Another 3+1 string instrument with a totemic eagle, or hawk, peghead of African inspiration. A simple, early style, integrating the essence of the European and African traditions. It is in spalted red maple and uses the other half of the gourd used for the "bonja." [You can hear this banjer on Down the Road, track 14.]
This banjer was influenced by the early drawing attributed to Jamaica (or the Western Sudan: see my inquiry elsewhere) but with European-style pegs, albeit inserted from the front. It is another 3+1 stringer. It is the banjer on which I developed "Bonja Moan."[Hear it on Waiting for Nancy, tracks 9 & 16.]
My first two gourd banjers were 4 stringers (3+1) made from the same oval-shaped gourd. The heads were literally in the shape of heads, tilted back, singing, reminiscent of a scroll shape. (If I had made the eyes closed they would have resembled Southwestern story tellers, but that's for another day.) I gave the one on the right to my best friend, Robert Webb of Phippsburg, Maine. It's surprising how many tunes we've discovered can be played on just 3 strings. (Tunings, melody strings: 1-5-5; 1-4-5; 1-5-7; 1-5-8; etc., with chanterelle tuned variously.) [You can hear mine on Down the Road, track 16, and Waiting for Nancy, track 16.]
In the early years of the nineteenth century American society combined their rugged individualistic ways of doing things with exciting new ideas from the rest of the world. This 5-string instrument incorporates one of these fashionable elements: the paisley. The swirling "boteh" leaf shape of Persian design is integrated into the curvilinear peghead and brass tacks accent the edges. The entire neck is shellacked in a dark mahogany shade.
My first banjer, in spalted maple with trade bead eyes and a necklace of tiny whitehearts.
Hear five of these gourd banjers, and four other banjers, played on my first CD. For information click here.
As I was shaping another "singer" scroll I noticed a resemblance to George Washington. I burned his likeness into the peg head and his arms and accomplishments onto the gourd. The very first tune it played was "Yankee Doodle."
These two instruments were made from the same beautiful pear-shaped gourd. One has a simple scroll with notches around the edge and the other has a fleur-de-lis [sold]. They both have 5-string necks in flame maple with tailpieces in oak. The notched banjer has a pair of small pin holes in a triangular pattern in the head (carrying out the notch motif), such holes being common from the Sahel to Central Asia and almost diagnostic of skin-faced instruments.[It can be heard on Down the Road, track 3.]
This gourd was very heavy so I cut only a small slice off the top. The shell was extremely thick so I decided to utilize it in a design to show through a translucent calfskin head. The resultant sound was so brilliant I pierced several decorative holes in the shell to mellow it somewhat. It is still, by far, the loudest banjer I have made.
Most modern makers utilize round gourds with only a slice off the top and though I generally prefer to cut more interesting shapes in half, I have made a few of the more common form. This is another one of those but not nearly as loud as the one to the left. The neck is beautiful spalted red maple with a slightly fan-shaped scroll.
On my first bowl-shaped gourd, I used a skin which I had removed from a small Southwest Indian cottonwood drum. It was the same size and had already been formed into scallops along the edge so I used larger tack-headed nails to affix it. In keeping with the Indian theme I inlaid a new Lewis and Clark nickel with the peace medal motif at the base of the neck. The gourd has a traditional African spiral motif which would not have been out of place on either continent. NFS [You can hear it on Down the Road, track 1.]
At the 2007 SD Roots FestivalClick here to hear Mike Seeger play this banjer in 2007
Another totemic peg head banjer, this time a horse, in beautiful spalted red maple. The gourd is an unusual variant on the pear shape, looking something like a giant top. It has an elegant, deep sound. [You can hear it on Down the Road, track 11.]