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Image courtesy of Gregg Miner

Banjos, Mandolins, & Guitars

The American Musical Instrument Society is pleased to announce the creation of a new working group intended to bring together researchers interested in any and all aspects of the Banjo, Mandolin and Guitar. The AMIS Board of Governors agreed in 2017 that there were significant areas of activity within the world of organology that offered new avenues of research, and so working groups were formed with the intention of strengthening existing relationships and to welcome in newcomers to the society.


It was the feeling of many people that since there is not an organization for historic guitar research and scholarship, this is an opportunity for this community of scholars and collectors to become active within AMIS. The Working Group is hopefully a possibility to expand support and interaction between this community of scholars and the wider AMIS membership.


In many ways, this would mean business as usual for the society which already has an active membership interested in this area. Though now there will be regular opportunities to share ideas and research on the AMIS blog, in the AMIS Newsletter, and with potential social and academic activities dedicated to this working group at future AMIS events, all of which will hopefully reach a wider audience interested in these topics than our core membership. 



The banjo, mandolin, and guitar are three very different instruments. They represent worlds in and of themselves, yet there are similarities not only in that they are plucked fretted chordophones, but in their presence in society, music, and culture. Furthermore, scholarship into these worlds often overlaps, and so it is in the spirit of collaboration and informed discussion that these instruments are here put together. 

 The banjo is a truly American instrument, born out of communities of enslaved Africans and developing over the centuries to be present throughout the western world and beyond. For an organological society such as AMIS, the story of banjo allows tangible object focused research into important sociological and racial questions. 

The mandolin and the guitar can be said to have had a much longer history within the European musical tradition. Their histories converge regularly throughout from the mandora, the Chitarra battente, to the twentieth century American archtop-guitar tradition. Research into one will assist and be of value for research into the other. The guitar enjoys a history from its European beginnings in the Renaissance as it emerged from the Arabic world and so arguably existed centuries before something that would be agreed to be a mandolin. This group does not want to limit by time or place any research into these instruments and invites thinking and collaboration where ever it arises.

The American Musical Instrument Society already enjoys the regular contribution of a broad range of musical instrument specialists. Academics, makers, conservators, collectors, and players all have a forum here and in the same way we hope to move forward, inviting research and thinking across all specialisms.



If you’re interested in learning more about this working group please get in touch with the chair of the Banjo Mandolin and Guitar working group, Katalin Koltai. If you are a student you might be eligible to have travel and accommodation paid for, have a look at the Gribbon Award for more information.  In the meantime, keep an eye open for this working group’s blog posts!

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