Folk music was big at my college, so it’s no surprise that I learned to love that banjo sound.
I knew little about playing music, and nothing about playing a stringed instrument, but I wanted to make that sound myself. When a tenor banjo came up for sale, I quickly bought it. The seller was a fellow student, son of a famous pianist, and a pianist himself. He said that he’d lost interest: “The banjo is a percussion instrument.” I said, “No, the banjo is a string instrument; the piano is a percussion instrument.”
The tenor banjo has four strings, tuned like a viola: A, D, G, C. I assume “tenor” is because of this parallel to the viola, the tenor instrument of the violin family.
Being interested in singing folk songs and accompanying myself, I painstakingly removed the resonator that redirects sound from the back of the banjo out to the listener. A resonator is not a folk accessory.
I had a small problem: I’m left-handed. So I had to restring the banjo the other way around. No big deal.
This was my instrument for many years, playing a very small list of chords with the pads of my fingers, singing “Go, Tell Aunt Rhody,” and “Logger Lover.”