Minstrel Banjo

For enthusiasts of early banjo

Hi all,

I'm a brand-spanking new member of the Minstrel banjo forum and I'm looking for opinions from folks that might have an idea of what they would concieve as being the "ideal" Boucher design.

The "ideal" portion of the formula would include Boucher's later brass brackets (for comfort and easy head tensioning), a little shorter 26" scale length to allow those who play standard open back to be immediately comfortable with the intervals,  an Ogee that has accurately placed notches to reflect actual note postions, 12" pot so new builders could use a standard drum shell, etc.

 I've been researching the Boucher design for a while and have gleaned a lot of information from the web, particularly from the Banjo Sightings Database.  I asked a specific Ogee-related question on Banjohangout that you can see (or add to) here:

http://www.banjohangout.org/topic/195963

 

The result of all this will result in a freely downloadable pdf plan for the "idealized" Boucher design.

At the present time I’m thinking of a “Hybrid” Boucher design that has elements from several instruments, but will be geared toward a more user-friendly design.  Specs would be 12” by 3” deep pot, Patina finished raw brass tension band with 8 shop made solid brass long point bracket shoes and matching brass tapered square flange nuts, shop made polished brass tapered square head tensioning wrench, 26” scale length, bridge at center of head location, Ebony violin tuners, Nylgut Minstrel strings, Ebony or birdseye maple finger board and scroll peg head with ebony overlay and beehive, with period correct tailpiece.

Any thoughts on this or additional info would be appreciated.

Randy

 

 

 

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Shame to go to all that trouble and then put nylon strings on. The gut strings James Hartel put on the Boucher he made for me are still there six months later and sounding amazing.


Rob MacKillop said:
Shame to go to all that trouble and then put nylon strings on. The gut strings James Hartel put on the Boucher he made for me are still there six months later and sounding amazing.

 

Hi Rob,

Strings are easily changed to whatever is desired by the end user. The initial game plan is to appeal to the widest audience that would be interested in construction of a Minstrel Banjo. The finer points are often a matter of personal preferance and can be easily accomodated within a basic design.

That's true.
Heck, build what you want to and don''t be afraid to experiment.  As far as I can tell, this is why not all of us are still plucking only guts over gourds!  (I still do!) .  Instrumental evolution is always a product of component availability and experimentation -- have fun!

Hi John,

Thanks for the words of encouragement.

I can tell you that I'm not afraid to push the limits of acceptance for banjo design. I figure as long as I'm playing it I can build whatever I want.  Here's a design that I'm using as my regular player when I'm not sitting around with my mountain banjo.

http://www.bluestemstrings.com/pageOB1.html

That said, what I'm shooting for is not a design that pushes the envelope, but rather a very traditional Boucher inspired banjo that wouldn't be out of place for a civil war reenactment, but has a few of the "rough edges" removed that can restrict our playing enjoyment.  Every once in a while I see someone is looking for a Boucher plan or construction information, and there just isn't a lot of info out there to go by.

 

I haven't had the gourd bug bite me yet, but my wife is thinking about putting some out in the garden this year...

I am "coming out" today, and will tell you that I have a synthetic head and strings on my Boucher. I find it is not that big of a deal. I greatly enjoy the advantage of stability and playability. Most of your sound is in your technique, style, and touch. I would gladly play skin and gut...still do on the gourd. Eventually, I will have another, but for now, if I only have one, I need one that will be reliable on stage. It is more important when your repertoire involves execution that responds in all ranges and dynamics.   I think the original banjo players from the 19th Century were forward thinking men, always seeking the greater advantage....(tackys to hardware etc). Most of the changes that occurred in that time frame are the ones we accept.  You don't think they would have jumped all over a stable banjo head...HA! There are so many other qualities that make a banjo part of the 19th Century tradition. 
Tim,

 

Thanks for the excellent information.

Any contributions will help me firm up a design for the ideal conceptualized Boucher.  I've initially settled on the 12" rim size, partially because of the advantage of putting on a Renaissance or other type of synthetic head if desired.  It's good to know someone of your stature wouldn’t turn his nose up at the idea.

The 12" rim also will allow someone to use a standard size rim such as a Keller drum shell if they don't want to "roll their own".

Feel free to elaborate on your particular likes as far as type of synthetic head, brand of strings, etc.  The more info that we can accumulate in the forum topic thread the better!

 

  

Seems to me, the shop-made square tensioning wrench to fit your shop-made brass nuts is a step in the direction opposite what you claim to want.  Why not get a commercially available tuning wrench (the material won't be brass), and machine your brass nuts to match it?

Come to think of it, they may call that a tuning hammer (if it's big enough to do you any good).

razyn,

Good point, but the Boucher-design nuts and brackets are just too cool to pass up.  If I'm going to make shop-made brass nuts a square is much easier to produce than an accurate hex.  Part of my reasoning is that I want these to be easily produced in the home shop.  I've made hex nuts in the past and it's tough to maintain accuracy.

It's mostly for the cool factor, though...

Tuning hammers for pianos, harpsichords, zithers, hammered dulcimers etc. are square.  (Or rectangular, in the case of zithers, but those are smaller than you could use.)  I'm thinking the piano size would be as big as a Boucher square nut, but I may be mistaken.  Anyway, just consider the possibility of extant cranking hardware of some kind, to the shape of which you could file your nuts.  The brass ones.

Randy Cordle said:

razyn,

Good point, but the Boucher-design nuts and brackets are just too cool to pass up.

Thanks, razyn. I'll certainly keep that in mind.  I just love to form and polish brass.  Several of the custom open back banjo makers have their own self-designed and cast brass tee wrenches to fit standard hardware sizes.  I think that's just a nice touch for the small shop builder.

 

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