Skip to main content

My First Banjo

My decision was made during the winter, when all good thinking gets done in Northeast Ohio. I wanted something to take up the slack in my life, and the banjo was my choice.

After the IRS sent me my tax refund in March 2008, I bought a Recoding King Songster from Cliff Fitch, a luthier from Texas who also was a Recording King dealer. He promised a professional set-up before shipping the instrument and included a hardshell case for $500. Seemed like a good deal to me.

My first banjo with
a homemade strap.
The Songster was a "bluegrass" banjo, which just means it had a resonator -- never mind that plenty of old-time musicians have used resonated banjos. The neck was thin and easy to play, but the finish was a bit tacky, which caused my palm to stick to it occasionally. Regardless, the Songster was a solid instrument and Fitch's adjustments (most notably, a good bridge) made it sound good to my ears.

I started to learn Scruggs' three-finger style and was pretty dedicated for the next six months. However, I never felt like I made much progress in my playing. I wasn't sounding like I wanted to sound. That summer, I met my soon-to-be wife and didn't pick up the banjo much the rest of the year.

That all changed when I discovered clawhammer and rededicated my efforts to learn the five-string.

Comments

  1. This took me back! I have a similar story, first banjo very cheap bluegrass influenced banjo learned basic clawhammer in std G messed with some Sgruggs. Once my wife got pregnant with our daughter lost focus for over a year. I look back and think how I missed some precious playing time! So glad I found Old Time banjo during that time though.

    Good times,
    JD

    ReplyDelete
  2. Hi JD,
    Thanks for stopping by The Glory-Beaming Banjo. Having just gotten married and started discussions about children, I worry what will happen with my banjo playing. I guess we'll find out ...

    Cheers!

    ReplyDelete

Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog

Getting Blitzed with Tom Collins

A little more than a year ago, Salem, Massachusetts-based banjo player and teacher Tom Collins embarked on a yearlong project he called Banjo Blitz. The weekly YouTube series provided short banjo lessons on technique. Each video is about five minutes long, give or take, and presents a short pattern — or “ostinato” — designed to teach and improve a specific aspect of banjo playing.

The mission was to get the audience “to practice clawhammer in discrete chunks every day without the burden of trying to memorize tunes,” Collins says. He wanted to build skills rather than repertoire.

“Let’s take the tune off the table,” says Collins, who has been teaching banjo for 11 years. “Let’s focus on a simple, mantra-like ostinato that can train your body how to execute a technique properly, while training your ears how to hear it properly. Let’s also make it so that you can do this every day without it sucking every spare minute from your life. The big dirty secret about learning how to play an ins…

Clawhammer Picks and You: A Review

Clawhammer picks are a useful tool for increasing volume or to overcome fingernail challenges, such as broken, too short or weak nails. There are all sorts of commercial and homemade solutions available for banjo players, but it can be difficult to decide which options to choose. Thankfully, I've already done some of the work for you.
Just to be clear, I prefer my natural fingernail for frailing. However, there was a time when I experimented with regularly using a pick, and there are instances now where I find that a pick is necessary. Today, I'll take you through the five options I've tried. These are all available online at prices ranging from about $1 to $13.

Reversed/Reshaped Dunlop Pick ($0.75)
This was the most common suggestion before other companies started addressing the gap in the clawhammer pick market. Take a bluegrass pick, flatten it out and wear it backwards. The problem is that it's hard to get the fit right. While Dunlop picks are cheap and readily avai…

Erynn Marshall, Mark Olitsky, Doug Unger: An Old-Time Smorgasbord in Peninsula, Ohio, for Music on the Porches, Sept. 23

Old-time music and banjo fans alike would do well to aim their GPS units toward Peninsula, Ohio, the historic village nestled in the Cuyahoga Valley National Park between Cleveland and Akron. This Saturday is Music on the Porches, which features a number of musical acts playing all around town, starting at 11 a.m. 
The showcase event is Saturday night at the G.A.R. Hall, an evening concert that will feature fiddler Erynn Marshall and multi-instrumentalist Carl Jones, the married old-time duo based in Galax, Virginia; followed by Sean Watkins, formerly of the progressive bluegrass band Nickel Creek; and finally headliner Tim O'Brien, who has recorded with everyone from Steve Martin to Dirk Powell, including the excellent "Songs From the Mountain" album with Powell and John Herrmann (one of my all-time favorites). Doors open at 6:30 p.m., with Marshall and Jones set to start at 7 p.m. Tickets are available online via Eventbrite
But wait, that's not all! 
Marshall wi…