Peghead Nation instructor Steve Baughman demonstrates his fretless gourd banjo.
by Teja Gerken
June 22, 2020
Fretless banjos made with a gourd body are among the earliest examples of the instrument. Going back to the banjo’s African roots, the design has countless variations, with a raw sound easily distinguished from later banjo designs. Although more known for his innovative fingerstyle and clawhammer guitar playing, Peghead Nation Clawhammer Guitar instructor Steve Baughman also frequently performs and records on banjo. While in the Peghead Nation studio to record lessons for his Clawhammer Guitar course, he also took time to demo his Bob Thornburg gourd banjo.
Based in Bishop, California, Bob Thornburg (who recently retired from instrument building) specialized in building early banjo styles, and he continues to run his website, gourdbanjos.com, which includes information about previous builds and information about this type of instrument. Steve’s instrument has a medium-sized gourd and is configured with a five-string neck. The banjo has an animal skin head stretched over the gourd and attached with tacks. It has simple friction tuning pegs, and is strung with nylon strings. As is typical for this early banjo style, the neck and fingerboard are made from a single piece of wood.
Steve likes to use the banjo for old-time tunes and to accompany his vocals. It’s the main instrument he used for his solo gourd banjo album Shootout at Convict Lake, and he recently used it for a duet recording with Peghead Nation Irish Mandolin instructor Marla Fibish, guesting on the medley of “Ard Aoibhinn/The Hunter’s Purse” on her new album The Bright Hollow Fog.
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