Minstrel Banjo

For enthusiasts of early banjo

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Now that's thumbthing isn't it!

Minstrel banjoists playing 4 melody stringed instruments with no thumb string in the early 1840's. Hmmm. I wonder...

Ha! That's very punny, Greg!

I wish pants like that would come back into style.  

Is this an instrument that actually did exist or are you pondering if it did, based upon the sheet music front?

If the latter, it could be that the artist was merely ignorant of banjo-playing.  I once played with some people and there must've been a newspaper photographer at the site because we found a photo in the next edition of one of the fiddlers applying rosin with a caption stating, "Here, the fiddler is waxing his bow."  Maybe I should try that as I'm always trying to find a way to play more quietly.

Well dressed slaves lived in thatched roof beach cottages?

The lithograph never lies...

Yes Ian, like the Internet!

Well, I would be surprised though if folks didn't sometimes make their own banjos that had no thumb string.  They still do today, home-made banjos of all kinds.  It's easier to make without a thumb peg, and it can certainly be played with no problem.  Why wouldn't they?  There were/are all manner of home made fiddle embodiments...rectangular, gourd, metal can, 3 or 5 string fiddles...

I've not only played a banjo without  a thumb string, I've even had pants like that.

I chose these two, among many pictorial representations of different types of banjo's in the 1840's, precisely because of the extreme detail and careful rendering of the images. I know a lithograph is not proof that such instruments existed - only a photo would do that. However, these were produced by top professional artists of the day, not romantic painters. No one, for instance ever questions the rendering of the thumb string in the Old Plantation painting, which was painted by an amateur plantation owner  - it is always used as proof of its existence. Now I'm not arguing that most banjo's didn't have a thumb string, I'm sure that they did. But I wonder if until the 5 string as we know it stabilizes under the influence of Sweeny and the Virginia Minstrels, if there weren't other types of banjo's in use and what could these different structurings of the instrument tell us about early banjo style.

You're right, and I did consider the fact that the image is otherwise rendered in pretty good detail.   So why, then, would they have left off the thumb peg if, indeed, it had one?

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