The Mudcat Café TM
Thread #32754   Message #994149
Posted By: Uncle Jaque
31-Jul-03 - 10:05 AM
Thread Name: Nylon Banjo Strings
Subject: RE: Nylon Banjo Strings
That's right - the old Minstrel Banjos were tuned a whole 2 to 2 1/2 steps lower than our modern "Bluegrass" 5-strings.

In 1865, Frank CONVERSE was tunig his banjo:

4th: A
3rd: E
2nd: G#
1st: B
5th: "...An octave above the 3rd string."

I have seen period instructionals reccomending tuning to Ab, or in some cases to whatever note seems comfortable to sing.

Funny thing; after tuning down to the old "Low Bass" tuning, the old "C-F-G7" chord progression fits the mid-1800s FOSTER and other Minstrel songs to my vocal range perfectly, whereas they just didn't seem to work up there in the "modern" tuning.   Sort of like these songs were written just for the 5-string banjo in that tuning... which, in all probability, they were!

You will have a hard time maintaining pitch on a banjo with friction pegs, as most of the period instruments used (they had machine heads then, and most guitars used them - but not many banjos did for some reason) if you try to tune up to "bluegrass" pitch. Too much tension.

I had my banjo set up with nylon for quite some time, and liked the "plunketty" sound they produced - but have since moved up to "real" gut and there is a difference. If you are going for historical authenticity, then gut IS the way to go!

I get mine from "Boston Catlines" in MA; they are not cheap, but top of the line. If you hang them up and treat them with spar varnish or laquer prior to mounting, they will last a lot longer.

NEVER use picks on gut strings!!! Fingerpick only.

For excellent reproduction Minstrel instruments, go to:
WUNDER Banjo Co.

And feel free to check my Civil War Reenactor's Music forum @:
Civil War Reenactor Musician's Forum (Delphi)
Where there is a section for period instruments.