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Tackhead banjos during the Civil War?

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Feb 20, 2020 - 1:16:49 PM

Movark

USA

35 posts since 3/1/2019

Just curious if they were common during the era. To my knowledge, and all photos I’ve come across, they’re all drum headed, and with a minstrel style peg head.

Feb 20, 2020 - 1:19:27 PM

490 posts since 8/14/2018

One makes a guess that there were still gourd banjos being used then. One also makes a guess that the folks using them were not in a position to get to the photographer's studio.

Feb 20, 2020 - 2:19:47 PM
Players Union Member

R Buck

USA

2743 posts since 9/5/2006

There were banjos being produced by makers like Boucher in Baltimore.  Look here   for a brief history on Reverb.  They became far more sophisticated after the war with the rise of the industrial revolution.  Since manufacturing was centered in the north, most of the builders were in places like Philadelphia, New York, Boston and Connecticut.  There were hoop banjos but the hardware was far less sophisticated than we see today. There are amazing innovations in banjo design still occurring and that is exciting in its own right.

Feb 20, 2020 - 4:02:35 PM

csacwp

USA

2590 posts since 1/15/2014

quote:
Originally posted by MacCruiskeen

One makes a guess that there were still gourd banjos being used then. One also makes a guess that the folks using them were not in a position to get to the photographer's studio.


There were eyewitnesses who went looking for them and never found any. That doesn't mean there weren't any, but there is evidence to the contrary. 

Feb 20, 2020 - 4:04:28 PM

csacwp

USA

2590 posts since 1/15/2014

quote:
Originally posted by Movark

Just curious if they were common during the era. To my knowledge, and all photos I’ve come across, they’re all drum headed, and with a minstrel style peg head.


By the time of the Civil War, many of the pros were playing New York school banjos with rectangular or NY style pegheads. These banjos had spunover rims. The "minstrel style" pegheads you are referring to were more of a feature of the 1840s-1850s, though there are no hard and fast rules. 

Feb 20, 2020 - 5:06:39 PM
likes this

5058 posts since 9/21/2007

I see this as two questions.

1) Banjos during the ACW
2) Banjos in the ACW

John answered 1. By 1855 one sees the banjo start to take the form that we think of today (though still quite large). Clad rims hit at that time.

2 is a little more complicated. We have VERY few accounts of banjos actually in the ACW and carried or played by soldiers. This aspect of soldier live is over represented by reenactors.

There was Sam Sweeney. He was a special case-- he did not represent the standard skirmisher.

One example of a soldier playing a banjo during the war was the account of Albert Baur's service. What he describes as a banjo hardly matches what you would see your average Santa Clause reenactor holding.

He describes having a tack head banjo in very poor condition.

His account can be read in his 13th letter found attached below.

Baur is an extremely reliable source. His memories have been vetted.


Feb 21, 2020 - 7:37:04 AM

1483 posts since 2/12/2009

absolutely fascinating stuff you posted here Joel, I guess like many who have tried their hand at classic style I have started to take an interest in this historical stuff about the banjo (it kinda sucks you in the more you read!) and, Albert Baur's reminisces in the SSS journal are absolutely priceless historical gems, here in the UK we obviously know little about the ACW it, not being covered much in schools here so, to read a first hand account written by a contemporary banjo player is as good as it gets for me! I shall enjoy reading more of the same I am assuming that the SSS journal predates our own BMG publications here, kinda makes you wonder if old Clifford Essex ever did anything original !

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