Minstrel Banjo

For enthusiasts of early banjo

  I just bought a banjo on ebay...Eric Prust flush fret with stars too. in lovely condition......I had hoped to learn to play it because I played 5 string banjo Scruggs style about 20 years ago....Now I am having second thoughts when I tried to play and ...sound is very different then...Where do I learn to play this type of banjo...what books do I get...what tuning....No one teaches clawhammer around me.  So now...should I just try to sell it.  oy........ HELP

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There are all sorts of resources (video and otherwise) here, and lots of enthusiastic people on the site who will help you.  Have you looked at some videos here yet?  There are lessons, too.  Well, first, hold your right hand in a pistol grip position (sort-of) and come down on the strings, hitting any of strings 1-4 with the back of your index finger, and your thumb coming to rest on the fifth string.  Eventually, your thumb will sound the fifth string, too, and you can start getting the feel of playing a melody on the first four strings, alternating with a drone on the fifth string.  I think a great tune to start with is any of the simple versions of Juba, one of the big hits of minstrelsy.  Good luck and have fun!  Congratulations on your cool new-to-you banjo! 

I can claw hammer pretty good but it sounds very different on a nygut than on my metal string dulcijo.   Also what tuning.????

There are several tuning options.  To some extent, it depends on how long your scale length is.  If it is 27" or longer, you can try the standard minstrel tuning--dGDF#a, or the same tuning up a step--eAEG#b.  That's like the "C tuning" in bluegrass banjo, but a 3rd or 4th lower.  If your scale is shorter, I'd go with the higher tuning.  Personally, I like to use the "double-C" tuning you find in a lot of clawhammer playing, but tuned down a 3rd (so, eAEab), but most of the stuff on this site uses the "standard minstrel tuning" I mentioned above. 

The minstrel banjo sound is different!  I find that I prefer the more substantial feeling of the nylgut strings and the richer sound of the low tuning, myself. 

why are some letters uppercase and some lower case

Okay I tuned it to dGDF#a     It sounds better .

I don't know when I started doing that, but it tells you that the capital lettered notes are in one octave, and the small letter ones are in a higher octave.  When I got my first banjo in high school, I got it home and tried to tune it up.  I kept breaking strings, and I was sure that I had sunk my newspaper gig fortune into a disaster.  I took it back to the music store...then, I discovered that I was trying to tune the thing an octave too high.  Oops.

If you still remember your bluegrass style, try the awesome Earl Scruggs arrangement of "Home Sweet Home" at a leisurely pace.  It is some sort of transmogrification of the classic banjo version, but is far more sublime, and sounds wonderful on a minstrel or gourd banjo tuned low.

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