$25 Drugstore "Student Guitar" Becomes STEALTH BANJO

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Introduction: $25 Drugstore "Student Guitar" Becomes STEALTH BANJO

About: Tim Anderson is the author of the "Heirloom Technology" column in Make Magazine. He is co-founder of www.zcorp.com, manufacturers of "3D Printer" output devices. His detailed drawings of traditional Pacific...

Make a little guitar into something useful, like a Banjo!
Everyone plays banjo! Humans are born with it!
Just strum the open strings of a banjo. That's a G chord. All the other major chords are one finger straight across. Now you know 300 songs!
"Banjo" is the sound the banjo makes. Your thumb hits that funny high string and it's magically never a wrong note. When you're saying the word banjo, that's a banjo song!
Any dog that wags a tail can play banjo too. Just put the banjo and the wagging tail together, and you've got a fine sound.

Contrast that with learning guitar. Wrong. Notes. Enough Said.

Whereas guitars are omnipresent and cheap (this one was $25 regular price at the drugstore) Banjos are less common and more expensive. We must strive to correct this.
It'll be a stealth banjo. Look like guitar, play like banjo.
Need established. Materials - one impulse bought little guitar. Time: 5 minutes.

Step 1: One Finger Chords

In case you're still hesitating, look at these chord charts from bluegrassbanjo.org
All the major chords can be played with just one finger!

If that's too hard for you, just pick two of the notes from any chord and play those.
That's right, any two notes is a chord!

Now get started by peeling off that pick guard. You'll need that area for writing affirmations.
Encourage your friends to write and draw on your instrument also.
That's what's known as "stakeholder buy-in".
After that they'll like the sound better and maybe even pick it up themselves.

Step 2: Grab a Tuning Peg and Start Swinging

We're going to remove the high and low strings. That means turning those little knobs a bunch of times to loosen the string. There's a crank type thing sold in music stores called a "speed dingus" for turning pegs fast. We're going to be our own crank and do things right.

Grab ahold of a tuning peg and start swinging the guitar around like a Jack Russel terrier with numchuks.

If it flies across the room and hits the wall, that's fine, these El Kabongers are made for that kind of music school. Notice the sound it made, which is the combination of all possible sounds mixed together. Sort of like that super paint you once made by mixing all your paints together at once.


Step 3: Coming Unstrung

Yank those two strings out.

Toss that thick E string across the room like it was a G string.

Install the thin one on the thumb side where the thick one used to be. Repeat the knob-swinging operation in the reverse direction to tighten the string.

Tune it so the four low strings sound like a bugle call.
Fret the thickest (4th) string at the 5th fret. Tune the next thickest (3rd) string open to match the sound.
Fret the thickest (4th) string at the 9th fret. Tune the 2nd string open to match the sound.
Fret the thickest (4th) string at the 12th fret. Tune the next 1st string open to match the sound.

The 1st string looks lonely with an empty neck next to it where you pulled the skinny string from to move to the thumb side. Fret that 1st string at the 5th fret.
Tune the skinny (5th) thumb string you just moved to match that.

That's how Pythagoras and his angels intended instruments to be tuned. With strings that represent integer multiples of something.

A STEALTH BANJO HAS BEEN BORN!
Play it like a banjo! If you don't know how, just pretend, it's the same thing!
Experience Joy!

Step 4: Some Guy Playing the Thing

Looks like guitar!

Plays like Banjo!

Doesn't Suck Much!

If you're the one playing it that is! So now go do it yourself!


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    41 Comments

    Clearly this isn't a "stealth banjo" or any other kind of banjo. A 4 string guitar tuned like a banjo is called a "tenor guitar". It's an instrument that's been around for quite awhile. They became popular in the 20's as an easy crossover instrument for players of the then-more-popular banjo. As the guitar quickly eclipsed the banjo, the tenor guitar fell by the wayside.

    There are lots & lots of alternate/open guitar tunings that will give similarly easy to finger chord shapes without the hassle of removing strings.

    2 replies

    I was expecting some clever way to add a 5th string bridge or something to make it really cool. Tim Anderson has some really cool instructables, but does he always have to "walk on water?"

    The Tenor guitar was started as a crossover instrument for Banjo players who were looking for work when Banjos fell out of favor.

    THANK YOU

    without that, the world may have never known

    Real banjos are so expensive.. This really has a unique sound to it, the tone of a banjo with the acoustics of a guitar. I like it.

    Or you could always turn a banjo into a stealth guitar by adding an extra string, using guitar tuning, putting a humbucker on it and playing it through stacked Marshalls. Heavy Country could be the next big thang, yee haw.

    Everyone loves a good banjo... Maybe not everyone... I knew this one guy... You're right, no one likes them.

    Somebody obviously doesn't know what a banjo is. Here's the big secret; It's a guitar tuned to open G. No, retuning doesn't magically turn your guitar body into a drum head, nor does removing a string. Sorry.

    That tuning part would be so much easier if you just said the tones

    when the beatles first started they used this method for lack of guitar playing ability because johns mother knew how to play the banjo

    Is it possible to tune it to make MINOR chords with one finger?

    1 reply

    yes! just tune it to a minor chord. Then the others will also be minor.

    I'll try it, newer thought it so easy! Why ppl still bother with guitars? Consider to build stealth balalaika next time (I played it a bit, it was funny)

    word of warning. with the whole swinging thing, if it DOES fly and hit the wall, hope you dont snap the neck or do serious damage that affects its playability, cuz then u would have to go ALL the way back to the store, get ANOTHER guitar, and do it ALL over again. what a waste of precious play time!!!