Minstrel Banjo

For enthusiasts of early banjo

Place of origin:
United States (made)

ca. 1840 (made)

unknown (production)

Materials and Techniques:
Vellum soundboard nailed to beech sides, pine back and bone soundhole

Views: 111

Comment by Wes Merchant on April 15, 2014 at 6:28pm
Comment by Strumelia on April 15, 2014 at 10:15pm

Wonderful!  Surely they must mean bone tailpiece or bridge.  Wish we could see the other sides of it!

Comment by Mark Weems on April 15, 2014 at 10:43pm

Yes, the description is chock full of errors, and I doubt seriously a provenance of 1840, given the peghead style and the strange wedding of 5 strings with a non-gourd wooden lute like body. The word "circa" is unfortunately marvelously inaccurate considering how important a few years is in the physical development of the early banjo. Cool looking thing though. Now just where is that soundhole?

Comment by Wes Merchant on April 16, 2014 at 2:40pm

Yeah the description is kind of sketchy.It looks like there may be a bone inset on the bridge. Dod you notice how the mount the 5th string is dovetailed into the neck, it's almost like an afterthought.

Comment by Ian Bell on April 16, 2014 at 4:45pm
Do you suppose it's round-back or flat-back? It would be interesting to see how sophisticated (or funky) the construction of the sound box actually is.
Comment by Wes Merchant on April 16, 2014 at 6:12pm

I have a little more information. I thought this picture looked familiar and it turns out it's in a published collection of musical instruments that I picked up in a discount rack 40+ years ago. The book describes it as " Banjo,c.1840 London, Victoria and Albert Museum, Pear-shaped hoop of pine with a closed back in which is a small ivory-bushed soundhole. Tacked vellum. Figure-of-eight head. Five strings including the short thumb string, this tuned at a small peg box dovetailed into the right side of the neck. Length 99 cm Diameter of hoop34. Depth 9 cm."

Comment by Pete R Ross on June 23, 2014 at 10:18pm

I took a good look at this banjo in 2003.  I wasn't allowed to photograph it, but made some drawings.  It seemed to me to be a English 18th century guitar that had been converted into a banjo.  In addition to the 5th being dovetailed into the side of the neck, the 4 string peg head was also joined onto the neck, somewhat awkwardly, if I remember correctly.  My guess was that it was made soon after one of the early American professional banjoists toured England, and before banjos were commercially available, this was someones solution to getting an instrument like what they'd seen on stage

Comment by Wes Merchant on June 24, 2014 at 3:00pm

Thanks Pete, that makes a lot of sense.


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