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39 Mike Keyes Irish Tenor Banjo Blog

Banjos for Sale:
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7 Clareen


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1 Pietsch
2 Clareen

3 Deering


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13 Tuning a Tenor Banjo
14 Tenor Banjo Fretboard
15 Adjusting the Truss Rod
16 How to Play Tenor Banjo
17 Playing in standard tuning
18 Finding the Perfect Bridge
19 Three Head Banjo Wrench
20 Packing your instrument for flight!

Tenor Banjo Strings:
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4 Andy Perkins
5 String Express
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Irish Music sites:

Trad Tune

2 Irish Tune

The Session

4 Tradconnect 

To learn more about my world of Traditional Music, check out my Blog


Mike Keyes: Banjo Blog

Making Your Best Banjo

There is a Firestone ad out in which an owner of a vintage car happily passes up car dealerships because his vehicle has been taken care of by the Firestone store.  The gist of the ad is that the best car is the one you have.

So it is with Irish Tenor Banjo. For whatever reason, an obsessive desire to sound like Barney McKenna has never erupted amongst Irish banjo players.  Any banjo that sounds decent (a relative term according to fiddle players) will do as long as it is playable and loud enough to be heard in sessions.  Oh, there is a Holy Grail - the Essex Paragon - but only because BMc played one (with a Gibson style tone ring) for a while and because it is a quality banjo.  Almost any good banjo will do subject to the tastes of the owner.  Which brings me to my main point.

I've gone through a lot of banjos since I started playing Irish music.  This is due to a combination of Banjo Acquisition Syndrome (BAS) and a curious mind about banjos.  I played the five string banjo for years and only had two banjos the entire time, both Gibson Mastertones of some sort.  Since then I have either owned or played a variety of banjos including Epiphone Recording As, Paramount A-C, various Lange built, Vega built (including Style M), B&D/Bacon and Gibsons of all sorts.  I have settled on what I call Gibsonoid banjos as my day to day players.

The obvious rhetorical question is: "Why Gibson?" It's not because it is the best sounding banjo (doesn't exist since it is a matter of taste) nor is it because I fell totally in love with the banjo.  The main reason is that more is known about the Gibson style banjo than any other thanks to Earl Scruggs and if you want a good banjo that will not break the bank, you can actually make them up from parts that are easily obtained.  Hence I have a number of banjos made from the Gibson pattern.

The vast majority of banjos sold in the past 50 years have been five string banjos.  Of those a huge number have been built on the Gibson pattern that started in the late 1920s, the one piece flange (OPF) double coordinator rod eleven inch head banjo.  Almost every modern banjo is a variation of this model including a few that look as if they have dowel sticks but really have a coordinator rod imbedded in a dowel stick.

Throw in the American desire to sound like Earl and you have a number of converted banjos (from tenor to  five string) resulting in a surplus of tenor banjo necks designed to go on a one piece flange patterned pot.  Basically the tenor neck was taken off and a five string neck attached.

Of course it is not as simple as that, the neck has to be fitted to the pot, but it is almost as simple as swapping out parts.

Once I realized this, I decided to try my hand at building a Gibsonoid banjo - I say Gibsonoid because rarely are there original Gibson pots involved - with a TB-7 neck given to me by a friend.  I used a vintage Gibson rim, top of the line parts and a lot of money with the resultant banjo being a killer.  Ironically I don't travel with this banjo anymore because the parts alone are worth a lot of money and it looks just like an original TB-7 which go for nearly $80K these days.  Too many people have tried to take the banjo from me.

My next step was to try and find a way to make a similar banjo for less money.  I needed a travel banjo that would not break the bank to replace and if it was broken by the airlines would not break my heart.  One of the virtues of the Gibson system is that you can take the banjo apart by removing the neck and put it in your luggage surrounded by clothes and bubble wrap.  It has a much better chance of surviving than even in a Calton case.  Plus, it is probably cheaper to fly on Frontier that way.

I went to the Banjothon several years ago where I discussed this issue with a few of my five string friends. (The Banjothon is a private gathering of original pre-war Gibson five string banjo owners.) It was pointed out to me that First Quality in Louisville, KY has a huge collection of tenor necks obtained during conversions and that they would be glad to sell me some of them.  I called Eric Sullivan about my project and ended up with several of the lower end TB-0. TB-00 and TB 100 necks that they had.  Every neck was at least fifty years old and made from very good wood.  They also fit the Recording King  OPF rims I found at Banjo.com.

I made a very nice banjo from a 1954 TB 100 neck and an RK pot but then a funny thing happened. RK banjos became so popular that the parts became scarce due to demand.  There were no spare rims left.…


A warm welcome to all players of Irish Music on the Tenor Banjo.

Members: 1,264

This website was established in February 2010 & is dedicated to promoting the playing of Irish Music on primarily the Tenor Banjo, but also on the Tenor Guitar & the Mandolin.
Joining this site is easy and once you become a member, you will have lots of fun setting up your own page, where you can invite friends & clients to check out your music!
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Please feel free to PHOTOS of your own treasured musical instruments & of your experiences while playing them.
You can also help to build up this site, as a useful home for all players & learners of the Irish Tenor Banjo, by posting links to useful Tenor Banjo websites including YouTube Tenor Banjo Videos which have inspired you.
Feel free to initiate discussions too, on any aspect of the Irish Tenor Banjo on our Forum & please use the Blogs to keep us posted on your own Banjo activities.
Please keep us informed too, of all the exciting Tenor Banjo related Events coming up in your own area. 

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Latest Activity

Seamus Duffy replied to Tommy Power's discussion Clifford Essex Paragon Tenor Banjo For Sale
"SorryTommy I'm interested in a lighter banjo Seamus"
23 hours ago
Alan Jones posted photos
Rich Ward commented on Rich Ward's video

Irish reel on Tenor guitar

"Thanks Ronan And thanks for putting me straight on that Is it an irish tune do you know or scottish origin"
Ronan McGrath commented on Rich Ward's video

Irish reel on Tenor guitar

"Thanks. Its not usually classed as a reel though - a barndance or strathspey called Jenny will you marry me. Nice playing"
Rich Ward commented on Rich Ward's video

Irish reel on Tenor guitar

"Its a tanglewood with cedar top not an expensive instrument Ronan"
Ronan McGrath commented on Rich Ward's video

Irish reel on Tenor guitar

"What make is your guitar, sounds nice"
Swelkie commented on Dick Glasgow's video

Scottish Smallpipes & Paragon Banjo - 6/8 Marches!

"Just right! Any idea of the tunes' names?"
Alan O Rourke commented on Alan O Rourke's video


"Hello Bernard ,this particular banjo has been sold. All of my banjos are completely handcrafted and custom built to customers spec.This banjo and all other 19 fret tenor banjos are 3,000 Euro.No veneers used at all on my banjos I use only solid…"
Bernard Morgan commented on Alan O Rourke's video


"Hi, how much wud this banjo cost ?"
Rich Ward posted a video

Munster Bacon Irish jig

Munster Bacon jig on tenor guitar
Alan O Rourke posted a video


Heres a great tune from Tony ORourke from Australia who came to see us in the Fleagh sligo 2014 playing an Alsbanjo, thanks Tony great to have met you.
Stephen Doherty commented on Alan O Rourke's video
Paul Busman posted a blog post

Epiphone bt75?

Anyone know anything about an "Epiphone by Gibson bt 75" tenor?  I have a line on one which looks reasonable.  I'd like to start playing Irish tunes on a tenor.  I'm not sure if it's a 19 or 17 fret.See More
Bernard Morgan commented on Dick Glasgow's group Your Tenor Banjos?
"Hello lads ,Im delighted to join the group ,,, I play a Framus Nashville which I have for 30 years now and I love it but is very quiet in a session so I am looking to buy a new banjo but not sure wat to go for !! some people say that the Emerald is…"
Profile IconGuido and Bernard Morgan joined Dick Glasgow's group

Your Tenor Banjos?

I'm curious to know what is the most commonly played Banjo, when it comes to Irish Music, today. If all our members post details, it might give us some idea.So what do you play?See More
Alan Jones commented on Alan Jones's video

The Maid Behind the Bar

"Thanks Martin, glad you thinks so.   "
Bernard Morgan posted a blog post

Which banjo is best ?

Im looking for a new banjo or a very good used banjo but not sure which banjo to go for , if some one could advise me I would really appreciate it. ThanksSee More
Peter P. Johanssen posted a video

Swallowtail Jig

Playing with a band - from Youtube that is. - One can just get better , I think, as there is a mistake at the end. However, I give it a go, to start with..
Aug 22
Peter P. Johanssen posted a photo
Aug 21
Van Hunter commented on Daniel Burke's video

Dave McNevin - Reels

"Very exciting! I liked the tunes, would like to know their names. And I like this video. Would like it better if  next time you removed the clutter from the table so we could see your left hand and perhaps learn the brand of banjo you are…"
Aug 21

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August 2014



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