Minstrel Banjo

For enthusiasts of early banjo

Hi all,

Another really newbie question.

Reading through the forums it looks as if some use thimbles and some don't, with lot's of good logic and experience to back up each choice.  Of course, everyone here is pretty experienced, and I'm as green as they come, banjo wise (I'm still figuring out a half strike, heh).

Do you recommend a thimble for an absolute beginner while learning?  (I usually keep my nails pretty short, and while they're not necessarily brittle, they're not what I'd call tough.)

Thanks,

Tony

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Jeff said:

I use thimbles at times and then other times I do not... 

Tim is right... if your attack is correct, you may not need one... For me, May attack is will less them.... It's down right off.

I have attend one of Tim's shows/jams/gigs.... with accompaniment of Al Smitley... on fiddle, and a few other Minstrels young and old... on bones and jaw bone.   Tim was loud as can be w/o thimbles...  

So over all... I just hope you look at minstrel banjo playing as... your very own style and journey into the past and bring it into the future for all to enjoy...  You will never be Tim Twiss, Mr. Frank Converse,  Mr. Briggs, or Mr. Buckley...  All we can do is play our best and make the music that pleases you and others around you...     

Sorry, I'll get off my rickety soap box... LOL!  


Oh thanks Jeff, but I really should not be mentioned in the same breath with those guys.

I like the tone and sound textures better with no pick.  I have no nails either- cut so short that just my skin callus hits the strings.  I do wear a plastic pic when playing outside gigs or situations where it's hard to hear.

JUST FOR FUN and per Tim request!   LOL! 


Tim Twiss said:

Oh thanks Jeff, but I really should not be mentioned in the same breath with those guys.

So, Tim.....? 

You will never be Mr. Frank Converse,  Mr. Briggs, or Mr. Buckley...  All we can do is play our best and make the music that pleases you and others around you...  (deep breath)......... Oh yea.. then there is Tim Twiss...

The Twisster !

This is sort of like saying that one does not have to use a plectrum to learn rock guitar.  You can, but the two sort of go together.

Frank Converse wrote that "all prominent old-timers, and with barely few exceptions, [were] "thimble" players."

When writing about hearing "Picayune" Butler Converse wrote "As he played with the thimble, his execution--unlike anything I had ever heard, powerful and brilliant--strongly impressed me, and in my enthusiasm I thought him the most favored mortal on earth."  I love that "powerful and brilliant."

S.S. Stewart compared the banjo thimble to the violin bow.  He wrote "the stroke style has also developed, with practice, by some players, into a very excellent style of method of executing marches or other music of a military style.  To play well upon the banjo "with a thimble" (the thimble covers the nail of forefinger and is used to strike the string), and execute rapid runs and other effects such as "the roll," etc., is not easy object to be attained; to acquire skill and dexterity in the use of the thimble, a banjoist must practice as diligently as to acquire the same degree of skill in playing guitar style."

SSS knew all the greats-- E. M. Hall, Tho. Armstrong, Horace Weston, FBC, Billy Huntley, the beloved George Dobson (Swaim took his first banjo lessons from George, and George learned how to play thimble style from Horace Weston).

Al Baur carried a half dozen with him in his pocket.

Even Sears and Roebuck shipped new banjos at the turn of the century with thimbles-- that's right, they just came with one.

You can make your own.  John modified the Converse pattern with great success. 

Ed Britt pointed out that the Converse pattern should be made conical.  I had better results when I made a couple that way.

 But the Shield or "common" pattern that I make gives me a solid clear tone. They assist in the quadruplets or "roll" common in this style as well as the clearing up note separation with glide triplets.

Here is the Converse pattern if you want to make one.  Sheet brass can be procured from hobby stores. .018 seems to be fairly easy to work with snips.  If you have a jewelers saw, use .02 or .025.  The two thicker stocks tend to give a more solid tone.  

This is sort of like saying that one does not have to use a plectrum to learn rock guitar.  You can, but the two sort of go together.

Ridiculous analogy

I prefer the  all natural approach, just a matter of preference. But the thimble sounds awesome and a nice ring, but most of all saves on finger fatigue, which for me sometimes can be painful. I to agree with the advice of learn first without, then experiment.  

Should you get a Thimble????  Of course you should!!!!!  But only a Joel Hooks thimble !!!!!!

Here is a wonderful Testimonial by none other that Trapdoor2. A renowned and  world class banjo player.

trapdoor2 - Posted - 07/10/2011:  17:15:07



The first time I wore my Joel Hook's patent thimble, my Q-Ray bracelet turned green with envy and leapt from my wrist. I haven't suffered from the lumbago or dropsy since I began wearing one. In fact, since I've been wearing my Joel Hooks banjo thimble, my pharmacist has been writing me letters of concern as I have not darkened his door in an age.

 


When ever I am out, I make sure I keep my Joel Hooks banjo thimble handy as the ladies always request it.

 


"Oh, Mr. Smith, will you be wearing your thimble for tonight's performance?"

 


"Indeed I shall, madame. I rarely am found without it upon my person. In fact, I have requested the esteemed Mr. Hooks fashion one into a watch fob in the event my favorite one is purloined by an overwrought admirer."

 


"Oh Mr. Smith, I don't mean to be forward...but may I view it? I mean, I should like to see it up close. You are so far away up on the concert stage!"

 


"Surely, madame. Here it is."

 


"Oh! Mr. Smith! What a fine, strong, thimble it is! Oh, I...I'm all a twitter. I'm breaking out in gooseflesh all over!"

 


"Steady madame. You'll be all right in a minute. Here, take a dram from my flask. You are indeed a strong woman, most faint dead away when they first encounter a Joel Hooks banjo thimble!"

 


===Marc

Who can argue with that.

I played bare fingers until about a year ago. I'll say this, if you need volume and want your sound to explode, use a thimble. If your touch is light and you just can't be heard in a small group, get a thimble. On the other hand, if you can hit those strings like Tim Twiss and Ryan Gray, you don't need a thimble. If you DO choose to use a thimble, play with it, position it, and if you have to slightly somehow alter it to fit, do it. And above all, do it so the thimble brings out the same 'timbre' that your bare nails do, so the thimble gives you volume and not an altered sound because it they're too far on your finger, the banjo sound starts to change. Me, I like playing with my bare hands. But I've been in places where I wasn't amplified and the crowd was noisy, so on goes the thimble. The thimble improves my accuracy even though I clawhammered for 33 years and minstrel'ed for 8. I guess if are happy with your sound without thimbles, OK. But I'm never happy. I'm Irish.

Of course Joel loves thimbles, he sells them. He is the "Mr. Haney" of the banjo world.

What you don't know about me Tim is that I was in a punk band until I found the banjo.

Sex Pistols, Misfits, hardcore stuff like Face to Face and Biohazard- played covers of them all.

One of my favorite bands to this day is NOFX.  I've seen Danzig in concert half a dozen times.  I was at the Nirvana "In Utero" convert at Fair Park in Dallas a year before Kurt killed himself.  

Shook hands with Henry Rollins.  Had my picture taken with Jerry Only.  Sang on stage with Pennywise at Trees.  Stage dived at no less than three Bad Religion shows, four Pantera shows, Slayer... you name it I was in the pit.

I'm no stranger to guitar and plectrums.

So pray tell.. how is it ridiculous?


Tim Twiss said:

This is sort of like saying that one does not have to use a plectrum to learn rock guitar.  You can, but the two sort of go together.

Ridiculous analogy

And you sell guitars, instruction books and lessons...

I make every one of them in my shop, shaped by hand.  I polish each one to a mirror finish with cloth wheels before I send them out.  They are not the easiest in the world to make.  A lot of pounding with hammers and shaping.

Someone has to make them.


Tim Twiss said:

Of course Joel loves thimbles, he sells them. He is the "Mr. Haney" of the banjo world.

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