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Woody's FAIRBANKS AND COLE 
OPEN-BACK FRAILING BANJO PAGE

SN: 5299  1885
  
    Based on the serial number stamped both inside the drum and on the dowel stick, 
our Fairbanks and Cole (F&C) banjo SN: 5299 was built in mid-to-late1885 at Boston, MA (USA).

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Long before Orville Gibson was carving mandolins (late 1890s), long before the Gibson musical instrument company was incorporated (October 1902), long before Les Paul released his first recordings (1936), American music had the open-back banjo. 
First seen in the United States perhaps in the late 1600s, they were popular as an economical instrument for people on a budget. 
During the mid-1800s, however, they become popular across all economic classes.

In 1875, Albert Conant Fairbanks was making basic 5-string banjos but, starting around 1880, Fairbanks teamed with a prominent musician, William Cole, to create and sell banjos that rivaled the best available at the time. Their relationship lasted until 1890 during which time they apparently created and sold about 9000 banjos.

The Corporate Trail according to  http://www.mugwumps.com/acf_date.htm:   Apparently, the corporate trail was loosely: AC Fairbanks 1875-1880, Fairbanks and Cole 1880-1890, 1890-1914 Fairbanks eventually became known as Vega (apparently also built some banjos for SS Stewart from 1903 to 1914). Vega made banjos until 1970 when it was eventually bought by the CF Martin Guitar Company. Martin sold the company in 1980 to an Asian import company that eventually sold Vega to Deering Banjo Company where they are currently made in California.
   

Since these banjos were predominately hand made, I have found that the dowel rod/neck assembly pretty well maps to the drum. A dowel from one banjo will not necessarily fit correctly onto a different drum, they should be considered a matched set - as is confirmed by the fact that both the dowel (neck) and drum units should have matching serial numbers.

Earlier F&C models did not have names but may have had model numbers 
(I am looking for additional information on that possibility... any one have any info on that?).

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CLICK TO SEE OTHER F&C BANJOS
(Under development)
CLICK TO SEE PREHISTORIC IVORY FRICTION TUNERS - I am looking for a source for these

 

 

 

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STRINGING THE 5-string FAIRBANKS AND COLE BANJO
Many times you will see old banjos strung with steel strings.
This type of string was not really out until about 1900.
Originally, this banjo would have been fitted with a type of Cat Gut string.
Putting steel strings on this old an instrument is really not a good idea.
There were no truss rods inside the neck and the strain that steel strings can place on the neck could potentially permanently harm it.
Woody uses Aquila Classical Banjo strings.
us$9 from JustStrings.com .
A word of caution here:  Generically, the 4th (white) string actually is a wound steel string.
It is possible to get the set as "All Nylgut" but you may need to specify this and/or order it directly from the wholesaler.
The salesperson may argue that they are not available, but they are (it is what I use).
The strings are also available from dustystrings.com .

THIS BANJO's HISTORY
This Fairbanks and Cole banjo had belonged first to my Great-Grandmother, Annie Harrison.
Wife of Rochdale, MA town constable Walker Woodhead, she died when my grandfather, Arthur, was nine-years-old (buried at Rochdale).  
At her death, the banjo was passed to Arthur who continued to master it.
Dr. Arthur E. Woodhead (born 1888 in Rochdale, MA.), went on to be a Zoology professor at the University of Michigan, (Ann Arbor, MI) in the early to mid 1900's. 
Banjos had apparently found a niche market among New England's women in the mid-to-late 1800s. We believe Arthur had been originally tutored by his mother. 
He likely played the banjo in his youth at his church, Christ Episcopal in Rochdale - where he and his family were actively involved.

Below Left: Dr. Arthur E. Woodhead in his younger years

Above right: Arthur E. Woodhead (see arrow) played this banjo (although not pictured here) and sang in the University of Michigan Glee Club

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  The pictures below show the way we received the banjo from my cousin, Ron.
When it had been given to him by his mother, Virginia (Woodhead) Massey (Arthur's oldest daughter) it was in very poor shape.

Below left: Woody (great-grandson of the banjo's original owner, Annie) inspecting the 1885 banjo the day it was received

 

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PERFORMANCES
Woody playing Arthur's 1885 Fairbanks and Cole banjo at a Franktown, Colorado bluegrass jam in 2010.
Woody with Arthur's 1885 F&C banjo at a Franktown, Colorado bluegrass "Gospel Jam" in 2010

Below: Faded signature of Arthur E. Woodhead on the back of the original head (upper right of head).
Although told repeatedly prior to and during restoration efforts, the head was carelessly thrown away by the luthier during his work.


     

Above right: Athur E. Woodhead's son RALPH (seated, right) and grandson Woody (standing, left) 
with the restored banjo.
Ralph remembers the banjo laying in a corner of the family home in Ann Arbor, Michigan.

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FAIRBANKS & COLE BANJOS SERIAL NUMBERS:

77..............................691.................1880
983.............................1868................1881
1920............................2666................1882
2854............................3647................1883
4022............................4698................1884
4753............................5503................1885
5735............................6468................1886
6760............................7317................1887
7849............................8460................1888
9041............................9221................1889
Based on the chart (above), our banjo SN: 5299 was built in mid-to-late1885

 

FROM THE WEB PAGE AT:

 http://www.oldtimeherald.org/archive/back_issues/volume-8/8-2/full-banjo-on-her-knee.html 

Historical evidence and photographs clearly document the fact that middle-class women in the Northeast were swept up in the banjo craze of the late 19th century. 
With the advent of mass-produced instruments by S. S. Stewart, Fairbanks, and Cole, banjo manufacturers in the 19th century consciously and successfully shifted the cultural appeal of the instrument away from its association with the oftentimes bawdy minstrel or medicine show and into the hands of those middle-class women and men who could afford a store-bought banjo constructed with elaborately engraved metal rims, inlayed ivory and mother-of-pearl fretboards and heads, and intricately carved heel stocks. 
Banjo clubs for men and women sprang up in the "Ivy League" colleges across the United States.
In 1893, the famed artist Mary Cassat even used the image of the banjo in her painting "The Banjo Lesson," which depicted "the modern woman" of the late 19th century as a genteel young mother strumming her instrument while her attentive daughter gazes over her shoulder. 
Ironically, what had originally been an instrument invented by slaves along the Eastern seaboard now was a signifier for white, liberated women of middle-class America. 
Even the most popular model of the early 20th century, the "Whyte Laydie" by A. C. Fairbanks, was given its name in obvious reference to its intended users—white, sophisticated women and men of means.

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FRAILING BANJO STYLE as defined at: 
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Clawhammer

Clawhammer vs. frailing

While the terms "clawhammer" and "frailing" can be used interchangeably, other old-time players draw a distinction between the two. On the banjo, frailing most commonly means always picking the drone string, while clawhammer allows the picking of other strings with the thumb, which is also called "drop thumbing". Some players further distinguish between "drop thumb" and "clawhammer", in which the thumb plays rhythm in drop thumb, but melody in clawhammer. There are yet more variations of the distinction between "clawhammer" and "frailing", but they all refer to the same general style of playing. The term "double thumbing" is sometimes used interchangeably with "drop thumbing", though double thumbing refers specifically to striking the fifth string after every beat rather than every other beat, while drop thumbing refers to dropping the thumb from the 5th drone string down to strike a melody note.

Confusing the nomenclature further are the terms that are used for perceived variations on the method. These include "flailing," "knockdown", "banging," "rapping," "frapping", "beating," and "clubbing." This is reflective of the informality of old-time music in general, as each player develops an idiomatic style.

Some have noted a general tendency towards more traditional and rhythmically-oriented frailing styles in the South, particularly in North Carolina, and a general tendency towards more melodically intricate styles in New England. The clawhammer banjo style of Boston banjo virtuoso Ken Perlman, for example, is highly melodic and uses the thumb extensively to play long single-note lines that use the drone string more for melody notes than for rhythmic accent. Some clawhammer banjo aficionados (including Perlman) have argued that melodic clawhammer banjo techniques are more traditional and ancient than many advocates of the frailing style suppose.

Below: Some pictures of 19th century banjo players.

 

From a web page at: 

http://banjo-site.com/E-zine_pdfs/December_2007_ezine.pdf 

ADDITIONAL LINKS:

Some great banjo information at Mugwumps.com

Frets.com Museum

Some Banjo history

General Fairbanks and Cole information

DO YOU HAVE A PHOTOGRAPH OF YOU WITH YOUR FAIRBANKS AND COLE BANJO YOU COULD email ME?
I WOULD LIKE TO POST IT ON THE WEB PAGE HERE AS WELL AS WHATEVER INFORMATION ABOUT YOUR BANJO YOU MAY HAVE.

CLICK HERE FOR THE MAIN 4L RANCH WEB PAGE

SN: 5299  1885      2007 AEW via RMassey  0

Contact WOODY for questions or comments about this page via  email. 
All personal comments and pictures copyright 1996-2016 - R. Linwood (4L RANCH)
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Since 16 Nov 2009:


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