The Banjo Factory
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Fretless Banjo Models

Whether constructed with a steam bent wooden hoop or a gourd, our fretless banjos are authentic looking and affordable. They give you that wonderful 19th Century low bass toned minstrel sound. Each banjo is a unique hand made original by John Salicco. They are designed to be played "stroke style" (a simple type of frailing or claw hammer stroke) typically tuned 2 1/2 steps below modern tuning. From about 1830 to 1860 this was a common tuning for the banjo.

For those of you who have not yet enjoyed the freedom of a fretless banjo, please do not let these instruments intimidate you. They are no more difficult to play than any modern fretted instrument. In many ways, they are easier. For the better part of two centuries, they have been played by people from all walks of life with little to no instruction. If you would like to pursue a formal 1855 approach to stroke playing, please click here: Brigg's Banjo Instructor.

Remember, that for every professional minstrel master in the 19th century, there were dozens of ordinary folk, stroking and plunking out their favorite tunes by the firelight. Some could read musical notation, most could not. No matter the level of proficiency, all shared the common satisfaction and enjoyment of making music! You'll be amazed at how addicting fretless banjos are.


Construction

For both the gourd banjos and the minstrel wooden shell banjos, I use a two piece construction for the neck where the spike is part of the heel of the neck glued on as a separate piece.  Once glued together, the neck and spike are as one long piece.

Be aware that the deer rawhide on the head of the banjo can vary in color and texture from white to tan and from clear to opaque depending upon the hides I have available. No two banjos are completely alike.

Three fretless banjos

Briggs' Style banjo Be aware that the deer rawhide on the head of the banjo can vary in color and texture from white to mottled or tan and from clear to opaque depending upon the hides I have available. No two banjos are completely alike.

Except on special orders, my objective is not to produce an absolutely historically accurate facsimile of any particular historical instrument. I'm trying to produce a sturdy playable fretless banjo that has the right 19th Century sound, look and feel, but at a price that almost anyone can afford. This is a folk instrument, not a Stradivarius.  All the design features or motifs I use are found on 19th century instruements, but I combine them and adapt them in my own way.  These are original banjos.

If you have photos or drawings of an old gourd banjo that you'd like me to duplicate, then lets talk. 


Position of the 5th String Tuning Peg

I've had a number of questions asked about the 19th century positioning of the 5th string tuning peg position. The 20th century "standard" is at approximately the 5th fret position. 

On the early 19th century fretless banjos, the 5th string tuning peg did not have a standard position. In fact it was often closer to the corresponding 7th fret position on the neck. I prefer the 7th fret location because, at the 5th stop, the the tuning peg sometimes gets in the way when playing up-neck on the 4th string. That being said, I can place the peg wherever you want.

Please visit our banjo gallery for a view of several of our banjos. 

We seldom carry any inventory, so your banjo will usually be custom made to your specifications.  Two to four weeks is our usual delivery schedule.

I accept payment by check, major credit card or PayPal. You may order by telephone, on-line e-form or by mail.

Charge Logos

 

MINSTREL 14" FRETLESS TACK HEAD BANJO
Frank Converse promoted the use of larger banjos and when you play on these 14 inch beauties, it is easy to see why.  This is my largest fretless Banjo with an approx. 29" scale length. The 14 inch fretless minstrel banjo has a great full bodied sound and has the greatest volume of any of my banjos.  This is the size I most often use for my minstrel repertoire.

MINSTREL 12" FRETLESS TACK HEAD BANJO
This is a 12" diameter  fretless banjo with an approx. 26" scale length.  A little brighter sounding than the 14" it is comparable in tone and volume to many of the Boucher replicas out there, but at a fraction of the price. 

BRIGGS' STYLE WOODEN FACED BANJO
This a wooden faced 12 inch minstrel 1850s' style banjo similar to the one pictured on the cover of Briggs' Banjo Instructor.  With no raw hide to react to temperature and humidity, this is your choice for an all weather banjo.

FRETLESS GOURD BANJOS
Standard gourd size is between 9 and 12 inches in diameter.  The gourd banjos are more mellow sounding than the wooden shell banjos, but still have a nice volume. An excellent complement to the human voice the gourd banjo is my choice for solo repertoire.  These banjos are light weight and sturdy.  There is nothing quite like the mellow tones of a gourd banjo wafting through a camp by firelight.

They are available with the same options as the wooden shell models.

KIT FRETLESS BANJOS
This is the economical alternative for those on a retsrictive budget or for those who just like to do it themself.  There are two models to choose from, a gourd banjo and a wooden shell version.