Minstrel Banjo

For enthusiasts of early banjo

My 7 String 'Minstrel' Banjo
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Comment by Ian Bell on May 2, 2010 at 1:38pm
Hi Dick,
Did you notice the photo that was posted here a couple of weeks ago with the Royal Navy sailors' band?
The banoist in that picture had a seven-string as well. Is this maybe a British Isles thing?
Comment by Rob MacKillop on May 2, 2010 at 4:09pm
I've just bought this banjo from Dick when he came to visit me today in Edinburgh. Seven-string banjos were made in England, but I don't think they ever became popular. The lowest bass note never sounded good. So most people today convert them to 6 or 5-stringers, which is what I plan to do. Seven strings also feels VERY tight in first position. The good news is that the neck is great and the sound is beautiful. Great mojo.
Comment by Rob MacKillop on May 2, 2010 at 4:49pm
Apparently someone has just reinvented the wheel... http://www.nixworks.com/banjar.html
Comment by Ian Bell on May 2, 2010 at 4:59pm
Lucky you! Any idea how the extra strings were meant to be tuned? - and - would it be impertinent to respectfully ask for a video demonstration before you convert it? Just for posterity.
Comment by Lucas Bowman on May 2, 2010 at 6:17pm
Its hard to tell, but judging from the number of brackets, this instrument has frets?
Comment by Rob MacKillop on May 3, 2010 at 1:38am
It has flush frets of ivory.

My first instinct was to string it up as originally intended. The curious thing is that the holes in the tailpiece for the added bass strings are very small, and any classical guitar string suitable for the pitch would not fit through the holes. So were the two bass strings metal? The general feeling over 7-string minstrel or early classic banjos is that the lowest bass string just didn't work, and the instruments are better as six or five strings.

The tuning would be gGCDGBD - IF we assume gCGBD as the base tuning, but of course it could have been lower, but that would make the added bass strings even thicker.

I guess I'm struggling with the choice of having something historically accurate but which was generally regarded as a poor design, and of little use to me, or change it to something useful. It would only involve adding a new nut and bridge, possibly tailpiece, but keeping the originals so they could be restored easily.
Comment by Rob MacKillop on May 3, 2010 at 2:08am
There is a small space - a couple of millimeters - between the end of the neck and the hoop. Should this be filled with a leather strip?

My conscience is troubling me. Might leave it as a 7-string!
Comment by Ian Bell on May 3, 2010 at 6:30am
I've looked at your website - you're clearly not a man who's generally troubled by extra strings.

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