Minstrel Banjo

For enthusiasts of early banjo

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Comment by Tom Taggart on November 19, 2017 at 11:05pm

I bought this from Don Gardner at the Cedar Creek Civil War reenactment in Oct 2017. He told me it was made around 1900 by S.S. Stewart. I know it is not from the minstrel period but it sounds great and I can use it to expand my banjo picking into claw hammer and bluegrass styles. If anyone has more historical information on this banjo or the manufacturer it would be appreciated.

Comment by Joel Hooks on November 20, 2017 at 9:21am

Hi Tom, there was no "S. S. Stewart" around 1900.  Stewart and Bauer, and later The Bauer Company made "S. S. Stewart" branded banjos.  That shape of peg head was introduced in the 90s for budget banjos.  Often marked "Second Grade" or "The Amateur" these were lower priced "beginner" banjos.

As with all "classic era" banjos (pre 1930s) this was never intended for wire strings.  Classic era banjos make okay or tolerable "clawhammer" banjos but are really not the ideal for that style.  According to the interesting book "Building New Banjos for an Old Time World" by Jones-Bamman using classic era banjos for "old time" music was a compromise as that was all that was available during the "folk revival."  

As these banjos have little monetary or historical value there is no reason not to play it with wire stings as any excess wear or damage they may cause to the frets, heel/dowel, or neck will not matter much.

Enjoy it and play it however you want!

Comment by Tom Taggart on November 20, 2017 at 12:15pm

Thanks Joel, later on down the road I may re-string this with "minstrel string" as on my other banjo. It would be interesting to see how it sounds in traditional minstrel tuning.

Comment by Joel Hooks on November 20, 2017 at 4:19pm

By the time this was built, "C" was the standard banjo pitch (I don't say "tuning" as it confuses "old timey" banjo players).  That is the same as the intervals given in Briggs' just higher. 

Banjoists were raising the pitch up to C by the early to mid 1880s and it has remained the standard to today.

Labella no17s work well on these.  I order singles direct from Labella in a lighter diameter that are period correct for my classic era banjos.  All of the currently offered banjo sets of nylon strings are much thicker than the gut that was used.

Comment by Tom Taggart on November 22, 2017 at 1:29pm

Thanks for the info on the strings Joel. The terms pitch and tuning are a little confusing to me too.

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