Minstrel Banjo

For enthusiasts of early banjo

A lovely song from the 1820's as found in Elias Howe's Banjo Preceptor of 1848. My fingerings for this piece were taken from the beautiful playing of Joe Ayers

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Comment by Jeff on September 18, 2012 at 10:39pm
Very Nice Mark... Your voice fits that playing style so well.
Comment by Mark Weems on September 20, 2012 at 10:07am

Hi Jeff,

Nobody seems to know who made this banjo. I asked Peter Szego at Antietam what he thought and he said 1890's, possibly Buckbee. But recently I saw a pic of a Dobson that looked just like it. I got it from my friend and former Bluegrass Boy Tony Ellis, who had steel strings on it and an old yellow sock stuck under the head. I kept the sock but changed the strings to nylgut! It's quiet but has really nice tone, and is my main fretted player around the house.

Comment by Nicholas A Bechtel on September 20, 2012 at 10:10am

I have a Lyon and Healy, "Mystic" 1880's, mine has a Star on the head stock, Yours looks similar, does the tail piece have any writing on it?

Comment by Mark Weems on September 20, 2012 at 10:22am

No, no writing anywhere except for a piece of plastic like material stuck on the bottom of the neck, a-la Dobson style, which says "Martin" on it. Martin&  Co. never made banjo's - believe me, I called them to ask. So, it could be a name plate or who knows what else?

Comment by Nicholas A Bechtel on September 20, 2012 at 10:28am

Right on! Sounds good.

Comment by Trapdoor2 on September 20, 2012 at 11:14am

Your banjo was indeed sold by the Lyon & Healy Co., Chicago. They had a wide variety of appointments and names engraved in the neck-plate: "Mystic", "Windsor", etc. Mine is a "Mystic" and has a funny little copper Piper figure inlaid into the 7th position. They were inexpensive and produced from the 1890's thru the beginning of the 20th cent. Most have a shorter scale length (24"?, I forget) and are pretty robustly built. Mine does "grill" duty (I keep it in the garage and play it when I've got the grill going) with steel strings. Ebay is often awash in them...

Comment by Jeff on September 20, 2012 at 11:58am

Thanks Mark... I was thinking Dobson but was not sure...

Comment by Mark Weems on September 24, 2012 at 8:23am

These pieces from Elias Howe's Banjo Preceptor are definitely banjo music, albeit less instrument specific arrangements (like classical music, the player is supposed to decide exactly how he wants to present it). They lay out so nicely on the instrument. Highly melodic stuff. More challenging but fun trying to weave a vocal around! I'm going to try others soon.

Comment by Tim Twiss on September 24, 2012 at 8:32am

They seem like lead sheets to me, lacking the imagination and fine arranging of the Briggs'. But, it was a start anyway.

Comment by Mark Weems on September 24, 2012 at 8:49am


A lot of the material in the Preceptor was around decades before 1848 and some of it, like Gumbo, or Jump Jim Crow etc. were certainly not composed on the banjo. It seems to me, the imagination is asked of the musician - not done for him - kind of the way a fiddler reads a melody first from sheet music, then goes on to add any double stops, chords, bowing patterns etc. that he wants to make it more rhythmic, stylized, etc. Personally, I find that with a beautiful, highly melodic piece, to put a Briggs "arrangement" on it would be to destroy its integrity as a piece. I mean, were not talking Johnny Boker or Dan Tucker here.


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