Minstrel Banjo

For enthusiasts of early banjo

I thought it might be fun to do a little introduction to Guitar Style of play. Even though Stroke is the most discussed version of play here, both styles were common and we might want to look at it. Does anyone use this....and do you integrate it into your playing?

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The surviving early minstrel banjos do not suggest that raised frets were anything common.  In fact, other than the fretted Ashborn and the reference in Buckley about purchasing frets (its unclear if they were raised or inlays) I can't think of any early minstrel banjos off the top of my head that were fretted with raised frets.  The photographic record does not suggest that banjos in the 1860s and earlier were fretted, and photos of the pros in the 1870s also show fretless banjos.  Of course flush frets aren't as precise, but there were still virtuosic classic style banjoists in the late 19th century that played smooth arm (fretless) banjos, so it is possible to play difficult pieces with precision on a more "modern" late 19th century fretless banjo even though it is obviously more difficult than playing with frets.

Converse says that GS Buckley was playing a fretted banjo when he first saw him in 1852.

Yes, but like his tutor and the fretted Ashborn Buckley seems to have been an anomaly.  It was odd enough that Converse thought to mention it in the first place.  

Perhaps. We do not know. I think ( notice I say think..not know ha ha ) that these guys were progressives. It was part of moving things forward. We have enough arguments as to whether they played the tutors blah blah...but somebody must have been into this. My evidence and opinion is largely empirical. Man...if you don't believe it, just try some of the stuff in the Green Converse and intonate it....or many of the Buckley tunes in '68.

Johnny Boker is good on a fretless, but I betch the hot shots have fretted...that were playing all the chords all over the place and jumping rapid lines etc.

I guess my conclusion is that fretted / fretless     stroke / guitar style  had a long and overlapping history. Exact discernment of any time frame  is not wise to speculate. Play the music and let that help you decide.



Tim Twiss said:

I guess my conclusion is that fretted / fretless     stroke / guitar style  had a long and overlapping history. Exact discernment of any time frame  is not wise to speculate.

DNA study suggests they may even have interbred.  The results were banjo spawn with multiple extra brackets.

One final note....Buckley himself advocates the use of frets in his 1860 book on page 6, detailing the manner in which frets are to be installed. This information appears along with all the other construction specifications. Now....I do not conclude that fretted banjos were wildly popular- but I am saying that the music in that particular book and the 1868 that followed was arranged with the fretted banjo in mind, at least to some degree.

Make of that what you will.

I mentioned Buckley's 1860 recommendation and advertisement of frets in my post above.  It's still unclear if he was writing about flush fret inserts or raised metal frets, although I suspect it was raised frets.

Tim Twiss said:

One final note....Buckley himself advocates the use of frets in his 1860 book on page 6, detailing the manner in which frets are to be installed. This information appears along with all the other construction specifications. Now....I do not conclude that fretted banjos were wildly popular- but I am saying that the music in that particular book and the 1868 that followed was arranged with the fretted banjo in mind, at least to some degree.

Make of that what you will.

I don't think wire would be an inlay.

I've seen it used as inlay a few times before, but only a few. 

Tim Twiss said:

I don't think wire would be an inlay.

John, I am just not clear where you are leading your point. If I may clarify my original post, it was to relate the development of the of the banjo to advancement of the repertoire. Increasing complexity in the music seems to correlate with development and advancement of the instrument.

I didn't have a specific point in mind- I was just writing down my observations.  I think we are in agreement- I just wanted to add that fretless banjos evolved with the repertoire as well and were still being used to play virtuoso fingerstyle pieces in the late 19th century.  Fretted banjos were more common at that time and were obviously easier to play.  It would not be possible to play such difficult music on one of the older fretless tubs from the 1860s and earlier. 

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