Reproduction 19th Century Tack Head Fretless Banjos

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.


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. The photos below show maple and ash necks, but due to the unavailability of straight grained maple, I now use mahogany for my banjo necks.
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.

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 and that is where I place it. 

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 can place the peg wherever you want.  If you a preference, please note it in the "Comments" section of your order. 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.


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. 27" 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.

Fretless Banjos

The Banjo Factory