Looking for a pretty good Banjitar/Guitjo
September 29, 2010 5:52 PM   Subscribe

Anyone have any experience with banjo-guitar hybrids? Any recommendations on which companies to order one from? A couple specs inside.

I probably can't justify spending more than a few hundred dollars on one, but it would be awesome if you know of a banjitar that does will with tuning the strings down real low and has pretty solid intonation. Also, would it work to just put normal, nylon guitar strings on the instrument?
posted by Corduroy to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (9 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: *"that does WELL with tuning the strings down real low", whoops.
posted by Corduroy at 5:53 PM on September 29, 2010

In the moderately expensive world of new banjos, I really prefer Gold Tone. I've briefly played one of their banjitars, which was excellent, and have a couple of banjos from their cheap and midrange lines. I might try to keep my eye open for a B-stock with a cosmetic blemish or a lightly used one on ebay, though, as all banjitars are pricy.
posted by LucretiusJones at 6:04 PM on September 29, 2010

Elderly Instruments are my go-to-guys for stringed instruments. Their results for new and used banjo guitars are pretty extensive. What I would do is give them a call or an email and ask them start a dialog directly.
posted by plinth at 6:13 PM on September 29, 2010

I was going to suggest Gold Tone too. I haven't tried their banjo-guitar(s), but am very happy with their 5 string. At the time I was shopping around, they were the optimum midpoint between the cheap models you'd definitely want to upgrade from after a year, and the pricey ones you wouldn't want to shell out for just to get your feet wet. The first-purchase that was good enough to be your last (or until you get really serious about playing live or recording for real money).

I don't know about nylon-strings or downtuning, but if you email them then they can recommend a dealer in your area (in my case they recommended a specialist in very fine stringed instruments in Philadelphia who also charged considerably less than GT's RRP) who could possibly advise you best on this and help with a custom set up for what you have in mind.

You might also want to pitch this to banjohangout.org.
posted by K.P. at 6:22 PM on September 29, 2010

This may be too far out, but I own a fretted 12 string Turkish made instrument called a cumbus. These fretted versions seem to be fairly recent hybrids from the more traditional fretless oud-like version. Like a banjo, they have a synthetic drum-like head serving as a soundboard and a deep, almost mixing bowl like aluminum resonator. It came strung with six pairs of unison strings, and I keep it tuned a whole step lower than normal guitar. It also has a short scale for a guitar, around 22 inches, with a flat fingerboard. The more unusual aspects of this instrument, the unison strings, deep resonator, make it sound fairly unique, and I would say not very banjo-like at all. It's loud and fairly aggressive in tone, and would be great for doing Leadbelly style old timey finger picking. It also sounds surprisingly close to the Dexter theme when played with a slower, less dense single line melody.

I purchased mine several years ago at a store around the block from my house for somewhere around $250. These are kind of funky compared to modern American instruments, and their Asian copies. But it's held up fine, and is a hoot to play. I believe they've since come out with fretted 6 string models, in addition all the more traditional-ish exotic Turkish variations.
posted by 2N2222 at 6:34 PM on September 29, 2010

It's been a while since I played a Gold Tone banjo, but I've generally found them to be pretty good for their range, which as others have said is midpoint between entry level junkers and high-end pro instruments.

It looks their entry-level banjitar lists for $599, and it looks like it tends to sell for around $450. If you can afford it, I'd highly recommend going that route rather than buying the cheapest thing you can find. When I took up 5-string banjo I began on a cheapo instrument and outgrew it almost instantly... I upgraded to a mid-level instrument and while I'd love to get something nicer, it's been a good solid instrument for 7 years now.

As for low-tuning and nylon strings, it depends on what kind of sound you're going for... Nylon strings ought to work fine, but they won't give you that loud, pingy bluegrass sound if that's what you're after. The lower you tune, the tubbier your tone. Poke around on YouTube for minstrel style banjo clips to get a sense of how that sounds - although on a modern instrument you'd generally have a synthetic head and a resonator, which I suspect could make things sound more muddy than plunky.
posted by usonian at 6:53 PM on September 29, 2010

(Oh, and intonation is a cinch on banjos because the bridge floats; too sharp at the 12th fret? Nudge the bridge towards the tailpiece. Too flat? Nudge it towards the nut. If you get obsessive you can also buy compensated bridges.)
posted by usonian at 6:56 PM on September 29, 2010

Re-chipping in. I have lots of banjos, and the strings I use on them (for clawhammer playing) are all aguila nylgut. They add a really nice warm plunky sound, particularly with a renaissance or fiberskyn head (both fake-skin heads a little warmer and richer sounding than frosted mylar). The nylgut strings are every bit as loud as steel on every banjo I have.

If I wanted to try non-steel strings on a banjitar, I might try one of their classical guitar sets (not a high-tension set). You might need to widen the nut just a tad to make for the wider string width, but I'm betting it'd sound quite good.
posted by LucretiusJones at 6:57 PM on September 29, 2010

Response by poster: Thanks for all the advice! I agree that the Gold Tone sounds like a good choice, and there are two dealers literally several blocks from my house so I'll just head over there and see what they have to say.

Also, holy shit, cello banjos. Too bad they are like $1200.
posted by Corduroy at 7:22 PM on September 29, 2010

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