Until the mid 1840s, gourd banjos were the norm for both the performing minstrel and amateur alike. In both the North and the South, gourd banjos were made by the slaves. If you wanted a banjo you sought out a slave and had him make you one. As the popularity of this musical instrument grew in the late 1840s, "turners" or carpenters began to advertise themselves as banjo makers, but since no one maker ever made more than just a few instruments, there was wide variation in banjo styles.
Unless you specify otherwise, you will receive a mid-19th century reproduction gourd banjo which will be at home on the plantation, a soldier's camp or the minstrel stage.
These are 12 inch gourd banjos and are shown with scroll shaped peg heads, but you may select either the rectangular or Stichter "lazy 8" style for no extra charge.
Right or left-handed banjos are the same price.
Standard Gourd Tack Head Banjo with plain straight sided neck $289.00 (banjo only)
Typical gourd size is approx. 8 - 9". I can special order larger 12" gourds (when they are available), but the smaller 8" - 9" gourds are more typical of the 19th Century instruments and that is the size I try to keep in stock.
Optional ogee neck carving is additional $30.00 (one side only)
Carved on both sides $70.00
Rosewood fingerboard $80.00
Rosewood capped bridge add $8.00
Ribbon trim, add $20.00
Rosewood Tailpiece, add $10.00
The "Stichter" style or "lazy 8" peg head is standard. If you want a scroll or rectangular type
head, please indicate in the "Comments" section of the order form.
(Mechanical tuners vary in price from $50 to $140 or more. If you would like this option included with your kit banjo, please check out the mechanical tuners link under "Options" and note your preference in the Comments section of the order. Please contact me if you have any questions.)
Shipping and Handling (S&H) domestic $48.00 banjo only
Black Coffin case with green felt lining $200.00 (ordered with banjo)
With Victorian style lining, add $30.00
Rectangular case with green felt lining $179.00 (ordered with banjo)
S&H (domestic) with banjo and case $68.00
For foreign or over seas shipments, please request a quotation.
Gourd banjos are where it all begins. If you like an older style fretless banjo, then this is your choice. The volume is comparable to the minstrel banjo, but the gourd banjos have a deeper, more resonant or mellow tone. From the 17th century on, reports from the slave routes spanning theWest African coast to the Caribbean islands, we have references to folk instruments resembling the gourd banjo. In 1689 Sir Hans Sloane, a physician who thoroughly documented Jamaica's music, noted that the island's Africans have "strum-strums... several sorts of instruments in imitation of lutes, made of small boards fitted with necks, strung with horse hairs or the peeled stocks of climbing Plants or Withs." These he said, "are sometimes made of hollow'd Timber covered with Parchment or other Skin wetted, having a bow for its neck, the strings ty'd longer or shorter as they would alter their sounds." Such a "strum-strum" was likely the same as what Adrian Dessalles describes in his Histoire Genérales des Antilles (1678), called the "Banza," to which the slaves on Martinique "danced in their own style". (Translated and cited in Dena J. Epstein, "The Folk Banjo").
The gourds I have vary in size, but average from about 9" to 13" in diameter and the default scale length is approximately 26". Gourds have a season and sometimes certain sizes are just not available. This is one of the reasons the wooden shell banjo gained in popularity in the 1840s. If you prefer a different scale length or a particular size of gourd, just let me know. The scale length is easy to accommodate. Gourd size will depend upon what is available.
I usually put an oval sound hole in the gourds to assist with sound projection. My banjos all come strung with Nylgut strings unless you special order genuine gut. (Genuine gut is not always available, but if you are interested, please ask.)
My usual method of attaching the hide to the head is with brass tacks. If you prefer a laced head, please let me know. There is no additional charge.
I now use mahogany for my banjo necks.
I provide two bridges. A regular height and one a little higher to accommodate the stretch of the hide when played out doors in the cool or damp.
(Modern mechanical or planetary tuners vary in price from $50 to $120+. If you would like this option installed on your banjo, please contact me for a quotation. I have been receiving an increasing number of requests for this option. Mechanical tuners do not affect the sound of the banjo, they just make it easier to tune.
While not historically correct for the 18th or 19th Century, it is completely appropriate for the 20th and 21st Century. While I respect the heritage of the gourd banjo, I also respect the tradition of adapting folk instruments to contemporary tastes. If you desire some modern adaptations, please ask.