Ancient Music

The Fretless Banjo


    This is almost certainly the earliest form of the banjo. It is a uniquely American instrument without European roots. In fact the purists argue that its true name is the Banjer. It is also called the Mountain Banjo and the Groundhog Banjo in this country.

    Structurally it is a much simpler instrument than its modern cousin. Probably fretless from its origin, and usually without the fifth string of the claw-hammer banjo, it is open backed. The drum-head, for practical reasons (groundhogs aren't very big), is much smaller and maintained by a wooden face-rim which does not allow for adjustment of the tension. Because of the strength of the face-rim it does not need the internal brace rod typical of modern banjos.

    Musicly it is a very expressive instrument. It is quieter and softer toned than its younger cousins and the lack of frets allows slides and quarter-tones impossible on other instruments. This difference has been enough to maintain not only a population of faithful followers, but some very skilled craftsmen who still produce quality instruments like the one pictured above.

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