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old-time picking on resonator banjos

Downeast Bob 11 Aug 00 - 07:57 AM
Charcloth 11 Aug 00 - 08:46 AM
JedMarum 11 Aug 00 - 08:47 AM
GUEST,arnie 11 Aug 00 - 08:56 AM
JedMarum 11 Aug 00 - 09:27 AM
GUEST,Les B 11 Aug 00 - 11:18 AM
Downeast Bob 11 Aug 00 - 11:24 AM
Mark Clark 11 Aug 00 - 12:02 PM
Jon Freeman 11 Aug 00 - 12:09 PM
Rick Fielding 11 Aug 00 - 12:28 PM
Jed at Work 11 Aug 00 - 01:10 PM
GUEST,Owlkat 12 Aug 00 - 02:47 AM
Bud Savoie 12 Aug 00 - 07:39 AM
Downeast Bob 12 Aug 00 - 10:32 AM
Banjer 12 Aug 00 - 11:08 AM
Little Neophyte 12 Aug 00 - 01:28 PM
Jon Freeman 12 Aug 00 - 01:46 PM
Rick Fielding 12 Aug 00 - 02:03 PM
Mark Clark 12 Aug 00 - 02:14 PM
Little Neophyte 12 Aug 00 - 02:15 PM
Downeast Bob 12 Aug 00 - 02:20 PM
Little Neophyte 12 Aug 00 - 02:20 PM
Downeast Bob 12 Aug 00 - 02:25 PM
Jon Freeman 12 Aug 00 - 02:45 PM
Downeast Bob 12 Aug 00 - 03:27 PM
GUEST,arnie 13 Aug 00 - 09:25 AM
Downeast Bob 13 Aug 00 - 11:57 AM
Jon Freeman 13 Aug 00 - 12:14 PM
Auxiris 14 Aug 00 - 04:52 AM
The Shambles 14 Aug 00 - 05:56 AM
Jon Freeman 14 Aug 00 - 06:04 AM
JedMarum 14 Aug 00 - 09:46 AM
Little Neophyte 14 Aug 00 - 12:08 PM
Little Neophyte 14 Aug 00 - 12:11 PM
Jon Freeman 14 Aug 00 - 03:44 PM
Jed at Work 14 Aug 00 - 04:17 PM
Jon Freeman 14 Aug 00 - 04:42 PM
GUEST,Jeff Morrison 14 Aug 00 - 04:44 PM
Jon W. 14 Aug 00 - 05:07 PM
Jon Freeman 14 Aug 00 - 05:46 PM
Jed at Work 14 Aug 00 - 06:13 PM
GUEST,arnie 15 Aug 00 - 09:20 AM
Bud Savoie 15 Aug 00 - 11:53 PM
Jon Freeman 16 Aug 00 - 06:43 AM
Guy Wolff 16 Aug 00 - 12:51 PM
Downeast Bob 16 Aug 00 - 01:43 PM
JedMarum 16 Aug 00 - 06:09 PM
Jim Krause 16 Aug 00 - 06:09 PM
Jon Freeman 17 Aug 00 - 05:22 AM
GUEST,ARNIE 17 Aug 00 - 02:23 PM
JedMarum 20 Aug 00 - 10:34 PM
GUEST 21 Aug 00 - 11:04 AM
black walnut 21 Aug 00 - 11:17 AM
Jon W. 21 Aug 00 - 07:38 PM
Jed at Work 21 Aug 00 - 07:46 PM
Jim Krause 22 Aug 00 - 03:46 PM
Guy Wolff 22 Aug 00 - 05:13 PM
SINSULL 19 Feb 01 - 07:39 PM
Uncle_DaveO 19 Feb 01 - 08:56 PM
GUEST,Blind Desert Pete 20 Feb 01 - 07:34 PM
GUEST,*Carol's Friend Don 20 Feb 01 - 07:44 PM
GUEST,*Carol's Friend Don 20 Feb 01 - 07:53 PM
GUEST,blkbanjoman 03 Nov 12 - 01:48 AM
Henry Krinkle 03 Nov 12 - 04:29 AM
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Subject: old-time picking on resonator banjos
From: Downeast Bob
Date: 11 Aug 00 - 07:57 AM

One of the things that puzzles me is why northern folkies almost never use resonator 5-string banjos for anything except bluegrass. I've met a lot of old-time southern pickers who frail and clawhammer the bejeezums out of a resonator banjo. Part of me suspects it's a technique used by and for the hard of hearing. Another part says, "No, it's just slavish adherence to old-timey tradition." I'd like to know what others think.


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Subject: RE: old-time picking on resonator banjos
From: Charcloth
Date: 11 Aug 00 - 08:46 AM

I have a resonater banjo & an open back as well. I much prefer the open back for frailing. The resonater is a high quality bluegrass banjo but it is too loud for frailing & singing (although that is what I do with it) The open back has a better sounding tone for frailing as it is slightly softer banjo. The bluegrass banjo's sustain is longer also this works well if I am doing a slow air like "Sheebeg Sheemore" but it gets in the way on reels & jigs. To be honest I want to trade the bluegrass banjo off for another open back, because sound just doesn't suite me. I case you are wondering why I want 2 banjos, I use double C tuning alot as well as G tuning & while I am on stage I hate trying to retune a banjo.


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Subject: RE: old-time picking on resonator banjos
From: JedMarum
Date: 11 Aug 00 - 08:47 AM

isn't it just playin' on what's most commonly available? It seems most of the good banjos made now-a-days are resonator banjos. So maybe its just a sheer volume things - more good banjos these days are resonators, so they end up in the hands of claw hammer players in greater numbers.


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Subject: RE: old-time picking on resonator banjos
From: GUEST,arnie
Date: 11 Aug 00 - 08:56 AM

I have also heard old time players with resonator banjos. Doc Boggs, Roscoe Holcolm , Paul Brown , Morgan Sexton for instance. It's a matter of style and tonal taste. Personally I do not like a loud and huge sustain in clawhammer music, and prefer a more warm mid range tone - so open back is my choice- and Jed there are very good open back banjos available if people are willing to spend some bucks.


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Subject: RE: old-time picking on resonator banjos
From: JedMarum
Date: 11 Aug 00 - 09:27 AM

Oh yes, arnie - I agree that there are plenty of good open backs available (I just bought a new Vega a few months back, and I've seen others on the market). I just meant the sheer volume of production seem to go to the resonator style. It seem thats for for every 30 or 50 resonators they make an oen back (my numbers may be way off, but you get the idea).

In fact, I played a beautiful brand new open backed banjo at a shop in Fredricksburg VA - a local/regional maker, I didn't recognize the name (though I'm not a banjo expert). It had a sweet, crisp sound and a beautiful neck. The damn thing played itself! I was really impressed - and its was priced at about 1000. If I hadn't just bought my Vega, I'd have scooped it up!


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Subject: RE: old-time picking on resonator banjos
From: GUEST,Les B
Date: 11 Aug 00 - 11:18 AM

Good thread about something I've pondered for several years. I play a resonator banjo, three finger style, but would like to add some clawhammer tunes.

However, our group jams without sound reinforcement (mics & amps) in some fairly rowdy, noisy bars -- an open backed frailing banjo just cannot be heard, especially with a bass, several fiddles, a couple of mandolins, and three or four guitars, and the odd bodhran or autoharp.

I suspect some frailers use resonators simply as "survival of the fittest" in order to cope with the venue. When you hear the frailing style step out, it's usually in a quieter setting, and the banjo is paired with a good fiddler. And of course when you hear them at most festivals or concerts it's through a sound system.


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Subject: RE: old-time picking on resonator banjos
From: Downeast Bob
Date: 11 Aug 00 - 11:24 AM

I think Les B has nailed it as to why people play clawhammer on resonator banjos. I do it for the same reason. Even without the rowdy environment, the resonator keeps the banjo from being drowned out. I still wonder, though, why southern clawhammer pickers do this so much more often than northern folkies.


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Subject: RE: old-time picking on resonator banjos
From: Mark Clark
Date: 11 Aug 00 - 12:02 PM

I only own one banjo---A resonator arch-topped Mastertone copy---so it is the object of any banjo playing I do whether clawhammer or three-fingered. Ralph Stanley alway played clawhammer style on his resonator banjo so I figured I had permission to do that as well.

There are of course tonal differences between banjo types and each player must choose the sound he or she wants to hear. Still, I think part of the reason Northerners may stick with the open-backed configuration is something akin to snobbery. When I was introduced to folk music, Northern urban players preferred playing guitars with slotted heads. It wasn't that these guitars sounded better, it was just that they didn't look like the guitars country performers used. At that time, folk performers worked hard to draw a distinct line between themselves and commercial country musicians. (I think it allowed us to feel superior without having to compete.)

In my opinion, many folk banjoists from the urban North work just as hard to distance themselves from commercial country and bluegrass performers. They often eschew the flash and glitter associated with many of the resonator banjos in favor of a more subdued home and hearth sort of look.

It's never been clear to me whether audiences care about the appearance of a performer's instrument or even notice the difference but I do recognize the importance of visual clues when trying to establish an identity in the mind of the public.

      - Mark


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Subject: RE: old-time picking on resonator banjos
From: Jon Freeman
Date: 11 Aug 00 - 12:09 PM

I know little aout this style but what about other aspects? How many old-time players go for a real skin or a fiberskin one as opposed to the standard plastic head? I would guess that this item has more effect on the tone than the resonator.

Jon


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Subject: RE: old-time picking on resonator banjos
From: Rick Fielding
Date: 11 Aug 00 - 12:28 PM

I'm with Arnie on this. (by the way Catters, are you aware that he's one of the finest Old time players around, with two great albums of pure banjo?)

Don't forget that Doc Watson and Mike Seeger also made wonderful old-time music on resonator banjos.

I think a lot of it comes down to "sustain" rather than simply "volume".

Rick


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Subject: RE: old-time picking on resonator banjos
From: Jed at Work
Date: 11 Aug 00 - 01:10 PM

... and if yer group is playing on-stage with electronics, Les B - a pick-up in yur open backed banjo would be a great equalizer ... I promise you the fishman banjo pick-up has an amazing reproduction and while no pick-up will give you that completely natural sound of tyour acoustic instrument, it realy will give you a very good sounding facsimle, that nca be mixed well in a sound system.


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Subject: RE: old-time picking on resonator banjos
From: GUEST,Owlkat
Date: 12 Aug 00 - 02:47 AM

Hi,
I've frailed resonator banjos for the volume, but not for the tone.
I remember seeing Cathy Fink, and Eric Nagler frailing resonater backed banjos. So there.
As far as skin heads go, I've installed and played on them, but I wouldn't suggest it unless you're playing an older open back like a ninety year old Fairbanks, Bacon and Day, or Cole, or something like that, which would almost demand a skin head,(and nylon strings) to sound right.
They are murder to put on, and have the annoying habit of ripping just when you've got them perfectly tightened. Not something to look forward to when you've just paid fifty bucks canadian for the damn thing and the customer you've installed it for is expecting to record with it the next day.
Climate change plays hell with the tension, too. Fiberskyn is okay for most things.
Mellow tone can also be enhanced with a no-knot tailpiece, instead of a long-tongued bluegrass tailpiece.
Yuh.
Owl.


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Subject: RE: old-time picking on resonator banjos
From: Bud Savoie
Date: 12 Aug 00 - 07:39 AM

Resonator banjos are more available than open-backs because 'Grassers outnumber OT players by an estimated 9 to 1. I suppose that Ralph Stanley's Ma taught him on an old open-back, but that won't do in a BG band. Ralph plays mostly his 3-finger style, and he's not about to lug two banjos to his concerts.

I have seen Mike Seeger in person and on video with an array of banjos, and his preference is definitely with the open-back jobs unless he is playing in some sort of BG style or in a band context. The sound and feel are definitely different.

The only time I have seen Roscoe Holcomb with a resonator banjo is in that shot of him outside his hen house. He is playing an old Kay--with the resonator removed. When I saw him in person, he was playing an open-back that had been given him by the old Vega company.


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Subject: RE: old-time picking on resonator banjos
From: Downeast Bob
Date: 12 Aug 00 - 10:32 AM

I look at it this way: Southern musicians at one time played only openback banjos with animal skin heads because that's what was available, but as banjo technology progressed, almost anyone who could afford it opted for a brighter sound with more sustain and more volume. For many years, the Gibson resonator banjos were the ultimate in that regard. Not everybody could afford them, of course, but if you were going to play in a band -- even a pre-bluegrass band -- with fiddle, guitar and bass, they were the instrument of choice. The resonator banjo became widely used among tradtional southern musicians before the bluegrass style emerged. The resonator banjo made the bluegrass banjo style possible.

Up until the 1940s, there were almost no northern folk musicians playing the banjo. Pete Seeger was pretty much alone at first and he played the old open-back. During the 50s, his playing attracted a lot of new musicians, mostly college kids, north and south. At the beginning of the 50s, most of them had never even heard of bluegrass and most of them played open back banjo's like Pete's. At that time, old open-back banjos, dug out of someone's attic, could be bought for practically nothing. I remember paying $15 for an S.S. Stewart Thoroughbred model in the mid 50s. When the northern folkies first encountered resonator banjos it was usually when they heard bluegrass bands for the first time. When they started going to fiddlers; conventions like those at Union Grove or Galax they discovered that lots of southerners frailed and clawhammered on resonator banjos as well as on open backs. Of course, some people, particularly in the north, preferred the plunky old-time sound.


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Subject: RE: old-time picking on resonator banjos
From: Banjer
Date: 12 Aug 00 - 11:08 AM

Well....I'm from the South, and right now I am playing clawhammer on my resonated banjer....I am doing this because the fourth string on my open back is busted and I haven't had time to go get another. I like frailing over three finger on most of the stuff I attempt and with the slowness of the fingers and the mind I have trouble with three finger, although I am getting a bit better at it. (Practice is everything) The other reason I LOVE frailing on my resonater is when my 29 year old, (who freeloads here much of the time rather than going to work), is trying to sleep in the mornings, I love to get my louder resonated banjer out and practice for about 20 minutes before leaving for my job! Gives me great pleasure to go to the adjoining living room where he sleeps on the couch and see him with pillows covering his ears. Just kinda makes my day, dontcha know!


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Subject: RE: old-time picking on resonator banjos
From: Little Neophyte
Date: 12 Aug 00 - 01:28 PM

Great thread!
Thanks for that history Downeast Bob
I know this question is not related to the thread topic but I figured I maybe able to get some help here.
I recently put a 5th string capo on my Deering Goodtime. I bought another 5th string capo to put on my Longneck and I now realized these capos are very different in length!
The Chubb one I just bought is 6 inches and the one on my Deering is 8 inches long.
That would make a significant difference in the number of frets I could tune the 5th string up to.
I didn't realize these capos came in different lengths.
Do you guys use the longer capo or the shorter one?

Bonnie


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Subject: RE: old-time picking on resonator banjos
From: Jon Freeman
Date: 12 Aug 00 - 01:46 PM

Bonnie, the real banjo is the tenor banjo and has 4 strings which run correctly to tuning pegs without that silly extra string stopping short half way down the neck or even, as with the zithers, running under the fingerboard. Why do you bother with such complications? ;-)

I can't answer your question but thinking of 5th string capos, when I had a 5 string, I and others used to use a technical drawing clip which you placed over the 5th string and under the others. It did give you a slight obstacle on the back of the neck but other than that, it worked fine and I was never advanced enough to be moving up and down the neck.

Jon


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Subject: RE: old-time picking on resonator banjos
From: Rick Fielding
Date: 12 Aug 00 - 02:03 PM

Well Bonnie, you'll just have to decide whether you're more comfortable with 8 inches, or 6 inches.

My humble apologies folks. I just thought if I got in first with that comment it would confound Catspaw, that someone beat him to the punch!

Seriously, Bonnie, it doesn't matter. You rarely need the longer one. I cut the 8 inch one down cause it gets in the way.

Rick


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Subject: RE: old-time picking on resonator banjos
From: Mark Clark
Date: 12 Aug 00 - 02:14 PM

It's interesting to recall that the Gibson Company made a series of banjos designated "TB" for tenor banjo (the four stringed type) and another line of banjos designated "RB" for regular banjo. (Notice I refrained from saying real. Peter T. would probably jump in and remind us that no banjo can be real.)

The "regular banjos" were all five-string models. Jon of course knows this and is just trying to get a rise out of someone (like me <g>) but I thought there may be newbies to whom the information might be useful. It is, in fact, the four-string model that is the later invention. The tenor model was, I believe, created for the rhythm section of early jazz orchestras and needed the extra volume. I recall reading somewhere that the resonator first appeared on the tenor banjos. I think a lot of the engineering "improvements" we now see in five-string banjos were originally worked out for the tenor models.

      - Mark


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Subject: RE: old-time picking on resonator banjos
From: Little Neophyte
Date: 12 Aug 00 - 02:15 PM

You are absolutely right Rick, I rarely need those extra 2 inches.
After I posted this question I sat down and looked at it again and it dawned on me. When am I ever going to capo the 5th string on the 12th or 13th fret.

BB


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Subject: RE: old-time picking on resonator banjos
From: Downeast Bob
Date: 12 Aug 00 - 02:20 PM

Bonnie, please don't be confused by statements like Jon's that the "real" banjo is the tenor banjo. The fifth string was around long before the tenor banjo was invented. There's a painting from Thomas Jefferson's time of a slave playing a banjo that has a tuning peg partway up the neck for the thumbstring. Also, the Rijkmuseum vor Volkenkunde in the Netherlands has an old gourd banjo apparently made by a black slave in Suriname in around 1770. True, it had only four strings but one of those srings is a thumb string partway up the neck. Roscoe Sweeney, a white Virginian, is often credited with adding the fifth string, but the string he added was probably one of the full-length strings. When white people began playing the banjo, some of them had a hard time getting used to that thumb string. To make things easier, they invented banjos that had only four strings.


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Subject: RE: old-time picking on resonator banjos
From: Little Neophyte
Date: 12 Aug 00 - 02:20 PM

In actually fact Jon, I think I had been playing a 4 string banjo. Until I got my 5th string capo on I had broken the 5th string so many times that it wasn't worth putting another string back on.

Bonnie


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Subject: RE: old-time picking on resonator banjos
From: Downeast Bob
Date: 12 Aug 00 - 02:25 PM

Mark and I must have been answering Jon at about the same time. I guess he managed to get a rise out of both of us.


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Subject: RE: old-time picking on resonator banjos
From: Jon Freeman
Date: 12 Aug 00 - 02:45 PM

Sorry about that. I had hoped that people would notice my use of the wink emoticon, ;-) to indicate that I was only joking. As Mark stated, I am well aware that the Tenor is a late addition to the banjo family.

Those that are interested may like to check out this thread: http://www.mudcat.org/thread.CFM?threadID=22510. The postings by Songster Bob are particularly informative.

Jon


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Subject: RE: old-time picking on resonator banjos
From: Downeast Bob
Date: 12 Aug 00 - 03:27 PM

I knew you had yr tongue firmly in yr cheek, Jon. Sorry if my reply sounded otherwise. I just took a look at the thread you recommended. Looks pretty interesting and I'll be going back over there when I have some time. Thanks.


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Subject: RE: old-time picking on resonator banjos
From: GUEST,arnie
Date: 13 Aug 00 - 09:25 AM

As far as 5th string capos go - I've always found those things to get in my way -but I suppose it's a matter of getting used to. I've put model railroad spikes on the 7th and 9th fret which pretty well covers a lot of key possibilities. I use a .012" gauge 5th string (heavy),why? to eliminate that twang sound -I like the little plunk sound on that string since it is the string you hear the most. If you use this gauge, you may need a no knot tailpiece, and try not to tune it up more than a half tone or you may bust it. Banjos with real skin heads seem to always respond and sound the best when set up properly, but you would have to put up with a lot of adjustments during the year. There are so many ways to adjust tone, and I am a believer in playing around with the hardware, but be careful when adjusting coordinator rods and dowel sticks if you are not sure what you're doing. The bridge is the big tonal factor - narrow will give brighter tone and response, thicker will add mid and bass (but may take away some sustain). String gauges will change tone - light is bright. Tightness of the head is something to play around with - sometimes a little adjustment up or down on all the brackets will help with response in a big way. All this is trial and error, and every banjo is different -even if they are the same brand name and model.


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Subject: RE: old-time picking on resonator banjos
From: Downeast Bob
Date: 13 Aug 00 - 11:57 AM

Arnie, that was one of the most informative posts I've ever read. Usefull too! Have you ever considered writing a "banjopicker's handbook"?


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Subject: RE: old-time picking on resonator banjos
From: Jon Freeman
Date: 13 Aug 00 - 12:14 PM

Thanks from me too, Arnie.

Jon


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Subject: RE: old-time picking on resonator banjos
From: Auxiris
Date: 14 Aug 00 - 04:52 AM

Charcloth, I hear you about wanting to have another open back to avoid changing from double C to G tuning (and no doubt back again) if you're on stage a lot! Even worse is from double C to G minor. . . but then I don't do much live playing and can't afford another banjo anyway. Have had the experience of playing clawhammer style on a resonator banjo; as far as I'm concerned, it's just "different", I don't think it's a question of "better" or "worse" and both personal preference and playing situations might dictate one's choice.

cheers, Aux


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Subject: RE: old-time picking on resonator banjos
From: The Shambles
Date: 14 Aug 00 - 05:56 AM

I may be being a bit thick here but if you take the resonator off (4 little knurled knobs on mine), are you not left with an open backed banjo? If you put it back on, is it not a resonator banjo again?

Most of the open backed banjos I see in the UK, are just resonator banjos with the resonator removed. Are open backed models still being built now?


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Subject: RE: old-time picking on resonator banjos
From: Jon Freeman
Date: 14 Aug 00 - 06:04 AM

Shambles, I am not sure of the full range of constructions and where you would class something like the Windsor's in this but while it would be possible to play something like my Kildare (basically a Mastertone construction) open backed, the resonator flange would make that uncomfortable.

Jon


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Subject: RE: old-time picking on resonator banjos
From: JedMarum
Date: 14 Aug 00 - 09:46 AM

Yes Sham - open backed banjos are being built, and they are not simply resonator banjos with the resonator removed.

And as far a 5th string capos are concerned; I don't use one (yet). I presumed I would do something about it, one day when I started playing banjo again last year - but so far have avoided it.

When I play above G I regularly tune my fifth string up as high as A, or tune it down to F (for playng G tuning in Bflat) - or I use alternate keys and drop the capo below the thrid fret of my long neck. It seems to me (and I'm still a novice banjo player, so maybe I'm just too inexperienced to know better) that I may never need to add a spike or a fifth string capo. The long neck gives you some pretty good options.


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Subject: RE: old-time picking on resonator banjos
From: Little Neophyte
Date: 14 Aug 00 - 12:08 PM

With my first banjo I had Rick take my resonator and flange off so that I could experience playing something that had more of an open back sound. It was a great way for me to see what type of banjo I wanted to play. But a resonator banjo with the resonator and flange removed is definitely not the same as a true open back. They are very different because even with the resonator and flange removed there was still a wide metal tone ring. Where as in the open back the metal part of the tone ring is narrow; more wood less metal.
Makes a significant difference
From what I understand there are convertable banjos, but I do not know much about them.

Bonnie who hopes she got the banjo anatomy terms right


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Subject: RE: old-time picking on resonator banjos
From: Little Neophyte
Date: 14 Aug 00 - 12:11 PM

Actually it was Rick's idea to take the resonator and flange off. I didn't have a clue what the difference was.


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Subject: RE: old-time picking on resonator banjos
From: Jon Freeman
Date: 14 Aug 00 - 03:44 PM

Thanks Bonnie, the tone ring is a component we had not mentioned. I know that the mastertone flathead is pretty much the standard for bluegrass but what about the old time stuff? Am I right in thinking that something like a Vega White Laydie would be popular? Also, am I right in thinking that the Goodtime, which judging by the sound samples I have heard sounds great to me, uses a wooden rim and no tone ring?

Jon


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Subject: RE: old-time picking on resonator banjos
From: Jed at Work
Date: 14 Aug 00 - 04:17 PM

I understand my Vega has a tubaphone ring. I hate to admit my ignorance but I don't know what that means. I know I love the sound it gets.


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Subject: RE: old-time picking on resonator banjos
From: Jon Freeman
Date: 14 Aug 00 - 04:42 PM

Well Jed, I am no expert but in laymans terms, it means you have got a great banjo. A vega proffessional tenor (that uses the tubaphone tone ring) has been on my wish list ever since I tried one in a session - maybe one day.

Jon


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Subject: RE: old-time picking on resonator banjos
From: GUEST,Jeff Morrison
Date: 14 Aug 00 - 04:44 PM

I just sold my Goodtime and bought a Whyte Laydie (made by Bart Reiter). The Goodtime had no tone ring, but had a great sound for the price. The Whyte Laydie has a "scalloped" tone ring (wavy, like a snake). A description I read before buying it was "the notes just dance off the head". I don't know about any dancing, but it sounds great.


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Subject: RE: old-time picking on resonator banjos
From: Jon W.
Date: 14 Aug 00 - 05:07 PM

The Goodtime, as the other Jon has guessed, indeed has no metal tone ring.

I just did some work on my main banjo - an old tenor Maybelle wood pot to which I attached a five-string neck (just to make Jon F. angry). I replaced the friction pegs with geared pegs, added fifth string spikes at the 7th, 9th, and 10th frets, and put on a set of medium strings (.0l0, .012, .016, .022W, .010). The banjo is more fun to play and sounds better than ever - I think it sounds better than the Goodtime and definitely looks better.

My first banjo had a resonator and a cast aluminum pot - these are fairly common low-end banjos - and whenever I play it now I just don't like the sound. I would sell it but my four-year-old daughter thinks it is hers.

Jon W.


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Subject: RE: old-time picking on resonator banjos
From: Jon Freeman
Date: 14 Aug 00 - 05:46 PM

Jon W, I know you were joking but serious time for me. If somebody can convert a tenor to a 5 string or whatever to whatever and make a useful instrument that hopefully sounds good and they PLAY it or sell it to someone that does, it has my blessing.

I don't know if it ever happens but I think that my only serious objection regarding musical instruments would be towards someone who collects for the sake of collecting, simply to use as ornaments, to show off what they own or to keep as assets/ investments. This of course does not include a person who does pick each instrument up from time to time, play it and admire its own unique qualities.

Jon


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Subject: RE: old-time picking on resonator banjos
From: Jed at Work
Date: 14 Aug 00 - 06:13 PM

I ran into a guy at the Dallas Vintage Guitar Show in Dallas two years ago. He was a dealer in antique instruments, and when I went by his booth, at the end of the show he had left a handful of old hybrid instruments. (I think I talked about this in another banjo thread).

What he had done was take some good parts from old 4 strings and place newer 5 string necks on 'em. He did it because he couldn't salvage the antique value of the instruments, and didn't have as many 4 string neck available, and I reckon he also had a more saleable product with a 5 string. At any rate, the thre or four that I tried really had a first rate sound, and feel. The necks were early 20th century, and pots were mid and late 19th. The prices were between $300 and $400. Pretty good deals, too.


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Subject: RE: old-time picking on resonator banjos
From: GUEST,arnie
Date: 15 Aug 00 - 09:20 AM

There are an awful lot of banjo collectors out there. It irks me to think that those banjos are just sitting in cases doing nothing but increasing in monetary value only (big deal)and not being played. Many people have been getting Vega tenor "Little Wonder" and "Tubaphone" pots and putting 5 string necks on them. They can make excellent sounding banjos. The tubaphone pots are being sought after theses days. Recently I spied a Vega tenor Tubaphone with what looked like close to a 12" pot (bigger than standard 5 string banjos) in Toronto - all original. Price $900.00 Can. It could well be one of the finest clawhammer banjos if a 5 string neck was made to fit - and there are makers such as Bart Reiter who would do it (around another $500.00 U.S.). To put it in perspective - a vintage Tubaphone with a 5 string neck could run close to $3000.00 U.S.) A new Bart Reiter tubaphone which is a very fine banjo runs somewhere around $1400.00 U.S. - and is of very high quality.


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Subject: RE: old-time picking on resonator banjos
From: Bud Savoie
Date: 15 Aug 00 - 11:53 PM

Downeast Bob, I think you are talking about Joel Walker Sweeney (Roscoe Sweeney was a character in the old Buzz Sawyer comic strip), "Break'em up Joe," who is credited for having added the 4th string to the banjo. The thumb string is still found on some African instruments.

I believe that the tenor banjo is a turn-of-the-20th century invention, although 4-string banjos and guitars were around before that.

The 5-string is so unique that it, not the tenor or plectrum, is considered the indigenous American folk instrument.


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Subject: RE: old-time picking on resonator banjos
From: Jon Freeman
Date: 16 Aug 00 - 06:43 AM

Different dates seem to be quoted for the tenor banjo but I think that you are looking somewhere between 1910 and 1915. The plectrum which is basically a 5 string banjo without the 5th string (same number of frets/ length neck) came before the shorter tenors which typically have 19 or 17 frets.

I have problems considering the 5 string banjo an indigenous American instrument as too the best of my understanding the original gourd instruments came over with the slave trade. I realise that the major developments were American but if we were to argue that, where were the tenor and the plecturm first made? I had always thought America. If that is the case and the logic of developing an existing instrument was continued, the teno and the plectrum would also have to be considered indigenous.

Arnie, I'm glad I'm not alone in my dislike of those who collect and don't play. I am not sure of the value of the Canadian dollar but I am guessing it is somewhere around the same as a US dollar (possible slightly less?) and I am out of touch with UK prices but if I had $900 Can spare, I think I would snap that one up and keep it as a tenor but it must be worth someones while getting it fitted with a quality 5 string neck. What is the standard practice with this conversion, assuming the instrument was original, do people save the old tenor neck so that they could later sell an original instrumet if they wanted to?

Jon


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Subject: RE: old-time picking on resonator banjos
From: Guy Wolff
Date: 16 Aug 00 - 12:51 PM

Wonderfull thread! I'm glad I did'nt miss this one.Changing the instroment around to fit the player has always been my way but latly I've been seriously looking at changing playing methods for the tone of the instroment.. Playing sqware dances I always played a resonated banjo to keep up with the acordian but was frailing so somtimes I put a cloth in to get rid of the echo . Instead moving up the neck with the right hand for that pony on cobble sound can be just as effective. I am playing a very loud 1925 ball bearing mastertone without the resonator and with a fiber-skin head. It is an increadable combination.. I took off all the gear for the resonator (To be put back on after my passing I most say) and put them away in a safe place..When playing out people have no idea what I'm playing. ( The neck is a mediocer Japaneese addition 5 string neck NO Name).. Be cause the instroment is so good I have taken to not using a cloth in the drum but hitting softer for less volume and again using alot of middle neck clawhammer for ponnie on cobble court.. I think it's inportant to say that staying with an instroment and learning from it's newances can teach one so much .Ofcorce the better the instroment the bigger the lesson.Funny most of my playing life I have done more of the oposite:manipulating the instroment to fit my needs.I guess we all do both dont we.... Great thread. All my best, Guy


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Subject: RE: old-time picking on resonator banjos
From: Downeast Bob
Date: 16 Aug 00 - 01:43 PM

Yeah, Bud, my 66-year-old brain got Joel mixed up with Roscoe. Thanks for the correction.


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Subject: RE: old-time picking on resonator banjos
From: JedMarum
Date: 16 Aug 00 - 06:09 PM

well - this is probably the best thread to ask this question, and maybe I've broached the subject before, so please forgive me if I repeat myself ... but

I have been learning to play banjo this year. I'm a long time guitar player, and I have a pretty good right hand, having played lottsa three finger style pickin' - so armed with a few banjo chords, and a guitar player's right hand, I went off this year masquerading as a banjo player, providing mainly accompanyment for a Celtic band. But now the truth is, I've discovered a truly wonderful, and very different instrument - I want to really learn to play the darn thing! I want to learn the neck well, and the alternate tunings, and frailing ... I think I want to start by listening ... whose albums should I find? I had bookmarked some good websites from a previous, but would love to see if there are any more suggestions along that line. Also any good books?


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Subject: RE: old-time picking on resonator banjos
From: Jim Krause
Date: 16 Aug 00 - 06:09 PM

Actually, IMHO open back banjos sound better when played clawhammer style, and resonator banjos sound better for bluegrass or Dixieland styles. I just prefer that fat, tubby, thumpy sound that you can only get from an open back. And open back banjos just plain lose it altogether when played bluegrass style. Yeah, I know some southern banjo players play the tarnation out of resonator banjos clawhammer style, Elmer Byrd, for example, Grandpa Jones, for example. There is one lady from Columbia, MO named Cathy Barton who played a resonator banjo with a ARCHTOP tone ring clawhammer style. Boy, that was loud. I think she still plays that same banjo, though mostly I hear her playing more hammered dulcimer nowadays.


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Subject: RE: old-time picking on resonator banjos
From: Jon Freeman
Date: 17 Aug 00 - 05:22 AM

Jed, I wish I could answer your questions but the only style I know is the "Irish" tenor stye which we had a thread on (and other tenor styles) wich mentioned some artists to listen to and I think also noted a couple of books. For what it is worth, "Sully's Irish Banjo" has been quite a popular one and was the one I started with. I also believe that Gerry O'Conner has an excellent publication.

As regards the 5 string, when I was trying with 5 string, I was once lent a book by Bill Keith which I think was entitled something like "Melodic Banjo". Which I would imagine would be a good book for those interested in developing bluegrass styles.

As for the old time, all I can say is hopefully making this post will refresh the thread and maybe someone will com up with some reccomendations.

Jon


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Subject: RE: old-time picking on resonator banjos
From: GUEST,ARNIE
Date: 17 Aug 00 - 02:23 PM

JED There are a lot of different and wonderful styles of banjo picking. I'd recommend Mike Seeger's Southern Banjo Sounds CD to get a feel for various old styles. Banging and Sawing for clear clawhammer/fiddle -Bob Carlin, Reed Martin -solo clear, well played old time banjo, (Arnie Naiman & Chris Coole's 2 banjo CD'S), Anything by Charlie Poole and Uncle Dave Macon for inspiration, and Round Peak style recordings of players such as Fred Cockerham, Kyle Creed, Tommy Jarrell may get you fired up. Ken Perlman has some good books and recordings too, and I understand there are a few good instructional videos available by some of the above, and bluegrass players too.


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Subject: RE: old-time picking on resonator banjos
From: JedMarum
Date: 20 Aug 00 - 10:34 PM

Thanks Arnie and Jon for some practical suggestions. I'll look into them this week, and let ya know.

I have been developing, what may be bad habits, but it owrks for me ... using a combination of 3 fingered style picking and some thumb picking with brushing. Since I use my nails on fingers and a thumb pick, it seems to work out OK. It also makes it easy fro me to switch back-and-forth from brushing to picking within the same song.

I've even tried using a flat pick for some ... had an interesting sound when plucking out melodies along with the fiddle - plectrum style. I may be wandering a bit in my development, but I'm having fun! Still the comments here can help me from straying too far off the beaten path!


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Subject: RE: old-time picking on resonator banjos
From: GUEST
Date: 21 Aug 00 - 11:04 AM

For a good article on the advent of the 5th string on banjos, banjos as a cowboy instrument, clawhammer style and more and for fine open-back instruments go to www.drhorsehair.com. An informative site.

Richard Wright


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Subject: RE: old-time picking on resonator banjos
From: black walnut
Date: 21 Aug 00 - 11:17 AM

agreed about arnie's recommendation of mike seeger's cd. great liner notes and a photo for every banjo played on the album. it's one of my favourite cd's. recommend, recommend. (i got mine for $5 canadian in a second-hand bin....even better!).

~'nut


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Subject: RE: old-time picking on resonator banjos
From: Jon W.
Date: 21 Aug 00 - 07:38 PM

I tried to learn 3-finger bluegrass, couldn't stand the finger picks and didn't think I'd ever get fast enough. I picked up Ken Perlman's book "Basic Clawhammer Banjo" but couldn't learn the right hand clawhammer technique. I've grown comfortable with a compromise - I pick up with forefinger, down with thumb, stroke down on chords with forefinger, and relax and enjoy the music. It's not orthodox but it works for me. Someday I'll learn to clawhammer right, when I want to learn a tune that absolutely cries out for it. When I do, it will be by consulting Mudcatter Bob Clayton's book. It has the best description of right hand technique I've read so far. He had some copies he was selling for a very good price. Contact him by personal message (Songster Bob)


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Subject: RE: old-time picking on resonator banjos
From: Jed at Work
Date: 21 Aug 00 - 07:46 PM

thanks, Jon. I will contact Bob.


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Subject: RE: old-time picking on resonator banjos
From: Jim Krause
Date: 22 Aug 00 - 03:46 PM

I was talking to a frustrated clawhammer banjo player a month ago at the local contradance. He said he just couldn't get it. I told him to break it down. By the time the mics were plugged in and it was time to go to work, he had the basic strum down.

There are three parts to the basic clawhammer, or frailing strum: 1. the index finger note, 2. the brush, & 3. the thumb note on the fifth string. All components of the technique are executed in a downward motion. The only time the hand moves upward is in preparation for the next component. The tricky part is for the brain to convince the hand that there's nothing funny going on down there.


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Subject: RE: old-time picking on resonator banjos
From: Guy Wolff
Date: 22 Aug 00 - 05:13 PM

Soddy, Interesting, I would discribe the thumb note as happening as the hand pulls away from the drum head on(or getting ready for) the upstroke. Is'nt bum chitty bum chitty one way of discribing it or 1,2,& 3,4,& (The & being the pull away on the fith string). 1,2,3,4 being on the waking beat and the &'s being on the off beats...I love frailing!! Thank you Clarence Tom Ashley!!Has everyone heard Dwight Diller's cd something like "1999 all banjo" sorry I'm awfull with names.. All the best Guy


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Subject: RE: old-time picking on resonator banjos
From: SINSULL
Date: 19 Feb 01 - 07:39 PM

Fascinating stuff. Now I am about to receive a four string banjo recovered from my brother's basement - the only positive thing to come out of his divorce. Any suggestions on getting started? Beginner's books? Instructional CD? Or should I just bang away at it until the co-op has me evicted?


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Subject: RE: old-time picking on resonator banjos
From: Uncle_DaveO
Date: 19 Feb 01 - 08:56 PM

Jon Freeman wondered about the tonal choice among clear plastic, Fireskyn, and hide heads.

Many old-time players like the "tubby" sound, what I think of as "the tuned drum" sound. For those who want that sort of thing, the hide head is to be preferred. Also, one of the techniques to get this sound is to relax the tension on the head, whatever the material.

For the modern convenience, humidity tolerance, and durability, plus a somewhat clearer sound, Fibreskyn.

Moving further toward the clear penetrating end, the frosted plastic head is the head of choice.

For the clearest, most penetrating sound, the clear plastic is desirable.

If you look at that progression, it makes sense: The greater the mass of the head, the plunkier or tubbier the sound.

DAve Oesterreich


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Subject: RE: old-time picking on resonator banjos
From: GUEST,Blind Desert Pete
Date: 20 Feb 01 - 07:34 PM

I seem to remember Wade Ward, playing a gibson resonator banjo, and they dont come no better than ol' Wade.


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Subject: RE: old-time picking on resonator banjos
From: GUEST,*Carol's Friend Don
Date: 20 Feb 01 - 07:44 PM

I've played an old long neck Vega Folk Ranger for years and for old time music or any waltz it's great. I've used a guitar tuning D-G-B-E with the capo on the third fret and an extra long Shubb 5th string capo also on the third fret of the 5th string. That way when I drop the capo to the 1st fret(G to F) or to the nut (E) I can drop the capo down the same number of frets on the 5th string side, or go up a whole octive (E to E)leaving the rail with just enough to catch the first fret of the 5th string - not the nut of the 5th string - and twelve little frets up, it's Hello Doll(E).

Most people don't use the three frets south of the G/C position, but I do frequently, since I back up a lot of singers, and sometimes you have to read the chords off their guitars in order to get your chops in. Over the years I have also dropped my fifth string into the bridge, so that from the side it is a quarter inch down from the plane of the other strings. It allows a truer set to the string, since it doesn't rise to the bridge as quickly from its capo'd position and allows me to use a tenor banjo strum to add texture to the music without the drone of the fifth. "Drone of the Fifth"...sounds like a lament in the making..., or a song about a useless piper.

As for those who are trying to transition from guitar to banjo, the former tuning works great, or try a six string banjo. Believe it or not, my Goldtone (a GT-500, $550 thru Elderly's) sounds great, when I've had several opportunities to play very expensive six string Deerings, which sucked. Try some Travis picking on one of those babies, while rolling up the E string, and the Bluegrassers will end up picking your bugs off of their windshield.

Or put them sneakers up in a ditch by using a Keyser Drop D Capo two frets up from a regular capo anywhere on the neck. It's "Drop D In Any Key", and instead of a high pitched drone string, you get a bass drone that hurts wooden things at twelve yards. The GT-500 has a pick-up, but it sounds like something from the late sixties Telstars, and is good only for country riffs. Good luck, and don't let the banjo nazis get you down.


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Subject: RE: old-time picking on resonator banjos
From: GUEST,*Carol's Friend Don
Date: 20 Feb 01 - 07:53 PM

I've played an old long neck Vega Folk Ranger for years and for old time music or any waltz it's great. I've used a guitar tuning D-G-B-E with the capo on the third fret and an extra long Shubb 5th string capo also on the third fret of the 5th string. That way when I drop the capo to the 1st fret(G to F) or to the nut (E) I can drop the capo down the same number of frets on the 5th string side, or go up a whole octive (E to E)leaving the rail with just enough to catch the first fret of the 5th string - not the nut of the 5th string - and twelve little frets up, it's Hello Doll(E).

Most people don't use the three frets south of the G/C position, but I do frequently, since I back up a lot of singers, and sometimes you have to read the chords off their guitars in order to get your chops in. Over the years I have also dropped my fifth string into the bridge, so that from the side it is a quarter inch down from the plane of the other strings. It allows a truer set to the string, since it doesn't rise to the bridge as quickly from its capo'd position and allows me to use a tenor banjo strum to add texture to the music without the drone of the fifth. "Drone of the Fifth"...sounds like a lament in the making..., or a song about a useless piper.

As for those who are trying to transition from guitar to banjo, the former tuning works great, or try a six string banjo. Believe it or not, my Goldtone (a GT-500, $550 thru Elderly's) sounds great, when I've had several opportunities to play very expensive six string Deerings, which sucked. Try some Travis picking on one of those babies, while rolling up the E string, and the Bluegrassers will end up picking your bugs off of their windshield.

Or put them sneakers up in a ditch by using a Keyser Drop D Capo two frets up from a regular capo anywhere on the neck. It's "Drop D In Any Key", and instead of a high pitched drone string, you get a bass drone that hurts wooden things at twelve yards. The GT-500 has a pick-up, but it sounds like something from the late sixties Telstars, and is good only for country riffs. Good luck, and don't let the banjo nazis get you down.


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Subject: RE: old-time picking on resonator banjos
From: GUEST,blkbanjoman
Date: 03 Nov 12 - 01:48 AM

Wade Ward. One of the best clawhammer players, period. Resonator banjo.

I went into a local shop a year ago and picked up a resonator banjo and played my take on Ward's Mississippi Sawyer. I saw all kinds of stars and constellations. Never on either of my open back banjos could I have imagined a sound like that. It was so full and robust!

But I can't afford any fancy resonator like that...

Then, just today, I go into another local shop and play this old 1940s low-end resonator banjo from a sub-company of Gibson. I mean this was a basic banjo. It had a plastic head on it! I started picking Tommy Jarrell's John Henry. That banjo sounded amazing!!!! 400 bucks. (Still a pinch for me.. but it ain't a "G" or more.) Some lady in the shop said that when I was playing she didn't think it was a resonator banjo! OMG! That's what I was thinking... Why don't I get a cheap resonator banjo and get to work!

Great posts up here. It's just all about what you like to hear. There ain't no rules on what you can play and can't. Do you, man!

Peace,

BBM


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Subject: RE: old-time picking on resonator banjos
From: Henry Krinkle
Date: 03 Nov 12 - 04:29 AM

Good to know all this. I have a Gibson RB-3 and just bought a Deering Boston. I can take the resonator and flanges off of the Deering. And I might one day.
=(:-( ))


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