Buying a Banjo 4 String

If you intend to play Jazz, opt for a 17 or 19 fret Four-String banjo with plectrum tuning – these instruments are known as Tenor or Plectrum banjos.

Resonators can help your banjo project a sound that competes in terms of volume with other instruments like drums. Most used Four-String banjos come set up for either Dixieland or Jazz tuning; be sure to adjust accordingly.


The four string banjo is a rhythmic musical instrument. It can be played using either a flat pick or plectrum, making it suitable for Dixieland Jazz and Irish folk music performances. Most commonly found are Tenor and plectrum models that can be tuned either to Irish Tenor (CGDA) or plectrum Banjo Tuning (GDAE) tuning settings.

Both tenor and plectrum models come with various scale lengths; typically the tenor model is shorter with more frets while its plectrum counterpart tends to have less frets overall. Both instruments share identical tunings so selecting which is right for you depends on personal preference and budget considerations.

No matter if you opt for a tenor or plectrum banjo, when selecting the string set you need. Light gauge strings are generally popular among players but feel free to experiment with heavier or lighter strings to find what feels best to you. Keep in mind that playing four string banjos presents unique challenges, so investing in fifth string capos could also prove useful.

Chords on a banjo 4 string can be formed by pressing down specific frets to produce various pitches, which requires understanding chord theory to confidently compose and switch between chords.

Beginners may benefit from starting off on light-gauge strings until they develop sufficient skill to use heavier gauge strings, taking advantage of their additional tone potential.

Once you’ve selected a string set, consider what genre of music you wish to play. For Dixieland-influenced playing or G Modal tuning (GDGD), Chicago Tuning (4-string banjo tuned like the highest four strings on a guitar), is ideal. However if your interests lie more with bluegrass or country music then try Tenor Tuning CGDA as this allows 5-string players to still access all chords that they would expect on 5-string instruments.


Frets on a 4-string banjo are small markings on its fingerboard that allow players to press down on strings to produce notes. A standard 4-string banjo typically features 17 or 19 frets and is tuned a fifth higher than a guitar (CGDA). Four-string banjos can typically be played using a flat guitar pick and tuned to different keys depending on songs or styles – most popular among them being Tenor Banjo which became widely popular during Dixieland jazz music in 1920s but also used Irish and folk music genres.

Jazz and Ragtime musicians typically prefer 19-fret tenor banjos because their more widely spaced frets allow for easier playing of Jazz music, although you can use other kinds of five string banjos or plectrum banjos too; just practice more to develop the skills required.

Craigs List or music stores can be great resources for finding 4-string banjos of various styles. When searching, look for banjos with comfortable necks that allow for holding and strumming; Deering Goodtime 4-string banjos make an excellent introduction to playing 4-string banjo.

Considerations when purchasing a banjo 4-string are its style and tuning carefully. Some players favor frailing and 3-finger picking while others use clawhammer or Scruggs styles of picking. Although these latter two styles may be difficult for beginners, they allow faster tempos allowing you to play more songs at the same time.

Most high-end 4-string banjos utilize planetary tuners – small knobs attached to the peghead with straight planetary tuners that go straight back, creating a traditional look – as opposed to cheaper banjos that use metal pots (a cylindrical metal cylinder) with open geared tuners, which tend to be louder and harder to tune; some better-made models employ both types. For optimal tuning results, some higher quality models combine both types.


The bridge of a banjo four string instrument serves to keep its strings under tension and is essential to the sound produced by this instrument. For maximum performance, its strong yet flexible nature must allow it to resist distortion without becoming overtuned; quality materials like ebony and maple make ideal choices, with multiple height options, compensation steps to improve intonation as well as bone inserts for brightening tone quality.

Banjos are versatile musical instruments that offer endless enjoyment when played properly, yet for beginners they may prove challenging to master. To get started on your banjo journey, consider purchasing a book that teaches the fundamentals of music theory while offering examples of various styles of banjo playing; such as frailing or three-finger picking techniques or chords with fingering diagrams. Alternatively, watch videos online featuring experienced banjo players so you can learn from their expertise.

Another option would be purchasing a four-string plectrum banjo, which tends to be smaller in size and played using a flat pick. While not as versatile as five-string banjos, plectrum banjos provide newcomers a good introduction into this genre before investing in more costly models.

When purchasing a four string banjo, be mindful of both its frets and tuning. A standard plectrum banjo should be tuned to CGBD; this allows for easy chord fingering and full-bodied sound production. Tenor banjos may also use alternative tunings such as G, D, A & E which is popular for Irish & Celtic music performances.

Banjo 4 string frets typically consist of 19 to 20 frets, shorter than those found on bass guitar necks, making the tenor banjo an easier instrument for those without yet mastering 5-string banjo playing techniques. Furthermore, these 4-string models tend to be cheaper and require fewer skills for beginners to pick up quickly.


Many acoustic banjos come equipped with piezoelectric pickups that transform vibrations into amplified signals using century-old technology found in cheap midcentury phonographs; later popularised for use with acoustic guitar amplification in the 1960s. You can purchase aftermarket piezo pickups for banjos or have one built into their bridge; though both options may not be very feedback resistant; therefore making them suitable for house concerts or smaller performances but potentially creating issues when used at loud venues or loud performances or larger venues.

If you plan to play at an event where microphones may be necessary, combining mic and piezoelectric pickups into one system offers the best of both solutions. This setup can often be seen on professional banjos used by singer-songwriters and jazz musicians – though mic pickups tend to be less feedback resistant than piezoelectric ones and may cause distortion at higher volumes.

Most four-string banjos feature necks of either 17 or 19 frets long. Of the two options, those with 19 frets tend to be more popular for people with shorter arms and jazz players as it allows them to play chords up the neck without clashing with a drone string that would otherwise be tuned too low for their style of music.

Banjos can be tuned in any key, but certain styles require specific tunings. For example, bluegrass players often prefer tuning their banjo to GCGDA as it allows for most songs with just a simple flat pick. Ragtime or Dixieland musicians might consider investing in 19-fret banjos tuned to emulate the highest four strings of a guitar (EBGD).

Some players employ Irish tuning on their 4-string banjos, which provides the greatest range for picking melody lines with a flatpick. You might come across one at an antique market or your uncle’s attic using this method, though it’s less frequent.