Ken Longfield
Ken Longfield
@ken-longfield
3 weeks ago
1,107 posts

The reference to long neck banjos being folk banjos probably harks back to Pete Seeger elongating the neck of his banjo by three frets. Many of the banjo players in folk groups in the late 1950s and 60s copied this and banjo manufacturers such as Gibson and Vega offered long neck models. My first banjo was a Gibson RB175 long neck. Unfortunately my arms were too short to continue playing it. I liked the sound of that banjo. Maybe some day I will find an RB170 for sale that I can afford. It's the short neck version of the long neck "folk" banjo.

Ken

"The dulcimer sings a sweet song." 

NateBuildsToys
NateBuildsToys
@nate
3 weeks ago
264 posts

iwbiek:

Hello! I live in Europe (born and raised in KY) and today I was browsing the website of a chain of music stores here called "Muziker." I was intrigued by the fact that their acoustic guitar section was divided into three sections: "dreadnought," "jumbo," and "folk." The first two were self-explanatory, but I was curious about the third. It seemed to be mostly parlor and 0-shaped guitars, with one very pretty archtop thrown in. Furthermore, I've heard banjo players here refer to longnecked banjos as "folk banjos." The plot thickens.

 
All three of those are guitar "shapes" but its pretty weird that those would be the three categories. I'm guessing to them, folk guitar denotes a smaller body size, intended for more intimate performance? That would be in contrast to jumbo or dreadnought which are two larger styles, but with different shaped shapes and structure. Just a guess.


updated by @nate: 06/02/24 06:38:04PM
iwbiek
@iwbiek
3 weeks ago
5 posts

Strumelia:

What is a folk instrument is very much like the question "what is folk music"... it's a question that can be difficult to exactly define, and can be kind of subjective. 

 

I always appreciated Big Bill Broonzy's definition: "All the songs I ever heard were folk songs, I never heard horses singin' any of 'em."

iwbiek
@iwbiek
3 weeks ago
5 posts

Hello! I live in Europe (born and raised in KY) and today I was browsing the website of a chain of music stores here called "Muziker." I was intrigued by the fact that their acoustic guitar section was divided into three sections: "dreadnought," "jumbo," and "folk." The first two were self-explanatory, but I was curious about the third. It seemed to be mostly parlor and 0-shaped guitars, with one very pretty archtop thrown in. Furthermore, I've heard banjo players here refer to longnecked banjos as "folk banjos." The plot thickens.

Strumelia
Strumelia
@strumelia
3 weeks ago
2,269 posts

What is a folk instrument is very much like the question "what is folk music"... it's a question that can be difficult to exactly define, and can be kind of subjective. 

I think this may be helpful:

Here is Wiki's definition of "folk music".

And here is Wiki's definition of "folk instrument".




--
Site Owner

Those irritated by grain of sand best avoid beach.
-Strumelia proverb c.1990
NateBuildsToys
NateBuildsToys
@nate
3 weeks ago
264 posts

Gstringer:

Since I come from simple folk, it was explained to me quite simply:  a folk instrument wasn’t a commercial instrument, and widely available.

 
I agree, and also I think modern consumerism has really blurred the lines with this. Folk art is very popular and nowadays you can readily find folk instruments sold at music shops, often as a gimmick.
My local music shop sells jaw harps branded with Snoopy from Charlie Brown, spoons connected at the handles, as well as neckties made out of washboard material. They also sell fancy cigar box guitars with 2 rows of pickups and had a washtub bass with a fretboard. In stores, I have seen at least a dozen guitars that use a license place as a soundboard, and have never once seen a person play one in real life. 
There are also tons of extremely fancy highly modern banjos stylized to look more folksy or traditional, typically by making them fretless, or tackhead, or by using a gourd. I can't help but laugh at the irony in a fretless tackhead gourd banjo with mother of pearl fret marker inlays. 


updated by @nate: 06/01/24 03:40:39PM
Gstringer
Gstringer
@gstringer
3 weeks ago
35 posts

For @Susie….

A joke often told in my family,

What’s the difference between a folk musician and a large pizza? 
A large pizza can feed a family of four. (Ooooo!  My apologies)

Gstringer
Gstringer
@gstringer
3 weeks ago
35 posts

Since I come from simple folk, it was explained to me quite simply:  a folk instrument wasn’t a commercial instrument, and widely available. It was made by folks who wanted music in their lives. Similar (albeit more complicated a build) to spoons, washboards and jugs. Now, most instruments (ie, kalimba, djembe, cajon, dulcimer, etc) are widely used in commercial recordings, by professional musicians.  Folk is a state of mind.

Susie
Susie
@susie
3 weeks ago
504 posts

Reminds me of of a joke.

A violinist changes their strings, while a fiddler changes their strangs!

NateBuildsToys
NateBuildsToys
@nate
3 weeks ago
264 posts

What makes it a folk instrument? Being played by folks, of course! Not fancy musicianers or college educated theoreticians, or masters of stage.... just folks. Lol, but seriously I think that the interpersonal nature of folk tradition and instruction really defines a folk instrument, like Dusty said.

I also think that, more importantly, folk music and folk instrument tend to be words that people self describe with, denoting a modesty and sincerity to either the style of music or to the instrument. The word "folk" tells me that I can expect music that is intimate and genuine and not under some allusion of being excessively formal or pretentious.


updated by @nate: 05/31/24 06:51:14PM
Wally Venable
Wally Venable
@wally-venable
3 weeks ago
72 posts

I'll go along with three "keys" to being a folk instrument:

(1) Not usually encountered in a standardized form, with variations limited to size and materials.

(2) Not formally taught in conservatories (or equivalent) over a multi-year period.

(3) Not typically used to play from written scores in standard notation.

Using an instrument to play "folk music" doesn't make it a "folk instrument." Mozart played the country music of his day rather well, as I recall, and I think he jammed as well.

Things get complicated, though. I think the Russian Balalaika is still probably classified as a folk instrument, although it fails all three of my tests.

Dwain Wilder
Dwain Wilder
@dwain-wilder
3 weeks ago
64 posts

I think Dusty hits it square in the middle.

But an exploration of the edges brings me to feel "folk" vs "some other kind" is notional, communal, and somewhat conventional —and more than a bit bizarre and ultimately uninteresting. I remember the '90s, for instance when arguments raged about the 'rightness' of putting a 6-1/2 fret on a dulcimer. The addition robbed the dulcimer of its folk status for some people, and cast it into some undefined state in which they seemed to imagine the proponents wanted to play chords and render Broadway hits music, which outraged them.

And that did come to pass! And some dulcimers are now commissioned as chromatic, not diatonic instruments at all. Blue Grass, jazz, renditions of classical music are arranged for dulcimers, either diatonic, altered diatonic or chromatice. DF#A is a well-known tuning scheme for playing Broadway musicals.

Another such edge is the status of the banjo, the ukulele, the African kalimba (thumb piano).

There are serious stylists and accomplished masters of all these instruments, yet only a few can walk onto a stage for an evening's solo concert and come away with much more cash than enough to pay their hotel and travel expenses.

That seems to imply another 'edge' to the consideration of whether an instrument is 'folk' or is somehow otherwise meant for 'serious' music —in other words, music people are willing to pay $50-$100 for a ticket.

In the world of rock, pop music, currently, people are paying truly fabulous amounts for leading singers and bands, while other very worthwhile, serious musicians keep squeaking by financially for the love of the music. Yet no consideration is in evidence about whether they are 'folk performers' or not. Is what Taylor Swift sings 'folk?' Nobody cares about the answer.

In sum, I think the love of the music is a much more interesting way to consider an instrument, those who play it, and the breadth of its repertoire, than whether it is a folk instrument. In the end, isn't any instrument available to and actively used by ordinary people a folk instrument?

BTW, a good friend of mine is a master of the hammer dulcimer.  She made her first mountain dulcimer in my basement—while playing the French horn in high school. And she may still have a French horn. I'll have to ask her sometime.


updated by @dwain-wilder: 05/31/24 05:09:35PM
Dusty Turtle
Dusty Turtle
@dusty
3 weeks ago
1,738 posts

Interesting question. I think at the core of the answer is the manner of transmission.  Classical music is taught in schools and conservatories.  Folk music is transmitted informally and orally, within families and communities.  A guitar can be a folk instrument but might also be a classical instrument. Same with violin/fiddle.  French horn?  Definitely not a folk instrument.  But there is no corpus of dulcimer music taught at the New England Conservatory of music.  The music is passed on in dulcimer jams and--until tab became ubiquitous--entirely by listening and observing.




--
Dusty T., Northern California
Site Moderator

As a musician, you have to keep one foot back in the past and one foot forward into the future.
-- Dizzy Gillespie
Homer Ross
Homer Ross
@homer-ross
3 weeks ago
18 posts

Both dulcimers are considered a folk instrument. Why is that? What makes an instrument a folk instrument? Is it the builders of the instrument (professional luthiers vs everyday builders), the people who play the instrument (lack of formal concerts) or something else? How does a folk instrument...say a guitar change status and become a instrument of higher regard in some circles? Looking forward to everyone's thoughts.