Minstrel Banjo

For enthusiasts of early banjo

Here are some photos of a minstrel banjo I recently finished restoring to playable condition.  I decided to preserve as much as I could, so I did not have it refinished.  I installed a new head, a set of period tuners originally off an 1850s parlor guitar, and a new reproduction tailpiece.  The tuner shafts are the same length as the originals, so I was able to remove two pieces of wood from the headstock that had been added to accommodate a set of late 19th-early 20th century tuners with shorter shafts.  The banjo needed no neck reset- it has no angle- just as it was originally made- and the action is still good after all these years.  Sound-wise it is loud, dry, bright, compressed, and very articulate- all while retaining a good minstrel tone.   It reminds me of some of the tones Bob Flesher gets out of his banjos on his cd's. This is by far the most responsive of my minstrel banjos, and playing it is really enjoyable.


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Bravo. Hope it serves you well.

Video please. Let's hear it! And nice to see something besides a Boucher!

I've got no decent way to record a video... I'll bring it to Antietam though and hopefully to the Sweeney gathering as well.  I'm totally with you about the Bouchers... here's a picture of my go-to banjo as of late:



Mark Weems said:

Video please. Let's hear it! And nice to see something besides a Boucher!

very nice! where did you get that? any provenance?

The banjo belonged to Peter Szego and has no provenance.  It's very large (~15'' diameter rim) but the scale length is ~29'' so it's quite playable.  Given the bracket style and number of brackets, it's circa 1850.

Mark Weems said:

very nice! where did you get that? any provenance?

Nice work on the new banjo John.  Did you put on the new skin head yourself?  Calf? Was the pot still round?

Looks really nice and unique with lots of character.

Geez, just borrow someone's tablet or laptop and make a little sample vid !

I had my luthier install the head (it's calf).  The pot appears round to the naked eye, although I'm sure it's a little bit off.  The tension hoop is bent on one side as well but still works like a charm.  It was found in a Virginia attic by a picker in 2004.  The owner of the house, a 65 year old woman at the time, told him it used to reside in her mom's house in North Carolina back when she was a child and that she saved it while cleaning out her mom's house after she passed away.  The picker was going to turn it into a clock...

Lovely instrument. Nicely restored.

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