Banjitar Reviews By Guest Writers: Tony Lanier

       I recently had someone write me and asked me to start reviewing banjitars. I only believe in reviewing what I actually play,and I don’t go into music stores to try out instruments. So I did the next best thing-asking other banjitar players to give a review on the ones they own and play. So here is banjitar player Tony Lanier writing about his. Take it away,Tony! 

Zilker ZBJ06 Series Banjitar Review

  •  Rosewood fingerboard
  • 24 brackets
  • Remo Banjo Head
  • comes with strap,pick,& gig bag

The Zilker is a fine example of affordable,high quality instruments that are perfect for the beginner-intermediate player who is wanting a good deal. It’s an eye catching and well constructed 6 string banjo with solid binding. I purchased this instrument three months ago and love it. I did take it to a luthier to tune the head as well as getting the bridge in it’s proper spot. It plays easy and is a wonderful choice whether this is your first banjo hybrid instrument as well as those guitar players wanting a different sound. Once I pick it up,I never want to set it down! I mainly play rhythm on mine,and have my own technique that mimics a 5 string banjo.


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Banjitar Group On Facebook

       As many of you know,I play 5 string banjo (bluegrass & old time) and because of this,I belong to different banjo forum groups and the like. For the most part it’s enjoyable to read the posts and see the videos……until you get someone who has a banjitar (or wants one) and starts asking questions. Then out come the narrow minded “5 string puritans”,as I call them. They usually know nothing about 6 string banjos,never owned one much less touched one,but there they are posting about it like they’re authorities deemed so by the “Bluegrass Gods”. First thing they’ll do is discourage anyone from playing the instrument as it doesn’t “fit in” with their idea of bluegrass instruments.    Usual misguided comment is “it’s for guitarists who want to play banjo”

       Nothing could be further from the truth. I’ve had readers contact me thru this blog who have never ever touched a guitar and this is their first instrument. (I wish Deering would quit using this reasoning to sell their 6 string banjos because it doesn’t wash) Second method of attack is “if you want to play banjo,get a 5 string”. Egad. Banjitar was around long before bluegrass was a thought in Earl Scruggs’ head. In fact,when bluegrass was new,a lot of banjo players of the day saw Earl as being sacrilegious and a rebel. In short, by many old time banjoists,Earl just didn’t fit in.  But that’s besides the point. 

To make a safe haven for all of us who play banjitar,where we can share videos and playing tips, I have created a Facebook group. You can join up here . All you need is a Facebook account. Best of all no 5 string puritans are going to make comments that make 6 string banjo sound like it’s a “little lower than”. Hope to see you there soon! 

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Danny Barker – A New Orleans Banjitarist

        dannybarker1  New contacts have led to “new to me” discoveries- such as  jazz banjitarist Danny Barker,who played a Vega 6 string banjo. (Jan 13 1909-March 13,1994) He also played guitar and ukulele,in addition to being a singer and songwriter. He played rhythm guitar/banjo guitar with legendary players such as Cab Calloway,Lucky Millinder,and Benny Carter during the 30’s. In addition,he also played with Jelly Roll Morton and played back up for his wife,vocalist Blue Lu Barker. There is a CD out there called “The Fabulous Banjo of Danny Barker” and the link to hear it on utube is here .  There is also a video featuring different legends of New Orleans Musicians here . 

Granted,I’ve been discovering the jazz banjo-guitarists lately. However,to be clear,all sorts of musical styles can be played on this instrument. One gentleman wrote me recently wanting to know if it as okay to pursue bluegrass on his banjitar. Of course it is! In fact I would say more bluegrass is needed,in addition to blues,ragtime,gospel,fiddle tunes and Celtic music. So go out there and play!

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Happy Holidays! Right Hand Technique Question……To Roll,Or Not?

      A reader of this blog contacted me with an inquiry as whether or not to do “banjo rolls” on his banjitar,in addition to questions about fingerpicking. I was very glad for these questions as it revealed to me that there’s still a lot of confusion as to what a 6 string banjo really is. So lets explore that. 

It’s important to realize that banjitars are a hybrid instrument… banjo ukuleles. A banjo ukulele is still a ukulele. Banjitars,or banjo-guitars,as they were called in times past,fall in the same boat. Despite the banjo body,it’s still a guitar. Tho players of these instruments of the past referred to them as banjos,which I don’t doubt for a moment they did on purpose to enhance their rep as multi instrumentalists. 

Now in saying that your 6 string banjo is indeed a guitar with a banjo pot is by no means a put down,not should you view it with less enthusiasm than before you started reading this installment. But it does give you a definite sense of direction in your playing of it. In other words,

banjo rolls are not used on banjitars. 

What to do then? Why there’s lots. You can flatpick,fingerpick,do Carter Style playing on it. I use a thumbpick on mine so I can go back and forth between picking melodies & strumming to out and out fingerpicking. in classical guitar there is a right hand technique in which one sounds two strings at the same time,say the 2nd and 5th,as an example (depending on what you’re playing) It is in banjo playing terminology referred to as a pinch. I play using pinches where I feel they’ll fit in and sound good. But banjo right hand bluegrass rolls such as the forward roll,reverse roll,and so on aren’t used on a banjitar. 

This leads me to the next realization about your banjo-guitar. People assume it’s related to the 5 string banjo. Nothing could be further from the truth. It’s actually a cousin to the tenor or 4 string banjo. Both guitar-banjos and tenor banjos were used in early jazz. Django Reinhardt played a banjitar as his first guitar and recorded extensively with one in the late 1920’s.    

     And this is where the banjo part of your instrument shines forth. It is perfect for picking single string melodies. Try it. Playing a single string tune with no fills or chords sounds wonderful on it- better than on guitar. The tonal quality of the banjo pot makes it all sound really rich. 

This frees you up to pursue whatever right hand techniques you would like as there’s countless guitar books on the market on finger and flat picking. I have quite a few in my online store at Mandolin Babe’s Pickin Parlour . I also teach via Skype. I studied a lot of classical guitar and fingerpicking in my youth. My teaching webpage is Sherrie’s Folk/Bluegrass Lessons in case you’d like to book some lessons with me. 

I also want to wish one & all a very Happy Holiday Season! Wishing you joy,happiness,and cheer! 

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St. James Infirmary TAB For Banjitar

       I had a delightful encounter with one of the readers of this blog recently on Skype,and that led me to play this arrangement of “St James Infirmary”,where you’ll get introduced to two different formations of a Gm chord- one is an easy index finger only affair and the other has a 4th string root……not to mention it’s a moveable chord form! 

This tune is one of those times where it’s played without a capo,with first position chords. Just stick to the upper four strings for the chord,and it’ll sound wonderful. Of course,you can choose to use a capo should you prefer it in a different key,but I wanted to offer the option of playing a tune without a capo. 

I have recently become aware of something I wish I’d realized sooner- that while 5 string banjo players are quick to think of the 6 string is a relative of theirs,this simply isn’t so. I too went along with this sort of thinking without analyzing it,and it dawned on me that if I had to pick a cousin for the banjitar,it would indeed be the tenor banjo-not the 5 string. I say this as banjitars excel at melody picking and 4 string chord forms.  

   In working with the concept of using all six strings for melody playing,and for chords,only playing those chord forms with no 5th or 6th strings involved. The results of this has been wonderful. Chords sound much clearer,as does the melodies. 

Other adjustments that I’ve found to be useful is in using the armrest as a pivot point for your picking arm. While there’s another school of thought in playing,that of resting the heel of your hand on the bridge while playing,I found that in my own experience that has proven not to work so well-it simply cramps my right hand up where I cannot use it effectively. So,in letting the weight of your arm rest on the armrest and having either your ring or middle finger resting on the head of the banjo,you should find you have great control over your picking as well as controlling the tone. If you ever studied classical guitar,you would use the same right arm resting technique on your banjitar. 

If you have any Christmas carol requests,this would be the time to speak up and while I can’t promise I can do arrangements for every request I get,I will do my best to put up some good sounding TAB for you. In the meantime,click on the link here and print yourself a copy of this and have fun playing it! BlackJackBarnetportrait StJamesInfirmarytabBanjitar  

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Now Giving Banjitar Lessons In Exchange For Donations

One thing has been persistent in the messages that catch my ear lately-and that is to ask “How may I serve?” In not knowing in what way to serve,I put the question out to the Universe-I asked for a definite lead. And I got it….thanks to my Dad. He’d been watching one of those interesting shows where you get to see what other countries are like,and this one was on Viet Nam- focusing on a 96 yr old music teacher there who teaches using Skype and asks for donations in return. The light went on in my head,and to see if I’ve intuited correctly,I’m putting it out there:

I’m now giving banjitar lessons in exchange for donations instead of a fixed rate. Find out more by clicking here   . As I know that many of us are on a budget,I thought this might open the doors for many who have been wanting lessons but have felt they couldn’t afford them. I’m starting with this one instrument for a couple of reasons: first is to help the number of players grow,and the second is there’s very little good playing info out there at present. (I know because I’ve purchased DVDs and the like in the past on banjitar playing,and the info I got left a lot to be desired) You could also look at this as my offering lessons on a sliding scale. 🙂

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Rev.Gary Davis…….Banjitar player,Gospel Blues Picker

    I just picked up a newly printed songbook of Rev Gary Davis’ Gospel tunes,and imagine my surprise as I’m browsing thru my copy and I find a photo of the Rev playing a banjitar! This player is new to me,so I looked him up on wikipedia,and yes,he really was a minister-ordained as a Baptist minister in 1933. Blind from a very young age,he picked up guitar and had a two finger style. The tabs are a bit challenging-the guy must’ve had big hands or long fingers because there is some parts of the tab I’m still trying to accomplish when it comes to chord formations. Songs include “12 Gates To The City”,”Children of Zion”,”Right Now”,among others. I contacted the author to ask about who made the Revs banjitars,and according to him,it was Gibson. BTW- Ernie Hawkins (the author) is very quick to answer emails and was once a student of Rev Davies. There is also a CD featuring the Revs banjitar playing- it’s called “The Guitar & Banjo of Rev Gary Davis” look for a copy on or eBay.

     I have openings for banjitar/guitar students wanting to learbeginninfingerpicking with a focus on blues. Contact me thru this page or otwitter @mandolinchick. I teach on Skype,and have taught coast to coast! 


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Keni Lee Burgess: A Banjitar Player You Should Know




While he loves the sound of banjos, Keni Lee didn’t want to learn a whole new instrument and deal with learning new chord forms and a whole new fretboard layout. And that led him to start playing banjitar……to go along with his guitar playing,busking and teaching,in addition to being a Dean at the Juliard School of Music. (He’s also a professionally trained chef tho he makes his daily bread thru music these days)

However,the search for the perfect banjitar was something right out of Goldilocks and the Three Bears. His first Banjitar,a Deering,he deemed too heavy due to the tone ring. (He told me this was heavier than any resonator guitar he had ever played!)

The second one was one made in the 70’s by the maker of National Resonator Guitars, John Dopyera. He felt this to be a nice instrument,but when he found his 3rd banjitar, on eBay, a 3/4 anonymous brand sized instrument with a wooden pot shipped from Germany,it was deemed as being “just right”. Keni Lee doesn’t get emotionally attached to his instruments,and at the time of this writing,the 2nd banjitar is up for sale at Matt Umanov in NYC.

Another playing style opened up to him when he started playing bottleneck blues slide guitar. Transferring his knowledge of bottleneck blues over to his 6 string banjo gave him the gift of a whole new sound. He prefers open tunings when he plays to avoid having to mute strings to avoid dissident tones. Open tunings,he says,are in most cases sympathetic to each other. To hear his upbeat plucky style,here’s a link to a Utube video of Keni playing “Fishing Blues”.

The guy is an amazing fingerpicker- another video in which you get to hear him play and sing “Can’t Be Satisfied” is right here: v=F89Gr_OyTwo&feature=share&list=PL8CCC454EB3731DC5

His playing is incredibly smooth and effortless and his performance style is given with all the ease and sincerity of being greeted by an old friend on the porch.

In addition to playing guitar & banjitar,he also plays 3 string cigar box guitar with great finesse and has his own courses on cigar box guitar as well as six string guitar which he offers for sale on eBay. Keni Lee’s Facebook page is at this link:


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Fantastic Deering Banjo Article on Banjitar Set Up and A Great Old Book

         As mentioned in the title,a wonderful article on banjitar set up is on the Deering site and the link to it is here I’d rather share someone else’s well written article than redo one just to have it written by me. I’d advise you to print it out for future reference.(I don’t think they’d mind)

        Another discovery made a few weeks ago was my picking up a used copy of “The Complete Blues and Ragtime Guitar Player” by Russ Shipton. This would be for us players who tune to standard guitar tuning. The arrangements are wonderfully easy for anyone wanting to get into fingerpicking,and also include strumming styles for blues as well as ragtime. The TABS are a wonderful size for more mature eyes to read,and gives nice sized chord box illustrations where needed. This book also has the TAB to “Alices Restaurant” in addition to more standard rags and blues. This book was printed before it was cool to include a CD with it, so you’ll need to go around on Utube or dig out records to hear what these tunes are supposed to sound like. I shop for used books on and while this one was a little more worn than I ideally like,it was still a wonderful bargain and there’s no tears or scribbling on the pages,so I’m a happy camper. 

        Life has kept me busy in as much as tax time and other things going on,but it looks like things are calming down now….aside from that 5.3 shaker in La Brea,which I felt down here in the South Bay of CA. It really felt as tho I was on  houseboat in choppy seas. Luckily,no damage. (tho my cat was not happy with it) 

         I am still offering video chat beginning banjitar lessons,so do PM me if interested. I offer one 30 min free session per person. I teach women exclusively at this time as the guys who have inquired thru my FB page have been nothing short of disgusting. So I decided to offer to women only. 

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How Do I Make My Banjitar Sound Brighter?

  •     Dang good question that popped up on the Banjo Hangout-and it also gave me inspiration for another installment here! Some of the answers were more complicated than I could believe-changing from a frosted to a clear head,sanding down the bridge,painting the inside of the resonator with flat paint……and to this I say WHOA THERE,PARDNER! Not to undermine or say the suggestions I just mentioned are inaccurate…..but are you a luthier? Banjo heads and the installment can be pricey-and do you really want to mess up your instrument by experimenting with paint,sanding a bridge when you’ve never done it before,which means you may have to go buy a new one. And why put out all this money when it may be totally not necessary? When I was in rock garage type bands and the amp didn’t come on,did we go taking it apart,replacing tubes,messing with wires and going where no rocker had went before? NO. The rule was to start simple. Meaning…..(drum roll please) you checked to see if your amp was plugged in to the outlet. To march on with this simple first philosophy,here’s the following suggestions that call for no severe or expensive alterations to your guitjo. Here we go: 
  • Use a capo. This will instantly give you a brighter sound,and the higher you go,the higher the pitches.
  • If you’re not using a capo,play an arrangement of the song in the third or 5th position ie- play it higher up the neck,or transpose the song to a different key. 
  • Mind where your right hand is hitting on the body. general rule of thumb here is closer to the bridge gives more treble,and closer to the neck causes a deeper tone. experiment with right hand position. 
  • If you’re into alternate tunings,experiment with those. 
  • Try using different string brands and alloy combos. Phospher bronze works great for some,another alloy blend may work better for others. Each instrument is individual,and when you find the perfect string set for you,you’ll know it. I went thru this on my mandolin-and discovered LaBella strings bring out the best tone on it! 

Are you flatpicking or fingerpicking? Experiment with picks,both plectrum and fingerpicks. Try thumbpicks. Experiment with different materials like plastic,nickel,brass,etc. See what you like & what you don’t. 

        Try the simple things first-and if you find nothing has worked for you,then yes,go to a qualified luthier and ask for suggestions.  And have fun exploring! 


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