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Geared guitar tuners on 1850s banjos

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May 29, 2020 - 3:18:34 AM
127 posts since 1/26/2020

I'm reading my latest read, "America's Instrument," with which many of you are familiar, and I come across this interesting line of information.
"From at least the 1850s, some makers used guitar-style metal-geared tuning machines (usually termed "patent" tuners), even adapting them for the 5th string.
pg. 55

Interesting.

Blaine


 

May 29, 2020 - 4:32:49 AM

5315 posts since 9/21/2007

Please elaborate on why this is interesting?

May 29, 2020 - 5:28:14 AM
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hbick2

USA

199 posts since 6/26/2004

quote:
Originally posted by Joel Hooks

Please elaborate on why this is interesting?


Please elaborate on why this is necessary. The person who posted this message has just been a member of BHO since January. New members have ideas and questions, many of which have been discussed hundreds of times, but it is incumbent upon the older members of this group to try to answer their questions, not put them down for asking them. If we sit here and shoot down people's  ideas, how likely are they to participate in the future?  Like any hobby or interest area, we can't afford to be losing members, we need more of them.

So Blaine, ask away. I have been fooling with banjos for nearly 60 years and I still find the topic of early attempts to improve tuning devices very interesting. I found a wonderful set of metal tuners on an early Fairbanks banjo that actually screw into the wood. I looked up the date of the banjo (ca. 1893 I believe) and looked up the patent on the tuners and the dates were the same. Interestingly, I have never encountered a set like them again. If you are interested, I'll post a picture of them.

I am including an example of a geared 5th tuner from one of my banjos that was patented by Joseph Bohmann in the 1890's. It still works great and I've always wondered why no one else picked up on this. It was a half a century before banjo players could accurately tune their 5th strings. 

 

Harry Bickel

Louisville, KY


May 29, 2020 - 5:50:40 AM

5315 posts since 9/21/2007

quote:
Originally posted by hbick2
quote:
Originally posted by Joel Hooks

Please elaborate on why this is interesting?


Please elaborate on why this is necessary. The person who posted this message has just been a member of BHO since January. New members have ideas and questions, many of which have been discussed hundreds of times, but it is incumbent upon the older members of this group to try to answer their questions, not put them down for asking them. If we sit here and shoot down people's  ideas, how likely are they to participate in the future?  Like any hobby or interest area, we can't afford to be losing members, we need more of them.

So Blaine, ask away. I have been fooling with banjos for nearly 60 years and I still find the topic of early attempts to improve tuning devices very interesting. I found a wonderful set of metal tuners on an early Fairbanks banjo that actually screw into the wood. I looked up the date of the banjo (ca. 1893 I believe) and looked up the patent on the tuners and the dates were the same. Interestingly, I have never encountered a set like them again. If you are interested, I'll post a picture of them.

I am including an example of a geared 5th tuner from one of my banjos that was patented by Joseph Bohmann in the 1890's. It still works great and I've always wondered why no one else picked up on this. It was a half a century before banjo players could accurately tune their 5th strings. 

 

Harry Bickel

Louisville, KY


Hi Harry,  the OP did not post a question.  They posted a statement, i.e. this book said this and it is interesting.

As you likely know, I happily answer questions about banjos, citing period references when I do.  My post was asking for the OP to explain why they think that this fact is interesting.  

I did not put anyone down.  Nor did I "shoot down" any idea.  I wanted clarification about why the OP found this interesting. 

Not sure why you attacked me, (though you were nice about it).

May 29, 2020 - 6:01:47 AM
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Players Union Member

dbrooks

USA

3821 posts since 3/11/2004

Joel Hooks and hbick2 , I respect both of you gentlemen and appreciate your contributions to the Hangout. I think this may be a situation where the brevity of Joel's post left a vacuum that invited others, including me, to infer an attitude or curtness that Joel did not intend. I think the original post could have included more information to explain the judgment that something in the quoted page was interesting. (I didn't try to read the text.)

There are some folks on the Hangout whose posts I always read when I see their names, yours included. Seeing Joel's name is the only reason I opened this thread, and I would have also acted that way if I had seen Harry's name.

I hope we can let this settle as a shortcoming of brief text communications which lack all of the other signals we get from other forms of communication.

David

May 29, 2020 - 7:00:48 AM
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5315 posts since 9/21/2007

I am sorry for being too brief and giving the wrong impression.

I think this is an interesting topic and I would like to discuss it. But I would like to know what I am replying too.

May 29, 2020 - 8:40:11 AM

1169 posts since 8/10/2010

Likely for slotted peg designs.

May 29, 2020 - 9:29:42 AM
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hbick2

USA

199 posts since 6/26/2004

Joel, I apologize if I misinterpreted your response to the original posting. I did not mean to offend you.

I am very sensitive to newcomers to a group, and veterans, too. I have seen folks jump in quickly and tell a poster that this topic has been discussed over and over and they need to do a search rather than ask the question here. My feeling is that they need to ask the question here. It can be very difficult to find answers to a question on a forum when there are thousands of postings, many of which contain the same terms. I cannot imagine how many times I asked basic questions of folks over the years, as i was learning and before the days of the internet.

I was part of a forum on another subject a number of years ago and I offered a comment on how a certain well known collector did a certain thing in a certain way. I wasn't advocating for it, just offering the information. Some of the veteran collectors jumped on me with no mercy. Rather than argue with them, I just left the forum. It wasn't worth defending myself. I've only recently returned to the forum after many years. Forums are great but there are all levels of experience and expertise out there. At this stage of my life, I want to pass information down and if it takes answering the same questions over and over, so be it.

It would be nice if there was a way topics on certain subjects like tuners or tone rings could be stored in a folder for people to access whenever they like. I belong to a vintage phonograph forum and they have a section called "Archive". Within that section are various sections devoted to specific topics. You click on one of the topics and you are presented with a number of choices related to that topic. It's very interesting and helpful.

Enough of this now. Again, I apologize for any misunderstandings. I need to go practice. This pandemic is taking its toll on my skills.

May 29, 2020 - 10:02:14 AM
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143 posts since 5/16/2016

This is what it was talking about. The banjo in the photo was made by a guitar maker James Ashborn in the 1850s. It is using guitar style tuners on the slotted Peghead. I believe ashborn even fretted some of his banjos, which would mean that he made some of the first fretted banjos.


 

May 29, 2020 - 10:29:13 AM
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5315 posts since 9/21/2007

hbick2 , I think it is all good and you were perfectly nice when you questioned me.

And I do want to discuss geared tuners!

Yes, a very few builders used them. Most notably Ashborn as stated. Some other early builders did too. Then we see them later on some Dobson branded New York banjos (and unbranded examples of the same style).

In the 1890s+ we see them on English zither banjos which used three steel wire, one gut, and one wound copper over floss strings.

Other than that, and some random patents like the 5th peg shown above (which are pretty rare), the standard violin and 1/1 friction mechanical pegs seemed to suit people just fine.

And they continued to be used with no trouble or complaint until plectrum played, steel string banjos took over.

Interesting thing about Ashborn banjos, I have not seen two that are the same. Whereas his guitars were remarkably consistent in size and decoration. They also seem to have been quite rare and limited in production.

May 29, 2020 - 10:30:40 AM

127 posts since 1/26/2020

Well, the reason I bring it up, I posted an old banjo once before, and many insisted it was newer because it had geared tuners on a supposed civil war banjo. Now I'm seeing that's not necessarily a disqualifying detail.

 

Now I'm usually one to do a forum search. In this instance I was reading to fall asleep and the thought to do so slipped my mind. I'm a 3rd shift employee, so I go to bed around 6-630am. Please pardon my lucid thoughts. 

Blaine




 

Edited by - tbchappe on 05/29/2020 10:36:44

May 29, 2020 - 11:05:51 AM
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2199 posts since 4/7/2010

I can tell from the pictures that the banjo is a cheaper than cheap Oscar Schmidt that someone added chopped 3 on a plate guitar tuners. I am not a military history buff, but likely there was a civil war some where on earth when this banjo was built around 1910.

The geared tuners on the pictured banjo was just someone's attempt to make an awful banjo a little easier to tune and play.

Bob Smakula

May 29, 2020 - 11:09:02 AM

54845 posts since 12/14/2005

quote:
Originally posted by dbrooks

Joel Hooks and hbick2 , I respect both of you gentlemen and appreciate your contributions to the Hangout. I think this may be a situation where the brevity of Joel's post left a vacuum that invited others, including me, to infer an attitude or curtness that Joel did not intend. I think the original post could have included more information to explain the judgment that something in the quoted page was interesting. (I didn't try to read the text.)

There are some folks on the Hangout whose posts I always read when I see their names, yours included. Seeing Joel's name is the only reason I opened this thread, and I would have also acted that way if I had seen Harry's name.

I hope we can let this settle as a shortcoming of brief text communications which lack all of the other signals we get from other forms of communication.

David

If it was good enough for my MOM, it's OK with me!  cheeky
May 29, 2020 - 11:17:59 AM

127 posts since 1/26/2020

quote:
Originally posted by Bob Smakula

I can tell from the pictures that the banjo is a cheaper than cheap Oscar Schmidt that someone added chopped 3 on a plate guitar tuners. I am not a military history buff, but likely there was a civil war some where on earth when this banjo was built around 1910.

The geared tuners on the pictured banjo was just someone's attempt to make an awful banjo a little easier to tune and play.

Bob Smakula


Superb response, Bob. Informative, good insight, and even a chuckle. Thanks very much. No one gave me a brand last time. My knowledge grows a little bit every time you guys talk to me. Thanks again.

 

Blaine

May 29, 2020 - 11:34:32 AM
like this

2199 posts since 4/7/2010

quote:
Originally posted by tbchappe
 

Superb response, Bob. Informative, good insight, and even a chuckle. Thanks very much. No one gave me a brand last time. My knowledge grows a little bit every time you guys talk to me. Thanks again.

 

Blaine


Only a chuckle? Dang, I'm going to have to up my game to get an LOL.

 

Bob Smakula

May 29, 2020 - 5:57:05 PM

1075 posts since 3/1/2012

quote:
Originally posted by Bob Smakula
 

Only a chuckle? Dang, I'm going to have to up my game to get an LOL.

 

Bob Smakula


Bob--How many chuckles to a LOL?

And, while we are at it, how many LOLs to a Gaffaw?

Jul 4, 2020 - 10:21:04 AM

141 posts since 10/8/2018

Harry, was wondering if your 5th string tuner is actually on a Joseph Bohmann Banjo?? I just found on and there is not a 5th string tuner in the pick of it and now I'm worried that when i get this thing I'll have to start looking for one of them there fancy patened tuners you got there! Do you know anything about Bohmann banjos?
quote:
Originally posted by hbick2
quote:
Originally posted by Joel Hooks

Please elaborate on why this is interesting?


Please elaborate on why this is necessary. The person who posted this message has just been a member of BHO since January. New members have ideas and questions, many of which have been discussed hundreds of times, but it is incumbent upon the older members of this group to try to answer their questions, not put them down for asking them. If we sit here and shoot down people's  ideas, how likely are they to participate in the future?  Like any hobby or interest area, we can't afford to be losing members, we need more of them.

So Blaine, ask away. I have been fooling with banjos for nearly 60 years and I still find the topic of early attempts to improve tuning devices very interesting. I found a wonderful set of metal tuners on an early Fairbanks banjo that actually screw into the wood. I looked up the date of the banjo (ca. 1893 I believe) and looked up the patent on the tuners and the dates were the same. Interestingly, I have never encountered a set like them again. If you are interested, I'll post a picture of them.

I am including an example of a geared 5th tuner from one of my banjos that was patented by Joseph Bohmann in the 1890's. It still works great and I've always wondered why no one else picked up on this. It was a half a century before banjo players could accurately tune their 5th strings. 

 

Harry Bickel

Louisville, KY


Jul 4, 2020 - 12:54:57 PM

hbick2

USA

199 posts since 6/26/2004

Yes, both the tuner and the tailpiece are on a Bohmann banjo. It is a very large banjo, with a 13 1/4" pot and a 28 3/4" scale. It is marked "Military Banjo" on the dowel stick, which is appropriate because it is big enough to use as a weapon. It is a great sounding instrument. I have it tuned down 5 half-steps. which means when I play using C formation it is actually G.

Jul 4, 2020 - 1:32:19 PM

141 posts since 10/8/2018

Well that sounds like a big banjo! Have you run across any other Bohmann banjos? I haven't been able to find any pics on the internet so they see to be uncommon. Do you have pics of your whole banjo on your page? 
quote:
Originally posted by hbick2

Yes, both the tuner and the tailpiece are on a Bohmann banjo. It is a very large banjo, with a 13 1/4" pot and a 28 3/4" scale. It is marked "Military Banjo" on the dowel stick, which is appropriate because it is big enough to use as a weapon. It is a great sounding instrument. I have it tuned down 5 half-steps. which means when I play using C formation it is actually G.


Jul 4, 2020 - 3:42:05 PM

hbick2

USA

199 posts since 6/26/2004

I'm not home right now. I'll try to post some pictures this coming week.

Jul 5, 2020 - 10:29:02 PM

141 posts since 10/8/2018

quote:
Originally posted by hbick2

I'm not home right now. I'll try to post some pictures this coming week.


I look forward to that. I wonder if I could use his pattern from the patent to make my own tuner??

Jul 8, 2020 - 4:57:23 PM

1243 posts since 7/12/2004

quote:
Originally posted by Brice Alms

This is what it was talking about. The banjo in the photo was made by a guitar maker James Ashborn in the 1850s. It is using guitar style tuners on the slotted Peghead. I believe ashborn even fretted some of his banjos, which would mean that he made some of the first fretted banjos.


Please explain the second fret on this banjo. Is that a photographic error, was the second fret split to help intonation (I would have expected that on the third string, fourth fret instead), or some other reason?

Jul 8, 2020 - 5:16:13 PM

5315 posts since 9/21/2007

quote:
Originally posted by waystation
quote:
Originally posted by Brice Alms

This is what it was talking about. The banjo in the photo was made by a guitar maker James Ashborn in the 1850s. It is using guitar style tuners on the slotted Peghead. I believe ashborn even fretted some of his banjos, which would mean that he made some of the first fretted banjos.


Please explain the second fret on this banjo. Is that a photographic error, was the second fret split to help intonation (I would have expected that on the third string, fourth fret instead), or some other reason?


Yes, this was the reason.  You see this on occasion on some early banjos (pre classic era).  Later this can be found on some English banjos.  I have even seen some zither banjos with it.

There is a reason you have not seen it before...

Jul 8, 2020 - 11:08:24 PM

143 posts since 5/16/2016

quote:
Originally posted by waystation
quote:
Originally posted by Brice Alms

This is what it was talking about. The banjo in the photo was made by a guitar maker James Ashborn in the 1850s. It is using guitar style tuners on the slotted Peghead. I believe ashborn even fretted some of his banjos, which would mean that he made some of the first fretted banjos.


Please explain the second fret on this banjo. Is that a photographic error, was the second fret split to help intonation (I would have expected that on the third string, fourth fret instead), or some other reason?


From what I have heard, it is done for intonation.

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