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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Joel, care to put together a tutorial video on the technique you're talking about here?  I'd love to hear/learn.


Joel Hooks said:

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.

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