Minstrel Banjo

For enthusiasts of early banjo

I'd appreciate some comments on an old banjo that I bought on eBay.  It's a small, primitive, hand-made fretless and I'm trying to estimate its age.  Two possible clues that I'm researching:

a.) the pot is made from scarf-jointed wood, similar to grain measure construction.  A previous owner went overboard in mounting a skin head and used so many tacks that the top of the pot is badly split.  However, the tacks for the head appear to be more modern than the tacks for the scarf joint.  I've posted comments on the tacks with the individual photos..... does anyone have an opinion whether or not the scarf joint tacks are "cut nails"?  Possibly  consistent with mid-19th century age?

b.) the banjo was painted a forest green color.  Most of the paint has worn off, but the paint that remains is chalky, non-soluble in denatured alcohol, and slightly soluble in ammonia.  I'm thinking this may be milk paint, which could make the age of the banjo mid-19th century.  Does anyone have an opinion whether or not this is milk paint (see photos)?

Thanks in advance for your comments.


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All I can say is "Wow!" Mark! 

It has obviously been exposed to a pretty severe environment.  It appears to have left in an open air barn for instance with a ton of dirt accumulating on it for many decades . . . and rotting it.  I own a guitar built in 1830 and a banjo built in 1870 and both were so well cared for that they look amazing and of course there are many beautiful violins and such that are much older than that.  This poor little banjo is so beat that it is difficult to estimate the age.  But you are one the right track.  The best way to try to estimate the age of the hardware. . . the metal bits . . . exactly as you are doing.  Good project!  Thanks for posting the photos.  Best WIshes, Tom

Tom -  tnx for the comments.  Yep, I think this one might have gone into the dumpster if it hadn't sold on eBay.  A fun project for this winter.

Linda (my wife) likes antique chairs, mostly because of the presence of and participation of chairs in our lives....... sitting around in the kitchen & discussing family matters, courting, meals, parties, etc.  I feel the same way about the "mojo" that old musical instruments acquire.  I don't have the $$ to buy the top-grade instruments (well, maybe one or two), so I wind up appreciating the instruments that were played hard & loved.

update: steamed & re-shaped pot, removed splintered wood & replaced w/ steamed/bent oak. When I tack on the hide head it should hide the new wood on the exterior of the pot.

update pics here:  LINK

I hope you post something when you get it finished.  It will be interesting to hear how it sounds.

.....and thanks for posting something.  First in 6 days!!  I was thinking of posting something....anything just to break the silence!

Here's an update on the restoration along with some sound clips.


Very interesting video and very nice sound!!  At 5:47 am, let me be the first to congratulate you!

Very impressive sound!  Wow!  Congratulations!

Awesome job!  Very clever solutions to some of the problems that pot had.

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