Instrument Interview: The Creole Bania, the Oldest Existing Banjo

“Instrument Interview” posts are a chance to sit down with the instruments of traditional, country, bluegrass, and roots music – from different types of instruments to specific ones related to artists, luthiers, and songwriters – and learn more about them. Ten questions are posed, and the instruments answer! Today we talk with the Creole bania.

What ARE you?

I’m a banjo! I know I don’t exactly look like the banjos you think of today, but I’m actually the earliest known banjo that still exists. I was made sometime before 1777, and at that time, banjos were made of gourds and calabashes.

Since you’re so different from the banjos we know today, describe yourself to us.

My body is a calabash, and my drumhead is made of animal skin held on with wooden pins. I have two S-shaped sound holes (kind of like a fiddle). I also have three long strings and one short string and a very nicely carved peghead. My neck is thinner than banjos today, and it is made of wood.

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