Minstrel Banjo

For enthusiasts of early banjo

Did early banjo players use a strap  to secure the banjo for playing  while standing?

I've looked online at old photos, paintings etc.  I haven't seen any.

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Hi Ronald - some info in this very old thread: http://minstrelbanjo.ning.com/forum/topics/straps?commentId=2477478...

Thank you for this information

The majority of drawings and photographs we have show banjoists sitting . . . but, we absolutely know that in minstrel shows and circus performances they often stood, and even walked and danced during some skits and of course during the ever popular walkaround.  Since we have hard evidence that for centuries players of other plucked instruments sometimes used straps I think we can safely assume it was sometimes done.  But as was discussed in the old thread from 2012, it depends on what was going on.  If you were playing the banjo . . . are you playing something simple or complicated?  Are you doing acrobatic tricks with the banjo (spinning twirling throwing)?  So . . . sometimes you could benefit from a strap (rope, string, leather, whatever) . . . and sometimes there is no way you could use a strap . . . like if you are spinning the banjo.  We do see Old Joe Sweeney standing in a few drawings and he may well NOT be using a strap.  If he is playing and singing Old Johnny Boker for instance, which is pretty easy really (the published version anyway), and in first position, then he probably did not need a strap.  

I wear a strap, but, I do not perform in period costume and I do not do acrobatics with the banjo.  So, you know, it just depends on what you are doing.  I get lots of questions about my old banjos and gourd banjo, but no one from any audience has ever asked why I use a strap.  I think audiences could care less about the strap . . . but if I was in period costume then my padded nylon strap would absolutely be wrong.

I recently started using powder horn straps because I figure they predate the minstrel era, they are generally nice to look at and serve the purpose well. That said I generally play on a small folding stool that fits in my carpet bag :)

Sounds good Chris where can I buy a powder horn strap.?

I know the early guys stood a lot, as using the foot for percussion on a piece of wood was common. I am sure you would want to be mobile and as loud as possible at a circus or a horse race or whatever event you were trying to be heard at.

I got two from a gentleman named Travis Souther and I also have one from the the traveling pup trading co. They are both on Facebook. I get them made to about 44 inches but I am smaller guy so you might wanna double check your ideal length.

If you don't do the Facebook thing let me know and I will help ya out.

Also playing a circus or a horse race would be pretty stellar haha
Dang those are pricey! I believe the ones I've got were around 25 beans shipped. I also can't vouch for the bees wax coating. Not sure if the wax would rub off on your duds or anything like that.

There are pictures of Joel Walker Sweeney dancing while playing a gourd banjo.  Gourds are more slippery than an eel.  I have been told, but can't document this that some players would use a piece of gum rubber (Goodyear vulcanized rubber in 1833 or there abouts) to stop the instrument from slipping.  I have also seen pictures of a string or leather shoe lace tied around the through rod at the bottom of the banjo and wrapped around the arm of the player. I don't recall seeing any drawings with a string or strap going from the rod around the player's neck to the instrument's neck, but something I've learned from this hobby is to never say never.

You can buy waxed hemp twine for less money than that.  I use it on my frame saw. I don't think it will rub off too readily, but have never tried it for that purpose.  I have to wonder what would happened due to the combination of your body heat and a warm day...



Chris Prieto said:

Dang those are pricey! I believe the ones I've got were around 25 beans shipped. I also can't vouch for the bees wax coating. Not sure if the wax would rub off on your duds or anything like that.

I purchased it here:  http://hempbeadery.com/shop/hemp-products/hemp-twine-and-cord/beesw...



John Masciale said:

You can buy waxed hemp twine for less money than that.  I use it on my frame saw. I don't think it will rub off too readily, but have never tried it for that purpose.  I have to wonder what would happened due to the combination of your body heat and a warm day...



Chris Prieto said:

Dang those are pricey! I believe the ones I've got were around 25 beans shipped. I also can't vouch for the bees wax coating. Not sure if the wax would rub off on your duds or anything like that.

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