Thursday, March 7, 2013

Minstrel Boy Banjo

Last year I used our midwinter downtime to put together my banjo book, Ragged but Right: The Ungentle Art of Clawwhammer Banjo. This year I have kept busy singing the Snow Shoveling Blues while making maple syrup, mead, and hard cider. I also decided to take some time to fix up a couple of old banjos that were in varying states of disrepair.

Yesterday I changed the head and restrung my Minstrel Boy banjo. This banjo, based on a mid-nineteenth century banjo made by William Esperance Boucher, was built in 2003 by Randy England. Randy made these historically accurate instruments to be used by fellow Civil War re-enactors. I played it quite a bit in school programs and fairs that featured Civil War encampments, as well as for a series of shows I did at The Long Island Museum at Stony Brook while they were hosting Jim Bollman's banjo collection in an exhibition entitled "America's Instrument - The Banjo in the Nineteenth Century." Two of the gut strings had broken and the calf skin head had a hole in it that was threatening collapse. I replaced the strings with a set of synthetic "Nylgut" strings and replaced the head with a synthetic "Renaissance" head. I guess it is no longer historically correct but it stays in tune better and should be more durable. I made a quick recording of myself noodling around on this low tuned banjo. I'll need some time to regain the touch required to play these lower tension soft strings, especially the short 5th string.

P.S That's Georgianne accompanying me on rattling silverware, banging pots, and running water.

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