History of the Cello Banjo in Irish music

History of the Cello Banjo in Irish music

Well, of course, there is none.

But look at this: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p5zX6xpRswI


Gold Tone has just come out with a Cello Banjo, the first produced in 80 years or so and I propose to use it in sessions. It has several advantages over the tenor banjo: 1) it probably can’t be heard, 2) it adds a baritone voice not polluted by double courses, and 3) it is a neat instrument that makes you look a lot smaller than you really are. :grin:

I am going to try and see if this instrument works in sessions. I was a miserable failure at trying to introduce the Celtic Nose Flute (it was green) due to the noisy laughter it engendered even though I had completely mastered it, but I think that the majesty of this instrument will manage to blow off all the "it’s not traditional" (as if Greek instruments are) or "it’s a banjo" critcisms since they hold no value when you actually hear it played. We will see.

Mike Keyes
http://www.mikekeyes.com

Re: History of the Cello Banjo in Irish music

O dear, o dear o dear Mike. What have you done? Just when you thought you have cracked the tenor you have just consigned the rest of your life to experimenting with heads, strings, picks etc to find that perfect tone all over again. At least you dont have to spend hours and hours pouring over websites trying to get info - your the worlds leading authority !!Good luck.

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Re: History of the Cello Banjo in Irish music

Mike, what *have* you been chewing lately?

Re: History of the Cello Banjo in Irish music

Hi Mike, you’re not alone …. I’ve had one of these for three weeks now and have become utterly smitten. it’s a great deal less ponderous than the examples of such banjos from the 1920’s that I’ve had in the past (probably owing to the "tight" construction, truss-rodded neck and the Renaissance head) and with some small adjustments to the stringing and bridge, it can be made to "bounce along" quite nicely. at the moment, I’ve tuned it one tone sharp to the normal CGDA pitch (i.e. DAEB) and shifted my fingering down a string to stay in the normal keys - some re-training necessary but not too much. I haven’t yet inflicted it on my fellow sessioneers but I’m "plucking up the courage" (sorry!)
a fair bit of cash to spend (it costs around £500 in the UK) but it holds out the prospect of a lot of fun for the money ….

Re: History of the Cello Banjo in Irish music

Hi Mike – I really enjoyed watching your video critique of your new cello banjo – and I reckon your dogs enjoyed their role as co-stars! Look forward to watching the next instalment…

I don’t like to speak about them much, but (let’s face it) there are people out there who just don’t like banjos. You might keep even them happy as well, for as you say, with a nylon string set-up, you might not be heard in session situation.

Another thought – one of the problems of using a long-necked instrument in a crowded session (like we have in the England) is the danger of poking out the eye of the person sitting next to you. You could solve that one as well. Fix a spike to the bottom of it, and play it upright, like a normal cello!

Regarding your banjo intro to the song: “Lord Franklin”, I know another song that uses the same melody – I’ll email the words of it to you…

Re: History of the Cello Banjo in Irish music

Ptarmigan,

Bass Banjos are way too big, I’d have to get a different vehicle to cart it around. Besides, they hurt to play and sound terrible.

On the other hand, I have played in sessions in which a bass was present, and the low end did not detract from the craic.

In defense of the cello banjo, the Scots have used the cello as a traditional instrument for a very long time. In fact, I took a banjo class with Gerry O’Connor at the very last Gaelic Roots in Boston and next door was the Cello class. As far as sound goes, there is no comparison, the 26 cellos blew us out of the water. I suspect that every "Celtic" cello player in the nation was there.

WhenI go to my session tonight, every "Celtic" cello banjo player in the country will be there too. :grin:

Mike Keyes
http://www.mikekeyes.com

Re: History of the Cello Banjo in Irish music

I’ve used the Gold Tone BB400 bass banjo (really just a strange looking acoustic bass guitar) at traditional English music sessions for a while now with fairly good results. it’s fairly portable and nothing like so hard to play as my 1920’s Essex (which appears to be a bass drum with an extended string bass neck on it …..). I think that true bass banjos ought to be confined to Banjo Bands - i.e. consenting adults in private

on the very few occasions I’ve trotted the BB400 out at traditional Irish music sessions, it hasn’t fared so well - the rather ponderous, clanky sound doesn’t seem to sit so well with the Irish music. that’s partly why the new Gold Tone CEB-4 is so nice …….

Re: History of the Cello Banjo in Irish music

well, I don’t know about Trois at a fleadh - but there is a certain notorious annual session at a well-known summer folk festival that can more or less turn into such a horror …. the last few years, the number of banjoists (I use the term advisedly .. ) at that session has approached Banjo Band proportions. even the piano accordion players are running scared now .. 🙂