An introduction to my new S.S. Stewart Cello-banjo (ca. 1895).

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Comment by Mike Moss on October 2, 2012 at 7:40
Very nice! It's great to be able to listen to the "real deal". The first thing I noticed is how much clearer and more focused it sounds than the modern cello banjo designs -- this one actually sounds like you can make good music on it even as a solo instrument. "Skeleton dance" was very effective, with a haunting sound which the regular banjo doesn't get.
Comment by thereallyniceman on October 2, 2012 at 8:34

Wow Marc, that is one beast of a banjo!  I love the growl it makes. Mike is right Skeleton Dance sounds perfect on it. With strings that thick you won’t just develop cast-iron fingertips they will be tempered steel in no time. We do need to try a Cyber-orchestra recording. I can hear the bass booming out already!


It looks to be in such superb original condition too. I wouldn’t like to have to buy a new vellum for it. 12” Vellums cost an arm and a leg over here. One for a 16” hoop would require a mortgage.


I know a little bit about regular banjos but zilch about the differences between Cello, Bass, Contra Bass banjos etc. Would someone care to give a brief tutorial?


Comment by Alan Sims on October 2, 2012 at 10:38

wow now that would blast it s way trough the orchestra .what a beauty . Love the skeleton dance to .

Comment by Trapdoor2 on October 2, 2012 at 14:51

This thing was called a "Cello or Bass Banjo" in the Stewart catalog. Simply tuned an octave below the regular banjo. No idea how the Contra-Bass Banjo is tuned, Stewart didn't make one (that I know of) but someone here (on this site) has an Essex as I recall. Three strings but I don't know how they are tuned.

Most of the other CBs of the period didn't have such a big pot, they were generally under 14"...many were simply 12" regular banjos with very heavy strings. The new Gold Tone CBs have only a 25" scale and are supplied with strings to be tuned to "A" (a full step above this one).

The biggest problem I have is the string length required. I had to tie a bit extra on the 2nd string to make it to the tuner. You can't see it in the video but there is a knot between the tailpiece and bridge on the 2nd string!

The strings I'm using are a set of Aquila "Alabastro" "superiore tension" nylguts for classical guitar. I simply had them lying around from a previously owned minstrel-style banjo which used 'em. So, the 4th is the "E" (wound), the 3rd is the "A" (wound), the 2nd is the "D" (wound) and the 1st is the "G" (solid). I put the "B" (solid) on the 5th string. Seems to work!

Comment by marc dalmasso on October 8, 2012 at 9:51

Congratulations , marc . Really happy you could have it in your collection ; beautiful instrument , looking very powerful . I hope i will have the chance to play it one_day ( in the 1st Blackpool CB convention ? ... ) ; Savarez make nylon strings in every gauge available in 2 meters ( cordes pour instruments anciens )

Comment by thereallyniceman on October 8, 2012 at 13:20

A Blackpool Banjo Convention.. The BBC, it has a nice ring to it.

 Perhaps Marc should start saving up for the bus fare.

Comment by Trapdoor2 on October 8, 2012 at 14:52

The busses are almost ready. Here's one being sorted:

Comment by Mike Moss on October 8, 2012 at 15:05

Is that the new German U-Bus? ;-)

Comment by Trapdoor2 on October 8, 2012 at 15:34

That's SSBN (State's Submarine Bus, Nuclear) #1. Should get me from Boston to Blackpool overnight! I'm not too keen on their elevators though, they put you in a tube and you pop out the top. I believe they claim I can be delivered to Ian's house from quite a few km away...if he doesn't mind a hole in his roof. ;-)

Comment by Mike Moss on October 8, 2012 at 15:46

I guess you'd need to pack your banjo in an actual "flight" case to travel like that!

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