Tenor Banjo versus 5 String Banjo

There are many types of banjos for different genres of music. Read below to discover the key differences in the Tenor Banjo Versus 5 String Banjo. The Tenor banjo or 4 string banjo is generally used for Traditional Irish, folk and jazz music whereas the 5 String string banjo is mostly used for Bluegrass and folk music.

What is a Tenor Banjo?

A Tenor banjo is a 4 stringed instrument, most commonly tuned to GDAE tuning for Irish traditional music, with either 17 or 19 frets along the neck. They usually have a wooden back called a resonator which helps to project the sound and a brass tone ring. They are used to play traditional Irish music such as jigs, reels and hornpipes. They can also be used to play Jazz music. They are generally played using a plectrum or pick.

Clareen Elite Banjo Full Front                Clareen Setanta Inlay and tailpiece               Clareen Setanta Headstock

Types of Tenor Banjo

  • 19 Fret Standard Scale – The Clareen Tenor banjo standard scale is 585 mm. We use light/medium strings which lends itself to a better overall tone. It is the most commonly used banjo for traditional Irish music. Most professional players use a 19 fret banjo
  • 17 Fret Short Scale – The 17 fret banjo, with a shorter neck may be more suitable for fiddle and mandolin players. The strings are slightly heavier. It is a “myth” that this is the better instrument for Irish traditional music as this is most commonly played in a low tuning which sounds better on a 19 fret banjo. The 17 fret may also be more suitable to a more petite person

What is a 5 String Banjo?

5 String banjos are typically associated with bluegrass and folk music and are tuned to an open ‘G’chord (GDGBD tuning) and can have between 22 and 26 frets on the neck.

5 String Banjo           5 String Peghead

Types of 5 String Banjo

  • 22 Fret Banjo – This 5 string banjo can be used for many types of music such as bluegrass, folk, country, jazz, etc. It is usually tuned to GDGBD but it can be adjusted using a capo device. A finger picking style is usually used on a 5 string with a pick on your thumb and 2 or 3 other fingers. It requires a lot of dexterity in your fingers.
  • 5 string open back Banjo – This type of banjo is used for a clawhammer style playing which gives a softer more gentle sound suited to singing Old Time songs.

There is a huge variety of banjos available from all over the world. There is a long tradition of making banjos in the US and in Ireland. Price will depend on the wood used, the type of tone ring, the amount of metalware on the banjo and the level of decoration.

At Clareen banjos, we make handmade banjos using the finest timber and metalware. With over 40 years experience we have a banjo to suit all levels of playing ability. For more info on how to pick the right banjo for you, please don’t hesitate to contact us.

For a beginner, a banjo that holds it’s tune well and is comfortable to play is a good place to start. We would recommend the Bridge banjo for a complete beginner. It is available in both 17 and 19 fret version.


Clareen Bridge Banjo Package Clareen Bridge Package Accessories   Clareen Bridge Headstock

A banjo can be a heavy instrument, so we would always recommend wearing a strap to hold the banjo in place while you concentrate on the chords. A heavier banjo needs a stronger strap. we also stock a good selection of plectrums

Clareen Custom Leather Banjo Strap (Black)Clareen Custom Leather Banjo Strap (Tan)Variety Pack of Plectrums (10 Plectrums)