SHANE'S CHALLENGE: Let's Do Something Cool With Gus Cannon's First Banjo

The Guy on the Left is Gus Cannon. 
Let's Do Something Cool With His History...

Gus Cannon was one of the very first innovators in jug band music.  He lead his Cannon's Jug Stompers in the 1920's and 30's, playing wild, driving blues with banjos, jugs, guitars and more.

Gus Cannon was also the first performer to ever play SLIDE BANJO! on record.  He used a butterknife as a slide:

I've been reading about Cannon and others in the seminal blues history book, The Country Blues by Samuel B. Charters.  My heart nearly skipped a beat when Charters described Cannon's very first instrument, a homemade banjo:

He loved music and wanted to learn how to play the banjo, so he made himself one out of a bread pan that his mother gave him and a guitar neck.  He put the guitar neck through holes in the side of the dough pan, then covered the pan with a raccoon skin, scraped thin.

A lot of country boys made their own banjos this way.  The only unsatisfactory aspect was that there were no elaborate drumhead arrangements, with bolts and screws to keep the skin head tight in damp weather.  Cannon always traveled with his pockets full of crumpled newspaper, and before he was going to play, he would make a fire with the paper and hold the banjo over the heat until the head was tight enough to play.

A Cigar Box Nation member should re-create Gus Cannon's first banjo.  Get the materials...use some ingenuity.  Come on!  It would be so cool to hear what a true turn-of-the-century homemade banjo would sound.

I've done historical builds before and they're a blast!  Blues legend, Scrapper Blackwell started on a cigar box guitar and he described it in an interview, one year before he was murdered.  I took the description and built my own:

It's one thing to read the history.  It's another thing to hold an instrument in your hands that has leaped from the books!  

If you go down this rabbit hole, you'll thank me later.

So who's gonna make Gus Cannon's first banjo?  Post pics below.


Views: 1817

Reply to This

Replies to This Discussion

No more goatskin around here, thank you. FWIW... my dogs wanted to attack and eat the akonting and drums heads I made using it. YMMV, but just to be on the safe side, if you have dogs, hang any animal skin projects HIGH.

Here it is. What a bunch of fun to do in two days!

Here is the album for the gas can banjo my daughter and I made -- our first, and we learned a lot doing it. There is a video of her playing it in the comments below the album pics. It is her trbute to Seeger.

That's  a good one Scott.

I'll have to look at the local junk store and see what I can find. Raw hide will work good for the head.


The Essential Pages

New to Cigar Box Nation? How to Play Cigar Box GuitarsFree Plans & How to Build Cigar Box GuitarsCigar Box Guitar Building BasicsCigar Box Guitar Parts Store

Site Sponsor

Recommended Links & Resources


Completed Builds

Started by ThePracticalPeasant in Building Secrets, Tips, Advice, Discussion. Last reply by Poorness Studios 9 hours ago. 4 Replies


Started by Mitchell Cutsinger in Performances, How to Play, Lessons, Concerts. Last reply by Carl Floyd Sep 29. 5 Replies

Blog Posts

Leonard Cohen Life

Posted by Keith Rearick on October 7, 2021 at 11:18am 0 Comments

CBGer’s Lament

Posted by Ghostbuttons on October 3, 2021 at 12:11am 0 Comments


Posted by Mark E. Martinsen on September 29, 2021 at 8:39pm 3 Comments

Prototyping with a big ol' wine box

Posted by Ben on September 23, 2021 at 4:00pm 0 Comments

Mr. Bells

Posted by Stephen Cohen on September 4, 2021 at 12:30pm 0 Comments



© 2021   Created by Ben "C. B. Gitty" Baker.   Powered by

Badges  |  Report an Issue  |  Terms of Service

\uastyle>\ud/** Scrollup **/\ud.scrollup {\ud background: url("") no-repeat scroll 0 0 transparent;\ud bottom: 25px;\ud display: inline !important;\ud height: 40px;\ud opacity: 0.3 !important;\ud position: fixed;\ud right: 30px;\ud text-indent: -9999px;\ud width: 40px;\ud z-index: 999;\ud}\ud.scrollup:hover {\ud opacity:0.99!important;\ud}\ud \uascript type="text/javascript">\ud x$(document).ready(function(){\ud x$(window).scroll(function(){\ud if (x$(this).scrollTop() > 100) {\ud x$('.scrollup').fadeIn();\ud } else {\ud x$('.scrollup').fadeOut();\ud }\ud });\ud x$('.scrollup').click(function(){\ud x$("html, body").animate({ scrollTop: 0 }, 600);\ud return false;\ud });\ud });\ud \ua!-- End Scroll Up -->