Here is something that has me puzzled. It has not been more than a few years from the time when I began to look beyond the reenactors standard approach of assumptions and research by video. As someone who is more focused on the late 19th century in my hobby pursuits, guitar style seems more appropriate.

After the living-history event that spurred my interest to pick the banjo back up, I asked the musicians that came to the events how to go about learning "period" music. All that they knew were modern "clawhammer" sources.

A small bit of research put me deep into the thimble playing of Briggs and the Converse "green book." It was not until about a year and a half ago when Bill Evens' book "Banjo for Dummies" came out, that I realized guitar style was not the big scary technical style for starched collars and formal "classical" music as I had been lead to believe.

OK, to make a long story longer, the conundrum. This board has 10 members. The minstrel banjo form, 63. On the Banjo Hangout, lots of members play on re-pop "minstrel banjos," mostly clawhammer, but quite a few in stroke. The popularity of minstrel era banjo playing has spurred many builders of very good replica instruments. Why is it that this style is so popular, while there are just a small portion of us who have taken the "scientific" approach?

Because of "old time," most modern builders have made many changes to banjos to calm the shrillness of wire strings. Making the pots into deep tubs, reducing the scale to place the bridge in the middle of the head, etc.. Where are the close copies of Stewarts, clad rims, non-reenforced necks, violin pegs (and not the geared "friction" looking ones) etc.?

With the popularity of SASS, NCOWS, and "gunfighter groups," one would think that the interest would shift to the PEC style of that era.

For those who have read my other posts, you are familiar with my search for "cowboy songs," something research seems to show is entirely over represented in the reenacting hobby, if there even was any popularity pre 1900.

I know, I am rambling.

Is it due to the fact that late 19th century historians are much more relaxed in their standards compared to ACW folks? Is it the same fear that I had, guitar style is so challenging why bother? Am I the only one that cares (most probable)?

Should I post this question on the other forum?

-Joel Hooks

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Well, this forum is only a few days old, so that's partly why there aren't as many members. And the old Yahoo Classic Banjo Group is much more established so it may take awhile if this ever gets much bigger.

Also, the two community's are a little different. The classic people are more music-oriented, with far fewer reenactors. The classic style never really died, whereas the original stroke-style was extinct until Bob Winans re-discovered it in the mid 1970's. One need not be a living historian to play classic style.

As far as the instruments are concerned, I think there are enough surviving banjos from the era to reduce the need to reproduce them enmasse. Again, most musicians in this style don't think of themselves as living historians, so modern banjos may suit their needs fine.

I love the history aspect myself, but I'm not too worried about a player's orientation here- just diggin' the music.
You are correct, this forum is not established yet.

As for instruments, I just about always play modern make banjos. Always on the lookout for a nice original. Seems that every time I find one local, it has been seriously damaged by wire strings.

I referred to reenactors, but I also see this trend with other banjoists. My theory is it stems in part from the mythical assumption that in order for something to be old or "old time" it must be rustic and clunky.

I have been at events when playing a nice 6/8 march by Geo. Dobson, someone says that it must be from the 1920s because it does not sound old.

I also agree with you about the two different communities. I just wonder why.

On the other hand, there are a lot (this is all relative as we are discussing the banjo after all) of people who could care less about the historical side that buy early style banjos.

I suspect that all of the above reasons are true to some extent. Classic banjo is percieved to be more difficult and more demanding. Stroke style is percieved to be simpler and less demanding. One may play the bulk of the stroke style repretoire in CH style without anyone but an actual Stroke player knowing the difference. Also, the repretoire of the Early Banjo dovetails neatly with the OT/Folk (CH) rep...whereas the bulk of Classic stuff does not.

The period has a lot to do with it as well. The CW era has a huge reenactor following...but this drops off immediately at the end of the war. Although the SASS has a large following, they are primarily focussed on the 'cowboy/shootist' aspects. None of the SASS groups here (and they have a sizable group) have musicians of any sort. So, I would put the 1870-1920 era into the dark void of reenacting.

As far as banjos go, nobody is willing to invest in a non-starter (classic banjo). Even sellors like Bernunzio labels their high-end banjos as 'frailers'...'cause the market just isn't there for Classic players (collecting is a different bird altogether).

One thing we know for sure- the true classic style banjo player is a rare bird indeed, and of all the styles of banjo music perhaps the last one to "fit in" with the other predominantly folk-oriented styles.

I would love to have someone else to "jam" with in this style. The only other classic player I've ever really got to sit down with is Clarke Buehling, and I'm obviously quite over-matched there, and he lives about 240 miles from me, so it's not a regular thing.

Hey, maybe we need to set up a Classic-style get together, like we have with the stroke-stylists.

And, just off the top of my head, a somewhat central meeting place could be...Fayetteville, Ar. (It's a really hip college town, with a groovy historic downtown).

'Course, I'd need to ask Clarke about that. But does this sound doable??

ps Wouldn't it be a gas if we could get Ray to come from Aussie-land? I'm thinkin' we'd be havin' some fun then...
Fayetteville, AR isn't too bad for me (9 hrs and change, only 2hrs less than Antietam). How about St. Louis? That's only 7hrs and it is more centrally located. We might get some support from the ABF as Howard Weilmunster lives there (honorary President of the ABF). I would love to meet him and play his 'flush fret' van Eps banjo (Howard is in his 90's and was a very good friend of van Eps). I've been really wanting to go to one of the ABF rallys but Punxsutawney, PA
is yet another long haul (13hrs).

I probably couldn't do it in the first half of 2009 as I've already got my vacation schedule stretched thin. April, though, I get another week of vacation (ya get that when you've been with the company 10 yrs), so perhaps later in the year? Can't compete with AEBG III though...I will not give that one up.

PS If Ray is coming...hide the beer! ;-) Strewth mate, he's a goodun.

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