Getting Better Tone

by Pete Wernick

“Banjokid” writes:
Can you explain how to get a better tone? Whenever I play, I don’t get the right tone. Could you help me on this subject?

Well, Banjokid, you’ve opened up quite a large topic this time! Since this forum is not suited to voluminous answers, I’ll stick to a few main points.

The major part of what people call “good tone” is based on the hands and mind of the player. Playing with clarity by hitting only the strings and frets you mean to, with just the right amount of force, is usually considered a necessity for “good tone.”
When I say “mind of the player,” it’s because I think people who play with good tone have a clear idea of how they want their instrument to sound. If you listen to players with tone you really like, the sound of that great tone will etch itself in your mind—as it’s etched in theirs. The more devoted you are to that sound, the more you’ll tend to be able to make it on your instrument. I know that may sound inexact and mysterious, but I find it’s generally true, and rather than trying to explain, I suggest you think about why it is.

One other important factor is the instrument itself. Of course, a fine instrument can sound better than a less fine one, but in general, I think that’s outweighed by the skill and devotion to the tone of the player. The way the instrument is adjusted (“set up”) can sometimes be an important factor. For example, a banjo with its bridge in the wrong place, or with a tendency for strings to buzz, or the head quite loose, or the strings quite old, might be hard to get a good sound out of. So proper adjustment by a skilled luthier can remove obstacles to the instrument’s ability to sound its best.
Then it’s up to the hands and the mind of the player.

In your case, I can only give these principles. If I could hear and watch you play, I might be able to make suggestions. If you can make it to one of my camps, or a workshop at a festival that I’m at, I would be glad to watch, listen, and make suggestions. But if you read what I’ve written and think about it carefully, it might be enough to lead you to get a tone you like better. Good luck! —Pete


Kristin Scott Benson chooses the Deering Golden Series banjos
New call-to-action

Search Blog Post


Jan 8.2024

Tough Banjo Love Result: “My breaks are mine”

Duane writes:

I emailed you a while back and asked for a tab for a tune on one of your jamming videos. Your response was to work something up on my own. I...

Dec 1.2023

Advice for Beginning Banjo Players

Hi from the UK, Pete. I’m hoping you can give me a few pointers. I’ve just purchased my first musical instrument, that being a 5-string banjo no less!! I’ve no...

Sep 26.2023

Getting Away from Strict Memorizing and Creating Your Own Solos

Will J. writes:

I have been taking banjo lessons for about a year and a half now. My instructor is a great banjo player, winning competitions at major events....

sign up for our newsletter


see all