4 String Vs 5 String Banjo (Which one to choose?)

Do you face any problem while deciding on what kind of banjo to choose? We are here to help you. Before we move to our main topic, let’s have a short intro about Banjos. Banjo is mostly used in Folk and Country music. The history of banjo goes back to the 19th century in Great Britain.

The 4 string banjo is easier to learn for beginners. But if you want to learn how to play real banjo songs then you’ll have to switch to a 5 string banjo eventually.

If we talk about types of banjos. It includes different types of string banjos like 4, 5, 6 &12-String Banjos, 17 &19-Fret Tenor Banjos, long neck Banjos. Besides this, some other types include Mandolin Banjos or Banjaolin, Uke Banjo, Guitar Banjo, parlor banjo & Plectrum Banjos. The selection of a correct set of banjo strings will help you to improve your tone and playability.

As each type has its own number of the specific scale length, number of strings, and tuning. Therefore, each set has its own pros and cons. In this article, we will discuss whether to choose a 4 string or a 5 string Banjo, the Pros, and cons of each type. And how to choose the best banjo for yourself. So, stay with us.

What is the difference between a 4 and a 5 String Banjo?

To know the difference between a 4 and a 5 String Banjo it is important that we first discuss both types in detail. Once we get enough detail. We will be able to mention the difference between both. So, let’s start with a 4-string banjo.

4 string Banjo:

A 4 string Banjo is a type of banjo without a short drone string. The scale length may vary between 26 inches to 28 inches. While it has 22 frets on the neck. These are simpler and easier to play. So, it is one of the best choices for beginners. While it is further divided into two different types or subcategories i.e. Plectrum and Tenor. Plectrum has a large scale length as compared to the tenor banjo.

If we assume that plectrum is just like a 5-string banjo played with a flat pick. It will not be a wrong statement. Tenor banjo consists of 17 or 19 frets. The 17 frets tenor banjo is also referred to as an Irish Tenor banjo. Please note, that the longer the neck, the lower will be the pitch. Both types produce brighter as well as crisp sounds and are used for Dixieland (Jazz) and Celtic music. The two common ways of tuning standard tenor and Irish tenor are C, G, D, A and G, D, A, E respectively. 

5 String Banjo

5 string Banjo is a commonly used musical instrument. If we talk about the construction of a 5-string banjo. The standard one consists of 22 frets with a scale length of 26 ¼”.  A 5-string banjo has five strings where the 5th string is usually of the same gauge as the first one.  Please note that the fifth string starts from the fifth fret, three-quarters the length of the other strings. The tuning structure of 5 string banjo is fourth, third, second, first, and fifth (G-B-G-B-D). the 5th string is a thumb string and produces a drone-like sound. If you are interested in old times, bluegrass music, classical, rock, jazz, country, and folk music. A 5 string Banjo is the best option. 

So, we have discussed both types of banjos in detail, so it is easier for us to differentiate between A 4 and A 5 String Banjo. You can check the table below for the main differences.

4 String Banjos5 String Banjos
Type of musicDixieland (Jazz) and Celtic musicBluegrass, classical, rock, country, and folk
Standard Scale length26 to 28 inches26 ¼ inches
Tuning structureC, G, D, A and G, D, A, EG-B-G-B-D

Is A 4 string or A 5 string Banjo is easier to learn?

When you’re a beginner and banjo is your first stringed instrument, a 4-string banjo will be easier to learn than a 5-string banjo. But it mainly depends upon the type of music you want to play. If you are interested in Dixieland (Jazz) and Celtic music, then you have to use 4 string banjos. You can play it like a guitar i.e. just strums and play. While if you want to play Bluegrass, classical, rock, country, or folk music. Then you have to learn 5 string banjos, which needs a lot of practice. So, A 4 string banjo is easier to learn.

Pro’s of A 4 string Banjo

  • 4 string banjos are easier to learn for beginners.
  • Brighter sound.
  • Another advantage is its versatility. You can tune it in different ways. For example, like a ukulele, mandolin, and a guitar.
  • Best for playing traditional jazz and Irish music
  • Consist of different types like plectrum and tenor
  • More than one tuning structures

Cons of A 4 string Banjo

  • Rarely in use. A 4 string banjos are not so common. So you will face a problem of looking for repairs or teachers.
  • Cannot play Bluegrass, classical, rock, country, or folk music perfectly.
  • Due to the shorter scale length, the pitch level is low.

Pros of A 5 string Banjo

  • A 5-string banjo is a commonly used musical instrument.  So a user doesn’t face any problem while looking for repairs or teaching.
  • Available everywhere in different models and types.
  • Best for Bluegrass, classical, rock, country, or folk music.
  • The fifth string creates a unique sound.
  • Available in both open-back and resonator-equipped versions
  • The construction is less complex and the price is affordable.
  • Due to the high scale length, pitch quality is deeper.

Cons of A 5 string Banjo

  • One of the big disadvantages is a larger size. 
  • You cannot play Dixieland early Jazz and Celtic music perfectly with 5 string banjos.
  • Hard for beginners to learn. As it requires a lot of practice.
  • The clawhammer is even harder to learn.
  • Only a single tuning structure.

Conclusion

In this article, we discussed 4 string and 5 string banjos in detail. We also tried to compare and answer different questions related to both types of banjos. Like the difference between a 4 and a 5 String Banjo, Pros, and cons of each type of banjos.

However, it depends upon the users, which type of music they want to produce. If a user wants traditional old music or early jazz. Then a 4-string banjo is the best option. If a user is interested in Bluegrass, classical, rock, country, and folk music.

Then a 5-string banjo is the best option. We hope you have enjoyed this article. If there is something that you want to share with us. Please write us in our comment section or email us. We are looking forward to your feedback.