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Why does the 5th string of a 5 string banjo usually start from the 5th fret? From the perspective of a beginning guitar player, it looks rather cumbersome both to play and manufacture. Wouldn't this make some chords impossible, that would be possible if the 5th string began at the peghead?

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1 Answer 1

The Wikipedia article on banjos explains it thus:

The modern 5-string banjo is a variation on Sweeney's original design. The fifth string is usually the same gauge as the first, but starts from the fifth fret, three quarters the length of the other strings. (The long-necked Vega Pete Seeger model starts the fifth string from the eighth fret.) This lets the string be tuned to a higher open pitch than possible for the full-length strings.

I've seen the opposite done on orchestral double basses. There "most professional orchestral players use four-string double basses with a C extension. This is an extra section of fingerboard mounted on the head of the bass which extends the fingerboard under the lowest string and gives an additional four semitones of downward range" (quoting Wikipedia)

double bass c extension

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