FRETS.COM Illustrated Glossary

Lots of instruments have 'em but the fifth string defines a banjo
Fifth String
© Frank Ford, 8/23/99; Photos by FF

This little short drone string is unique in American fretted instruments. Lots of instruments have fifth strings, but the banjo's fifth string is tuned higher than the rest, unlike the fifth string on other instruments, which is usually the fifth highest in pitch.

It may seem amazing, but the five string banjo was the original banjo style. Later, shortly after 1900, the fifth string was removed to form the four string tenor and plectrum banjo styles, which carried the rhythm of early jazz bands. The five string banjo remained the rural musician's favorite for "old-time" country, folk and post-World War II Bluegrass music.

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