Minstrel Banjo

For enthusiasts of early banjo

How did we all end up playing in G/D and why do we do it????

Is this a "pot roast"??

Views: 1771

Reply to This

Replies to This Discussion

So, if the Sweeney banjo and the Boucher banjo were not played by professionals, what banjo did the professionals play? I'm just curious. What type of banjo would be historically accurate?

I was passing through and noticed this conversation.  I remember way back, we're talking about forty years ago, when I first started exploring open blues tunings on the guitar, I learned Open D (DADF#AD) as "Vestapol" or Sebastopol Tuning.  As I recall, the book I learned it from said there was a popular song called "Sevastopol" from the 19th Century in this tuning and that where the name came from.  With the guitar and banjo developing side by side, since the 1850s, this open "Sevastopol Tuning" crosses over to the banjo quite easily.

A gold rush performer I used to portray, Mart Taylor, refers to "Sebastopol" in one of the lyrics in his 1856 published, "The Gold Digger's Song Book". I have never been able to find the actual tune.

I have also seen references saying that "Vestapol" is open G tuning, low to high DGDGBD. This is also sometimes called "Spanish" tuning (the Vestapol tune "Spanish Fandango" is in open G)

Mart Taylor, in the 1850s, played guitar, but often had banjo players in his company, so I can see how these finger picked open guitar tunings could migrate to the banjo.

As to A and E, these were the most common keys of the early blues players in the 1920s and 30s. Most of the slide players played in Open A and E tuning pattern, but down a step or so, so on the second or third fret, this translates to G and D respectively.  Not much of a stretch to see how they kept the open 19th century banjo tunings as they migrated to the steel stringed guitar.

As to the shape of "professional" banjos, check out http://www.black-face.com/minstrel-shows.htm

There are two images of the Virginia Minstrels playing banjos from 1847 and 1850.

Brian,  go to my photos page and look at the Minstrel Hall of Fame.

http://minstrelbanjo.ning.com/photo/album/listForOwner?screenName=1...

These are photos of known and popular professionals, not random photos of unnamed amateurs.  They all have names that can be found on playbills and their bios can be found in Monarchs of Minstrelsy.  Many of them show up in the writings of Frank Converse and Albert Baur.  Some of them even got composer credits in the early Tudors.

Brian, in the mid to late nineteenth century "unnamed amateurs" represented the majority of banjo players in America just as they do today.

I would venture to say that well over 99% of people on this site are not stage "professionals" and many have limited budgets for banjo's. This is the reason so many buy Bell Boucher's and Sweeney's today - they are available and affordable. And that is the same reason people bought Boucher's back in the 1840's and 50's. Now I know that many on this site have these instruments and there is no reason for anyone to question the validity or authenticity of these instruments. Play on!

There was never any question about the legitimacy of them Mark, but what professionals used is important because they were the driving motive for banjo to be played in the first place.

A big part of my occupation is watching trends in the craft market.  There has to be a motivation for a product.  With popular music it is the celebrity musicians that drive sales of instruments.  Take guitars-- Guitar Center is covered with inventory of imitation "signature" guitars.  Look at the increase in banjo sales when Mumford and Sons used one!

It would be nice if the banjo was a "folk" instrument, but it's status as a well documented fad both in popular music as well as the fad of the 80s and 90s shoots holes through the folk theory.  

Those Boucher model banjos vanish from photos right when the banjo takes off and are replaced with cheap imitations of "New York" pattern banjos (see the photo of Converse and Peel, Snodgrass, or pretty much any other photo in the collection I posted for New York banjos by Jimmy Clarke, etc.).  The infamous "Buckbee" banjos were cheap versions of these.

We are attracted to a hobby for whatever reason.  I am not discrediting Boucher model banjos-- But I do stand behind my reasoning that they are a reenactorisim (and also that the originals were terrible-- the reproductions are a thousand times better).  Bringing up the very rare images of people holding Boucher banjos is the exception that proves the rule.  There as been as a narrow focus on them and great pains have been taken to find those photos-- forest for the trees so to speak.

The reason why the Bouchers are available is because people will buy them.  If people wanted copies of New York banjos that is what would be made.  Terry can make them-- he made me one.

Great pics!  Thanks for the posting.

Joel Hooks said:

Brian,  go to my photos page and look at the Minstrel Hall of Fame.

http://minstrelbanjo.ning.com/photo/album/listForOwner?screenName=1...

These are photos of known and popular professionals, not random photos of unnamed amateurs.  They all have names that can be found on playbills and their bios can be found in Monarchs of Minstrelsy.  Many of them show up in the writings of Frank Converse and Albert Baur.  Some of them even got composer credits in the early Tudors.

Anyway, bringing this all back around, I bet that had the guys that reintroduced this genre in the 90's done it in E/A we would be doing it now and it would be fine. I think the simple Johnny Boker stuff is great in the lower tuning as are most of the easy tunes we tend to share, but as the repertoire increases in complexity, the higher tuning and and tension is more appropriate. 

I agree. 

Timothy Twiss said:

Anyway, bringing this all back around, I bet that had the guys that reintroduced this genre in the 90's done it in E/A we would be doing it now and it would be fine. I think the simple Johnny Boker stuff is great in the lower tuning as are most of the easy tunes we tend to share, but as the repertoire increases in complexity, the higher tuning and and tension is more appropriate. 

I don't think I agree.  I would have switched down to D/G because

1. The Briggs book and the Howes books are there

2. The Rice book says to tune the banjo down to play songs in D/G (page 8)

3. The Buckley book says to tune the banjo down to play in D/G (page 7)

4. As a civil war reenactor I would not have had access to the Converse books, so I would have to work from the above mentioned books.

5. Elaine's main instrument does not play in A/E.  There weren't tin whistles in those keys, but there were in D/G.

Then why bother to state that as the dominant tuning ( which is what post-Briggs does ) AND write everything in that key signature? All books state to tune it differently....to sound differently, tune down to D/G. The first paragraph ( Rice ) says the proper tuning is E/A. The other is an alternate. Same for Buckley. Also, I see lots of E/A tuning in Ryans....a HUGE source for old material.  PS...which Howe's book John?

Oddly, Buckley adds on page 6 after saying that the banjo is tuned to eAEG#B that it "can be played in any other key, but not with the same ease".

Reply to Discussion

RSS

About

John Masciale created this Ning Network.

© 2019   Created by John Masciale.   Powered by

Badges  |  Report an Issue  |  Terms of Service