Minstrel Banjo

For enthusiasts of early banjo

The biggest banjo in the world, with undercarriage down.

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Comment by Carl Anderton on April 21, 2011 at 5:04pm
What's the provenance behind this instrument?
Comment by Richard William Ineson on April 22, 2011 at 2:02am

This contra bass banjo was made by the Clifford Essex Co. I have a couple of pictures of similar instruments from around 1914. I am told that they only made five of these types of banjos. I am not certain where the banjo has been throughout its life but similar instruments are featured in photographs of the various British B.M.G. orchestras, when they were very active, in the 1920s-1950s period.

It is in good condition,plays well and is very loud, the three strings are tuned as the lower strings of a regular bass - E A D, incidentally, the CE Co. also made contra bass banjos with a wooden head rather than vellum.

I bought the banjo from another banjo enthusiast, for my wife, Bernadette - she currently accompanies my playing on a regular bass, but she is finding it difficult to adapt to the playing position of the bass banjo - with the undercarriage down ( an extending spike such as you would find on a regular bass, but which emerges from the side of the banjo rather than the base of the bass).

The banjo is also quite heavy, which is another drawback for her.

A piece of banjo history.

Comment by razyn on April 23, 2011 at 1:21pm

My kontrabass balalaika (see avatar) is tuned the same way.  In the era of your banjo, balalaikas were covered in the British popular periodical BMG (banjo, mandolin, guitar).  I wonder if this was a Clifford Essex takeoff on the Russian folk orchestra's bass.  I wrote an article on my kind of bass (shortly before I'd finished making the one I play now) that was in Bass Player mag, I think it was April, 1994.  Cover photo was Jeff Ament, the bass player from Pearl Jam.  The editors titled my piece "Mother Russia's Big Bottom."

I'll bet your wife's banjo is a lot boomier than the acoustically unsuccessful, contemporary Gibson Mando-Bass.  But it'd take a heck of a big possum to make the head fer it.

Comment by Scott House on April 24, 2011 at 4:06pm


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