Hello all,

I took a break from writing for a period but am back again working on Wikipedia articles. I just created a new article about William A. Huntley and expanded the pre-existing article about John H. Lee. I envision, after creating enough biographies, in taking on a classic-banjo history article.

I welcome input or comments. The articles reflect my current understanding.

One question, what is the origin of “classic banjo?” The earliest use I could find seemed to be tied to William A. Huntley in the early 1870s. Was he responsible for tying the name to bare-fingered fingerpicking?

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"Classic banjo" in the context that we use it today-- to refer specifically to bare fingers on gut/silk/nylon strings playing in the popular 5 string banjo music style of +/- 1860 to 1930 is a development of the 1970s (as best as I can tell).

Following WW2 the "folk revival" and bluegrass took center stage in association with the regular 5 string banjo.

Meanwhile, the "Spanish Guitar" got a solid rebranding under Segovia's watch as the "Classical Guitar".

People who played "banjo" (i.e. "guitar style banjo" or "finger style banjo") suddenly found themselves in the position to have to explain what they play (and have been playing since their youth) to a world filled with the soundtrack of "folk music", "hillbilly banjo", and "bluegrass banjo".  To simplify matters, early on, some players in the US figured that the closest thing to what they did (that people would understand) was the Spanish guitar (then changed to "classical guitar").  So they started calling it "Classical Banjo".  

Spanish "classical" guitar was played with fingers and used sheet music.  "Classical banjo" was played with fingers and used sheet music.  Both used nylon strings-- same thing right?

This caused no end of confusion as people expecting it to be "classical" found something completely different. Eventually the American Banjo Fraternity (and members like Eli and Madeleine Kaufman) changed it to a slightly more appropriate "classic banjo".  "Classic" being used in a literal sense as in the highest level of banjo playing. 

Historical uses of "Classic" would be referring to the person and repertoire and not the method or technique.  So, a different usage from today.  In the case of Huntley, they would be saying that he was the greatest or best at playing banjo and that his music was timeless.  Not that he was playing with fingers.

"Classic" still gets confused with "classical" and it is all just a big unfortunate mess of terminology.

What a good and thorough response, Joel. I have a question and a comment.

Question: if Huntley was not using fingers did he wear thimbles on his toes or what?

Comment: don't forget that the traditional folk players also had been playing in their various ways since their youth and so did their parents and grandparents.  It's true that what we now call "classic banjo" got overwhelmed and "squeezed out" by other ways of playing the 5-string banjo but those other ways are no less real and legitimate and old and pedigreed than classic style. Anachronistic historical re-enactors are another matter.

Joel Hooks said:

"Classic banjo" in the context that we use it today-- to refer specifically to bare fingers on gut/silk/nylon strings playing in the popular 5 string banjo music style of +/- 1860 to 1930 is a development of the 1970s (as best as I can tell).

Following WW2 the "folk revival" and bluegrass took center stage in association with the regular 5 string banjo.

Meanwhile, the "Spanish Guitar" got a solid rebranding under Segovia's watch as the "Classical Guitar".

People who played "banjo" (i.e. "guitar style banjo" or "finger style banjo") suddenly found themselves in the position to have to explain what they play (and have been playing since their youth) to a world filled with the soundtrack of "folk music", "hillbilly banjo", and "bluegrass banjo".  To simplify matters, early on, some players in the US figured that the closest thing to what they did (that people would understand) was the Spanish guitar (then changed to "classical guitar").  So they started calling it "Classical Banjo".  

Spanish "classical" guitar was played with fingers and used sheet music.  "Classical banjo" was played with fingers and used sheet music.  Both used nylon strings-- same thing right?

This caused no end of confusion as people expecting it to be "classical" found something completely different. Eventually the American Banjo Fraternity (and members like Eli and Madeleine Kaufman) changed it to a slightly more appropriate "classic banjo".  "Classic" being used in a literal sense as in the highest level of banjo playing. 

Historical uses of "Classic" would be referring to the person and repertoire and not the method or technique.  So, a different usage from today.  In the case of Huntley, they would be saying that he was the greatest or best at playing banjo and that his music was timeless.  Not that he was playing with fingers.

"Classic" still gets confused with "classical" and it is all just a big unfortunate mess of terminology.

Sorry if I was not clear.  It would have gone without saying that he was playing with fingers, inferred as the default method.

OH!  "Not that he was playing with his fingers" as a stand-alone clause meant that "classic" signified his excellence rather than his technique, and it didn't mean that he was not playing with his fingers, which is what I thought you meant since "finger style" is sometimes used to signify "not stroke style".  I thought you were indicating that he was a stroke style banjoist. 

Joel Hooks said:

Sorry if I was not clear.  It would have gone without saying that he was playing with fingers, inferred as the default method.

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