Banjo Origins

The origin of the banjo is the plucked Spiked Lute of West Africa

The Spiked Lute has a drum-like body made of gourd, an animal hide is stretched over the top creating the soundboard. The neck features a fretless round pole that extends the entire length of the body to the tail end of the gourd. A moveable floating bridge sits over the head. The strings are attached to the end of the pole (tailpiece), strung over the bridge and attached to sliding tuning rings, looped around the neck.

Winians, Robert. Banjo Roots and Branches (Urbana: University of Illinois Press) 2018.

The Banjo we know today is directly related to the African Dispora to the New World

The banjo is a interculturation of European and West African Traditions

The earliest known documentation of a gourd Banjo was an illustration by a White British Doctor, Sir Hans Sloane in Jamaica, 1687. Sloane observed enslaved blacks played "several sorts of Instruments in imitation of Lutes, made of small Gourds fitted with Necks".

Winians, Robert. Banjo Roots and Branches (Urbana: University of Illinois Press) 2018. pp 8

This early gourd banjo features:

  • gourd body

  • animal hide soundboard

  • carved wooden neck with a flat fretless    fingerboard

  • wooden tuning pegs

 (Image Source: SLOANE2, www.slaveryimages.org). From Sir Hans Sloane's "A Voyage to the Islands of Madera, Barbados, Nieves, S. Christopher and Jamaica" (1707).

to be continued... site under construction!

ABOUT RENAN BANJOS

RENAN BANJOS (Pronounced REE-Nan) are hand crafted in Richmond, Virginia, by Tyler Burke.  Named after Renan, Virginia - a small community at the foot of the Blue Ridge Mountains where Tyler's family has roots.

 

What Renan Banjos offers:

  • Quality craftsmanship and playability

  • Lifetime Warranty on all wood parts

  • Wood sourced locally and responsibly

  • Richlite Fingerboards and Overlays

  • Value placed in reuse and recycled materials

  • Hardware made in North America, Gotoh Tuners made in Japan

 

Where Renan Banjos is going:

 

What is the aesthetic of the 21st Century Banjo?

Every Renan Banjo begins with a sketch. I am inspired by the world around me and often pull ideas from architecture and visual art.  Each banjo should be an original and a reflection of my artistic spirit. I place importance in the materials and how they are organized. I like to spend equal time building as I do with finishing and set-up.

Renan Banjos is a careful mastery or art and engineering.

ABOUT THE BUILDER

Tyler's background is rooted in the visual arts and woodworking.  Raised in Virginia and educated at the Art Institute of Chicago, he has worked in and around the entertainment industry and in custom woodworking, milling, and cabinetry for over 10 years.

 

I am influenced by all types of art and that conveys in what I make. To me, the construction of an instrument is just as important as its sound. I put careful consideration into composition, wood choice, patina, pattern, materials and aesthetics.  My desire is to make simple, yet elegant, banjos, which often requires a painstaking editing processes.  I’m seeking to make the best possible instrument, one banjo at at a time."

 

– J. Tyler Burke

My own style of playing is rooted in the traditions of Round Peak clawhammer banjo. Early on, I was drawn to the recordings of Tommy Jarrell, Kyle Creed & Fred Cockerham. Though self taught intially, along the journey I befriended Dwight Diller, who I regard as one of the finest contemporary Banjo & Fiddle masters. What is most striking about Diller's teachings is how deceptively simple mastering 'rhythm' can be. He has perfected the art of creating 'the background', highlighting the silences & 'notes in between' the melody. This background brings context, drama and haunting attitude to West Virginia traditional music. His teachings have no doubt effected how I attack my own clawhammer style. 

A lot of what I listen to, influences the type of banjo I want to build.

Some of my favorite artists include;

Adam Hurt, Jake Blount, Dwight Diller, Roscoe Holcomb, Mike Seeger, Back-Step, Greg Hooven, Tommy Jarrell, Eddie Bond, Chicken Train, Roan Mountain Hilltoppers, The Dry Hill Draggers, The Black Twig Pickers

Way back, when I got the banjo bug...I was all-in for Enoch Tradesman Banjos. I started saving my pennies. Then along came 'North American Banjo Builders Series' by Craig Frailin' Evans and I got the crazy notion that I'd build me a fretless banjo. The first Renan banjo build started around 2009 and was constructed in a Chicago Scene Shop with a bandsaw & table saw. The maple neck was carved with a drawknife and bastard file and the peghead holes reamed with a violin peg reamer. The maple pot is a hex construction with a thin wood soundboard, the fingerboard is Goncalo Alves (tigerwood), it is the only Renan Banjo that features a brass I.D. on the dowel. Walks and talks like a duck.

 

Inspiration for that banjo was found in the book: 'Musical Instruments of Southern Appalachian Mountains' by John Rice Irwin.

Established 2015

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