Minstrel Banjo

For enthusiasts of early banjo

I just decided.

Because October is the month of Halloween and pumpkins and squash and old hollow/hallow things, even the O in October is round like a gourd...so...

I declare October to be Gourd Banjer Month !

Let's use this thread to share our enthusiasm for our gourd banjos...

Post your gourdelicious videos, pictures, your love/hate gourd relationship stories, and random factoids about your gourd banjo here!

Anything goes...bring it on!    :D

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The bow and the string on my gusla are some sort of twisted material. It is too thick for hair, but I don't know what it is.

I found Youtube videos of people playing the gusla and singing. It looks like they are stopping the string in two or three places near the peghead using the pads on the fingers of their left hand.

You can Google "Gusle" to see some performers or look for "Bojana Pekovic" if you want to watch a particularly interesting Guslar playing the instrument and singing.

Please do shoot a video of your instruments being played. I would be interested in seeing that and hearing what they sound like.

When fretting a string in the air, stopping the string with the fatty pads of your fingers will not produce good clear tone.  Better to use the other side of your fingers- backs of your nails or the backs of your first knuckle bone.  In some YT vids of such instruments, it looks like they are fretting down to the fingerboard (or stick if it's round)... but often they are actually using the backs of their fingers so quickly and skillfully that you can't tell.

It is a bit challenging to fret in the air I kinda think of it as a mid air open pull off. Gives it a neat sound quality too

It is indeed challenging... takes a lot of time to do it well.   Keep in mind you are merely fretting the string by pressing it from the side... you are not plucking or pulling the string up with your left/fretting fingers.  Have fun!   :)

Chris, this is a really embarrassing video from 6 yrs ago, embarrassing because I'm working way too hard and am soooo horribly out of tune (!), but it's good in demonstrating how one can fret strings without using the fingerboard, in mid air... using the hard parts of your fingers- either the backs of the nail OR the bony part of your knuckle joints- front or back. 

Here I'm using the palm-side of my 1st knuckle joints- the hard bony area.. on the sides of the melody string (strings made from twisted horsehair) on my jouhikko (aka tagelharpa).  These instruments have no fingerboard at all, and you can play the first string with one side of your finger knuckle and the middle string with the other (back) side of you knuckles... without removing your hand.  The farthest string is a low drone which is seldom fretted.  Of course on your gourd fiddles there you'd be coming at the strings from overhand/front rather than underhand/behind like the jouhikko, but same principle. 

With practice you can get good tone and intonation, but as anyone who has attempted any kind of fiddle knows, it's along road.  Notice how I hold the bow underhand grip.. it seems to help for these kind of rustic folk instruments played on the lap.

Here in all it's horrendous glory.. (don't spread this video around please or I'll have to shut it back down again)   =8-o

badly played jouhikko example

ohhhhhhh, mind blown. you make your fingers/knuckles the frets essentially. very cool! and super tripped out instrument too. sounds really nice

"you make your fingers/knuckles the frets essentially. "  

...No different from your fingertips being the 'frets' when you play normally on a fretless banjo, or a fiddle.

Don't try to fret the string in the air using your fingertips- your fingertips will miss the mark, you won't be able to get the extreme upright angles on the stretches, and any contact by the fatty pad will dull the tone. 

Just try the backs of your nails or either side of the bony knuckle joint area... and fret the SIDE of the string.

Way cool playing, Strum. There are so many instruments that I have never heard of before. Yikes.

Just found this cool article on gourd banjos and gourd items... Dena is a member here.


I guess I'm gonna need to get my gourd banjo made soon.

Hello everyone! I will be teaching several gourd banjo making workshops across the USA and Canada this summer. Winnipeg, Manitoba, Long branch, NJ, Portland, OR, Nashville, TN, Lexington, KY. You can check out the flyers for them at www.jeffreymenzies.com

Let me know if you have any questions.

Jeff Menzies

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