Von: [log in to unmask] (Bob DeVellis)
An: [log in to unmask]


     As a former list subscriber (1994-1995), I know and respect the
wisdom that this group possesses and would like your help.  I'm
interested in the use of the mandolin banjo in Irish traditional
music.  Cairan Carson, among others, mention its inclusion in
sessions, but I've never encountered it in live or recorded
performances or sessions that I can recall.  In many ways, it seems
very well-suited to sessions because it is, essentially, a louder
instrument capable of handling the mandolin repertoire.  In fact, that
was how it came into existence -- when larger ensembles of musicians
began drowning out the hordes of mandolin players who had dominated
American popular music in the 1910's.  Banjo manufacturers noted the
reluctance of mandolinists to learn the fingering needed for a
five-string banjo and seized the obvious marketing opportunity of
making a banjo-type (and thus, loud) instrument that a mandolinist
could immediately pick up and play.  Of course, it eventually lost out
to the tenor banjo, also tuned to fifths like a mandolin, which is now
well entrenched in Irish traditional music.

     Does anyone know of individuals or groups incorporated the
mandolin banjo into their playing of trad music, either in the past or

     Does anyone have any thoughts on why this seemingly suitable
instrument isn't played more in Irtrad?

     I've noticed recently that quite nice examples of these
instruments can be had for several hundred dollars whereas equally
nice mandolins sell for about 3 or 4 times as much.  My assessment is
that this has little to do with the intrinsic worth of the two but
merely reflects differences in demand.  A Vega/Fairbanks Whyte Laydie
mandolin banjo (pretty much the top of the manufacturer's line in the
1920's) costs a fraction of what a Gibson A1 mandolin (pretty much the
bottom of the manufacturer's line) costs.  As the owner of both, I
have some appreciation for their relative merits and this supports my
hunch that demand is the only real basis for the price difference.
     Given that mandolin banjos are fairly plentiful, fairly cheap,
instantly playable by mandolin players, arguably better suited
dynamically to session playing, and produce a sound that fits in
nicely with other instruments in Irish music, why is it so overlooked?

     I'd really appreciate the thoughts of anyone who would like to
share them.  Since email overload has necessitated my unsubscribing
from the list, please respond to me directly instead of, or in
addition to, list posting.


Bob DeVellis
[log in to unmask]
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
(919) 966-0557

Bob DeVellis
[log in to unmask]
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
(919) 966-0557