The Extreme Versatility of the Long Neck Banjo

by Barry Hunn

The first 25 fret long neck banjo started out as a standard 22 fret neck banjo.  Folk legend, Pete Seeger, explained in his banjo instruction book that he had the neck of his banjo cut, and a section of the neck was added that had three more frets in it, and the long neck banjo was born.  The Vega Company decided to make the long neck a standard model when customers were asking for a banjo like Pete’s.

Why the Long Neck? 

The long scale length of the 25 fret (32 7/64”), when tuned to the same intervals as the standard 22 fret banjo “G” tuning, creates an “E” tuning.   So, all of the same chord forms you would use in a G tuning work in the “E” tuning but the actual chords will be different.  For example, the G chord in the low E tuning is an “E” chord.  The C chord that you would finger in a G tuning would be an “A” chord and the D7 that you would play in the G tuning would be a “B7” chord.

Capoing a long neck banjo at the third fret, places the banjo in “G” tuning again.  Many long neck players keep capos on their long neck banjos at the third fret and then capo up OR down as the song might require.

The versatility of a long neck banjo is un-matched.  It can be used for any kind of music, in more keys than are available in other banjos and the keys are available with the quick addition of a capo.

Long Neck Use

The long neck banjo is popular with banjo players who like to sing.  It is also popular with “folk” players who are inspired by groups like “The Kingston Trio”.  The low E tuning has tremendous depth and richness which accompanies a voice very well.  Playing in “E” on the standard “G” banjo doesn’t provide many low notes for many players and is not as “full sounding” for as some players desire.

Capoing the long neck at the first fret allows the banjoist a rich full sounding key of “F”.   Many singers who want to sing in Bb can play out of the “C” chord form on a long neck capoed at the first fret, and have a big, full accompaniment from their banjo that is not otherwise available in a “G” tuned, standard length banjo.

George Grove of the Kingston Trio, plays quite often in “F” with his Deering/ Vega long neck banjos with a capo at the first fret.

The long neck usually tunes the fifth string to G, and when lowering the capo or removing the capo for keys of F#, F, or E, the fifth string is tuned down.  But when playing in G# or A, Bb, B, or C, the same capoing spikes or Shubb sliding capo may be used that is used on standard length, 22 fret  banjos.   The difference is the spikes for A,B, and C, will be on frets, 10, 12 and 13.   The Shubb capo would be mounted accordingly as well.

The long neck player, can have the low E tuning and with the quick addition of a capo at the third fret, and re-tuning the fifth string, be back to standard “G”.    This is the versatility that has made the long neck banjo popular among banjo players who like to sing.

Long neck for you? 

Traditionally, long neck banjos are built as open backs and the most popular Vega models have the tubaphone tone ring.  Bluegrass players usually prefer heavy bronze tone rings (like our Deering ’06 tone ring) and a resonator to focus the sound forward.  Long neck players created a tradition of playing the long neck with an open back.

Deering has made a few long neck banjos with resonators for artists, but the big issue in building long necks with resonators is not the banjo, but the case.  High quality long neck, resonator banjo cases are not only hard to find, but must be custom made, and are more expensive than standard size banjo cases.

Also, tall people with long arms love long necks.  But for us shorter folk, reaching that long neck first position for any length of time can be a challenge. Having said that, some short players own and play long necks and are perfectly comfortable.  It is amazing how inspiration and persistence can overpower challenges.

Vega Long Neck BanjoThe versatility of the long neck banjo is, however, its greatest advantage.  I play in a trio where our banjo player plays virtually everything on his long neck, open back banjo.  Whether he is frailing an old time song, picking a hard driving bluegrass standard, or strumming a rousing folk song, his long neck banjo always fits the song beautifully.

Long Necks in the Electronic Age

The open back long neck is well adapted to electronics like pickups and miniature microphones.  A pickup like our kavanjo pickup offers the long neck player worlds of volume before feedback without any of the usual problems associated with amplifying a banjo.   Some players have literally taped a full size stage microphone inside the open back long necks to amplify them with as natural a sound as possible, using the microphones they already own.

The open back is nice for adapting to electronics.  Because the back allows complete access to the banjo, it is relatively convenient to install pickups, pre-amps, etc in your open back banjo without altering the banjo permanently.

A long neck with a Kavanjo installed, can be combined with other pickups quickly and easily on the long neck open back for more sound choices in more varied environments.

Deep Rich Magic

But what draws us all to the long neck banjo is that deep, rich sound that rings and sustains with a beautiful musicality.   The longer neck contributes to the longer sustain and the longer scale makes strings feel a little softer.

No banjo sounds like a long neck.

Deering is the last American company that produces high quality long neck banjos.  From the economical Woodsongs Campfire Longneck, to the Vega Long Neck to the prestigious Kingston Trio models, the Deering long necks have more sound refinements than any long neck in history.

Whatever music you play, singer or instrumentalist, it will be very hard to find any banjo more versatile or more fun, than a long neck banjo.  Long on magic…that’s the short story and I’m stickin’ to it.

Click here to view all of the Deering Long Neck banjos


Kristin Scott Benson chooses the Deering Golden Series banjos
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