The question of how many strings a banjo has in one of the most common questions we receive from people who are looking to start playing the banjo but don't know much about it. The answer to this question isn't a one answer question though. It depends on the type of banjo.
There are generally these types of banjos that are currently being made today.
- 4 strings
- 5 strings
- 6 strings
Though there have been 12 string banjos made by the Deering Banjo Company in the past and other custom builds throughout the history of the instrument.
How Many Strings Are Good For Me?
The answer to this question depends on the type of music you would like to play and other stringed instruments that you might already know how to play. Here is a description of the different types of banjos, what type of player they would be good for, and what styles of music are traditionally played on them.
We start with these because these are by far the most common type of banjo. 98% of the time when a customer comes to us and says that they would like to play the banjo but aren't quite sure what kind of music they want to play, this is the banjo they would need. These banjos are traditionally used for bluegrass, old time Appalachian music, and American folk music.
If you are just starting out, we strongly recommend the Deering Goodtime 5-string openback banjo for you.
4-string banjos come in a few different types. The most common are the Tenor banjo and the Plectrum banjo. Banjo ukuleles and other hybrid banjo instruments have 4 strings as well.
These banjos have a shorter scale length and are tuned in 5ths and are traditionally used for traditional New Orleans jazz or Irish music. The standard tuning of these banjos is C,G,D,A (from low to hi) but the Irish musicians often tune their banjos in intervals of fifths as well but lower to G,D,A,E so that it matches the tuning of a fiddle (but an octave below). If you currently play a stringed instrument that is tuned in fifths such as a mandolin, violin, viola, or cello, these banjos can be a great option for you as the fingering are the same for scales and chords.
These banjos also have 4 strings but have a scale length similar to that of a 5-string banjo or guitar and are tuned C,G,B,D. They are generally played for traditional New Orleans jazz as well and usually have a little bit more sustain than a tenor banjo while the tenor banjo has wider chord voicings and a brighter tone that can cut through a large ensemble.
These banjos are tuned and playe just like a guitar - E,A,D,G,B,E. These banjos are very versatile and traditionally were used in early jazz and blues, but these days many country and rock musicians are using these banjos as well. They are great for guitarists who are looking to add a banjo sound to their arsenal.