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Ask the Banjo Teacher - Going from Guitar Player to Banjo Player

Ask the Banjo Teacher - Going from Guitar Player to Banjo Player

Ross Nickerson Answer

Thanks Darrell, I'm not mechanically inclined and things like neck adjustments, set up is not really my area of expertise but to answer your question, on an electric banjo like the Gold Tone EBM you just adjust the truss rod like a fender guitar. It doesn't have any banjo coordinator rods or banjo specific adjustments for the neck. The bridge on those is 5/8 which is standard height but I carry one just below it at 9/16. That would not affect your technique really and it can be used if you can't get it down far enough. Changing or upgrading your banjo bridge in any size is an easy way to really improve and or change the tone. The bridge on a banjo has a tremendous amount of effect on tone. Most people most look elsewhere to improve the tone on their banjo when a bridge could do the trick quick. The head tension too, I would keep the tension up on the electric banjo, too tight is not good but loose would be unresponsive, you're looking for the sweet spot, just slightly on the tighter side on these for tone I think. You should adjust the head before you set the action because if its a bit loose now, that will raise the action a little more
Here is a link to the bridge I recommend. I put one on my Goldtone EBT Electric banjo.

Here is a picture I took the other day of my electric banjos for someone thanks again, Ross Nickerson
Pictures of Electric Banjos

Darrell Sanford's answer
Hey Ross, man, thanks for taking so much time with me and being so thorough in your answer. I appreciate it. I may try the bridge, perhaps the compensated one. Also, I have been considering buying a new acoustic banjo. I had a Washburn B9 or 12 Frankenstein banjo - Washburn neck on a different pot, but never was happy with it and recently traded it and a D10 Washburn acoustic guitar for an Epiphone 335. I’ve been online looking at the Deering Goodtimes, leaning toward the Goodtime 2, but I like the Midnight Special quite a bit - big price difference, I know, and that’s my dilemma, whether to go for the tone ring or just start with the GT 2. I should probably stay with the lower cost for my wife’s sake. Lol. I just got a new Gretsch Duo Jet (the cheaper, import, ones) at Christmas. 
  Some of what I like is aesthetics, I like the darker neck - I play mostly rosewood and ebony on guitars. Maybe you could advise me. I don’t plan to be playing at jams or festivals or even in a band. Just with friends, around the house and maybe in church. I must admit, the banjo has frustrated me. I am a guitar player mostly, fairly adept on piano, and I hack at mandolin and fiddle. I’m 61 and my background is Blues and Rock, though I mostly play various gospel and Christian music now. I played in bands in the 1970’s doing Zeppelin, Cream, Skynyrd, Clapton, etc., so I’m capable on guitar and I guess it’s frustrating not being able to be that proficient on banjo. I have never been one to pick out leads and such note for note, though I picked out songs by ear from records before the internet explosion, but to copy leads, I didn’t. I would get the main phrase and mostly improvise. I am more of an intuitive player. None of this helps me at this stage on banjo - lol. I think I can get it though, if I will put the proper amount of time into it. Anyway, I’m telling you all this so that you may know where I’m at, and can help direct me as to an instrument and the best learning method.
  I thought I’d send you a pic of my instruments so you can see - I am mostly a guitar guy! That acoustic is a 1979 Martin D35, I bought in 1980, the year I got married. I love it. Have written many songs on it.
  I have a 1400 Suzuki Intruder in the shop getting repaired and plan to sell it when it’s ready, then take some of that to put towards a banjo and the rest in a little business my son has started.
  I really appreciate your time and help.
God Bless,
Darrell Sanford 


Ross's Answer
You're very welcome. Love your collection.
There is only one thing you have to do on the banjo, well a couple things, but I know where you are coming from and why.

Learn this roll, I have below, its the forward backward and make sure you get the fingers EXACTLY correct, if you double any of them you will never get any speed and you will stumble and have no flow. But this roll is by far the least monotonous, and its the most useful one, any you can repeat it over and over, hence, the one thing.

On the left hand, if you are a guitar player, especially an experienced skilled electric player, get your left hand out of the way.

Full chord shapes and bar chords kill the banjo from projecting. The idea is to let the banjo hum or vibrate and open strings or leaving frets you don't need open is how it projects, also banjos lose tone on the lower strings up the neck, so you fret melody notes often on the top two strings and reach down the neck to get lower notes rather than up the strings to a lower note on the 3rd or 4th string

If you execute this roll, change chords, and play steady, practically everything works.Turn off the guitar player in you and turn on the drummer in you and play steady and consistent in good time and the banjo will drop into the space its intended to be in.

You cant solve puzzles or melodies on a banjo with the left hand like you do on a guitar, you solve them with the rhythm and drop the melody into the consistent rhythm. That's your top priority, the steady picking. If you try to follow the melody one note at a time and some how think its possible to fill the space created by the lack of sustain on a banjo by wrapping the rhythm around the melody notes you are looking for with the left hand, it will be like chasing your tail. Until you firmly establish rhythm in your picking, you can then learn to drop the melody in as you hear it, but that comes later, when you are really locked in rhythmically. That's really different that on a guitar or fiddle. Think drums, banjo is much closer to that for sure than playing a guitar.

The roll is
T M T I M I T M  it can be started on 3rd, 4th or 2nd strings with the thumb and you should practice starting it on all of them. the 2nd thumb is usually played ion the 5th string, but you can play it on the 4th or 3rd. It's about the pattern, not the strings, moving the strings is how you play the melody, the pattern is the technique and dont try to to reinvent Scruggs style picking technique by randomly reaching for melody notes (which guitar players on banjo are notorious for), there is a reason why Scruggs style technique works and why all has sprung from it.
The 6th and 7th finger in this pattern is what most get wrong, its Index and then Thumb, and the index usually plays the 3rd and the thumb picks the 4th string, but move those strings around if you want to, just dont change the order of the fingers.
The pattern is T M T I M I T M , since I dont have tab, its these fingers and strings to start with
T3rd, M1st T5th I3rd M1st T4th M1st

This article link has a lot more about rolls and how to stay in the patterns, but learn to switch the strings you use the p,  in your case, learn this roll good, and how to leave chords and strings more open so you can project rhythm first, then melody.

Would it be ok if I used this email in my blog? That wasn't my intention, it wrote it to you but what I wrote could possibly help some other players too, thanks, Ross

Darrell's Answer

Ross, you are the real deal, my friend! Thank you for everything! When I get closer to making a purchase I will certainly call you. In the meantime, I may order that Snuffy Smith you told me about. I will see how things look next week and will just go online to your site and order if I go that route. I cannot tell you how much I appreciate all you have done for me. 

God Bless,


Posted by Ross Nckerson Home, Learning Banjo, "Ask The BanjoTeacher"... 0

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