Minstrel Banjo

For enthusiasts of early banjo

Al Smitley
  • Male
  • Hartland, MI
  • United States
  • 1968-1976 then minstrel banjo since…
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Al Smitley's Friends

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  • Timothy Twiss
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Al Smitley's Discussions

Strum Machine

Started this discussion. Last reply by Al Smitley Jun 23. 3 Replies

Has anyone tried using Strum Machine?I just signed up for a free trial and am enjoying it, especially because I don't play with others and it seems as though it would be great for practicing.After…Continue

Why Ethiopians?

Started this discussion. Last reply by Timothy Twiss Mar 5. 4 Replies

I'm hoping someone can offer insights that escape me.  It seems that Ethiopia gained a lot of reference in the mid-19th C minstrel genre......"Ethiopian Glee Book", Ethiopian Serenaders, Ethiopian…Continue

JEB Stuart

Started this discussion. Last reply by Al Smitley Feb 12. 1 Reply

I don't know if it's good or whether Sam Sweeney might be mentioned but a program about JEB Stuart airs several times on CSPAN2 this weekend.Continue

Blackface & Minstrel Shows

Started this discussion. Last reply by Rob Mohr Mar 17, 2020. 9 Replies

I haven't yet seen this but thought I'd pass it along.  It also airs at 4 am on Sunday.…Continue


Al Smitley's Page

Latest Activity

Timothy Twiss commented on Al Smitley's photo


"Maybe small piece(s) of linen, soaked in a solution of Elmer's glue and water. It will dry and shrink securely. Patch "
Nov 15
Al Smitley commented on Al Smitley's photo


"Thanks, Patrick.  That might be beyond my experience and know-how but I appreciate the suggestion."
Nov 14
Patrick Haas commented on Al Smitley's photo


"I had a similar problem with one of my banjos. I wet the area down and stitched up the tear with artificial sinew. (waxed linen I use to sew leather bags). And let it dry.  Worked well for quite awhile. Not much change in sound. Friends…"
Nov 14
Al Smitley replied to Judith's discussion What strings for minstrel banjo, 26" scale
"Judith, I decided to tune your old Bell down two "frets" to cGCEG so that I have a second banjo to help with a couple songs that I can barely reach with my voice.  I have the same problem though I'm guessing you always used that…"
Nov 7
Tom Taggart liked Al Smitley's photo
Nov 4
Strumelia commented on Al Smitley's photo


"My string package is like brown rough Kraft paper that is printed. Looks like yours is white paper? Maybe they changed the package at some point. Mine has the color Legend plainly printed on the back of the outside brown package."
Nov 4
Al Smitley commented on Al Smitley's photo


"Thanks, Strum.  I looked all over the package and didn't see the codes.  The wound string was obviously the 4th and it seemed they were packaged in order, and.....somewhat verified by the thicknesses of the strings."
Nov 4
Strumelia commented on Al Smitley's photo


"That 'black' dot on yours is really dark blue i think."
Nov 4
Strumelia commented on Al Smitley's photo


"Hi Al. On one of my packages ("minstrel set") the legend says: 1st=RED 2nd=BLUE 3rd=GREEN 4th=WHITE 5th=YELLOW (spelt "Jellow" on the package, lolol) Hope that helps. Lisa"
Nov 4
Strumelia commented on Al Smitley's photo


"You could 'try' cutting a spare piece of skin to glue over the tear as an (obvious looking) patch. I patched an old tambourine that way."
Nov 4
Al Smitley posted photos
Nov 2
Al Smitley commented on Greg Adams's video

"The Newton Jig" (1860)

"Surprised.  It allowed me to like a second time!  Usually, it cancels out my previous "Like"."
Nov 2
Al Smitley liked Greg Adams's video
Nov 2
Al Smitley liked Timothy Twiss's video
Oct 29
Al Smitley liked Timothy Twiss's video
Oct 19
Judith and Al Smitley are now friends
Oct 7

Profile Information

How did you find out about Ning Minstrel Banjo?
Member/contributor, Tim Twiss
How long have you played banjo?
1968-1976 then minstrel banjo since 2007. Stopped when Tim Twiss wanted me to play fiddle and play banjo, now, only to figure out best keys for various songs/tunes.
What kind of banjo(s) do you own?
Vega long-neck and Hartel Sweeney model

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Comment Wall (22 comments)

At 7:09pm on July 11, 2011, Tim Twiss said…
Hi Al. Do you prefer Friday or Saturday...Aug 5 or 6?
At 10:55am on November 26, 2011, John Masciale said…

Al,  That's the kind of thing you can either add as a link in a thread (there's a way to upload files to a given thread, click on the paperclip icon), or something as generally useful as that we can put under resources.  Elaine has been going through period songsters and has a list of over 1800 songs at this point from the time period.  The list is growing.  I would put your spreadsheet under documetation.


I find that the most useful thing about the Weidlich book is his index of Minstrel Songs and which instructor they are in.  It would be great to have some resources like that here on the site.

At 12:27pm on November 26, 2011, Tim Twiss said…

And there it is...thanks John. I lost sight of the fact you could add files of different types in the Documentation spot. Perfect.

At 11:21am on November 28, 2011, John Masciale said…

Al,  Thanks for sending the tutorial index.  I now have it posted on our documentation page.

At 12:06pm on November 28, 2011, Tim Twiss said…

John...what format is that? New Excel? I could open Al's old one, but not this. Perhaps open office?

At 1:44pm on November 28, 2011, Tim Twiss said…

Never mind...answered my own question...open office for those who are behind.

What a great contribution Al...

At 8:09am on February 3, 2012, Ian Bell said…


I'm not a re-enactor (though I do have a suit of funny clothes in the closet) so I usually don't always have to limit myself to completely period-appropriate performances. When I am doing a historic perfromance I use the "period" instruments that I happen to play — wooden flute, Scottish smallpipes, fiddle and sing unaccompanied. I've never earned the trick of self-accompaniment with fiddle. It's all I can do to play in tune when I'm not singing. 

I mostly do 1812 songs from the Canadian point of view. My repertoire  comes from old manuscripts and early published sources and also includes songs of the time that survived to be collected as part of the folk tradition in Ontario. I've been accumulating this stuff since the early 80s. Canada was much less urban than the eastern US at that time so there weren't nearly as many printed broadsides produced up here. Your Library of Congress website has lots of American 1812 songs online. (I'm envious)

In a concert setting, I'll usually perform this stuff in a more "folksingerly" context, as music from the past that has survived into the present. I use non-period instruments like steel-string guitar, mandolin and concertina and arrange songs to suit my own tastes — which to most people's ears are probably pretty arcane.

At 8:10am on February 3, 2012, Ian Bell said…

Clarifying a bit of bad writing in previous comment - I meant Canada was less urban in 1812 - not the 1980s!

At 7:33pm on May 22, 2012, Jeff said…
I live in Midland
At 8:54pm on March 22, 2013, Tim Twiss said…

Hey Al...the first Thursday of every other month is approaching. Want to join me again? Love to add some of those crazy early ones we have discussed.

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