Minstrel Banjo

For enthusiasts of early banjo

I just decided.

Because October is the month of Halloween and pumpkins and squash and old hollow/hallow things, even the O in October is round like a gourd...so...

I declare October to be Gourd Banjer Month !

Let's use this thread to share our enthusiasm for our gourd banjos...

Post your gourdelicious videos, pictures, your love/hate gourd relationship stories, and random factoids about your gourd banjo here!

Anything goes...bring it on!    :D

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Brian that's fabulous!   You did good!    =8-D

Really nice Brian.

Some smaller scale 4 string gourd banjos I made.

And while technically not really a gourd, I did just finish up these tiny strum strums made of coconuts and banjo scraps. But I feel like they are close cousins in some weird way. I have since this photo was taken sanded the bridges way down to make the lil guys easier to fret notes on.

Loving seeing your instruments Chris. Some interesting pieces here!

Thanks Mark. I got a few others in the works I am pretty psyched about.

Nice job. What do they sound like?

I got the first two strum strums sounding pretty good, the third one is being troublesome. They are small and I intended them to be decorative wall hangers. But they sounded better than I expected. It would come in super handy if stranded in a desert island.

It is unclear to me how one plays a one-string instrument with no frets and a very high action. I have a Hungarian Gusle, which is a one-string instrument with a bow.


I picked it up at a rummage sale for a few bucks not knowing what it was. It had a label on it that said "Banjo". LOL. It has a tanned leather head that is tacked on with wooden pegs. 

I think maybe the Gusle I have was also meant to be a wall decoration.

You could fret them with the back of your knuckle or fingernail, instead of pressing the string down to the fingerboard.  This is a common method for playing Jouhikkos, Shetland Gues, the Turkish kemence, Cretan lyra, etc.  Jouhikkos and gues are fretted this way and don't even have a fingerboard- the strings lie in midair and are fretted thus.

Though these are all bowed instruments, I don't see why it wouldn't work with a plucked or strummed instrument.  Maybe you can experiment with bowing these little gourdlettes, like the above named instruments.

Haha yeah I thought a bow would be cool, I was looking at a zeze which is an East African one stringed gourd fiddle of sorts.

I didn't know if I would need fiddle strings for it to work and I felt buying them or horse hair for a bow would negate the whole idea of making scraps into tiny instruments. I had at one point looked up using human hair for the bow but a girl did it on YouTube and sounded terrible and looked kinda gross haha

But I play them like a tiny banjo and use thumb or finger nail to strike string. You can hit three or four notes clearly on it before it just gets too high pitched. I will try and shoot a video with them. They are all tuned differently but to each other so if they were to be played together they match each other nicely. Very primitive. Destined to hang on a wall like mini Kora a tourist would pick up while on vacation in Africa or those crappy small guitars you get when waiting in line at the border to leave Mexico. Very much in the spirit of an instrument shaped object.

Hmmm... from your description, I'm thinking perhaps a bow would make them sing out better.  Try holding it in your lap facing outward, with the bow in an underhand grip.

Just get a sturdy arc branch and cut notches in both ends, then take a hank of horsehair, comb it straight, and knot one end, put into a notch and pull taut and knot the other end into the other notch.  Apply rosin for a long time to prime it.

Do you have nylgut strings on them?  Or fishing line, or weedwhacker line?  All should work fine with a well rosined bow.  Try fretting the side of the string with the back of your left hand's first knuckle bones, or the backs of your nails if you have good nails.  This is the way jouhikkos/tagelharpas are played.  They use either nylon strings or strings made from twisted horsehair.  I've made twisted horsehair strings for my jouhikko, and they work great with a horsehair bow.   You have to experiemtn and actually count the best number of hairs to make the string to be the heavy/low pitched string or the higher pitched thinner string.  And you must twist 'enough' but not too much.  It's fascinating (if hair raising) stuff.   :)

Two use fishing line one has gut string. Sounds fun tho I could go stick hunting which I have done in many many moons haha

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