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Banjoversary: 9 Years on 5 Strings

My Recording King "Songster" with the
resonator off after switching to clawhammer.
Nine years ago is when I dipped my toe into the warm, welcoming waters of the banjo playing world.

I had spent the past six months researching and trying to figure which banjo to buy. At some point, I had ordered a set of picks and tuner as a commitment to myself that I was going to carry through with my plan.

The seed had been planted the year before when I read a blog post about buying your first guitar. The now-defunct blog specialized in Americana music and regularly featured groups like Old Crow Medicine Show, the Carolina Chocolate Drops and the Avett Brothers.

I had spent the the last four years building an obsession with the banjo through the music of those very same groups. Because much of the music that blog featured included the banjo, I wrote in asking if they had advice on buying a first banjo. Two of the blog's writers happened to play the five-string. One was a bluegrass player and the other was an old-time player.

I didn't know the difference.

Those guys gave me some pointers and referred me to the Banjo Hangout for more information. When my tax return arrived, I made my purchase. On March 24, 2008, my Recording King "Songster" arrived.

That was a pivotal year in my life. Not only did I start playing the banjo, but I also met my wife. That's two loves in one year. Not bad at all.

That first year of banjo was a bit rough. I started trying to learn to play like Earl Scruggs and soon realized it wasn't the sound I was after. As I began spending more time with my new lady-friend, my banjo started spending more time in its case.

I had tried playing guitar in high school, but gave it up after a couple years. I remember thinking to myself, If I had stuck with it, I'd be pretty good by now. I didn't want to be thinking the same thing about the banjo 15 years later.

That's when I discovered what clawhammer was and the difference between bluegrass and old-time. My eventual wife must have liked the idea of being with a banjo player because she encouraged me to rededicate myself to learning the instrument. All three of us are still together after all these years, and we've added a fiddle and toddler to the family along the way.

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