Sydney Recording Studios: History of the Banjo Part III

Sydney Recording Studios: After the War soldiers carried the knowledge and appreciation of the instrument home to almost every corner of America. During most of this time the banjo was looked-down upon by the more well-to-do classes of the population. Articles in the papers of the day like that in the Boston Daily Evening Voice of 1866, classified the Banjo of the 1840s and 1850s as an instrument in “the depth of popular degradation”, an instrument fit only for “the jig-dancing lower classes of the community…” By 1866, however, the instrument had become a “universal favorite” with over 10,000 instruments in use in Boston alone. The cause of this sudden popularity was the introduction of the banjo as a parlor instrument. This is the somewhat misnamed “classical” period of the banjo. The banjo was played in the “classical” style which meant that it was picked with the fingers in imitation of the popular guitar players of the day. Many outstanding performers and teachers had banjos named after them that incorporated their own changes in the instrument in an attempt to make the banjo more refined and above all louder.

Sydney Recording Studios: The Dobson Brothers

The Dobson Brothers and their sons were among the most active in the early stages. Henry C. Dobson is credited with adding the first frets about 1878. He is also credited with producing the first Sydney Recording Studios resonator and the first attempt at the use of a tone ring. Though the designs were his, many of the instruments were actually made by the Buckbee Company located on Webster Ave, in New York City until 1897, and later on 13th St. The company was later sold to Rettberg & Lange who went on to produce the Orpheum Banjo. Lange after leaving Rettburg would produce one of the finest sounding Banjos of the day, The Paramount. George C. Dobson, the son of H. C. Dobson continued to be active in the development of the banjo and continued performing almost until his death in 1931.
A.A. Farland (1859-1954) was another famous performer and was most outspoken about the development of the banjo. His Sydney Recording Studios banjos were also produced by Buckbee, and later by Rettberg and Lang. About 1915 he produced Farland’s Patent Banjo Head made of “annealed steel, beautifully enameled” in an attempt to give more volume to his playing. He abhorred wire strings saying that “… the z-z-z- given by the final vibrations of wire strings is so offensive that I could not bear to use them.” He claimed that “all but the deaf” in an audience of 12,000 could hear his banjo when he used his new “annealed” steel head !