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

Picture of $25 Drugstore "Student Guitar" Becomes STEALTH BANJO

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

Picture of One Finger  Chords

In case you're still hesitating, look at these chord charts from
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

Picture of 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

Picture of 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.

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

Picture of 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!


mni ming yun (author)2014-10-06


Mr. Potato Head (author)2010-11-08

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.

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.


without that, the world may have never known

loafers (author)2012-07-30

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.

bassmonkey (author)2009-04-09

no one likes banjos...

wobbler (author)bassmonkey2012-07-19

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.

JKibs95 (author)bassmonkey2009-04-17

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

dylans88keys (author)JKibs952010-05-18


bassmonkey (author)JKibs952009-04-25


mikaelthemycologist (author)2010-08-01

Maybe one or two more than 300 songs.

cobbtothejay (author)2010-07-15

just made a "stealth banjo"!

TragicSnowfall (author)2010-07-03

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.

Yenuze (author)2010-06-18

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

Computothought (author)2010-03-30

Cool idea and it works!.

fancypenguin845 (author)2009-08-24

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

girobusan (author)2009-07-21

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

TimAnderson (author)girobusan2009-07-21

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

girobusan (author)2009-07-21

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)

im3733 (author)2008-08-08

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!!!

spiffytessa (author)im37332009-01-03

But if it went flying across the room and exploded on impact wouldn't it make an awesome story to tell? ;)

XaiofDren (author)2008-10-14

Dude, you bought a guitar-- er, banjo for $20?? At a drugstore, too??!!! Whoa.

kiwi20 (author)2007-10-27

dude I play the banjo too!!!!!!!!!!! Banjos own!!!!!!!!!!

NEED HELP sorta (author)kiwi202008-08-07

A statement I've never heard before "Banjos own!" I think I like that statement.

Bigdawg (author)2007-10-12

Um, no, Tim. It sounds just like a really cheap, badly tuned guitar to me. However, in an effort to be kind out of deference to your many wonderful Instructables, I refrain from critiquing your playing skills.

TimAnderson (author)Bigdawg2007-10-12

Like so many things, it's a lot more fun when you Do It Yourself. Your average USA person is trained to be very afraid of making music, drawing pictures, etc. etc. By contrast there are THE TWO RULES OF THE BANJO: 1: THERE ARE NO WRONG NOTES ON A BANJO 2: THERE ARE NO WRONG TECHNIQUES ON A BANJO

Wade Tarzia (author)TimAnderson2007-10-15

A harp is similar. I once went to a medievalist conference and played with someone's idle medieval harp -- the notes were always right, and the combinations often sounded right. I went right home and built a small Irish harp (two octaves; no sounding box so that it was quiet would not disturb anybody if I played it in the basement). I didn't know anything about music, but I've spent many hours plucking tunes for myself that I've enjoyed (though no two were ever the same -- don't know notes, can't replicate the same music! Who knows, maybe that's good!

ksimonte (author)Wade Tarzia2008-05-05

Do you know anyone named sam anderson?

Wade Tarzia (author)ksimonte2008-05-05

No -- should I?

ksimonte (author)Wade Tarzia2008-05-09

sorry i meant to ask tim anderson but the thing got messed up

its a lion (author)Bigdawg2007-10-12

im with you about the sound.

Labot2001 (author)2008-03-22

Very nice! Can I do this with a kid-sized guitar? I have one from when I was like 8, and I've never used it.

threecheersfornick (author)2007-10-20

Okay... two questions: A) doesn't it sound REALLY weird (for a banjo) without the snare-thing? and B) Can I do this with a ukelele? 'Cause ukes are a) easier to get b) cheaper c) more portable... Thanks in advance!

gnargnar (author)2007-10-13

freaking. awesome. although 25 dollar guitars aren't found often around these parts, it might be worth the investment.

hondagofast (author)2007-10-13

I have to do this with my guitar now.

awoodcarver (author)2007-10-12

Step 5 stay away from Jon Voight,Burt Reynolds,Ned Beatty and any canoe trips with them .......I play bad enough without any mods to my guitar , but i just got to try

gmoon (author)2007-10-12

From now on, I'm gonna 'unstring' all my guitars like that... This made my day, Tim. Very funny, thanks...

threecheersfornick (author)2007-10-12

Nice. If it really works, I may have to try it. Unfortunate that I don't have 25 dollars though...

lennyb (author)2007-10-12

nice job tim as my git skills are rather lacking i may try this. although i sort of do already i always tune my axe to an open e tuning and then play it like a slide guitar or just use my finger across the strings for a bar? chord means in playing rhythm of course but thats all i can handle anyway{my fingers are too thick and arthritic to learn it right}

PKM (author)2007-10-12

Hmm.. not being much of a military type, I'm not familiar with bugle calls. Am I right in thinking you tune the second, third and fourth strings to frets 4, 7 and 12 on the first string (ignoring the string that you moved), ie the third, fifth and octave of the bottom string? Then the string that you moved becomes... I run out of music knowledge here...

TimAnderson (author)PKM2007-10-12

I added those instructions to step 3, hope that helps...

About This Instructable




Bio: Tim Anderson is the author of the "Heirloom Technology" column in Make Magazine. He is co-founder of, manufacturers of "3D Printer" output ... More »
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