Here is a pic of my Banjeaurine sitting  next to my full scale banjo. The Banjeaurine is a 1908, Cole, Eclipse and the Banjo is a 2006, Bart Reider.  You might come across little, short neck banjos in your travels, but they are typically 4 string models. Often an "Irish Tenor Banjo" or just a Tenor Banjo.  Note the both models in the pic  below have the short 5th string peg. Please read below for some background.

The Banjeaurine, also known as Banjourine or Banjorine, was a part of Banjo Orchestras from the 1890s to the 1930s. They have shorter necks than traditional 5-string banjos, and are tuned a 4th higher, in C. There were normally 2 of these instruments in a banjo orchestra.

A banjo manufacturer named Samuel Swaim Stewart, also called S.S., invented the banjeaurine. From Philadelphia, Stewart advertised the banjeaurine and this instrument became a critical part of banjo orchestras. The banjeaurine first hit the music scene in 1885. In banjo orchestras, the banjeaurine was responsible for the majority of the solos in musical pieces. The banjeaurine has a short neck with a scale between 19" and 20", a fretboard extension that is cantilevered over the head, and either 17 or 19 frets. It is a higher pitched version of the conventional 5 string banjo. Most banjorines, especially early ones, have rims that are 12" to 12-1/2" diameter. Later models may have 11" rims, a size which became a standard banjo rim size during the late 1920s. The top of the body is made out of skins, and has an open back without a resonator. The banjeaurine has five strings; one is shorter than the others, called a thumb string. The concept of the banjeaurine is very similar to that of the banjo.

Banjeaurines were most notably constructed by S.S. Stewart, but were offered by most major banjo manufacturers, including Washburn, Fairbanks, Fairbanks & Cole, Cole, Vega, Weyman, Schall, Thompson & Odell, Kraske, Lyon & Healy, and many others.

BANJO - General History

The banjo, an instrument with roots in Africa and many other parts of the world, has played a vital and volatile role in America’s musical history. It’s found a home in the parlors of the wealthy and on the porches of the destitute. It’s been in and out of fashion, sometimes signaling sophistication and other times symbolizing backwardness. In the right hands it has brought comfort, and in the wrong hands it has trivialized the suffering of the wretched. For centuries, it’s brought joy to American musicians and their audiences.

European explorers encountered the “gourd with neck and strings” on expeditions to Africa, and African slaves brought versions of the instrument to the New World by 1620, several sources have said. Banjo-like instruments proliferated during the days of slavery in America, with early versions made from calabash gourds and animal-skin heads attached with nails or tacks. Some had a flat, fretless neck, and many had three or four strings made of whatever material was at hand.

Banjos and Minstrel Shows

As early as 1769, white minstrels impersonated African American musicians by playing banjos and performing in blackface. By the 1840s, minstrel shows had gained great popularity and Joel Walker Sweeney, a white minstrel performer, had become famous for his proficiency on the banjo. Some historians consider Sweeney the first musician to use the drum-like configuration of the modern day banjo, though other authorities dispute that claim.

While Sweeny’s portrayal of African Americans was nothing short of appalling, he contributed a lot to American music. He was the first performer to use the banjo in a professional setting. He wasn’t the first to employ the fifth string, but he popularized it. Before long, other players were adding a fifth string, the shortest on a banjo and typically used to produce a drone note. Sweeney inspired other musicians to take up the banjo, and he even worked with a Baltimore drum maker to produce banjos for sale to the public. Other manufacturers who capitalized on the banjo’s newfound popularity included David Jacobs of New York and Charles Morrell in San Francisco.

Although Sweeney and his contemporaries introduced the banjo to a wider audience, the Civil War became the true catalyst for the instrument’s popularity. The conflict brought people from throughout the nation into close contact, exposing many to the banjo for the first time. In some regions, the instrument had been familiar only in barrooms and race tracks before the war.

It was also roughly around that time that white musicians in Appalachia began adapting European folk songs and fiddle tunes to the banjo, resulting in the traditions explored and modified in the 1940s and the folk music boom of the ‘60s.

Many trace the source of all modern original American music to the combination of fiddle and banjo. Director Martin Scorsese showed black and white musical traditions intertwining to form American music in a scene in his fictional film “Gangs of New York,” in which a fiddle and banjo player entertain in a 19th-century pub.

History Blog