Minstrel Banjo

For enthusiasts of early banjo

I am intrested in perriod accessories. For instance:

What did the minstrel Era Banjoist (term?) use

to protect and carry his banjo? did they have cases as we know them?

 

did the instruments with wooden friction pegs have any sort of

fine tuner like the fiddle players use?  Did they have any type

of compound for the pegs to help sticking or slipping?

 

Enough questions for now. I'd like to assemble a historiclly

correct Banjo "kit"

 

Thanks for any answers you'd care to share

 

R H

 

 

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There are examples of coffin cases that were used for instruments.  I'm not sure about what might have been used on pegs.

John, don't you have a period style banjo strap / string ....  or maybe it's someone else.

For wooden pegs, use a combination of violin rosin and chalk.  Run your pegs through the rosin.  Afterwards, run some chalk on the rosined pegs.  Works better than rosin alone.

There's a dulcimer maker who has been at the last couple of Cedar Creek reenactments who makes a very nice coffin case for minstrel banjo for $150, the best price I've seen. If I can find his name I'll pass it on.

Your banjo "kit" can start to get involved as it evolves. My feeling is you don't want anything around you that is not evocative of the period. Thus, you need a mid-19th century chair, which is actually easily found and surprisingly sturdy. If you're like me and don't want to chance forgetting lyrics, you'll need an ancient looking music stand. Get a pewter tumbler and a blown glass bottle for water. Get an "A" tuning fork--NO electronic tuner (=farbmeter)! I could go on....

Dr. B

I can only guess at what was used for something like a strap, but I think it could range from string to webbing to leather to a custom made strap.  Dean's right as far as all the other minutia that can come with the complete "kit" or really your banjo player "impression".  Don't hesitate to contact me for suppliers of mid-19th century clothing and materials (1855-1860s) from cups to the aforementioned webbing.  

Don Gardner....they are nice cases. He is a member here. Not online much however.

Dean Havron said:

There's a dulcimer maker who has been at the last couple of Cedar Creek reenactments who makes a very nice coffin case for minstrel banjo for $150, the best price I've seen. If I can find his name I'll pass it on.

Your banjo "kit" can start to get involved as it evolves. My feeling is you don't want anything around you that is not evocative of the period. Thus, you need a mid-19th century chair, which is actually easily found and surprisingly sturdy. If you're like me and don't want to chance forgetting lyrics, you'll need an ancient looking music stand. Get a pewter tumbler and a blown glass bottle for water. Get an "A" tuning fork--NO electronic tuner (=farbmeter)! I could go on....

Dr. B

If your banjo player impression has you attending and performing at the many Civil War reenactments around the country, either as soldier or civilian, you may want to give some consideration to the weight of your kit. I've been hoofing it around these relatively large venues for years carrying two banjos, a sack of sundry banjo items (strings, tools, lyric book, electronic tuner, etc.) and a wooden chair (sometimes missing the back). Although I've built wooden coffin style cases in the past for other, later era banjos, I've always just wrapped my minstrels in large pieces of cloth. The pieces are pretty large and slit on one end. All of the extra fabric gets rolled up in a way that protects the bridge area with multiple thicknesses, sort of a rough "gig bag". The tuning pegs are still a bit vulnerable and obviously a wooden case would provide more protection but there is no way I would want to walk very far carrying that much weight. It's a trade-off I guess, weight vs. protection. A case built strong enough that I could just put the banjo in and forget about it, casually putting it in a car trunk, or wagon, would just weigh too much for me. Instead, the banjo almost always travel with me, in my arms if a really rough ride and I keep my eye on them.

If one the other hand you are looking for something to protect a nice banjo, and I've lately been seeing some pictures of some real beauties, a well built coffin case would be great if your venue is close to the car. I'm expecting to upgrade my banjo soon and it will get a nice new cloth wrapping. Dave PS With all my whining about weight maybe I should have taken up the fife instead huh? :)

Thank You all for the great information . Just what I was intrested in.

What a great group !!

 

Ron

For my gourd I braided long strands of essentially shoe string leather together to make a strap.  I understand that very occasionally a strap was used, but perhaps not in the conventional sense.  Some times it was tied to just the dowel end, or to the neck, and wrapped around the arm.  I've not seen a strap going from dowel to neck in any drawings or photos.


Bell & Son Banjos said:

John, don't you have a period style banjo strap / string ....  or maybe it's someone else.

I come from the campaigner school of banjo playing and believe that less is more.  The Boy Scout saying that only a tenderfoot carries his gear works for me.  From my perspective, I'm seeing a ton of stuff you're recommending.  

A string or a strap replaces the need for a chair.  A fold up stool might pass muster.  I often find a structure or box upon which to sit.  Or just the ground for informal playing. 

A stand would be nice, but then again, one worth using will either be small with a heavy base or large with legs. 

As for the tumbler, get a much lighter tin cup.  There are many great ones available.  There's much to be said for a canteen over a blown glass bottle as you don't have to worry about it breaking plus the strap saves your hands for items you must carry.  

I carry my music, songsters, tuners and extra strings in a haversack.  Lots of pockets work, too.

My banjo goes into the field with me at CW events.  I carry it on a strap thrown over a shoulder.  I toss it into my blanket with me when I sleep. 

- Silas
 
Dean Havron said:

Your banjo "kit" can start to get involved as it evolves. My feeling is you don't want anything around you that is not evocative of the period. Thus, you need a mid-19th century chair, which is actually easily found and surprisingly sturdy. If you're like me and don't want to chance forgetting lyrics, you'll need an ancient looking music stand. Get a pewter tumbler and a blown glass bottle for water. Get an "A" tuning fork--NO electronic tuner (=farbmeter)! I could go on....

Dr. B

There are a couple(2) photos with banjoists in Bollman's book that look like they have some sort of thin string tied to the peghead, going around their neck and shoulder.  That is two out of all the photos.  "Straps" as we know them were not advertised nor written about being used with early banjos.  The closest that we consistently find is ribbon, fairly wide looking and likely a bright color, tied in big bows at the peghead and then down to the endpin.  Seen in 1880 photos and cuts on girl's banjos.   Be a man and play sitting down-- it's PEC.

It's something I remember from the green handbook of the 1960's : only a tenderfoot carries things in his hands.  Straps and strapped bags are what free your hands. 

A banjo would get trashed in a wagon unless it's in a sturdy box.  Considering that the space is better devoted to useful things like food, forage, water and ammunition, there isn't room for an unnecessary item like a banjo.  I've carried my banjo on a strap at week long events where we've put in miles.  I've done this as an enlisted man with a firearm and as an officer carrying a sword.  My tackhead banjo weighs a mere three pounds. 

I posted a picture here of me at Shiloh as an officer carrying my banjo.  It did not go into a wagon.  I broke it out during an extended stop at the Shiloh NMP.  Played it also at the Savannah Landing the night before our march and Saturday night, too. 

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