the bizarre mini-banjo instrumentI have seen my share of strange instruments.

I’ve even seen something similar to the instrument there on the left (if you must know, the closest thing to it was a custom-made, 8-stringed instrument with a supertiny snare drum head I once came across while in Cork city).

I walked into the Shack a couple of weeks ago and the owner asked me to open a strange triangular case and tell him what the instrument inside of it was. I did so and found within the instrument you see there on your left. Ostensibly, this is a banjo with a very short neck and a slightly smaller than full-size snare drum head.

“Well, what is it?” he asked. I affected a learned expression.

“That, my friend, is a Banjolin, also known as a Banjola.” Chuckles erupted along the bar.

“Not a mando-banjo, then,” someone volunteered.

“Or a Manjo!” someone else piped up.

“Good man, Joe!” A third voice joked.

“Actually,” I said, seriously, “I don’t know what you’d call it. I guess it’s a small 4-string banjo – you could call it a tenor banjo, I suppose – but really, I’ve no idea.”

“Well,” said the owner, “a fella came in the other day, tuned that up – just like a mandolin, he says – and played us a tune on it. Go on there, play us a tune!”

I don’t actually play banjo at all and, having no idea how this particular instrument SHOULD be tuned, I was a bit taken aback. On the other hand, the Shack is a great place and I always find it wise to oblige one’s publican.

It was a minor struggle getting the tuning pegs to cooperate – they’re wooden dowels dropped right into wooden holes; a configuration that makes for neither easy turning nor great stability once you’ve coaxed them to a particular tension. I managed – gingerly and fearing a snap at any second because I noted the strings were actually guitar strings that had been cut down and tightened much higher than they were meant to be – to get it into a rough mandolin tuning. Now, I’m a lousy mandolin player and don’t know a single Irish melody even if I wasn’t, so I faked Johnny Cash’s Folsom Prison Blues, which went over pretty well.

Then, grabbing my pint I brought the little thingeemabobber up to where the session would be starting later in hopes that a more adept player might make use of it . . . whatever it is.