Minstrel Banjo

For enthusiasts of early banjo

Hi, All: I have been gradually incorporating my banjo playing into the historical interpretation I do at Ft Delaware. Sometimes visitors ask me more about it and my playing than the interpretation I do:-). I explain that it is a tack head, open back banjo. When asked why I play an open back, I tell them I like the sound of it and its simplicity. What is the what, why of the open back in this early music we play? Is there a historical reason? 


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Banjos were originally gourds.  When switching over to a wooden rim the first ones appear to have been open backed.  The first manufactured banjos were open backed.  The vast majority of banjos made prior to and during the Civil War were open backed.  From what I have seem, somewhere in the 1850s some people started playing with adding a back to the banjo, but even into the 1890s and early 1900s most banjos were open backed.

Thanks much, John: Yes, knew banjos were originally gourds. This is info I share. But I was not sure of the transition to open back...probably some decided to experiment, to see how a wood banjo w/o a back would sound? 

There was a lot of experimentation with banjos in that time frame.  It was an instrument that was evolving.  It would probably be best to talk with some collectors to see what they have in their collections.

Seems possible that people based some of their early open backed banjo experimental designs on tambourines and 'tambourines without zils'- frame drums.  Such hoop based percussion instruments were around already.  Round gourd frame with a skin stretched over and a neck through it...round frame drum/tambo hoop with a skin stretched over and a neck through it...   Seems like an obvious progression to me?

Thank you folks! All of this is helpful. Saturday is my last day, for the season. I can buckle down and learn a few new tunes for next year. Several of us have created a little band," Harptin Ban-d", did a trial run and the head historian likes us so, we're on for next season:-) And these offerings will be weaved into my part about the banjo....

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