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FIRST-TIME BANJO PURCHASE: ADVICE?

Knicke 05 Dec 00 - 11:41 AM
mousethief 05 Dec 00 - 12:45 PM
GUEST,Russ 05 Dec 00 - 01:36 PM
Luke 05 Dec 00 - 02:27 PM
Knicke 05 Dec 00 - 05:08 PM
Little Neophyte 05 Dec 00 - 06:11 PM
Little Neophyte 05 Dec 00 - 06:23 PM
Geoff the Duck 05 Dec 00 - 07:49 PM
Geoff the Duck 05 Dec 00 - 07:57 PM
BanjoRay 06 Dec 00 - 08:26 AM
Knicke 06 Dec 00 - 09:30 AM
Auxiris 06 Dec 00 - 10:00 AM
GUEST,Russ 06 Dec 00 - 11:28 AM
The Shambles 06 Dec 00 - 01:15 PM
The Shambles 06 Dec 00 - 01:21 PM
Knicke 06 Dec 00 - 10:54 PM
Little Neophyte 06 Dec 00 - 11:29 PM
GutBucketeer 07 Dec 00 - 12:53 AM
Little Neophyte 07 Dec 00 - 06:03 AM
catspaw49 07 Dec 00 - 08:43 AM
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Subject: FIRST-TIME BANJO PURCHASE: ADVICE?
From: Knicke
Date: 05 Dec 00 - 11:41 AM

Hi, all. I'm a college student and bluegrass fiddler...and I've been toying recently with the idea of learning clawhammer banjo. I'd really like to be able to switch back and forth between the two instruments. However, I know very little about the fine points of clawhammer (all my banjo playing friends are strictly Scruggs style)...can anyone give me any tips about purchasing a beginner banjo for the purpose of learning clawhammer? Useful things to know: how to spot problems in used instruments, openback or not...also, any REALLY GOOD books or videos out there to help the beginner get started?

Knicke


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Subject: RE: FIRST-TIME BANJO PURCHASE: ADVICE?
From: mousethief
Date: 05 Dec 00 - 12:45 PM

1. get a good banjo player to go with you on your purchasing junket. The better the player the better.

2. get the best banjo you can afford.

alex


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Subject: RE: FIRST-TIME BANJO PURCHASE: ADVICE?
From: GUEST,Russ
Date: 05 Dec 00 - 01:36 PM

Be sure to check out Mike Ramsey's starter banjo (www.ramseybanjos.com/Student.html). Also look at the Deering Goodtime (www.deeringbanjos.com). I've played and was impressed with both.

I disagree with mousethief. Decide how much you can afford. Add 40%. Spend that much. You will never regret the purchase of a good instrument. It is much more important that a beginner have a good instrument than an experienced player.

Seek out old time musicians. Look at what they play. Talk to them about their instruments. Noodle with their instruments. Let them confuse you with the eloquence and passion of their recommendations.

Go to Clifftop.


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Subject: RE: FIRST-TIME BANJO PURCHASE: ADVICE?
From: Luke
Date: 05 Dec 00 - 02:27 PM

How fast you want it? Can you borrow one? I've heard some great playing on some really terrible banjos.

If you got dough and time your in business. The experiance is varied between these two things. Go to a good music store like Elderly Instruments in Lansing Mi. You could if you were flush and in a hurry just call them and tell them what style you want to play and they could maybe send you one on approval.(ask for Stan) I would trust them to get you started in the right direction no matter what your dollar or time frame might be.

Luke


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Subject: RE: FIRST-TIME BANJO PURCHASE: ADVICE?
From: Knicke
Date: 05 Dec 00 - 05:08 PM

So far, so good. Y'all should know, though, that I'm one of the stingiest music lovers around...my speciality is haunting pawn and used instrument shops, looking for good deals. So, I guess what I'm asking is, how can I tell a lemon, as far as banjos go? I have $$, but not a lot...

Incidentally, Luke, I did make an attempt to borrow my dad's spare banjo...unfortunately, he went and loaned it out to someone else. :) Borrowing long-term would be my best option right now (especially since I'm not sure how much effort I'm going to want to invest), but it doesn't seem to be an immediate possibility.

I have heard good things (from several friends) about Goldtone banjos...apparently, their starter model is as good or better than the Deering Goodtime (the first banjo I thought of buying), and costs less. Has anyone else heard anything similar?

Knicke


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Subject: RE: FIRST-TIME BANJO PURCHASE: ADVICE?
From: Little Neophyte
Date: 05 Dec 00 - 06:11 PM

I first started out with taking the resonator off a cheap bluegrass banjo. Might be an option to consider.
Then I got a Deering Goodtime which I regret not buying as my first banjo. But like Russ was saying, recently I tried the Chanterelle Student made by Ramsey which would have been my dream beginner banjo. It runs at a reasonable price too.

Bonnie


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Subject: RE: FIRST-TIME BANJO PURCHASE: ADVICE?
From: Little Neophyte
Date: 05 Dec 00 - 06:23 PM

Knicke, you might find these threads helpful too.
Click here
Click here

Little Neo


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Subject: RE: FIRST-TIME BANJO PURCHASE: ADVICE?
From: Geoff the Duck
Date: 05 Dec 00 - 07:49 PM

For clawhammer you want a banjo which is more mellow than a bluegrass picker needs. Take one of your friends who play Scruggs style bluegrass - they will be able to determine if a banjo is playable. Basic points such as the height of strings above the frets, and a straight neck etc. are common for playability whatever style you use (a crap instrument is crap whatever style of music you play) If the "action" is too high you cannot fret a note without stretching the string out of tune, a warped, bowed or twisted neck will always make an instrument difficult (if not impossible) to play, uneven frets will either cause buzzes or possibly prevent a note being played. This applies whether you play bluegrass or old-time banjo (or guitar, or mandolin or lute). If a bluegrass player cannot get a tune out of the banjo, it is probably not playable.
Next step is to listen to the kind of sound it produces. A nice "plunky" sound will often suit clawhammer. Traditionally an open back banjo is more authentic, but other banjos will also suit. A "Whyte Lady" (misspelt) type of tone ring produces a good sound for frailing. Traditional designs with a proper "perch pole" construction, where the neck continues through the banjo head rather than metal rods holding the neck in place are more likely to suit the style.
As far as instruction is concerned, try to track down recordings of authentic players. Rounder records have some good stuff. I like Art Rosenbaum - "The art of the 5-string banjo" is an excellent record which inspired me. There is an instuctional book published by Mel Bay Publications which includes all the tunes on this LP and another of Art's (it includes them on a CD). I have just picked up a copy, but have been too busy to look at it in detail - 16 month old twins do not allow you much breathing space. The tunes are writtten in Tablature, which is worth taking the time to learn as it describes what your fingers do to produce the notes rather than simply giving you a melody or chords. I also picked up another booklet in the same series (again with a CD) of tunes played by the Fuzzy Mountain String Band.
Try this Blue clicky Thing That said - clawhammer can be hard, fast, driving music, but can also be slow, melodic and lyrical. I love the feel of it! It was clawhammer which inspired me to design and make my own banjo.
I hope my comments are of use. Feel free to "Mudcat Mail" me if I can help further.
Quack
Geoff the Duck


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Subject: RE: FIRST-TIME BANJO PURCHASE: ADVICE?
From: Geoff the Duck
Date: 05 Dec 00 - 07:57 PM

For clawhammer you want a banjo which is more mellow than a bluegrass picker needs. Take one of your friends who play Scruggs style bluegrass - they will be able to determine if a banjo is playable. Basic points such as the height of strings above the frets, and a straight neck etc. are common for playability whatever style you use (a crap instrument is crap whatever style of music you play) If the "action" is too high you cannot fret a note without stretching the string out of tune, a warped, bowed or twisted neck will always make an instrument difficult (if not impossible) to play, uneven frets will either cause buzzes or possibly prevent a note being played. This applies whether you play bluegrass or old-time banjo (or guitar, or mandolin or lute). If a bluegrass player cannot get a tune out of the banjo, it is probably not playable.
Next step is to listen to the kind of sound it produces. A nice "plunky" sound will often suit clawhammer. Traditionally an open back banjo is more authentic, but other banjos will also suit. A "Whyte Lady" (misspelt) type of tone ring produces a good sound for frailing. Traditional designs with a proper "perch pole" construction, where the neck continues through the banjo head rather than metal rods holding the neck in place are more likely to suit the style.
As far as instruction is concerned, try to track down recordings of authentic players. Rounder records have some good stuff. I like Art Rosenbaum - "The art of the 5-string banjo" is an excellent record which inspired me. There is an instuctional book published by Mel Bay Publications which includes all the tunes on this LP and another of Art's (it includes them on a CD). I have just picked up a copy, but have been too busy to look at it in detail - 16 month old twins do not allow you much breathing space. The tunes are writtten in Tablature, which is worth taking the time to learn as it describes what your fingers do to produce the notes rather than simply giving you a melody or chords. I also picked up another booklet in the same series (again with a CD) of tunes played by the Fuzzy Mountain String Band.
Try this Blue clicky Thing Mel Bay Publications website I hope I got the Clicky right this time - They produce a lot of stuff which I do not like, but these two are definitely worth having.
When I started learningthe banjo (by the way I live in England, so was pretty far removed from any "source material", I could only find Pete Seeger's book, which scarcely mentioned frailing. It was however a useful starting point for getting the general idea of playing a banjo. The rhytmic pattern of Pete Seeger's "basic strum" are similar to clawhemmer, but in frailing you do not "pick" a string - every motion except the thumb is DOWN towards the banjo head. I could only reach a certain level of competence with Seeger's basic strum, as I found that the change from picking upwards to brushing down and then back to up prevented me from building up speed and momentum. When I discovered clawhammer, that obstacle was suddenly lifted and suddenly I could "fly".
That said - clawhammer can be hard, fast, driving music, but can also be slow, melodic and lyrical. I love the feel of it! It was clawhammer which inspired me to design and make my own banjo.
I hope my comments are of use. Feel free to "Mudcat Mail" me if I can help further.
Quack
Geoff the Duck


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Subject: RE: FIRST-TIME BANJO PURCHASE: ADVICE?
From: BanjoRay
Date: 06 Dec 00 - 08:26 AM

BEWARE - the Mel Bay book of Fuzzy Mountain String Band tunes contain only 3 finger up-picking tablatures, and not the clawhammer that was used on the CD that comes with it. God knows why Mel Bay did this, but its very frustrating - there's nothing in the book that tells you which style of tab is being used. You only find out after an hour of trying tunes in clawhammer and scratching your head.
The 2 Dwight Diller videos are excellent learning tools, as are Ken Perlman's books, Brad Leftwich's Round Peak Clawhammer, and many others.
Cheers
Ray


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Subject: RE: FIRST-TIME BANJO PURCHASE: ADVICE?
From: Knicke
Date: 06 Dec 00 - 09:30 AM

Thanks, Ray and Geoff! Frailing seems to be such an individual thing, though...everyone seems to do it differently. Is the only way to learn just to hang out at oldtime festival after oldtime festival and keep my eyes peeled? I've got lots of resources for tunes, and a pretty good knowlege of the fingerboard...but I need to learn the fine points of the frailing MOTION.

I assume videos would help with technique questions a lot better than printed material...any thoughts?


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Subject: RE: FIRST-TIME BANJO PURCHASE: ADVICE?
From: Auxiris
Date: 06 Dec 00 - 10:00 AM

Lots of excellent advice in this thread already. One thing you might want to avoid are banjos with skin heads; they do sound nice, but aren't worth the trouble. You can get pretty much the same sound by using a Fiberskyn head.

cheers,

Aux


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Subject: RE: FIRST-TIME BANJO PURCHASE: ADVICE?
From: GUEST,Russ
Date: 06 Dec 00 - 11:28 AM

Videos are better than books, but humans are better than videos. At some point, as early as possible, you need live interaction with a banjo teacher. There is no substitute for, "That's not exactly the way I do it. Here, let me show you."


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Subject: RE: FIRST-TIME BANJO PURCHASE: ADVICE?
From: The Shambles
Date: 06 Dec 00 - 01:15 PM

Lots of good useful advice so far......

It's not too late to reconsider however.


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Subject: RE: FIRST-TIME BANJO PURCHASE: ADVICE?
From: The Shambles
Date: 06 Dec 00 - 01:21 PM

Why are guitars sexy and banjos not?


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Subject: RE: FIRST-TIME BANJO PURCHASE: ADVICE?
From: Knicke
Date: 06 Dec 00 - 10:54 PM

The Shambles,

O.K. All I have to say is JOHN HARTFORD during the Aeroplane era. Did anyone make it to the Aeroplane reunion concert in Troy, NY (with Tut Taylor, Norman Blake, Sam Bush, Vassar Clements)? Tall gangly man, beautiful banjo=SEXY!!!!!

Granted, guitars are very sexy instruments, but give the banjo it's DUE!!!!!

Knicke


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Subject: RE: FIRST-TIME BANJO PURCHASE: ADVICE?
From: Little Neophyte
Date: 06 Dec 00 - 11:29 PM

Guitars may be sexy, but personally I think banjos are erotic.

Little Neo


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Subject: RE: FIRST-TIME BANJO PURCHASE: ADVICE?
From: GutBucketeer
Date: 07 Dec 00 - 12:53 AM

I agree Bonnie! There is something about banjos that sends me!

Anyway, I just saw a Goodtime for $180 in the BanjoL archives:

http://listproc.ucdavis.edu/archives/banjo-l/log0012/0279.html

I've also heard good things about the Criple Creek and other open backs made by Goldtone as good starter banjos.

I have three banjos, two that I bought through e-bay for about $100.00 each (an old kay student model, and a nameless one with a skin head), and one that I bought from a local banjo repairman for $250 (A Harmony open back). I would have been much better off buying 1 banjo that was better quality with better tone, action, etc. Those 12" Student models by Bart Ramsey look real real tempting!

JAB


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Subject: RE: FIRST-TIME BANJO PURCHASE: ADVICE?
From: Little Neophyte
Date: 07 Dec 00 - 06:03 AM

JAB, one day I would like to have the confidence & courage to buy a banjo through e-bay. Seems I tend to go the expensive root through retail stores so that I will feel save with my purchase. I'm hoping one day the banjo of my dreams turns out to be a real junker with good tone.


Bonnie


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Subject: RE: FIRST-TIME BANJO PURCHASE: ADVICE?
From: catspaw49
Date: 07 Dec 00 - 08:43 AM

Shambles does have a point and occasionally we agree(:<))

Have you considered a lobotomy? No, wait.......Skip that..........I forgot, it comes free with the purchase.

Spaw


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