it has been fairly quiet around here of late, holiday season I guess ! To amuse my self these long evenings I have been reading the above here, I am fascinated by the late Victorian/ Edwardian era and, have always read authors from this period, surprising number of banjoists in some of those old novels, Kipps, George Wingrave (three men in a boat) and of course good old Morton Mitcham in the Good Companions, thus most of my reading has been the earlier BMGs from the Twenties, it has been an eye opener for me to watch the rise of the tenor banjo during this time and, the disdain sometimes expressed for it in those periodicals, also surprising to me and, it must be said rather amusing are the editorials composed I assume by Emile Grimshaw, you can almost hear him barking off the page at the mere reader as if he were addressing a class of children, he pulls no punches and, is almost arrogant in his views about what constitutes a banjoist, not just a bungling amateur who will never rise in his endeavours. I guess he is just a product of his time when viewed through 21st century eyes, the letters too are a fascinating insight into contemporary players as they marvel at the "new fangled" inventions such as resonators and, wire strings ! how fortunate we are to be able to take a peek into this strange bygone world of banjo players who travel to work on the bus carrying their instrument in an oilskin case and, what a different world it was back then so soon after the Great War.

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Hi Nick,

I am a big fan of "historical" periodicals. There is all sorts of lost knowledge hidden away waiting to be found.

We are in the "golden age" of research materials.  Through efforts like those of Ian, never before has this much primary documentation been available to anyone who might want it.

This has been a double edged sword.  First it is a little overwhelming in volume (all the banjo related stuff that can be found online).  Second, one no longer has to rely on books about the era.  Now that we can check sources we can see where the opinions of authors have marred their writings and interpretations. When writing about banjo history one now has be be very careful to not misquote sources.  There was a time when only a few had access and this info could be twisted to support any agenda the author might want to push.

An example of this is evident in what you wrote about Grimshaw. He was writing in the style of his era.  The "his way"approach" was consistent with most experts on any subject of that era.  To me had every right to the claim of authority.  Proof is in his compositions, articles, and learning materials. While I do not encourage beginners to use his "How to Excel"-- I do recommend it for moderate level players as it is great for mastering advanced techniques.  His compositions are some of the best ever.

One thing I disagree with Grimshaw on was his recommendation to use a wire first. It is transparent that this was a compromise based on the availability of good gut firsts. The First World War made gut strings hard to come by.  Not only were the countries that made them trying to kill each other, it was also the same material used for sutures.  The easy way around this is to recommend using wire. This exact same situation happened with the violin first string.  In that case the wire first caught on and became standard.  The same did not happen with banjo. Grimshaw eventually rescinded this recommendation after gut and "tropical" strings were available again.  

There is a reason I brought up Grimshaw's wire first... you referred to steel strings as "new fangled".  Wire strings for banjo were marketed in the US starting in the early 1880s.  It was a cheap alternative in order to hit a low price point with a fad product.  Companies never want to lose a sale because of price point so they always offer low priced options to sell to people who want to be involved in a fad but have no real intention of going any further.  People like to buy the latest fad even if they will never use it (think about all of those cheap ukes that are on the market).

Wire strings did not catch on because people did not like them.  This is a difficult concept for us to understand now that they are the default.  With the exception of the Zither Banjo, nearly no professional or serious amateur used wire strings for finger style banjo before the plectrum era. It was pick playing that instigated steel string use.

Please share any issue number and articles that you found interesting. I think it would be fun for us to all read it and discuss. 

I agree that Grimshaw was typical of his age and, I think I said as much, I love that kind of history too, I have stacks of late Victorian periodicals on a wide range of subjects and the tendency of the editor to always have the final word is evident in all of them kind of like "this is my platform and, these are my views so, eat em up !" and judging from the readers letters they did do just that ! I have been reading the issues from the 20s mostly as they are about as close as I can get to the era that interests me the most, I recently had by a special appointment a close up and personal private viewing of Dr Leonard Husseys famous Endurance banjo at the Greenwich Maritime museums archives in south London and, for me that is exactly the kind of thrill never to be forgotten! did I mention I am a bit gorky about banjos in history !!!

Joel Hooks said:

Hi Nick,

I am a big fan of "historical" periodicals. There is all sorts of lost knowledge hidden away waiting to be found.

We are in the "golden age" of research materials.  Through efforts like those of Ian, never before has this much primary documentation been available to anyone who might want it.

This has been a double edged sword.  First it is a little overwhelming in volume (all the banjo related stuff that can be found online).  Second, one no longer has to rely on books about the era.  Now that we can check sources we can see where the opinions of authors have marred their writings and interpretations. When writing about banjo history one now has be be very careful to not misquote sources.  There was a time when only a few had access and this info could be twisted to support any agenda the author might want to push.

An example of this is evident in what you wrote about Grimshaw. He was writing in the style of his era.  The "his way"approach" was consistent with most experts on any subject of that era.  To me had every right to the claim of authority.  Proof is in his compositions, articles, and learning materials. While I do not encourage beginners to use his "How to Excel"-- I do recommend it for moderate level players as it is great for mastering advanced techniques.  His compositions are some of the best ever.

One thing I disagree with Grimshaw on was his recommendation to use a wire first. It is transparent that this was a compromise based on the availability of good gut firsts. The First World War made gut strings hard to come by.  Not only were the countries that made them trying to kill each other, it was also the same material used for sutures.  The easy way around this is to recommend using wire. This exact same situation happened with the violin first string.  In that case the wire first caught on and became standard.  The same did not happen with banjo. Grimshaw eventually rescinded this recommendation after gut and "tropical" strings were available again.  

There is a reason I brought up Grimshaw's wire first... you referred to steel strings as "new fangled".  Wire strings for banjo were marketed in the US starting in the early 1880s.  It was a cheap alternative in order to hit a low price point with a fad product.  Companies never want to lose a sale because of price point so they always offer low priced options to sell to people who want to be involved in a fad but have no real intention of going any further.  People like to buy the latest fad even if they will never use it (think about all of those cheap ukes that are on the market).

Wire strings did not catch on because people did not like them.  This is a difficult concept for us to understand now that they are the default.  With the exception of the Zither Banjo, nearly no professional or serious amateur used wire strings for finger style banjo before the plectrum era. It was pick playing that instigated steel string use.

Please share any issue number and articles that you found interesting. I think it would be fun for us to all read it and discuss. 

Joel, I agree about How To Excel being NFB (Not For Beginners) but what do you think of Grimshaw's "The Banjo And How To Play It"?   

I am not entirely comfortable with the idea that pick playing was perceived as best with steel strings. It must have been because of durability rather than because of sound.  Nylon strings played with a pick are always louder.  And of course they are less metallic sounding.  I have tried it both ways on any number of thunderous banjos.  The middle eastern oud has always been played with a plectrum and its strings were silk or gut and now mostly nylon and pvf.    The Persian setar (not to be confused with the Indian sitar) is played with the index finger.  It is strung with steel. Formerly the strings were silk.  When steel became standard is not clear to me but it appears that the players never went back to silk.  

Nick, while *excelling* seemed to be a preoccupation of Grimshaw's he was no "Luddite".  He is shown in photographs playing a 5 string banjo with a resonator. And he designed and presumably played a model of electric guitar.  Pete Townsend played a Grimshaw guitar.  
Joel Hooks said:

Hi Nick,

I am a big fan of "historical" periodicals. There is all sorts of lost knowledge hidden away waiting to be found.

We are in the "golden age" of research materials.  Through efforts like those of Ian, never before has this much primary documentation been available to anyone who might want it.

This has been a double edged sword.  First it is a little overwhelming in volume (all the banjo related stuff that can be found online).  Second, one no longer has to rely on books about the era.  Now that we can check sources we can see where the opinions of authors have marred their writings and interpretations. When writing about banjo history one now has be be very careful to not misquote sources.  There was a time when only a few had access and this info could be twisted to support any agenda the author might want to push.

An example of this is evident in what you wrote about Grimshaw. He was writing in the style of his era.  The "his way"approach" was consistent with most experts on any subject of that era.  To me had every right to the claim of authority.  Proof is in his compositions, articles, and learning materials. While I do not encourage beginners to use his "How to Excel"-- I do recommend it for moderate level players as it is great for mastering advanced techniques.  His compositions are some of the best ever.

One thing I disagree with Grimshaw on was his recommendation to use a wire first. It is transparent that this was a compromise based on the availability of good gut firsts. The First World War made gut strings hard to come by.  Not only were the countries that made them trying to kill each other, it was also the same material used for sutures.  The easy way around this is to recommend using wire. This exact same situation happened with the violin first string.  In that case the wire first caught on and became standard.  The same did not happen with banjo. Grimshaw eventually rescinded this recommendation after gut and "tropical" strings were available again.  

There is a reason I brought up Grimshaw's wire first... you referred to steel strings as "new fangled".  Wire strings for banjo were marketed in the US starting in the early 1880s.  It was a cheap alternative in order to hit a low price point with a fad product.  Companies never want to lose a sale because of price point so they always offer low priced options to sell to people who want to be involved in a fad but have no real intention of going any further.  People like to buy the latest fad even if they will never use it (think about all of those cheap ukes that are on the market).

Wire strings did not catch on because people did not like them.  This is a difficult concept for us to understand now that they are the default.  With the exception of the Zither Banjo, nearly no professional or serious amateur used wire strings for finger style banjo before the plectrum era. It was pick playing that instigated steel string use.

Please share any issue number and articles that you found interesting. I think it would be fun for us to all read it and discuss. 

I certainly never said he was a luddite nor, do I think so but, he was certainly typical of his age, in the BMG magazines he writes extensively about resonators which are patently quite new to him and, over a fairly short period of some months he is as attatched to them as a Scruggs player it seems, Pete Townsend like most Brits in the late fifties played whatever was affordable/available at that time until he could afford better.

Jody Stecher said:

Joel, I agree about How To Excel being NFB (Not For Beginners) but what do you think of Grimshaw's "The Banjo And How To Play It"?   

I am not entirely comfortable with the idea that pick playing was perceived as best with steel strings. It must have been because of durability rather than because of sound.  Nylon strings played with a pick are always louder.  And of course they are less metallic sounding.  I have tried it both ways on any number of thunderous banjos.  The middle eastern oud has always been played with a plectrum and its strings were silk or gut and now mostly nylon and pvf.    The Persian setar (not to be confused with the Indian sitar) is played with the index finger.  It is strung with steel. Formerly the strings were silk.  When steel became standard is not clear to me but it appears that the players never went back to silk.  

Nick, while *excelling* seemed to be a preoccupation of Grimshaw's he was no "Luddite".  He is shown in photographs playing a 5 string banjo with a resonator. And he designed and presumably played a model of electric guitar.  Pete Townsend played a Grimshaw guitar.  
Joel Hooks said:

Hi Nick,

I am a big fan of "historical" periodicals. There is all sorts of lost knowledge hidden away waiting to be found.

We are in the "golden age" of research materials.  Through efforts like those of Ian, never before has this much primary documentation been available to anyone who might want it.

This has been a double edged sword.  First it is a little overwhelming in volume (all the banjo related stuff that can be found online).  Second, one no longer has to rely on books about the era.  Now that we can check sources we can see where the opinions of authors have marred their writings and interpretations. When writing about banjo history one now has be be very careful to not misquote sources.  There was a time when only a few had access and this info could be twisted to support any agenda the author might want to push.

An example of this is evident in what you wrote about Grimshaw. He was writing in the style of his era.  The "his way"approach" was consistent with most experts on any subject of that era.  To me had every right to the claim of authority.  Proof is in his compositions, articles, and learning materials. While I do not encourage beginners to use his "How to Excel"-- I do recommend it for moderate level players as it is great for mastering advanced techniques.  His compositions are some of the best ever.

One thing I disagree with Grimshaw on was his recommendation to use a wire first. It is transparent that this was a compromise based on the availability of good gut firsts. The First World War made gut strings hard to come by.  Not only were the countries that made them trying to kill each other, it was also the same material used for sutures.  The easy way around this is to recommend using wire. This exact same situation happened with the violin first string.  In that case the wire first caught on and became standard.  The same did not happen with banjo. Grimshaw eventually rescinded this recommendation after gut and "tropical" strings were available again.  

There is a reason I brought up Grimshaw's wire first... you referred to steel strings as "new fangled".  Wire strings for banjo were marketed in the US starting in the early 1880s.  It was a cheap alternative in order to hit a low price point with a fad product.  Companies never want to lose a sale because of price point so they always offer low priced options to sell to people who want to be involved in a fad but have no real intention of going any further.  People like to buy the latest fad even if they will never use it (think about all of those cheap ukes that are on the market).

Wire strings did not catch on because people did not like them.  This is a difficult concept for us to understand now that they are the default.  With the exception of the Zither Banjo, nearly no professional or serious amateur used wire strings for finger style banjo before the plectrum era. It was pick playing that instigated steel string use.

Please share any issue number and articles that you found interesting. I think it would be fun for us to all read it and discuss. 

i am a big fan , too , of these old BMG mags , unfortunatly ,i don 't understand  some particuliar sentences or when there are unusual technical words    , ggrrrrrr

I am British Marc but, I do not always understand the old fashioned and quaint language sometimes used.

Grimshaw's "tutor" is very encyclopedic.  "Here is how you hold it and some notes, now your should be able to play Sunflower Dance and all A grade solos"... yeah right.

I imagine that it would be a great book if one had a teacher who was well versed in classic banjo and could assign suggest other exercises or short pieces to supplement it. 

I like the way he describes chord shapes and position playing.  Otherwise it goes way too fast and is not appropriately graded.  Certainly would be frustrating for self teaching. 

I think that all banjoists should have a copy for review and reference as it is an excellent resource (and it is in public domain so, you know, free).

Reviewing it is a must for understanding the quirks of Clifford Essex published music.

I shall be picking up my copy of the Frank Bradbury book you recommended tomorrow Joel, never even attempted to read before but, I shall give it a try, lots of cool stuff in those old BMG books that I fancy playing eventually .

Joel Hooks said:

Grimshaw's "tutor" is very encyclopedic.  "Here is how you hold it and some notes, now your should be able to play Sunflower Dance and all A grade solos"... yeah right.

I imagine that it would be a great book if one had a teacher who was well versed in classic banjo and could assign suggest other exercises or short pieces to supplement it. 

I like the way he describes chord shapes and position playing.  Otherwise it goes way too fast and is not appropriately graded.  Certainly would be frustrating for self teaching. 

I think that all banjoists should have a copy for review and reference as it is an excellent resource (and it is in public domain so, you know, free).

Reviewing it is a must for understanding the quirks of Clifford Essex published music.

Call me Randal.  I am new here, although I lurked for some time prior to signing up.  I was fortunate that I learned to sight read notation at an early age playing piano and brass.  I am new to banjo though and am recovering some music knowlegde that calcified over many decades: Chords, modes, circle of fifths and so on.  Tab was a mystery but this site's video lessons and resources have been quite valuable.  In particular, The Sunflower Dance, helped me match tab to notation.  My musical knowlege had sunk quite low as I had to return to basics, recalling mnemonics FACE along with Every Good Boy Does Fine, to read treble clef.  

I have been using "Mel Bays Banjo Method C-Tuning" by Frank Bradbury.  I have made a few trips between its covers.  Based on what your videos show me, Nick,  I think you will be a quick study.  "How to Excel" was daunting at first.  Now, I find it to be quite fun with many lessons to be sussed out of it through repetition and, as Joel mentioned, taking pencil to notation and establishing a plan of attack.

Joel is correct that having a teacher at hand to supplement your journey through Grimshaw would be ideal.  My piano and brass teachers were both old school - one played in Sousa's band - and occupy a place between my ears telling me to "hold my hand like this",  "try that on the third fret", etc.  Nick, I bet you have someone like that in your memory who will be happy to help.

Apologies for the rather long post.  I am a retired professor and you know how much we teachers like to use the drone string.

Howdy Randal, good to have another musician hereabouts, if you read my posting re; the Bradbury book you will understand my enthusiasm at having lots of knowledgeable players here to hopefully put me on the right path often ! I have played music for 47 years, 45 of those years in front of paying audiences! I did not even know what a bar was (well, not the musical sort) until I dipped into the book today so, you may understand that I have my work cut out for me. I shall post here often during this new journey and, hope I dont become too much of a drag as I ask many questions cos, I shall do so I am sure, any way, as you say you are new here let me be among the first to welcome you, regards, Nick.

R L Vaughn said:

Call me Randal.  I am new here, although I lurked for some time prior to signing up.  I was fortunate that I learned to sight read notation at an early age playing piano and brass.  I am new to banjo though and am recovering some music knowlegde that calcified over many decades: Chords, modes, circle of fifths and so on.  Tab was a mystery but this site's video lessons and resources have been quite valuable.  In particular, The Sunflower Dance, helped me match tab to notation.  My musical knowlege had sunk quite low as I had to return to basics, recalling mnemonics FACE along with Every Good Boy Does Fine, to read treble clef.  

I have been using "Mel Bays Banjo Method C-Tuning" by Frank Bradbury.  I have made a few trips between its covers.  Based on what your videos show me, Nick,  I think you will be a quick study.  "How to Excel" was daunting at first.  Now, I find it to be quite fun with many lessons to be sussed out of it through repetition and, as Joel mentioned, taking pencil to notation and establishing a plan of attack.

Joel is correct that having a teacher at hand to supplement your journey through Grimshaw would be ideal.  My piano and brass teachers were both old school - one played in Sousa's band - and occupy a place between my ears telling me to "hold my hand like this",  "try that on the third fret", etc.  Nick, I bet you have someone like that in your memory who will be happy to help.

Apologies for the rather long post.  I am a retired professor and you know how much we teachers like to use the drone string.

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