Minstrel Banjo

For enthusiasts of early banjo

So, I finished my first four stringer. It's 24.5" scale and has a tiny gourd and gut strings but it generally is different beast possibly due to small gourd but it's so hummy, maybe its the long skinny neck. It would jive well with kalimba.

I fail to come up with the proper words to describe it but it feels like there's more play with the space between the notes. Makes for the most buttery licks. It's a joy to play and i played it for 9 hours n change last Saturday haha

I know Mark plays his 4 stringer often and it's because of him I am saving up for mande banza by Pete but anybody else fond of the four strings of funk? Any knowledge why removing a string produces such a difference in the tonal qualities?

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Well, which string did you leave off....the low bass wound "4th" string?  Or some other?  How are you tuning it?

Yeah just left off bass and regular ol E/A tuning

Glad someone else has visited funky town! Yes, I know exactly what you mean by tonal difference but it is very difficult to describe. I call it "spongy". and yet the notes somehow seem cleaner. Perhaps the 3 and 4 stringers are more the natural Platonic form for the gourds and that is why they made them that way to begin with? I also find that playing on the second and third string and off of barre chords way up the neck sounds better with the 4 stringer than with the 5 or with a frame minstrel banjo. And all of this influences my ideas of early banjo technique pre-tutors, which were structured around the recently emerged 5 stringed instrument.

It comes down to sympathetic vibration.  Every time you hit a string it imparts vibration to the bridge and banjo head. This impulse in part excites each of the other strings on the instrument. You actually get some tones coming out of each string, albeit at a much lower amplitude. Therefore the tonal quality will be different whether you have 4 or 5 strings. When you consider that the bass string is often not tuned in the fundamental chord of the instrument then this can introduce some dissonance. Something to try when playing on a 5 string is to finger an appropriate harmonic on the other strings, especially the bass string when playing your notes.  I have noticed that doing this creates a cleaner sound than simply fingering the string I am striking.

Wow- I'm getting ready to order a Ross gourd but the thought of leaving off a string and giving up some notes is not something I'm keen on.

Carl, you don't have to.  See James Pentecost's bee-uuuutyful brand new Ross gourd banjer (with 5 strings)...it's to die for:  http://minstrelbanjo.ning.com/photo/banjo-book-event?context=user

That's the one I'm planning on ordering.
Strumelia said:

Carl, you don't have to.  See James Pentecost's bee-uuuutyful brand new Ross gourd banjer (with 5 strings)...it's to die for:  http://minstrelbanjo.ning.com/photo/banjo-book-event?context=user

I felt the same but there's sumthin about the dang ol four stringer, make ya wanna take your shoes off haha
Also thanks for the breakdown John. Good to know there is an actual difference.

Carl, the five stringer Ross gourd that belongs to James Pentecost is also mighty fine. Can't go wrong either way.

I'm building a 4 string gourd banjo right now (I built a 5 string one in the past). I ordered a gourd from a gourd farmer and am waiting for it to arrive.  I have another one but I think it is too thin walled.  I will be doing a talk at the Henry Ford museum at the end of May on the banjo and want to show off a 4 string banjo.

Very cool John. Happy building!

I'm making another one currently as well which i am hoping will be nicer. Gonna stain and finish and all that fun stuff.

The one I just finished making is kind of a junkyard banjo as it's compiled mostly of scraps. No frills or finish on neck or gourd, tacks don't match, feakishly thick skin. I tried to get fancy and reuse the tips of violin pegs ive sawn off while making the mini banjos as inlaid marker dots down the side of neck for 7,9,12 frets (can't be wasting ebony now!). All in all it's decent sounding and really fun to play.

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