Let's bring "What is Classic Banjo?" into a post of its own as it is a shame to lose discussion hidden inside a "Video Post".

So far we can't agree what Classic Banjo is or when it was!

Some say that the ABF coined the term "Classic Banjo" but was this the first recorded use of the term? :

 

Lowell Schreyer in "The Banjo Entertainers" page 173,  states that the 1895 SS Stewart's B & G Journal  shows: *Mays and Hunter and Hunter are now known as the "Classic Banjoists"

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No, they were not the first to use it.  In a few print instances specific banjoists had been referred to as "classic banjoists."

I feel (in my own little brain) that the ABF may have developed organically by a few retired former youthful banjoists.  But there is no avoiding the fact that there was a certain obsessive concern about what a certain young man was doing to their banjo.

I mean… heck… you can't let a communist get away with what he was doing with his long neck banjo!

"Classic banjo" (meaning our's is better than yours) and swearing that you aint no commie seems to have been a big part of that whole thing.  Add the fact that the rest of the world did not seem to care about a few old men playing old fashioned ragtime on banjos. Those few continued to champion "Classic" name--- and then it became "Classical" for a while (but not by the ABF).

Amazingly, from what I have noticed the ABF might be embracing the "Classical banjo" thing.  The next rally theme is "Ragtime or Classical."  

Nothing invites hipsters more then blue hairs using their NPR voices in tuxedos playing classical music on five string banjos. The whole time telling the (small) audience that to be cool in the late 19th century you had to be a nerd like them.

The "ours is better than yours" interpretation might be a bit harsh, though it's probably at least partially true. On a more innocuous note, it could be claimed that the Classic term is due to this being the style that was played when the modern banjo as we know it exploded in popularity, very much like the term "Classic Car" is used to describe automobiles from the first generations of widespread car use (WWI - 1930s).

The classical thing is a worrying development. As if we needed another excuse for guitar players to crash land in the classic banjo world saying "Tutors? We don't need no stinkin' tutors".

Joel Hooks wrote ".  . the ABF may have developed organically by a few retired former youthful banjoists. But there is no avoiding the fact that there was a certain obsessive concern about what a certain young man was doing to their banjo.

I mean… heck… you can't let a communist get away with what he was doing with his long neck banjo!

"Classic banjo" (meaning our's is better than yours) and swearing that you aint no commie seems to have been a big part of that whole thing.  Add the fact that the rest of the world did not seem to care about a few old men playing old fashioned ragtime on banjos. Those few continued to champion "Classic" name--- and then it became "Classical" for a while (but not by the ABF).

Joel, I think you are unfairly presenting sarcasm as fact, while overlooking the more important reality that  those formerly youthful banjoists had lived through the decades of Dixieland and jazz banjo ascendancy, played on four string tenor and plectrum, whose popularity eclipsed the finger style 5 string. The ABF's objective was to preserve and distinguish their member's style of banjo and music from the then more popular four string. In that context,  "Classic banjo" seems an apt description.

Both Pete Seeger and Earl Scruggs were little known figures in 1948, and exerted no perceivable influence on the ABF's formative policies. Neither was vilified. In fact, both Pete Seeger and Earl Scruggs received glowing obituaries in the 5 Stringer,  (published twice yearly by the ABF), acknowledged and appreciated for their huge contributions to the resurgence in the popularity of the 5 string banjo.

As for the" Ragtime or Classical" theme of this month's rally, there is no special significance. Each rally has a theme, often focused on a particular composer, such as Grimshaw, Morley, or Lawes. This time around, the objective is to have some fun with the contrasts and divergent musical demands of two very different styles. Play a rag, then play a classical piece. Not easy to do well.

Yes, a bit of sarcasm. 

Did you see this discussion?  Particularly page six of it?

 http://classic-banjo.ning.com/forum/topics/how-to-play-the-5-string...

Where this letter was posted...

I did read that write up on Seeger.  I thought it was very nice.  But I do wonder why he was only a member for a year...  then I read the above letter again.

I think that the term "classic banjo" did gain momentum from within the ABF, but not until decades after the organization was founded. In the 1960s when I first heard what is now called Classic Banjo music, most people I knew, whether they played that way, or listened to the music, or ignored it, all called it "classical banjo". I did meet a few players of what is now called "classic banjo" in the 1950s but I did not hear them play. They uniformly called what they did "playing the banjo". The implication, in some cases intentional, in other cases not, was that tenor and plectrum banjos were not real banjos, or not even real musical instruments, and that other ways of playing the five string banjo were peripheral and irrelevant. I did not hear "classic banjo" as genre label until the last two decades of the 20th century. I am pretty sure it was chosen, consciously, and in my opinion wisely, to counteract the impression that the genre was primarily Classical Music played Upon The Banjeaux, while still maintaining a connection to the older term "classical banjo".

Does anyone here have a memory of seeing or hearing the term "Classic Banjo"  (as an accepted name for the genre) before the mid 1980s?

As for what the term means, context makes it clear that it is intended to mean the kind of music that is on the Jukebox on this site and also its antecedents. If this music does not appeal to everyone, that is understandable. But this is the historical record. Perhaps definitions which delineate its parameters and characteristics may come to be written more precisely in the future. Although Classic Banjo as a genre *may* include anything it does not include everything. Delineations of the technique that are meant to be descriptive can be mistaken for a prescriptive indication that the technique is the only defining characteristic of the genre.

I learned from 1975 and my teacher from around 1970. Here in the UK, it was called Classic Banjo.

I see! I stand corrected.

thereallyniceman said:

I learned from 1975 and my teacher from around 1970. Here in the UK, it was called Classic Banjo.

As I recall, dim though my memory can be, when I first encountered this sort of music it was generically termed, "Parlour Banjo". I believe I saw that term used in Banjo Newsletter circa 1977-78 (which I didn't read/obtain until the early 1980's).

As I further recall, in at the Tennessee Banjo Institute of 1992, Eli Kaufman was telling everyone that he was insisting on the term "Classic Banjo" because "Parlour Banjo" was illogical. He said by that logic, Bluegrass banjo ought to be called "Parking Lot" banjo...

I have been reading the "Classic Banjo" (what is a good description?) discussion for several days while I have been moving from the Sonoma County area north of San Francisco to the Seattle area, for the summer.  The differences of opinion and the wealth of historical information members have has been amazing to take in!

I brought the 1910 Cammeyer zither banjo with me.  It is quite heavy for me to play, but I can do it.  I had the strings changed to 2 Nylgut and 3 steel, and the action is good as far as I can determine.  I read somewhere that these banjos are sought after by clawhammer folks.  I was getting ready to take it to a monthly Seattle jam in Seattle at Vivian and Phil Williams', and tried putting a Shubb capo and a Janet Davis 5th string capo on it so I could play in the Key of A or D.  I found this to be a disaster as the JDavis capo was buzzing against the 4th string, so no go there.  (I assume that it would be unethical and you would all tear your hair out if I considered putting a strap or railroad spikes on the Cammeyer!)  No, I did not do that!  (Let me hear from you on this).  I played in the key of G just fine and the jam members liked my rendition of "Sandy River Belle" played clawhammer, so I wasn't a disaster, and could accompany the fiddlers ok in G tunes.  (By the way, do any of you know who Phil and Vivian Williams are?  They have Voyager Records Publishing Co. and are fiddle tune archaivists, primarilly, specializing in Pacific Northwest fidde tunes.)  Vivian was introduced into the US National Fiddler's Hall of Fame last year.   I understand that this information may not be of any interest to you as non-fiddlers (I suppose), but I thought I would mention it, just in case.

As far as what to do about my "banjo stock," I took Jody's advice (my husband has known Jody for a long time) and bought a $540 Recording King, Madison, at a Washington music store (Guitar Center) where they know absolutely nothing about banjos.  My interest is still to progress as a clawhammer player, but I want to use this banjo to see if I can play in the Classic Banjo style too.  It is set up well right out of the box for clawhammer, and feels and plays well as far as I can determine (no, I am not an expert, just being two years into any kind of banjo).  What are your suggestions as far as strings so that I can play both styles on the Madison?  It is all steel, which plays nicely now for clawhammer.

I thought you might like to know after reading the CB on-going discussion, that there is a similar problem in old time fiddle jams, as far as what it is and who should be a part.  I am interested while in Seattle in finding others to play non-amplified old time instruments (fiddle,banjo, mandolin, guitar, auto-harp, mountain dulcimer,  harmonica,  maybe button accordian).  I am thinking about using a web site called "Meet up."  with these would have to, somehow, exclude Bluegrass, singers, drums, trombones and whistles)  Yes, musicians have showed up at old time jams wanting to join in and "help" us!  

So, even in old time music, we have our issues of definition and exclusion or inclusion (whatever).  I didn't understand all of the differences 7 years ago when I first learned to play the mountain dulcimer for $2 a week from a wonderful woman in West Virginia.  

I didn't understand that Bluegrass musicians didn't really know how to play old time tunes and are, sometimes, lost at figuring it out, even if they are competent musicians.  I didn't know about Scandinavian, Swedish, Celtic and Cape Breton music.  I, certainly, didn't know about Classic Banjo until the Cammeyer banjo was taken out of the rafters of our barn after being stored there for 35 years and ignored, about a month ago.  So, now, another whole aspect of my musical journey has taken another turn.  My husband didn't know what he was getting into when he talked me into playing the guitar to back him up on the fiddle.

My husband, Duncan, who has played traditional old time fiddle tunes about 30 years, also likes rag time tunes and can play the piano.  He has mentioned that he might like to try his hand at the banjo playing a Classic Banjo tune as well.  I can hardly believe it as he has not been interested in taking the banjo up in the two years I've been learning.  You never know what is going to happen with a banjo or two in the house!

I've wandered around a bit in this blurb, so now you know more about me as I learn more about you.  I will try to post a picture of the banjo.  I've been trying to learn how to do that on my Toshiba PC, and it's another drain on my brain and time.

I am asking for your help and opinions if you have the time.  I am not a communist, but I bet even if I were, and played the Classic Banjo, you would "talk" to me!  

Ginny, As far as I know I am the only banjo player who thinks a Camm is a good clawhammer banjo when properly set up. Where did you read about this? As far as I know, outside of zither-banjo and classic banjo circles, all zither banjos are reviled by self-described old time and bluegrass musicians. 

Try any set of nylon banjo strings for your Madison. Or make your own set by studying the gauges on the many websites selling strings. The following gauges work well for clawhammer on SS Stewart and Bart Reiter banjos and should work fine on the Madison:

This is rectified nylon from D'Addario. You can get it from stringsbymail.com or other outlets.

022, 028, 034, 030 (silver plated wound), 022

sit down when you play the camm and it won't be heavy.

nobody needs a strap to play any kind of banjo sitting down. Do violinists or trombone players use straps? Do uke players? Who ever heard of a piano strap?

photos: when you make a post to this forum there is a line of symbols in a row above the window where you type. On the far left it says "LINK". on the far right it says "HTML". Immediately to the right of "LINK" is a blue and white box. If you hover your cursor over it the word "image" appears. Take your photo and get it on your computer. Put it on your computer desktop or any other place where you can retrieve it easily. Click on Image and select your computer as a source and select the photo. Click "OK" and your photo will appear in the message window. But please start a new thread for the banjo photo (s) as we are getting off topic again. This new thread was started to discuss the origins of the term Classic Banjo. 

Lessee what else? OH: you don't need a capo to play in A or D. Don Reno didn't either. You also don't need a "railroad spike" to tune your fifth string up to A. You also don't need to tune it up.  But assuming you are using .008 steel for your fifth string, it has plenty of leeway to go up another step.

Whether "bluegrass musicians" don't "really" know how to play "old time tunes" is a matter of opinion. Which bluegrass musicians?  All the first generation bluegrass musicians were excellent old time musicians as well.  I know many professional bluegrass musicians today who are terrific old time musicians. 

I started playing the banjo as a teenager in 1959, initially in the Seeger style. By chance,  I was fortunate to  meet up with an excellent classic banjoist in the early 1960's and he introduced me to other players in that style.  I'd never heard it performed until then, and in correspondence and in meetings with these players, they often referred to it as "orthodox banjo", or (much more frequently), "fingerstyle banjo",  thus differentiating it from "Clawhammer", Scruggs", "Seeger" etc.   These seemed to be quite  reasonable definitions at that time.  I don't think I ever heard them use the term "classic banjo" at all.

Hope this doesn't throw a spanner into the works.......

Where was this, John?   I've heard  the term "finger style" on both sides of the atlantic but "orthodox" only in Britain. "Fingerstyle" certainly distinguishes classic banjo from the music of the tenor and plectrum banjos but it is also descriptive of clawhammer, scruggs, and seeger. I wonder what they thought was used to get the strings going in those techniques. The toes?   "Orthodox" seemed to have been a BMG reaction to bluegrass banjo. I think that's pretty funny considering that most of the BMG banjo repertoire was pop music of an earlier era.

John Field said:

I started playing the banjo as a teenager in 1959, initially in the Seeger style. By chance,  I was fortunate to  meet up with an excellent classic banjoist in the early 1960's and he introduced me to other players in that style.  I'd never heard it performed until then, and in correspondence and in meetings with these players, they often referred to it as "orthodox banjo", or (much more frequently), "fingerstyle banjo",  thus differentiating it from "Clawhammer", Scruggs", "Seeger" etc.   These seemed to be quite  reasonable definitions at that time.  I don't think I ever heard them use the term "classic banjo" at all.

Hope this doesn't throw a spanner into the works.......

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