Forum - Banjo Ben Clark

Discuss the Banjo lesson: How to Tune Your Banjo

We’ll do an overview of the 5 strings, then learn how to tune with and without a tuner. Finally, we’ll look at alternate tunings and the capo!


I’m brand new and want to thank you for these lessons and your amazing teaching style! I’ve already learned a lot and was just asking myself, tune up or down, when you answered it in the video.

I notice you keep your capo above the nut. Knowing the tension on the strings from nut to peg changes tuning, is there any problem with keeping it there? And if there’s no tension on the capo, do you have any issues with it rattling or moving when playing?

Also, what are your thoughts on a ZERO FRET?

Much appreciated,

Great questions! I put JUST enough tension to keep the capo from coming back over the nut, but it will still move a bit if I touch it. I don’t want to have it change the tuning any. This will also vary based on the shape of your headstock and how the capo seats. I’m not familiar with the zero fret…you’ll have to enlighten me :smile:

Great, I was wondering and that answered it. I imagine it also dampens any resonance in those strings as well.

I was looking at ordering a Recording King RK-36 and they offered an option of an pre-installed “Zero Glide Nut” (zero fret) and I’d never heard of that myself, so I had to research it. It’s a fret wire placed just below the nut at the zero position to keep your open string tone the same as fretted (fret wire vs bone/plastic). In the video’s I’ve seen, there’s a noticeable difference in volume. There’s quite a few videos out there, this page is a great resource and has a lot of video comparisons. As with anything, some people swear by them and others swear at them!

Zero Glide Replacement Nut

Very interesting! I’m intrigued. By the way, I’m about to be carrying Recording Kings and I’ll make it worth your while to purchase from me.

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I’ve always steered clear of zero feet instruments, since I most often see them on low end models. I just did some reading and apparently that’s not always the case.

If it’s a quality instrument, I can see the advantage of having the string height being absolutely perfect going over the 1st fret without having to file down the nut (and risk filing too far, which I’ve done more than once.) I hadn’t even considered tone issues. That’s really interesting.

You’ll have to post a review if you order that RK-36.

Ben, that’s a deal! I was originally looking at Deerings, but read so many people online raving about the Recording Kings being that much more of a banjo… I’ll PM you with the details I found online. Thanks, I’d much rather buy from you!

Mark, I read a lot of that online too and it was true to a degree. Now I read that Gretsches, the 2015 Gibson Les Paul and other high ends are going that route too.

I guess it all comes down to personal preference, I guess. I’m not hard for or against, but it seems like a good idea. If I do get a ZeroGlide or other type of zero fret, I’d be happy to review but I really have no comparison and I’m barely starting. (My Cripple Creek is in a wheelchair! :rofl: )

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is this tuning the same for a 6 string banjo?

As far as I know, a 6 string Banjo is tuned like a guitar, EADGBE. I’m pretty sure that’s why you commonly see them called a guitjo.

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Just a newbie to world of banjo observations / question:
After I changed the strings (per the instructions on the beginner track lessons) the first time on my used (new to me) banjo, I was amazed at how much better it stayed in tune. I was expecting it to to be worse, but was pleasantly surprised by the improved intonation and brighter sound. Next, was also surprised that some strings tended to go sharp between sessions…this was unexpected. After the new strings were installed, it seems the most likely tuning change I have to make at the beginning of each session (in G tuning) is both G strings may be a tad sharp. Just wondered if others have had similar experiences? I use a little D’Addario tuner and love it.

@xmark The banjo seems to get a lot of criticism for never being in tune. Like the joke: what’s the difference between a Harley Davidson and a banjo? You can tune a Harley. - or - If you drop a Mandolin player and a Banjo player out of a plane, who hits first? The Mandolin player - the banjo player has to stop and tune his instrument twice on the way down.

But honestly, I rarely have to tune my banjos. I have a Deering Goodtime that I literally take with me everywhere (camping, hunting, fishing, kayaking, etc) and a Washburn B-19. Call me crazy, but almost every time I pick them up and check the tuning, it’s almost dead-on or just a smidge out.

BTW, I use the Snark Tuner that Ben sells in the general store. It’s great! (especially with this little gadget)

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It seems odd that they’re constantly sharp. Two ideas off the top of my head…

1 - is it possible that the temperature in the room is changing drastically? Most instruments are subject to tuning issues as the strings change temperature. Banjos are extra sensitive because the head also tends to move, too.

2 - did you check your intonation? Maybe the strings are in tune when played open, but get sharp as you fret them?

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I had the same experience except it was the two D strings. I thought it odd they would go sharp instead of flat. I never did figure out why. I decided to change my banjo head and bought the drumdial to tune it in and changed strings in the process and the strings stay in tune now.

The issue is most likely one of these two:

  1. As @Mark_Rocka said, the temperature change in the room can affect it.

  2. Most likely, the slots in the nut of your banjo are pinching your string. As you tune up to pitch, the string gets hung a bit so that you actually twist the tuner further than it needs to go, but you can’t tell because the nut is grabbing the string. As it sits, the nut slot slowly lets the string tension loosen and the string tuning goes sharp. The best thing to do is loosen your string just enough to pull it out of the nut slot, then lightly clean it out with a piece of fine sandpaper folded in half. That will remove the debris or snags that may be catching your string, but be careful not to file it down and actually lower the string slot depth. If this doesn’t help, you may need to be a bit more aggressive.

One way to tell if this is the issue is to tune your banjo like normal (always tuning from below the note up to the note), then lightly press on the string between the nut and the tuning post. If it makes your string pitch pop up sharply, then that’s the issue.


Wow, thanks for all of the ideas and comments! I’ll check these out and try to learn a little something along the way. :grinning:

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I was what determines the tune for each string for a specific tuning? Like for a G tuning why are other strings D and B and not other notes?

For open chord tuning, like open G or open D, the strings are tuned to the notes in that chord. So, the notes in the G chord are G, B, and D. Notes in the D chord are D, F#, and A.

ok thank you. I forgot that they were the notes (1,3,5) in each major chord. Thought diatonic key signatures determined it but I guess theyre for something else.

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It seems to me my 3rd String G is the one that gives me the most problems. The others come into tune fairly easy but G is a pain in the behind. :slight_smile:

it tends to give me a buzzing off it.