A happy Banjo Friday to all of you, dear readers. The music today is a real treat: Rhiannon Giddens of the Carolina Chocolate Drops playing a “mistrel tuned” gourd banjo. Since we discussed the ekonting two weeks ago, I thought it would be fun to offer some gourd banjo music this time around.
I had intended to make this post a bit more in depth, but I'm writing it "on the fly." I can tell you that if you’re interested in finding out more about the gourd banjo, you can find “The (Almost) Definitive History of Gourd Banjos” at this link. There’s a lot of good information there.
Should your interests lie in a more “DIY” approach, you can even find detailed plans about how to make your own gourd banjo at several sites, including this one! There have been a number of gourd banjo makers in recent years, including Scott Didlake, Pete Ross, Jeffrey Menzies, Bob Thornburg, Jay Moschella & David Hyatt.
Rhiannon Giddens tells us that the banjo is in “minstrel tuning.” One might think this is a precise description, but actually it’s not. One thing that we can tell for sure (either by listening to the music or by looking up “minstrel tuning”) is that the banjo is pitched lower than usual. These days the banjo’s most “standard” tuning is probably open G; we do know that the “minstrel tunings” were more in the key of E or D, so that the strings were lower in pitch by either a third or fourth interval. However, there were variants on the “minstrel tuning.” One common variant didn’t involve an open tuning at all—in other words, the strings when played unfretted didn’t produce a major triad of notes—but was a lower version of what was once considered standard tuning, that is: gCGBD. Again, this was all lowered about a third in pitch.
Hope you enjoy the music!