Minstrel Banjo

For enthusiasts of early banjo

Played by Rob Morrison on circa 1860 English 6-string banjo

Views: 172

Comment by Rob Morrison on February 20, 2014 at 4:15pm

There are more versions of "Elzic's Farewell" than grains of sand on Coney Island.  This one, however is mine.  The tune gained notoriety through the fiddling of West Virginia fiddler French Carpenter who claimed it was played by his ancestor Elzic , as he marched off to the Civil War, never to return. It's a wonderful story, but evidence exists that the tune was actually composed by Harvey G. Elswick (1838-1915) who did serve in the Civil War.  Mr. Elswick hailed from Kentucky, but moved to West Virginia in 1875 and wrote the tune in 1889.  He played the tune, at his mother's request, at her deathbed.  Hence, the "Farewell" in the title. 

Comment by Rob Morrison on February 20, 2014 at 4:25pm

The banjo I'm playing is a late 1850's or early 1860's English 6-string instrument.   It was found in an antique store in London by Fred Oster of Vintage Instruments in  Philadelphia.  With a little help from my friends, I was able to restore the instrument.  Tim Currin fashioned the pegs, Mark Brumsey welded the cracked  tension hoop, John Pringle made the bridge blank and dressed the brass position markers (they're flush), and I reinforced the pot assembly with metal cleats, made the tailpiece, and cut the bridge.  I replaced what looked to be the original head, which had turned into a sponge, with a new one.  The entire banjo, including all hardware, hooks, nuts, and shoes included, were individually hand crafted.

Comment by Paul Draper on February 20, 2014 at 4:31pm
That's a lot of banjo, Rob! Lot's of growl. How's it tuned?
Comment by Rob Morrison on February 20, 2014 at 4:34pm

I was able to produce the eerie drones in this piece due to the construction of the instrument and the configuration of its six strings.  The banjo is light as a feather (the neck is made of spruce) and it has a resonator with a sound hole, allowing it to seemingly ring forever.  The string configuration allows me to perform a drone with four separate D tones, two in unison and one each an octave above and below the unison.  I personally find this sound quite exotic, enticing, and challenging.  Serendipitous discoveries like this are why I restore and play the period instruments.

Comment by Rob Morrison on February 20, 2014 at 4:38pm

Paul--It's tuned in Briggs' high bass tuning with a bass D string an octave below the D on the third string.  The drone (6th string) is the same as the D at the fifth fret of the first string.

Comment by James Pentecost on February 20, 2014 at 6:46pm

Rob- That banjo sounds great.

Good job!

Now I want one.

Comment by Rob Morrison on February 20, 2014 at 6:51pm

James--I think they don't make them anymore, but if you really would like to borrow it to have a copy made, that can be arranged.

Comment by Greg Terry on March 12, 2014 at 7:06pm


Fantastic Sound and a great tune!

Comment by Rob Morrison on March 12, 2014 at 7:46pm

Thanks Greg.  These old banjos have an incredible sound, as of course do the reproductions, but the six-string is really unique. 


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