I 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.