I recently picked up a second hand, 1962,  copy of this book by Pete Seeger,  and this reference to nylon strings and Fred Van Eps caught my eye. 

I thought other members might be interested to see it.  Is the American Banjo Fraternity still in existence?  Unfortunately, since this dates from 1962 there is no website address!

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The octave string peg is closer to the bridge than on later manufactured banjos. There was no standard neck length and no standard proportion of neck to gourd, so there was nothing to extend *from*. Both of these banjos appear to have the chanterelle at half the length of the long strings. In the absence of standard string gauges this makes sense. For the short string the player uses a string of the same or similar gauge as the long string to whose octave it will be tuned. At half the vibrating length and with the same tension applied, theoretically an octave is produced.

thereallyniceman said:

... but it sure looks like and extended neck.

The "octave" or "chanterelle" or "5th string" has been set at the octave of the third string since at least 1848, when we have the first published 5-string banjo specific tuning, cFCEG (from Elias Howe's 1848, "Banjo Preceptor"). This is the same tuning scheme we use today (well, for classic-style primarily)...just taken up a fifth to gCGBD.

However, there is no adequate documentation on how the 4-string predecessor was tuned. It is generally assumed that it was cCEG. Thomas Jefferson actually wrote about the banjo and its tuning, "...its chords being precisely the lower four chords of the guitar." His (Jefferson's) guitar still exists and it is an English guitar (like a cittern), tuned CEGCEG. What did he mean by "lower"...and would he have written the scheme from top to bottom or from bottom to top? We don't know.

The physical position of the octave string does not indicate its tuning, my Ashborn's octave string is set at the 7th fret...but its still tuned to the octave of the 3rd string. In the early period, there were no set rules of construction...and the octave string's physical position varies widely.

Pete S...well, he merely extended the neck on his banjo by sawing it apart above the octave string and scarfing in an extension. He wanted to sing a song in E. Even the early tutors talk about retuning the banjo to suit vocal needs. Pete just wanted lower than his strings would tune!

Exactly so, and well said.

So, are we the only 2 banjoists on this forum who plan to learn new banjo solos? Are people holding back because they don't literally have the sheet music in a folder? (I actually do, just like you do!)


Trapdoor2 said:

The "octave" or "chanterelle" or "5th string" has been set at the octave of the third string since at least 1848, when we have the first published 5-string banjo specific tuning, cFCEG (from Elias Howe's 1848, "Banjo Preceptor"). This is the same tuning scheme we use today (well, for classic-style primarily)...just taken up a fifth to gCGBD.

However, there is no adequate documentation on how the 4-string predecessor was tuned. It is generally assumed that it was cCEG. Thomas Jefferson actually wrote about the banjo and its tuning, "...its chords being precisely the lower four chords of the guitar." His (Jefferson's) guitar still exists and it is an English guitar (like a cittern), tuned CEGCEG. What did he mean by "lower"...and would he have written the scheme from top to bottom or from bottom to top? We don't know.

The physical position of the octave string does not indicate its tuning, my Ashborn's octave string is set at the 7th fret...but its still tuned to the octave of the 3rd string. In the early period, there were no set rules of construction...and the octave string's physical position varies widely.

Pete S...well, he merely extended the neck on his banjo by sawing it apart above the octave string and scarfing in an extension. He wanted to sing a song in E. Even the early tutors talk about retuning the banjo to suit vocal needs. Pete just wanted lower than his strings would tune!

No, I'm a gonna share when I have a keyboard...

Fair enough. Say, where in California are you, Joel?

Joel Hooks said:

No, I'm a gonna share when I have a keyboard...

In his book, PS also says, if I understand correctly,  that he lengthened his banjo neck so that he could capo up beyond the 5th string peg:


 
Trapdoor2 said:

The "octave" or "chanterelle" or "5th string" has been set at the octave of the third string since at least 1848, when we have the first published 5-string banjo specific tuning, cFCEG (from Elias Howe's 1848, "Banjo Preceptor"). This is the same tuning scheme we use today (well, for classic-style primarily)...just taken up a fifth to gCGBD.

However, there is no adequate documentation on how the 4-string predecessor was tuned. It is generally assumed that it was cCEG. Thomas Jefferson actually wrote about the banjo and its tuning, "...its chords being precisely the lower four chords of the guitar." His (Jefferson's) guitar still exists and it is an English guitar (like a cittern), tuned CEGCEG. What did he mean by "lower"...and would he have written the scheme from top to bottom or from bottom to top? We don't know.

The physical position of the octave string does not indicate its tuning, my Ashborn's octave string is set at the 7th fret...but its still tuned to the octave of the 3rd string. In the early period, there were no set rules of construction...and the octave string's physical position varies widely.

Pete S...well, he merely extended the neck on his banjo by sawing it apart above the octave string and scarfing in an extension. He wanted to sing a song in E. Even the early tutors talk about retuning the banjo to suit vocal needs. Pete just wanted lower than his strings would tune!

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Anaheim

Ah. Hundreds of miles south of me. 

Joel Hooks said:

Anaheim

You're right that he seems to say that, Trevor, but it makes little sense to me.  For one thing, the fifth string peg has never been an impediment to a capo in my experience. At the point where the fifth string enters the picture the fingerboard widens and maybe the little spring capos, the only ones available at the time Pete Seeger's book was written, were too narrow and did not span Seeger's particular fingerboard and neck (?).  The few people I have met in my life who used an extended neck banjo always tuned it three half steps low. It's possible that Seeger tuned it normally to cCGBD. Banjo strings in those days (Black Diamond, Bell Brand, Gibson) were very light gauge steel and would possibly not be over-tight. 

Trevor Boyd said:

In his book, PS also says, if I understand correctly,  that he lengthened his banjo neck so that he could capo up beyond the 5th string peg:


 

Interesting that Seeger says to extend the neck by 2 frets. The version manufactured by Vega extended the neck lower by 3 frets. On second reading, I see that he does say that the neck extension is also to to lower the key without altering the fingering. And that part makes sense if one is trying to preserve certain characteristic phrases involving snaps and slurs which can only be gotten in standard tuning or raised bass tuning.

Jody Stecher said:

You're right that he seems to say that, Trevor, but it makes little sense to me.  For one thing, the fifth string peg has never been an impediment to a capo in my experience. At the point where the fifth string enters the picture the fingerboard widens and maybe the little spring capos, the only ones available at the time Pete Seeger's book was written, were too narrow and did not span Seeger's particular fingerboard and neck (?).  The few people I have met in my life who used an extended neck banjo always tuned it three half steps low. It's possible that Seeger tuned it normally to cCGBD. Banjo strings in those days (Black Diamond, Bell Brand, Gibson) were very light gauge steel and would possibly not be over-tight. 

Trevor Boyd said:

In his book, PS also says, if I understand correctly,  that he lengthened his banjo neck so that he could capo up beyond the 5th string peg:


 

Otherwise I would have wrote you a couple months ago Jody.


I've been pondering this for a week or so. I thought I'd heard all the Polk Miller recordings but Haul The Woodpile Down does not seem to be one of them. Where can I hear this? Just today a friend sent me a sound file of an 1894 recording of Haul The Woodpile Down, by Charles Asbury. To my ears *this* sounds like "classic style" technique, not stroke. It sounds to me like the thumb comes down and the fingers come up. What do others think? 

Haul the woodpile down by Charles A. Asbury

 Here's a link.

http://cylinders.library.ucsb.edu/mp3s/8000/8103/cusb-cyl8103d.mp3

I'm looking forward to hearing the Polk Miller recording of this song.

 
Trapdoor2 said:

The first “folk” recordings (with banjo) I’m aware of happen to be the Polk Miller stuff. I’ve listened to them very closely. In my opinion, “Haul The Woodpile Down” is the only 19th Cent “stroke-style” banjo recording in existence. Polk Miller was in his late 40’s when he recorded it and he was a well known minstrel-show entertainer.

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