Minstrel Banjo

For enthusiasts of early banjo

I picked up a nice steel string banjo at a local auction on the weekend. It's a Lyon & Healy "Mystic" - from about 1895 as far as I can tell. It's "mutated" a fair bit from its original form, with new planetary tuners, steel strings and a fibreskin head. Great for clawhammer playing. Does anyone know if these banjos were actually made by Lyon & Healy or contracted out to some banjo company?

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Comment by Joel Hooks on June 29, 2016 at 10:07am

Cool banjo Ian!  It was not built as, or intended to be, a "steel string" banjo.  As with all good regular (or five string) banjos built before the late 1920s, gut was it.

L&H built them.  They were good copiers and made some great imitations of others banjo designs.  Carl Anderton has one that looks like a Cole but is not.  Most are really well crafted.

It would make a great "classic" banjo as it was built to sound loud, bright and cutting using a thin head and gut strings for guitar style playing.

As a "old time" banjo, the days when these were thought of as good for that are rapidly going.  Banjos for modern "old time" playing have taken on many different features from this.  Shorter scales, bridge position in the center of the head, "scoops", etc., basically the opposite of this.

I'd put a frosted white head, labells 17s and a proper thin bridge for the best volume and tone.

Good score!

Comment by Ian Bell on June 30, 2016 at 10:45pm

Thanks Joel - when you say a frosted white head, is that because they're thinner than fibreskin?

At the moment I'm actually kind of enjoying it as a steel string instrument. My clawhammer playing is really pretty demure by today's standards, so it suits my style fairly well. None-the-less I can't imagine that I won't revert it back to gut at some point. I'll be sure to report back when I do! One of these years I'll have to get myself back to the Pry barn as well!


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