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

Did not the move towards steel strings, frets, and complex classic banjo pieces encourage the raising of banjo pitches over time...?  Or are you talking about the mid 1800s rather than late 1800s?

Timothy Twiss said:

I wonder why historically, E/A stuck? 

I am speaking of the precursor to the Classic banjo. That interesting transitional time.....1860 +

Maybe the higher pitch carries better in a music hall? + the evolution of strings?

No doubt it does.....or did prior to amplification.  Good point Paul. 

Yes, true. I find the D banjo can get so buried when used it in a mixed ensemble. I think it is related to tension and projection...and also responding better to the increasing complexity of the music...


Hi Lisa,

There was not a move towards wire strings until well beyond the "classic" era.  Five string banjos were synonymous with gut strings and I firmly believe that had nylon strings been developed by 1900 wire would have not been used on 5 string banjos.  If you wanted to play the five string banjo even as late as 1920 you would have wanted gut strings.  That was the sound-- just like today it is wire.  Despite what has been repeated time and again, good five string banjos were still being shipped with gut strings well into the 1920s-- don't believe me?  See for yourself in catalogs for Vega banjos available online.  Those "neverfalse" strings in the listings are rectified gut.

WW1 caused a huge shortage in gut strings. The countries that made them were busy killing or getting killed.  The same material as gut strings were also used for sutures and there was a bigger need for those.  Plectrums also chewed up gut strings.  There is a lot of documentation surrounding this shortage of gut strings.  

Armour Meat Packing started a musical string division and began to make gut strings in the US.  The US government came close to stepping into prevent it because of concerns of monopolies and trusts.  Once the banjo fad died out manufacturers stopped making gut banjo strings as there was no money in it. Gut was hard to find.

By the time the five string banjo resurfaced as a so called "folk" instrument wire was all that was available.  The amazing part is that there was still people living that played during the banjo fad.  Some of them got together and formed the ABF in the 1940s.

5 String banjoists were forced to use wire or stop playing (and many people did). 

Strumelia said:

Did not the move towards steel strings, frets, and complex classic banjo pieces encourage the raising of banjo pitches over time...?  Or are you talking about the mid 1800s rather than late 1800s?

Timothy Twiss said:

I wonder why historically, E/A stuck? 

To the topic, my theory is in line with the same reason Boucher pattern banjos are so prevalent in the hobby.

Back when I used to do "living history" there was something in that hobby that I referred to as a "reenactorism."

A "reenacorism" is where a "living historian" makes a conscious effort to choose clothing and objects that are as far removed as they can from what is normal today.  This choice is made even when there is a more common (or appropriate) historically correct option that would be pretty normal today.  The goal is to show how different the portrayed era was even though they are risking inaccuracy.

Case and point.  "Sweeney" model banjos.  There was only one and it was left handed.  It was made using an "old rim" (we now know this was a Boucher rim).  Amazingly this has become a "model" of reproduction banjos... but there was only one originally.  

Boucher banjos were not known to be played by professionals and even rarer by the ACW.  There is speculation that so many are extant because they were not actually used.  The originals are pretty lousy banjos made on the cheap.  Yet somehow this has become the most common model of replica banjo!  By the late 1860s they were gone.  Better banjos came along.

But they are so different from modern banjos that they are often not even recognized as a banjo.  Reenactorism successful!

As to pitch.  This seems to have been set by the new "early" players.  Bob Winans, Bob Flesher (likely the real reason we all use it) Joe Ayers and Clarke Buehling.  Continued to be embraced because it is the polar opposite of modern concert pitch.

At my first Early Banjo Gathering I suggested that we should be in A for historical reasons but it was too late.  The hobby had chosen the standard.  G it is.

The hobby had chosen the standard.  G it is.

That is well put

Joel Hooks said:

To the topic, my theory is in line with the same reason Boucher pattern banjos are so prevalent in the hobby.

Back when I used to do "living history" there was something in that hobby that I referred to as a "reenactorism."

A "reenacorism" is where a "living historian" makes a conscious effort to choose clothing and objects that are as far removed as they can from what is normal today.  This choice is made even when there is a more common (or appropriate) historically correct option that would be pretty normal today.  The goal is to show how different the portrayed era was even though they are risking inaccuracy.

Case and point.  "Sweeney" model banjos.  There was only one and it was left handed.  It was made using an "old rim" (we now know this was a Boucher rim).  Amazingly this has become a "model" of reproduction banjos... but there was only one originally.  

Boucher banjos were not known to be played by professionals and even rarer by the ACW.  There is speculation that so many are extant because they were not actually used.  The originals are pretty lousy banjos made on the cheap.  Yet somehow this has become the most common model of replica banjo!  By the late 1860s they were gone.  Better banjos came along.

But they are so different from modern banjos that they are often not even recognized as a banjo.  Reenactorism successful!

As to pitch.  This seems to have been set by the new "early" players.  Bob Winans, Bob Flesher (likely the real reason we all use it) Joe Ayers and Clarke Buehling.  Continued to be embraced because it is the polar opposite of modern concert pitch.

At my first Early Banjo Gathering I suggested that we should be in A for historical reasons but it was too late.  The hobby had chosen the standard.  G it is.

Funny that so little evidence points to G/D. It poses those difficult concepts to novices......tuned to D but playing in E.....reading in E but playing in D etc. 

Same with "classic banjo"-- it was pitched up to C by the early 1880s (about 82) but A notation was published until (officially) 1908.  To make matters worse, A continued to be published into the 1920s and sometimes A and C on the same page!



Joel Hooks said:

There was not a move towards wire strings until well beyond the "classic" era.  Five string banjos were synonymous with gut strings .... If you wanted to play the five string banjo even as late as 1920 you would have wanted gut strings.  That was the sound-- just like today it is wire.  Despite what has been repeated time and again, good five string banjos were still being shipped with gut strings well into the 1920s-- don't believe me?  See for yourself in catalogs for Vega banjos available online.  Those "neverfalse" strings in the listings are rectified gut.

WW1 caused a huge shortage in gut strings. The countries that made them were busy killing or getting killed.  The same material as gut strings were also used for sutures and there was a bigger need for those.  Plectrums also chewed up gut strings.  There is a lot of documentation surrounding this shortage of gut strings.  

Hi Joel- thanks for these helpful clarifications- I wasn't sure whether gut strings on 5 stringers were used so late in the timeline.   :)  
Gee, I can imagine gut would be very difficult on plectrums.  I myself used gut strings exclusively on my oldtime (high-tuned, fretted) banjos for several years, and ugh the frets and high tension really went through them - much as I liked the sound and texture of gut, the expense of the frequently breaking gut strings caused me to switch to nylon instead of gut.  Happily, it's a different story when in low minstrel tunings and on a fretless- much less breakage.

I think you have a good psychological basis in 'reenactorism', Joel. At least for Americans, we like to think of ourselves as 'different', heck, we celebrate it. Having a banjo that is 'different' is deemed far better than 'same'. The funny thing is that often 'different' becomes a meme (like the Boucher representing our idea of 'early banjo').

Absolutely Winans, Flesher, etc. setting the bar...but with a basis in Briggs. Good thing we had Briggs, else we'd all be suffering thru Gumbo Chaff. ;-)

Since Converse appears to have been the warp or woof (if not both) of early banjo notation, how do we perceive his influence on the whole cloth? How deep was his influence on the basic notational structure? Native key?

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