Different Tunings For Tenor Banjos

banjo 4 string tuning

Many beginning banjo players purchase used 4-string tenor or plectrum banjos that have been tuned to Jazz (ADGC) tuning.

There are various methods of tuning a 4-string banjo to achieve different sounds, some of which are easy to pick up like Drop C Tuning (GBDG) while DAEB and Irish Tuning may also provide options.


CGDA tuning is a standard tenor banjo tuning used for traditional Irish, jazz and Dixieland-style tunes, bluegrass players as well as beginners looking to learn fingerstyle arrangements. If you want more complex chords you should opt for another tuning.

A banjo is a four-stringed musical instrument with its standard tuning based on C, though its tuning options can be modified for various sounds and playing styles. One popular tuning for banjos is GDAE; however, there are also numerous alternative tunings that offer unique tones or soundscapes.

G modal tuning, for instance, is similar to standard banjo tuning but alters one string by swapping out B for C. This creates a lower tone and drone effect to the banjo that works well when playing old-time songs, and it is an easy tuning choice for beginners because only changing one string at once.

Chicago (DGBE) tuning is another popular plectrum banjo tuning. Also used with Irish tenor banjos and mandolins, DGBE provides easier chord voicings and fingerings for players familiar with standard five-string tunings of banjos.

There are various plectrum banjo models, such as 17 fret tenor and 19 fret tenor models. Tenors with 19-fret necks may be tuned either CGBD or Chicago tuning; both these tunings allow for flatpicking using standard banjo strings; however, beginners to plectrum banjo should start out by learning basic chords on standard GDAE strings before switching over to lighter gauge strings as soon as they’ve grasped basic chord progressions.

Substituting new nuts and bridges will help your banjo sound different, giving it a mellower and quieter tone as well as being much more responsive to your fingers. You could even install a skin head onto the resonator for vintage sounds; this requires modification to your existing nut and bridge; so for best results consult an experienced banjo builder before doing this yourself.


GDAE tuning for tenor banjos has become increasingly popular. An octave lower than standard tuning, this alternate tone lies within the range of mandolin or fiddle players and provides a different sound than standard CGDA. Reenactment groups often opt for this tuning due to its easy learning process and distinct Irish music sound it creates.

GDAE tuning has quickly become a favorite among musicians who play bluegrass and folk. Its accessible chords and low range give this tuning its distinctive sound while making switching between tunings simple. Tuning a banjo correctly requires knowing how to tune it accurately using either a chromatic tuner or seeking assistance from another guitarist player; both techniques will ensure your banjo is tuned properly so it will play perfectly when played correctly.

The GDAE tuning is also widely popular with musicians who play stringed instruments like violin or mandolin. Based on intervals of fifths, its sound is stunningly beautiful while also making melodies easier. Unfortunately though, chords can sometimes prove challenging to play so GDAE players sometimes switch over to another tuning when performing chords.

Many modern tenor banjos are tuned to GDAE tuning while older models may require modifications such as re-filing the nut and changing the bridge. When buying used banjos, ensure both components are in good condition otherwise your banjo may not sound very well. Also important are high quality strings; though more costly than regular guitar strings they will dramatically enhance its sound and should always have spares handy just in case they break.


There are various tunings for tenor banjos. A standard four-stringed banjo tuned CGDA (similar to a five string banjo without its fifth string). But some players use alternative tunings like GDAE that produce sounds similar to guitar. This alternative tuning may be used when songs require multiple chords.

DGBE, which creates a sound similar to that of a fiddle, is another popular banjo four string tuning. This tuning can often be found accompanying old-time fiddle tunes; it is also often employed when playing bluegrass and country music with banjos tuned to this scale. To set up your banjo for DGBE tuning, tune A string to C, D string to E and G string to A; this standard Irish tenor banjo tuning also applies here!

On various recordings, such as Earl Scruggs’ Mama Blues from his Carnegie Hall Album; tabs from BNL in November/December 1989), Ola Belle Reed’s Boat’s Up the River; Doney Where You Been So Long (“Old Time Banjo Pieces”), Pete Seeger Darling Corey; played down to f#DGCD (see Mike Seeger & Alice Gerard on Folk Visions & Voices); as well as in East Virginia by Dick Weissman known as Willie Moore tuning (Tab from BNL Feb/March 1982).

Most tenor banjos feature either 17 or 19 fret necks. Their standard tuning, however, is GDAE but this can be adjusted to your playing style and preferences. Some players switch from steel to nylon strings in order to improve sound of their instrument – we advise purchasing good quality ball end and loop end strings as these will have significant impacts on its sound. Also consider updating its drum head as this could significantly change its tone!


As a beginner banjo player, it is ideal to select a string set compatible with the banjo’s standard tuning in order to maximize performance without spending hours adjusting strings or tuning your instrument. Furthermore, choosing a high-quality banjo will help achieve great sound – there are various models on the market with differing price points so finding something within your budget shouldn’t be hard!

Most new banjos come set up for CGDA tuning, but it’s essential that it is tuned correctly so it sounds its best and prevents string snapping. If you need assistance tuning a banjo, use a chromatic digital tuner or get help from someone who plays guitar for assistance.

As a first step to tuning a banjo, the primary step should be ensuring its neck is tight enough. Common trouble spots are at the nut and bridge; other areas on the neck may need tightening up as well. You should also double check that its coordinator rods (those long bolt-looking things) are supporting the neck properly.

Once you’ve checked for tightnesses on your banjo, the next step should be fine-tuning its bridge placement. To do this, place the left forefinger of your left forefinger on the bottom string just above the twelfth fret without pressing it onto it; pluck with your right hand, listening out for any “octave” overtones – bell-like sounds one octave higher than unfretted sound that indicate any string is out-of-place on either the nut or bridge. If this overtone sounds, it means something is amiss

Irish tenor banjos are typically tuned to GDAE, which mirrors the top four strings on a guitar, making it easy for guitarists to pick up and play them; however, some Irish players prefer using lower EADG tuning that is often found in jazz or ragtime music.