Hello.  New member from Philadelphia in the US.  I've written numerous books of guitar history, am a columnist for Vintage Guitar Magazine, and am a presenter at the annual Banjo Gathering.  If you don't know of the latter, it is a 25-year-old meeting of banjo enthusiasts that moves mostly up and down the East Coast of the US.  There is always a display room for dealers and collectors, but the main activities are historical presentations, a field trip (this year we met in Williamsburg, VA, and were given an up close and personal viewing of The Old Plantation, which is not on display otherwise), and lots of good fellowship and conversation among good people.  Virtually all of the recent books on banjo history have been written by Banjo Gathering members.  My presentation this year was on how banjos (and guitars) got wire strings.

For next year I will be speaking on the 1890s running argument between American banjoists and English banjoists over notation.  Banjos evolved from being tuned in F around 1850 to being tuned in C by around 1885.  When banjos hit A tuning around 1865 they had become enormously popular and music publishers began publishing tutors and sheet music written in the key of A.  Out of stubbornness (and built up inventory), when banjos rose further to the key of C, the music continued to be notated in A, continuing up until the 1920s.  When C banjos came to England, English musicians said, "What the heck is this?  The banjo's tuned in C, but the music is in A.  No way, Jose."  And music became C Notation in England.  Hence the ongoing skirmishes seen in the banjo press of the time.

So, what I'm interested to learn is if you can steer me to any good sources on the history of banjo in the UK.  I know the Virginia Minstrels came over in 1843 and that blackface minstrelsy became popular, but beyond that I know very little.  The subject is rarely much addressed in American books on the banjo.  I don't intend to focus on that story, but I have to paint some background of how there came to be any English banjoists at all, much less how the C Notation controversy came about on that end.

Thanks in advance if you can be of help!


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1848- very good.  But still useless and not to be trusted.  At one time I did track down the very plates used in this to other books.  Howe published some collections for generic treble clef instruments.  I also found some in Violin collections. 

The only "banjo" attempt was to try and use minstrel type pieces.  I'm skeptical that the single banjo tuning page has anything to do with the banjo beyond a guess by the author. 

It is also not substantiated by any other book. 

At least the pitch given in Briggs' was also used/mentioned in some other books. 

Mike, did you get my email, and did all come through okay? ;-)

As Mike said earlier, there are advertisements in British Newspapers of teachers offering both American and English methods and which seem to be from around the 1880s/90s. Although prospective pupils would presumably have been aware of the essential difference' I could find no information as to what this was. However, in 1874 a Professor Ballantyne was advertising teaching of the banjo 'either by music or by the new American system, which requires no previous knowledge' and J E Brewster was apparently 'the only competent instructor on the rapid American system' in the early 1880s. I assume this would be rapid learning rather than playing.

BTW- Gumbo Chaff appears to have been the title of an early banjo song.   

Hey Mike,

I don't know what to tell you.  I have tried sending it to the email attached to your BHO account, which you can't get.

Then I sent it to the AOL account that, I guess, did not accept the attachment. 
So I just sent it again with We Transfer and hopefully you will get that. 

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