So... I have been building handmade musical instruments for about 2½ years, or so, now. I primarily build Cigar Box Guitars ( 2, 3, and 4 stringers), as well as some Diddley Bows (up to around 50+ instruments). I have build a few dulcimer scale cookie tin guitars and two string canjo type instruments.
I recently was given a farm-fresh, real-deal Banjo. This thing came to me with 4 rusted strings, fragile tuners that feel like they will break at the slightest hard tweak, and a nasty-twisted neck. Surprisingly enough, I was actually able to tune the rusted strings to a quarter step below F (f-C-F-A) and the thing actually hold tune (for the most part). It still has a great sound, despite the condition this thing's in.
Knowing of 4-string "Banjuitars" and even 4 string Dixieland-style banjos... What do people prefer? Is it okay to mix things up (doing a 4-string Banjo-like instrument, but fretting it like a Dulcimer)? Should a Cookie Tin Banjo have 4 or 5 strings? I see where there's a guy (pretty sure a member here) who shows on YouTube how to add the 5th string shelf and tuner to a 4-string Banjo.
I like to make and sell these instruments I make (even though I now crave having a few different ones of my own and need to stop selling some of the ones I have made for myself). This banjo, as roached as it is, is still really cool and still sounds great to me (you might say amazing if you saw it in the condition its in). I plan on keeping it for sure, just will use it for measurements to make some other cool stringed instruments.
I know the whole thing of "no rules". I'm just looking to see what folk's thoughts are on the different instruments reminiscent of a Banjo, or ones with the letters, "Jo" associated with them.
What makes a banjo a banjo? It's a good question! Most definitions make "a hollow, round body with a membrane stretched over the top" the primary factor. The number of strings, specific tuning, and other features vary widely.
HOWEVER... My personal definition comes down to one thing: The fifth string. You know -- that high drone top string, with its own special tuner that sticks out of the neck above a sexy little shoulder near the fifth fret. THAT'S what makes a banjo a banjo. If it has that, then the body can be, yes, even a cigar box, or anything else. Disagree if you like; but know that I'm practically always right. You think I'm kidding about all this? Well, I am. But not completely.
Thanks for your response. No offense at all, but I hope others chime in as well.
So, I mentioned that the banjo I was given only has 4 strings (it's missing the very bottom string from the 4 connected to the tuners on the head stock). I am wondering, what if I only did a 4 stringer, but instead of the shelf, I just put I high G on top). What if I made the "sexy little shoulder" smaller and purely decorative, with no tuner... just a shape that is reminiscent of the old minstrel banjos. What if I fretted it like a dulcimer instead of a banjo?
I don't doubt it would sound good, but just wonder the validity of the function over the form. I know I am overthinking this, but it's what I do. I like making things that are cool looking and completely functional all at the same time. I am just wondering how much of the "no rules" mentality has, or would, cause issues with what people truly think of an instrument like a banjo.