Today I should get my hands on a Luscomb. I am sharing restoration repair fees with the owner in exchange for letting me borrow it for a while. It has nylgut strings and a skin head. I'll post a few pictures and put up some videos, and I will appreciate comments and directions from you hardened veterans. I'll be open to repertoire suggestions, as I start with overflow from my fretless material. Thanks in advance.

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Comment by Mike Moss on May 13, 2011 at 16:46
That's great news, Tim. One of the solos I'm working on (among others) is Dream Dance, here's the first page and here's the second... have a look, it shouldn't be difficult for an accomplished musician such as yourself.
Comment by Tim Twiss on May 13, 2011 at 17:27
Thanks Mike. Hmm,....guess I didn't think about the different thumb sting orientation...always "G", right? I think I will stick by a few of the Converse pieces to get settled into the feel of the instrument. Then, what would be some good simple material for reading in this new clef and getting used o it? 
Comment by Mike Moss on May 13, 2011 at 17:47
Yeah, the thumb string is a G with a little stem on top of it. Also, you often get indications of which position you are playing from (number + P) or, if you're forming a barre at a certain position, it is indicated by number + PB. Right hand fingerings (not always included) is usually indicated by + (thumb) . (index) and .. (middle finger) ... (ring finger) underneath the notes.

You can find some very nice simple material to get used to this clef in both of Emile Grimshaw's books, "The banjo and how to play it" and "How to excel on the banjo" (which is more advanced) which contain plenty of music.

Also, Joe Morley's tutor has a complete diagram of the banjo's fretboard, all kinds of information on how to read banjo notation from this time period, and pictures and descriptions of the different techniques in fingerstyle banjo, as well as quite a few exercises and solos.

You can download these tutors here:
Comment by Trapdoor2 on May 13, 2011 at 19:57

Careful with the American tutors though...they're targeted to eAEG#B tuning and the old "A" notation. Only somebody like Joel Hooks would actually use 'em. ;-)

The Grimshaw tutors are probably the best for "C" banjo.

Comment by Tim Twiss on May 14, 2011 at 1:22
But actual tuning is best at "G" , correct?
Comment by Mike Moss on May 14, 2011 at 9:01

Yes, the tuning is almost always gCGBD. I tune one of my banjos down to eAEG#B, but that's because feels pretty fragile and I don't think it could take the tension of standard tuning.

As Marc pointed out, if you look at some American notation from the period (for instance, in S. S. Stewart's Journal) you will see that it is mostly written in the key of A and the key of E, which were natural keys for the old eAEG# tuning. By this time, however, most Americans were already tuning their banjos gCGBD, whose natural keys are C and G. The old "A" notation was mostly kept out of tradition, and due to backing by such important figures as Stewart, who published hundreds of pieces in his Journal in A notation.


Bob Winans and Eli Kaufman wrote an excellent article on the subject called "Minstrel & Classic Banjo: American and English Connections" published in American Music Vol. 12, Number 1, Spring 1994, which you can purchase online. Here's an excerpt on tunings (pp. 11 and 12):


The decade of the 1880s was a momentous one for the continued exchange between the American and British banjo worlds. First of all,this period saw the culmination of a series of changes in the pitch ofthe banjo. In America, especially, the pitch of the banjo had been onthe rise ever since its introduction in the minstrel show. We do not know for certain what pitch minstrel banjoists used in the 1840s, but the earliest instruction book (1850) gave an F tuning (cFCEG) as the primary one (for playing in the keys of F and C) and the G tuning(dGDF#A-not the modem G tuning) as an alternate (for playing inthe keys of G and D).41 In Briggs's 1855 tutor, the music is in G notation,11 to correspond to the dGDF#A tuning, and several tutors of the late 1850s and early 1860s continued to use this notation and tuning.42 But this notation and tuning were quickly superceded as standard by the eAEG#B tuning, with the music in the corresponding A notation (that is, in the keys of A and E), probably as a result of its adoption in three influential tutors by Rice (1858), Buckley (1860), and Converse (1865),who were probably following the actual practice of the professionalplayers, including themselves.43 By 1865 at the latest, then, the banjowas being tuned so that what was called its "natural" playing key was A (the bass string being tuned in this instance to A), and this remained the standard for another fifteen years or more. Probably by 1880, and certainly by the early 1880s, it became, in the words of one 1884 tutor,"customary to tune in C Major [gCGBD].... [which] is to be preferred,as it is more brilliant."44 Another 1884 book stated that gCGBD "is the pitch now used by nearly all Banjoists."45 This re-pitching of the banjo to C, which occurred in both England and America, is also sometimes attributed to the use of smaller banjos and finer strings.46 For another twenty or thirty years, however, Americans continued to write their banjo music in A notation, while the English wrote virtually all of theirbanjo music from the early 1880s on in C notation.


Comment by Tim Twiss on May 17, 2011 at 4:04
So the Luscomb came out really nice, thanks to Jeff Branch (repair expert in Michigan). I am getting familiar with it through some pieces I have played on a fretless that seem better served on this instrument.
Comment by Tim Twiss on May 19, 2011 at 4:49
I just put up an early fingerstyle tune fom Buckley 1868. I know that is not quite what this site is about, but I hope it fits in as being an early version of the classic style. Let me know if this music I post is not cool for this venue.
Comment by Tim Twiss on June 4, 2011 at 23:32
Well, I had to give back the Luscomb to its owner. It was fun while I had it, and I'll stay tuned here to watch and learn. Perhaps I'll get a suitable instrument someday. Back to the fretless.
Comment by thereallyniceman on June 5, 2011 at 6:33


Get yourself a fretted banjo immediately !!  You know you MUST HAVE one.  :-)

We have really enjoyed your Classic Style pieces on here and will miss your contributions. Keep watching and commenting.



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