Minstrel Banjo

For enthusiasts of early banjo

I've been sliding my bridge '2 frets' up for a while now (for some tunes) with great success.

The trick is to have a rim big enough and a scale length short enough, and a neck tilt shallow enough to allow it.

My favorite banjo has a 27" scale, 12.5" rim and slightly less than a 2 degree neck tilt (the originals had 0 or maybe 1 degree I believe).

 

So........For instance, the song 'Glendy Burke' which I like to play in dGDF#A tuning but sounds better when I'm singing to the eAEG#B tuning is easy to get to on my banjo. My brige sets (approx) 3/4" behind the centerline. I just slide it up to 1 1/2" about the centerline, then make a quick tweak on the 5th string...and I'm in A. My son can really rattle off the tunes in A on a D whistle. So I do this a lot. Harmonica players as many of you know play in 'standard' fashion, cross harp, and '3rd' position. 3 different keys on one harp.

 

If your neck tilt is like that of a guitar, sliding the bridge up will bring the distance between the strings and skin quite close, but if you have a shallow angle it works great. The tone is full and the strings just a bit tighter feeling like you would get with a capo on a fretted banjo. The scale length can't be much over 27" on a 12.5" because about 2 1/2" from the edge the tone dies, fast. Like a clothespin on your nose.

 

I've been thinking about making a whopping 14 1/2" rim that would allow sliding up and DOWN. That would cover a lot of bases and take care of all of the harmonica, accordion, whistle, and voice problems you'd ever probably encounter.

 

I believe the artist WAS correct when drawing Sweeney's banjo.

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If I were to do this with gut strings, i'd put liquid white graphite (from Elderly's) in the bridge slots.

I'm going to try sliding my gourd bridge up an inch or so from center Terry, just to see if I can play in G with my fiddler rather than F (which is the highest I dare go normally).

 

I played a minstrel banjo with a 13" pot last weekend at a campout.  The top of the pot felt like it was up around my collarbone area and the pot covered my whole chest!   LOL   It was too big to tuck under my arm to the side either.  Not exactly a 'laydies' banjo'.

Needless to say it was uncomfortable to play.   Love my 10-11" diamter pots best, and I often play my 12" pots too....but that's my limit!   My gourd is 6" deep, but it's a 10" diameter and fits pretty well in my lap.

The main reason I don't move the bridge is tone- placement as intended on my banjo brings the best.  Center makes it tubby and dead. I've also never seen a Cremona violin or cello with marks where the bridge was slid around to transpose ;^)

 

As to the harmonica... The Richter tuning was designated to only be played as is.  The "other positions" take most of the harmony and leave just a monica.

 

As follows- holes 1-4 play the tonic chord blow, dominant seventh chord on draw, 4-7 plays the complete diatonic scale, 7-10 partial scale to help complete a tune.  It is a absolutely perfect layout and is not "missing notes" as every modern instruction book will tell you.

 

Played correctly, the tongue blocks three or four holes to the left while playing one on the right.  Lifting and lowering the tongue provides accompaniment for the melody played mostly on 4-10, but sometimes using the lower notes when needed. So 1-4 are the bass and chord buttons on a accordion, and the rest are the right hand buttons.  Other than being smaller, easier to carry around, and thinner sounding- they sound almost the same.

 

Modern (post 1920s) concept of playing in different positions (perhaps brought on by the mongrel push-button harmonicas) on a Richter forces the player to distort reeds to find notes- this destroys harmonicas and thus sells more.  Played correctly- they last for many years.  Played in modern "positions" perhaps several months.  Is there a better way to sell more harmonicas than to encourage people to destroy them?

 

I always enjoy the reactions I get when I play the harmonica properly- for many it is almost disbelief.  People tell me it sounds like a full band.  I also roll over the left side of my tongue to get a root-chord, root-chord accompaniment and that causes it to sound like three different parts played at the same time.  Most have never heard the harmonica played like this- only in the "blues" style.  

 

I know that this is not the subject being discussed, just a subject I enjoy.

 

There is a lot of Hohner propaganda clouding harmonica history and it is very difficult to sort out.

I don't think you can move bridges around willy-nilly on fiddles or cellos (despite the fact that they are fretless) partly because of the sound post placement.  But banjos don't have soundposts, so that eliminates one restriction.

I can't use capos on my fretless banjos because it makes the strings lie flat to the fingerboard too near to where I do left hand plucks and/or pulloffs.

 

Nope. You sure can't move a bridge around on a fiddle, you're right about that Strumelia. Not only the soundpost factor, but the contour of the top changes not too far from the bridge location and those bridge feet have to fit tight.

I play the fiddle too and years ago noticed that Tommy Peoples, the great Irish fiddler, had his bridge scootched up about 1/2" which is like a mile. So there you go. Now when he was young in "Violin" class he was probably told  not to tap his foot either. hehehe

When my son and brother playing whistles and fiddles in A, it's up with the bridge. I was gonna build a pair of banjos that looked alike but different scale lengths but not after this discovery. It's faster than a capo!! And like you said, Capos for minstrel banjos?

The funny thing is you both took my sarcasm seriously.  I even included a winking smiley face!

 

As to playing in "A," if one goes by the tutors, that's where we should be.  The real problem is that it sounds too normal up there, not very different and old timey. Same reason the mid 1840s elabrate scroll banjos are so popular to play 1860s music on- it stands out and is way different than modern banjos.  That is really the important part.

 

To whistles... shouldn't they be called "flageolets" or "tin fifes?"

 

Capo D'astros, that was the Buckley book, and he was shilling Ashborn products, and strangely enough, Ashborn had a patent for a capo d'astro.  Funny that capo use seems to be limited to people trying to sell product, where Converse, Stewart, heck even the criminal Dobson family all claimed that the banjo could be played in any key- no patent clamp needed.

 

Patent simplified transposing clamps, simple method play by numbers, raised frets, the objective was money not necessity.

Once you add frets, you can't shorten the scale simply by sliding the bridge.  That meant either retuning (and risking breaking strings) or capoing.

Those pesky frets cause so many problems!

 

Joel, sarcasm gets very easily lost in online communication- I think you need to be yet more obvious when using sarcasm, for the benefit of us lunkheads.

 

Joel, can you clarify a little more what you mean by:

"As to playing in "A," if one goes by the tutors, that's where we should be.  The real problem is that it sounds too normal up there, not very different and old timey."

I mean, half the old-time banjo players I know are playing in A and sounding very 'old-time'.  I'm a little confused by your above statement- something I'm not 'getting' in it?  thanks!

Read the "how to tune the banjo" in any book written in the US before 1907 except Briggs'. The "old time" A is based in the bluegrass bass elevated.  American notation has the fourth string at A.  It could be that I am on a different page.  Are we still talking about early banjo?  Were you talking about the modern concept of interval changing when discussing key changes? 

Strumelia said:

Once you add frets, you can't shorten the scale simply by sliding the bridge.  That meant either retuning (and risking breaking strings) or capoing.

Those pesky frets cause so many problems!

 

Joel, sarcasm gets very easily lost in online communication- I think you need to be yet more obvious when using sarcasm, for the benefit of us lunkheads.

 

Joel, can you clarify a little more what you mean by:

"As to playing in "A," if one goes by the tutors, that's where we should be.  The real problem is that it sounds too normal up there, not very different and old timey."

I mean, half the old-time banjo players I know are playing in A and sounding very 'old-time'.  I'm a little confused by your above statement- something I'm not 'getting' in it?  thanks!

Joel, I am just not following you and I suspect it's because I'm not sure what definition of 'old-time'/'old time' you are using, and I'm not sure just how early you mean when you say 'early banjo', or 'The "old time" A is based in the bluegrass bass elevated. American notation has the fourth string at A'.  I consider bluegrass to be 'modern' for sure, but is 1880's-1915 not considered 'early banjo'?- what's the cutoff date for that term?

I also don't know what you mean by 'the modern concept of interval changing'- please excuse my ignorance.  Could well be that I should not really be in this discussion.

 

In 1843,  Robert Clarke created the tinwhistle.  The Clarke whistle site states the word "tinwhistle" was coined at the same time, and I have no reason to doubt them.  So pre 1843, you have a wooden flageolet.


Elaine Masciale


Joel Hooks said:

 

To whistles... shouldn't they be called "flageolets" or "tin fifes?"

 

 

The general guide is 1840ish- 1870s = early, 1880ish-1915 = classic, then 4 string insturments called banjos.  Somewhere in the 1920s country music became somewhat marketable (If not just invented) and thus "old time." 1950s folk built upon that theme.  Standard exceptions apply.


Strumelia said:

Joel, I am just not following you and I suspect it's because I'm not sure what definition of 'old-time'/'old time' you are using, and I'm not sure just how early you mean when you say 'early banjo', or 'The "old time" A is based in the bluegrass bass elevated. American notation has the fourth string at A'.  I consider bluegrass to be 'modern' for sure, but is 1880's-1915 not considered 'early banjo'?- what's the cutoff date for that term?

I also don't know what you mean by 'the modern concept of interval changing'- please excuse my ignorance.  Could well be that I should not really be in this discussion.

 

I've not studied them and was just going by late 19th century marketing.

Elaine Masciale said:

In 1843,  Robert Clarke created the tinwhistle.  The Clarke whistle site states the word "tinwhistle" was coined at the same time, and I have no reason to doubt them.  So pre 1843, you have a wooden flageolet.


Elaine Masciale


Joel Hooks said:

 

To whistles... shouldn't they be called "flageolets" or "tin fifes?"

 

 

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