" scale length and a closed back, without using a resonator. Lightweight and easily portable!


Deering Solana Demonstration from Summer NAMM 2014


The Deering Solana banjitars have a cool, old-timey sound due to the use of nylon strings. The maple fingerboard and rim, flat fingerboard radius, 2" wide neck, bridge plate, and built-in pickup give the instrument a unique feel and tone. This video goes into the specs of the instrument moreso than a sound demonstration. At the end it does give you an idea what the plugged-in pickup sounds like.

Fingerpicking Demonstration Video

 

A demonstration of fingerpicking on banjitar n open tuning. The banjoist uses a capo as well, which seems to be pretty common way to moderate the occasionally overwhelming bass notes and balance out the tone. 


Jens Kruger Demos the Boston 6-String Banjo from Deering


This is a wonderful demonstration of the Deering Boston 6. Kruger focuses on the plugged in sound and the head-mounted magnetic pickup. It has a very natural sound for a mag pickup. He has great technique and a very recognizable "voice" on the instrument.


Brian Brewer: Modified Gold Tone

Brian Brewer demonstrates an interesting modification he had done to his Gold Tone banjitar. This is a slick idea where he uses railroad spikes (used for capoing the fifth string on a five-string mandolin) and he changes his top string to an unwound high E. This allows him to set a root/tonic note on the top for the key. This gives him high drone sound of a five-string, but he can easily change to different keys. Very innovative--and he is a great player!


Gretsch Dixie 6 Banjitar Review


The Dixie 6 is Gretsch's offering in the banjitar market. Gretsch has put out a collection of "roots" instruments like mandolins, resonator guitars, Irish tenor banjos, and the 6-string banjo. The Dixie 6 has a 25 inch scale length, which is a very comfortably reach for most guitar players, in that it lies between the 25 1/2 inch scale length of Gibson and the 25 1/2 inch scale of a Fender Strat-style guitar. (Note: scale length is the playable length of string between the nut and the bridge.) The guitar is a closed-back design without a resonator. The instrument is thus quieter than one with a resonator, but has a bit more projection than one with an open back. 

The Dixie 6 has a maple neck and fingerboard, which is an attractive feature that will feel familiar to many electric guitarists who want a change of sound on a track. The rim is laminated maple with a curly maple veneer. The hardware includes 24 brackets to tension the head, a chrome armrest, and vintage-looking open-gear tuning machines. The headstock is overlaid with a "mother-of-toilet-seat" veneer, giving it a chic, art-deco look.

Sonically, the instrument has less volume and projection than designs with a resonator and a 26 1/2-inch scale, but it is fine for playing in the living room or home studio. Gretsch quality and attention to detail is evident as the fretwork and finish are great. The instrument retails for around $499.00 US.
 

Harvey Reid - St. Anne's Reel


Another one of Harvey Reid's tricks, on guitar, as well as banjitar, is the use of partial capos. This headstock-down-the-neck view gives an excellent view of his faux-frailing technique also. I love anything Harvey Reid plays! This instrument looks like it's probably a Deering Solana with nylon strings.

Keith Urban Demonstrates His Ganjo

Keith Urban is probably the most popular musician who really plays the "ganjo" as he calls it. True, Taylor Swift plays one, too, but she just kind of strums at it while posturing on stage. Keith has the chops to make this thing talk!


G.D. West - Scarborough Fair

 This is yours truly demonstrating Scarborough Fair on an open-back Caraya banjitar. One of the things I like to do is to run my banjo pickup through an effects unit for some reverb and digital delay. In my pedalboard, I also have an Electro-Harmonix MEL-9 pedal, which emulates the sound of the old Mellotron keyboards. It's very subtle here, but you can hear the effects enhancing the sound.



Jeff Patzke: Blowin' in the Wind

 Jeff Patzke has several YouTube videos of songs played on banjitar. Here, he uses the Deering Solana, a nylon-strng instrument to play a Bob Dylan classic using the Carter picking style.



Harvey Reid: Simple Gifts

HarveyReid is a legendary folk musician who has great instrumental prowess on several instruments, including guitar, autoharp, and the six-string banjo. He is particularly known for his inventive use of partial capos.


1910 Weymann Banjitar

 
A cool demo of a 1910 Weymann banjitar. The neck on this one is more of a guitar scale length, probably around 24.75 inches or thereabouts. It has a nice sound and, as you can hear, sounds great played plectrum style or finger style. 

 


History: Johnny St. Cyr


The banjitar has been around for more than a century, but Johnny St. Cyr holds the historical place of being the first person to be recorded playing one. Here is a great article about him. 

https://banjoboogie.com/2015/11/30/johnny-st-cyr/

St. Cyr also played guitar and tenor banjo, but he often played banjitar with Louis Armstrong's band. The extended range often allowed him to comp bass lines in the absence of a bass player. Video below shows him in the background. I love how fluid his playing is and how natural he is at voice leading when doing chords. 



Obligatory Standard First Post

Welcome to the site. This the obligatory standard first post, just to get things started. If you are here, you must have been Googling the term "banjitar" or "6-string banjo." This means that you are one of those creative individuals who flouts peer pressure and walks the beat of different drummer, or perhaps strummer.

The banjitar is the bastard child of the unnatural union of guitar and banjo. It is an instrument with a history, not just a new fad that someone concocted to sell more product for a music instrument manufacturer. Guitarists find it a novelty because their chords work on it. They don't have to learn to play in a different tuning. Bluegrass five-string banjo players almost universally disrespect it. It's not a "real" banjo to them. Never mind that that it pre-dates the invention of bluegrass as a style by half a century. People who play tenor banjos, which are usually tuned in fifths like a mandolin don't pay us no mind. They have their own thing going on.

The banjitar, also called a ganjo, guitjo, or 6-string banjo can be strummed and played chord-style like a tenor banjo or fingerpicked like a bluegrass banjo. It can be played without picks, with fingerpicks, or with a plectrum. Without picks, it can sound somewhat like a lute, a Renaissance ancestor of the guitar. It can have steel strings or nylon strings, depending on the players' preferences. The low string tension invites guitar players to try new things that they might not have done on an acoustic guitr. The long neck makes all the frets easily reachable. Banjitars have closed-back and open-back models that provide different tones and feel very different to play. The banjitar sounds cool playing classical music as it does folk, rock, or country music.

Whatever your reasons for exploring the banjitar, I welcome you here and hope you find something useful. Come back often to see the new content that will emerge, which I hope will include videos, lessons, reviews of instruments, and reviews of music. Only time will tell how this will evolve. Thanks again for dropping by.