The Mighty Canjo

The CanjoIf you are scouring the Internet looking for a place where you can buy a canjo, I can tell you that there is at least one outlet: Gatlinburg, Tennessee.

A canjo, I have learned, is a one-stringed fretted instrument whose sound is somewhat remeniscent of a banjo, and has a range of about one octave (more or less). The string is wound around a single tuning machine and stretched across a nut that looks remarkably similar to a Phillips-head screw. The string can be fretted across a dozen or so frets that are laid out in a pattern not unlike those on an –ahem– more conventional musical instrument. The real magic happens after that. The string is run though as resonance chamber fashioned from a beer can (Yuengling, in my case) whose top has been cut off, through a tiny hole punched in the bottom of the can, and affixed to the tail.

The sound of the canjo is best described as… Well, maybe it’s best not to describe the sound of the canjo. I was told that the man who sold the canjos was quite good, but I gather that’s a relative term.

Anyway, I decided I would try to capture that golden canjo sound on a track, and after playing around for a while without being able to get two successive notes in tune (very high action on the canjo, on account of the fact that the top of the can tapers inward, and the action must necessarily be high so that the string doesn’t rub) I decided a little advanced technology was needed. So I sampled each discrete note I could get out of it so that I could play it on a keyboard instead.

My modest demo is called “Canjo During Wartime,” as it is essentially a cover of the Talking Heads song (“Life During Wartime”). As I’m sure you’ll agree, a little accompaniment was in order, so you will hear some bass, marimba and flute, just to, you know, round out the sound a little. Enjoy.

Next gig (probably not featuring any canjo) is Feb 26th at Bordley. Check the gig calendar.