banjos

I have a checkered history of experiments with banjo-family instruments, the most recent episode of which features the current New Instrument, a rare bird indeed: a 1923 5-string plectrum Vega, just arrived from Gryphon in Palo Alto. It’s essentially a tenor banjo, but 5-course instead of 4-course, and with a longer scale (27″) than most tenors, and tuned lower. So perhaps a baritone.

I tripped over it on the Gryphon website, which I visit from time to time, usually about the time that a new issue of Fretboard Journal arrives (and of course I stop by Gryphon whenever I’m in Palo Alto).

Larry Chung plays the very instrument in this YouTube video:


(his approach is essentially plectral and tenorish; I tune it differently (GDGCF) and am exploring a fingerpicking style, derived from what I’ve been doing with the Apollonio cittern, which is tuned CGCFBb)

There’s pictorial evidence of former encounters with the family: a brief 5-string flirtation 1973, and the mandobanjo at Deep Gap 1979 (which started my own case of Mando Madness):


Brief Flirtation with the Banjo mandobanjo in Deep Gap NC, 1979

Also in the stable, and played occasionally, are Turkish cümbüş and a long-neck saz/tanbur, and I also have a very funky old friction-peg 5-string that has never been exactly playable (Jake Wildwood may be able to do something about that). And I once had a Silvertone 5-string, totally undistinguished.

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