Please go to the bottom of the page to see videos of all my banjos being played. You will probably notice that my right hand is deformed. I was born with Poland's Syndrome. You can learn more about Poland's Syndrome here.
Banjos originated in Africa and came over to North America through the slave trade. It was originally called a banjar, and had just four strings compared to the five string models that are found in Appalachia today.
Below are videos of my banjo collection. The banjo in the first video was built by Clifford Glenn of Sugar Grove, North Carolina in 1996. It represents how banjos would have looked in Appalachia in the mid-19th century. It is made of cherry wood, including the pot, and the tuning pegs are made of black walnut. The head of the banjo (the white circle) is made of goat skin.
The banjo in the second video was built by Leonard Glenn, Clifford's father, in 1986. It represents how banjos would have looked in Appalachia in the late 19th century. The pot is metal, the neck consists of maple, rosewood, black walnut, and redwood. The head of this banjo is made of calf skin.
The third banjo was built by Stanley Hicks of Vilas, North Carolina. It is made of cherry wood (including the tuning pegs). The head is made of groundhog skin.
The forth banjo was built by Dave Holzer of West Fargo, North Dakota. Dave and I are two of the founding members of the Ogg Creek Stringband. The pot is cherry. The neck is mahogany from a shipping pallet. The fretboard is rosewood. Dave made the brackets out of bolts and square nuts. The shell inlay is a dragon. The head is calf skin.
The major difference between these banjos and the banjos that are played in modern day bluegrass bands is that they have skin heads when bluegrass models have plastic heads for a brighter tone. These banjos also have an open back where bluegrass models have a wooden shell or resonator on the back to project sound better.
Bluegrass banjos are typically played with a three finger style that originated in the 20th century. Traditional banjo music would have been played with one finger and a thumb, or clawhammer. Clawhammer originated at least 250 years ago.