Minstrel Banjo

For enthusiasts of early banjo

In the 70's at a fiddler's jamboree I met an old boy who had a homemade small head "Mountain" banjo. He slid the bridge forward to play in A while playing in the open (G) tuning. I thought that was so cool. A few years later I built a fretless and slid the bridge when I needed too. A while back on our site here I think there was a discussion about the curious drawings from the 1800's that showed the bridge to be 'out of place' sometimes. Today I was contacted by a fellow who was curious about a tackhead clawhammer banjo that could be played in F, G and A that way. I just happened to have a shorter scale Boucher style another guy had ordered. So here is a clip I showed him and I thought folks here might find it interesting. ( I slide the bridge on my full size minstrel banjo up a tone often).

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Amazing! What a great trick.

Terry and Ian,

More food for the movable bridge feast.  Gura and Bollman's book on the banjo in the Nineteenth Century contains a number of photographs of early fretless banjos with bridges at "odd" locations -- especially moved close to the neck.  See pages 44, 50, 54, 59, 62.

I have three bridge positions marked on the head of my Prust fretless that gives me ten keys depending on whether I have it tuned up or down (G&D, A&E; A-flat and E-flat, B-flat and F; B and F#).  I haven't tried moving the bridge towards the tailpiece, yet.

It's a great way to re-cast a song and make it singable.  Some of those I'm working on are pitched too low in their original forms.  I don't worry too much about hitting the pitches exactly, since I'm usually playing/performing alone.  Close enough works just fine.  I guessing the players "back then" did the same thing to make the instrument fit their voices rather than trying to force their voice to fit the instrument.


I assume I'm that guy Terry. I've been playing my Boucher (Bell kit) in Gb, A and Ab and it sounds fine. I have also made a few bridges from Aspen and Cedar to hear how it affects the tone overall and when the bridge is moved.  I've been experimenting w/ different leg widths and bridge thicknesses. So far pine has sounded best. 

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