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Building New Banjos for an Old-Time World$
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Richard Jones-Bamman

Print publication date: 2017

Print ISBN-13: 9780252041303

Published to Illinois Scholarship Online: May 2018

DOI: 10.5622/illinois/9780252041303.001.0001

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PRINTED FROM ILLINOIS SCHOLARSHIP ONLINE (www.illinois.universitypressscholarship.com). (c) Copyright Illinois University Press, 2022. All Rights Reserved. An individual user may print out a PDF of a single chapter of a monograph in ISO for personal use.date: 28 May 2022

An Apprentice to Ghosts

An Apprentice to Ghosts

(p.157) 5 An Apprentice to Ghosts
Building New Banjos for an Old-Time World

Richard Jones-Bamman

University of Illinois Press

This chapter focuses on builders (Bob Thornburg, Jeff Menzies, John Bowlin, Allen Hart, Jim Hartel, George Wunderlich and Pete Ross) who have chosen exclusively to create instruments that are either inspired by or meticulously replicate the earliest examples of the banjo. These range from instruments made of gourds and other repurposed materials to banjos from the 1840s forward that evince the beginnings of industrialization in instrument manufacture. While individual motivations differ, the thread that unites these makers is a desire to draw attention to the most conflicted elements of this instrument’s history, i.e., its origins among enslaved populations and its cooptation by white entertainers involved in blackface minstrelsy. The response among old-time banjoists has been surprisingly positive, in large part because the playing technique required is very similar to what is currently favored, a fact that strengthens the historical connections between these nearly forgotten instruments and their contemporary counterparts. Yet, as all of these builders have discovered, restoring these early banjos to the old-time musical community necessitates a re-examination of the sources of much of the repertoire and an expansion of the conceptions of a shared, albeit mythical past. These topics are covered in greater detail in Chapter Six.

Keywords:   Bob Thornburg, Jeff Menzies, John Bowlin, Allen Hart, Jim Hartel, George Wunderlich, Pete Ross, gourd banjo, industrialization, blackface minstrelsy, old-time music, musical community, mythical past

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