Sunday, April 11, 2010

Pete Seeger Banjo

I've mentioned from time to time playing a banjo and here's a photo of the one I use. It's an old Gibson I got second hand back in 1967 when a freshman at Duke. It's called a "Pete Seeger" model (or "folk banjo" or "long neck banjo") because he's the one that popularized this particular model.

Where the capo is on the third fret is where regular banjos stop. The extra three frets allow for longer strings and a deeper sound when the capo isn't used, which is great for baritones. It's also the case that to make the instrument strong enough for that extra string length, it weighs a ton, but that extra weight adds heft to the sound as well. 

Currently the fifth string has been removed because I'm playing it as if it were a tenor banjo with the Dixieland group and the Kenwood Players. Having that drone just doesn't work with all the jazz chords and the chamber wind ensemble.

One of the glorious things about a banjo is that the bridge is held in place by simple string tension, so it can be placed exactly right so that the first harmonic matches the 12th fret. That, and the fact the bridge is sitting on a drum head that's set in motion when the strings vibrate, is why the banjo "rings".

Of all the instruments I play, the banjo pulls people in the most. There's just something about it people love to hear and to come up and talk about.

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