Minstrel Banjo

For enthusiasts of early banjo

Planning on ordering an open back with a duel setup.  That is two bridges and two nuts to allow switching between steel and some type of minstrel style strings.  My intent was to get a short scale (25.5 inches), however I've noticed most minstrel banjos seem to have a much longer scale.  So my question: Would the regular 26.5 inch scale be better for the heftier strings? or is a duel system just a bad idea?  Needing advice.

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I wouldn't say it's a bad idea. My opinion is that I'd rather just have two different banjos. Regular banjos have truss rods and frets and are generally smaller. Minstrel banjos have huge heads, no frets and are longer and wider in general. Minstrel banjo is also a "low tension" instrument so I'm not even sure if it could withstand the strain of wire strings on a plain wooden neck. On the other end of that not sure that a regular banjo with a different nut, bridge and strings could accomplish sounding like a true minstrel banjo.

While they are similar, they are also fairly different from one another.

Thanks, Chris

Chris Prieto said:

I wouldn't say it's a bad idea. My opinion is that I'd rather just have two different banjos. Regular banjos have truss rods and frets and are generally smaller. Minstrel banjos have huge heads, no frets and are longer and wider in general. Minstrel banjo is also a "low tension" instrument so I'm not even sure if it could withstand the strain of wire strings on a plain wooden neck. On the other end of that not sure that a regular banjo with a different nut, bridge and strings could accomplish sounding like a true minstrel banjo.

While they are similar, they are also fairly different from one another.

I tend to agree with what Chris said; also, if you have to change your nut and strings every time you want to change styles, you're probably going to wind up playing in one style most of the time; having two instruments really is justified in this case.

But that's not to say you can't learn stroke style technique and repertoire on a modern banjo in gCGBD tuning; the intervals between the notes are the same so you'd be using the banjo as a transposing instrument.  If you're after that plunk and those microtones, though, you'll want a fretless large-pot minstrel-style banjo.

Thanks A.N.; Sure to have more questions later.

A.N. Chase said:

I tend to agree with what Chris said; also, if you have to change your nut and strings every time you want to change styles, you're probably going to wind up playing in one style most of the time; having two instruments really is justified in this case.

But that's not to say you can't learn stroke style technique and repertoire on a modern banjo in gCGBD tuning; the intervals between the notes are the same so you'd be using the banjo as a transposing instrument.  If you're after that plunk and those microtones, though, you'll want a fretless large-pot minstrel-style banjo.

When I decided that I wasn't really into bluegrass, but more stringband, CCD, type stuff, I was already playing an expensive resonator. So, I just tuned to drop C and started learning the Seeger style. Once I got pretty solid at that, I have graduated to the more particular minstrel style, which has a whole lot less brushes...Along the way, I ordered a fretless banjo from Backyard Music, keep it tuned in the low E tuning (down from G/drop C), and have a blast. It's a cheap entry point into minstrel and non-steel strings without breaking the bank, plus it's easy to tote around...

Backyard Music looks like a good way to go.  Thanks for the resource.

Rob Mohr said:

When I decided that I wasn't really into bluegrass, but more stringband, CCD, type stuff, I was already playing an expensive resonator. So, I just tuned to drop C and started learning the Seeger style. Once I got pretty solid at that, I have graduated to the more particular minstrel style, which has a whole lot less brushes...Along the way, I ordered a fretless banjo from Backyard Music, keep it tuned in the low E tuning (down from G/drop C), and have a blast. It's a cheap entry point into minstrel and non-steel strings without breaking the bank, plus it's easy to tote around...
I keep my fretless BYM banjo in the low E and can rotate through the multiple A tunings from there. Low D makes the strings just too noodly for my taste. But it also plays fine in standard G as well, but I have reso tuned standard or multiple C's...plus, my wife likes the BYM because it's much quieter than the reso LOL
My first minstrel banjo was a prust tackhead and it served me very well. It was cheap and sounded fairly good especially since I had been practicing on a wire rig for some time. It was the correct size and scale so it could handle D and E tuning well with the minstrel Aquila strings.

After a year or so I got a bell banjo and the prust doesn't get so much play these days but it was a good starter banjo and served it's purpose well.

One advantage of starting out with a banjo that doesn't cost much-  you might buy a higher priced banjo later on, but it's always nice to keep the starter banjo on hand so you can take it traveling, camping, etc. without worrying about it too much. 

That's exactly what I did, Strumelia. I played the BYM long enough to know that this is the style of banjo I was passionate about. Now, I'm just waiting on Terry (get well soon!!) To finish my Stichter build.

Rob, I'm confused by the tunings you're naming.  What do you mean by 'the multiple A tunings' and 'multiple C's' ?  What is the 'low E tuning' you are using?  Is it a higher pitch version of Briggs or Rice tuning?  Also, forgive my ignorance, but what is 'CCD'?  Is it anything like OCD? (lol)

Are you using any particular method, resources, or materials to learn minstrel style banjo?  (and if you are looking for beginner instruction material, I can recommend Tim Twiss' intro material which is very helpful and easy to follow.)

Rob Mohr said:

I keep my fretless BYM banjo in the low E and can rotate through the multiple A tunings from there. Low D makes the strings just too noodly for my taste. But it also plays fine in standard G as well, but I have reso tuned standard or multiple C's...plus, my wife likes the BYM because it's much quieter than the reso LOL

I have a Bell Stichter and I love it.  I hope you get yours soon... it seems not uncommon for Terry to fall behind in his schedule and communication.  But I do hope he's feeling better, and will be getting back to normal in completing his awesome banjos.

Rob Mohr said:

That's exactly what I did, Strumelia. I played the BYM long enough to know that this is the style of banjo I was passionate about. Now, I'm just waiting on Terry (get well soon!!) To finish my Stichter build.

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