Let’s talk strings… Do I want a 4-String or 5-String banjo?

4-string banjos are also referred to as ‘plectrum’ or ‘tenor’ banjos and are generally used for lively styles such as Traditional Jazz (Dixieland) and Irish Music. They are played with a pick (or ‘plectrum’) in either an accompaniment strumming fashion or by picking individual melody notes – much like a guitar.

Traditional 4-string banjos feature 19 frets (22-23” scale length) and are usually tuned to C,G,D,A (4th to 1st) - although many other tunings can be employed. Find out more about tuning your banjo HERE. They are commonly used for Traditional Jazz styles.

Irish Tenor (‘Gaelic’ or ‘Celtic’) 4-string banjos feature 17 frets and a scale length of 20”-21.5”. They are most commonly tuned in ‘Irish tuning’ G,D,A,E (4th to 1st) but many players also tune them in 5ths like a viola or cello (C,G,D,A). Their shorter scale length makes playing typically fast Irish fiddle styles and songs slightly easier, therefore making their use more common among these types of style and musicians.

4-string models make for excellent introductory instruments to the world of banjos given their use of fewer strings, shorter scale length options and versatile playing styles. We have a range of unique 17 fret and 19 fret 4 string banjos at Barnes & Mullins. View them all HERE 


5-String banjos feature 22 frets with the 5th string tuning peg at the 5th fret. They have a scale length of 26”-27”. 5-string banjos are the most commonly played and versatile type of banjo and can be used for all manner of musical styles including bluegrass, country, gospel, jazz, folk, classical and rock. Their most common tuning is open G (G,D,G,B,D) but as with all banjos, there are many alternative ways to tune your 5-string banjo.

5-string banjos with a resonator are the standard for bluegrass playing with open back models widely used for clawhammer, as we’ve already looked at above.

We have a beautiful selection of Barnes & Mullins 5-string banjos, including our Rathbone electro model.