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Author Topic: Banjo players, Talk to me.  (Read 19132 times)

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Offline morning

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Banjo players, Talk to me.
« on: Aug 07, 2008, 12:11:19 AM »
While I am recuperating from treatments for cancer, I am too tired to practice fiddle for more than an hour a day, so I've been playing around with a banjo. Five string standard tuning. Resonator back.
I know there are basically 2 styles of playing. One is the Scruggs style. The other is Clawhammer. Maybe there are more. But I don't know about them.
I want to expand my versatility with the Old Time Band I play guitar in. Besides, I am comatose with the 1-4-5 patterns of rhythm guitar.
I have a Mel Bay teach yourself book by Janet Davis. She is showing wonderful arpeggiation, and less chords. The chords seem to be F shape. D shape or Barre.
I can't barre for s..t on my guitar, but the banjo might be easier.
I thought I could learn this thing in about a month and stay committed to my fiddle.
I'm thinking now, that it might be a long month. Maybe a winter or two.
The good thing about the banjo is the way it sits close to my body and resonates. It feels very therapeutic. I have unlimited time and patience and can play a measure over fifty times if I need to.
Tell me about your learning banjo. About the different styles of banjo. Feed me some trivia about it if you have any. I am really fascinated with it.
Thanks, M

Offline Happy Camper

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Re: Banjo players, Talk to me.
« Reply #1 on: Aug 07, 2008, 01:08:24 AM »

Hope some of them banjo players talk to you.

The only thing I know is that you have to learn how not to ever get the dern thing tuned, especially at a jam session, and also learn how to do that drool from one side of the mouth when you play it.

Other than that, I bet you pick it all up pretty quick from the stuff from Janet Davis Music Store.  She is some banjo player and usually plays some fancy banjo with all the trimmings.

Wish you well regarding your medical treatments.  I have enjoyed your postings on the Forum.

Offline frodopogo

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Re: Banjo players, Talk to me.
« Reply #2 on: Aug 07, 2008, 01:21:15 AM »
Sorry to hear about your cancer!
Hope the treatment goes as well as possible!
BEAT IT! (the cancer, that is!)

Anyhoo,
I played banjo before I got into fiddle.
Like so many at the time (circa 1970)
I fell in love with Foggy Mountain Breakdown,
and started taking bluegrass banjo lessons.
But there was a jam on the lawn at college (CSU Northridge)
with both bluegrass and old time pickers.
I was just beginning, so I was too timid to get my instrument out.
At the end of one jam, it was just me and a guitarist.
He said "Can you play that thing?"
"A little, I said"
He said "Show me!"
So I played him probably the slowest version of Foggy Mountain
Breakdown he'd ever heard.
He laughed and said, "That's not what you're supposed to play on
that kind of banjo!" (It was an open back Vega)
"Let me see that!"
And I handed it to him, he retuned it in C,
and played Soldier's Joy clawhammer style, and I fell in love right there.

I got a Pete Seeger banjo book, and it took me something like 3 and 1/2
months to get the "frailing" "bumpditty" strum which is analogous to
the boom chucka country backup pattern also used for Old Time backup.

The initial learning curve for frailing is STEEP, especially if you've ever played anything (usually guitar) fingerpicking style.
Not only is it the opposite direction the hand is moving more as a unit.

After that, things level off dramatically.

Pretty soon I was playing simple melodies clawhammer style and singing with them.  Then I found a fiddler, jammed with him, and caught the fiddle bug,
and decided that for fiddle tunes above a certain complexity, I was putting
so much effort into them on banjo that I might as well learn them on fiddle,
so I borrowed a fiddle, and the rest is history.
But I still play some banjo, and use it in my nursing home volunteering and
senior center gigs.

I only had 3 Scruggs-style lessons, but I can say that from the get-go it's a lot more complex, and it has lots of syncopation.
The syncopation is cool, but it doesn't always make sense without a backup instrument.
Many people who switch from Scruggs to clawhammer say that clawhammer is more satisfying to play when practicing alone, because you are usually playing the melody.

There are also Old Time fingerpicking styles similar to Scruggs style,
but instead of these complex breaks, the banjo is just playing some slightly syncopated arpeggios underneath the fiddle melody.

A really good album that highlights this is
Matt Brown's "Lone Prairie" album, available on CD Baby.
The banjo player is Paul Brown (the NPR announcer- no relation to Matt)
and he does both clawhammer and Old Time fingerpicking underneath
Matt's fine Old Time fiddling.  Beverly Smith sings 3 songs and plays backup guitar on many others.

Normally, 5 string banjos with resonators are used for Scruggs style.
The head is cranked very tight, and normally the finger position is near the bridge, resulting in a very trebley sound.

Banjos used for Old Time are normally open back.
The head is tightened to taste, some people liking it tight and bright,
others preferring loose and plunky (I'm the latter).

My current Banjo is a Hohner Travel Banjo (HTB).
They have them at Elderly Instruments where I got mine,
but other places as well.  They are less than $200.
I like it because:
1. I usually sing in D with the banjo,
and I'd have to capo a normal neck banjo.
This short neck banjo I just tune up.
2. It has a good plunky sound, with a small brass tone ring.
3. It is lighter than many banjos.
I strained my should when a friend handed his banjo to me last spring!
Many weigh around 10 pounds! Not for me!

There is also a similar Hohner with the same "pot" and tone ring,
but a normal length neck.

Oh yeah... Happy Camper mentioned something about tuning-
there are THREE tunings for Old Time Clawhammer which are obligatory.
1. G tuning, which you've tried.
2. Sawmill, with the second string B raised to C for
G modal mountain tunes like Shady Grove and Coo Coo Bird.
3. Some C tuning.  There are 3.
One is called Standard, and is just normal G tuning with the low D lowered
to C. It is good if you play a lot of chord backup.
I use what is called "2 C's" tuning.
I use Sawmill as a transitional tuning to get there.
From Sawmill, you drop the low D to C, and you have it.
The second string you raised to C and the low string you dropped
are an octave apart.

Although the tunings are G and C, banjo players often play
in A and D with fiddlers.  A capo on the second fret is used to get to those keys.
At jam sessions, the rest of the jam has to wait for the banjo player to get recapoed and retuned, which is why Happy Camper made the joke about tuning.
Smart fiddlers or tune requesters have a tune list segregated by key,
and play all their G tunes, A tunes, A modal tunes and D tunes together in groups.
If you're careful, the banjo only has to be retuned twice that way.
There are other tunings, but many are used for only a couple tunes-
if you play a lot in a group, it's best to stick to G, sawmill, and the C tuning of your choice.

Michael

Offline frodopogo

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Re: Banjo players, Talk to me.
« Reply #3 on: Aug 07, 2008, 01:28:35 AM »
On my ezfolk website,
http://ezfolk.com/audio/bands/1088/
I have some tunes with fiddle and clawhammer banjo-
they are marked as such.

I am a drop thumb clawhammer player.

Click on "Our Songs" for those.

I have a streaming "station" under "Our Stations"
that has my fiddle & banjo and fiddle & guitar stuff,
plus some of my favorite Old Time stuff from other performers
on ezfolk.

They offer a variety of different styles: some bright, some plunky,
some fretted, some fretless, some single note melodic, some with a strong
bump-ditty rhythm.


Michael

Offline morning

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Re: Banjo players, Talk to me.
« Reply #4 on: Aug 07, 2008, 01:36:45 AM »
So with all that re-tuning. Do you bust a lot of strings? I love the modal tunes and can't wait to try that tuning. We do a medley with Sally in the Garden and Julia Delaney and something else. I love it.
As to the drooling, I am basically rather well balanced. I can drool ambidextrously. I think that should work with the banjo, don't you?
I love your information. All of that is so new to me.
My family is shaking their heads thinking I'm off on another kick. I don't think I am. I love the fiddle. But, Gosh it's fun to learn something completely new.


Offline madmat

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Re: Banjo players, Talk to me.
« Reply #5 on: Aug 07, 2008, 01:51:41 AM »
My family is shaking their heads thinking I'm off on another kick. I don't think I am. I love the fiddle. But, Gosh it's fun to learn something completely new.
I think all it takes to play the banjo successfully is attitude... and a total lack of shame. ;D Tuning is not important.

Re-posted from the "music you hate" thread;
Quote
"Banjar" is supposed to be Swahili for "that which cannot be tuned..." Grin

Ryan Shupe & the Rubber Band combines rap and banjo playing to create... well, it it isn't something to hate, something that's at least REALLY funny. (Don't be eating or drinking anything while watching this, unless your computer needs a really good cleaning anyway.)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3-YXYPCmSDA
Not your mama, or Yo-yo Ma!

Offline morning

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Re: Banjo players, Talk to me.
« Reply #6 on: Aug 07, 2008, 02:07:44 AM »
Good news, Matt . You need to listen to Micheal's ezfolk website. He really makes it sound like something I want to do. I think the one I want to learn first is Big Scioty. It's a tune we did a couple years ago and it could have used a little banjo spunk.Thanks, Michael.
My mother thinks I need to grow two new arms ( maybe where my recent amputations were). Then I could play banjo and fiddle. I guess she hasn't met Michael nor  Audacity.

Offline madmat

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Re: Banjo players, Talk to me.
« Reply #7 on: Aug 07, 2008, 05:56:12 AM »
I guess she hasn't met Michael nor  Audacity.
Audacity is a good substitute for a total lack of shame. ;D Use either in liberal quantities, and enjoy the banjo. :)
Not your mama, or Yo-yo Ma!

Offline Luther

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Re: Banjo players, Talk to me.
« Reply #8 on: Aug 07, 2008, 07:41:34 PM »
Hi Morning I hope you're feeling better. I don't play banjo but my wife does. She picked it up after playing mandolin for 5 years. She plays old time claw hammer style. Once she put her head to it she was playing fairly well within a few months. I did take a claw hammer class (5 days) a few years ago and the "bum-diddy" does take some practice but it seems that once you get it you've got it.  I can appreciate bluegrass / Scruggs style but claw hammer just warms my heart. Good luck to you with the banjo, and remember it's the journey.

peace...Brad

Offline frodopogo

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Re: Banjo players, Talk to me.
« Reply #9 on: Aug 07, 2008, 08:16:10 PM »
Quote from: morning

link=topic=28549.msg241622#msg24162

2 date=1218069405
So with all that re-tuning.
Do you bust a lot of
strings?
I love the modal
tunes and can't wait to try that
tuning. We do a medley with Sally
in the Garden and Julia Delaney and
something else. I love it.
As to the drooling, I am basically
rather well balanced. I can drool
ambidextrously. I think that should
work with the banjo, don't you?
I love your information. All of that is so new to me.
My family is shaking their heads
thinking I'm off on another kick. I
don't think I am. I love the
fiddle. But, Gosh it's fun to learn
something completely new.

Not all the stuff on the "radio" is by me-
I think Big Scioty is done (and very well!) by
a Swedish Old Time group called the Rockridge Brothers.

Tuning a string below it's normal
pitch and back up is not a problem,
neither in my experience is tuning
a string a half-step high.

There is only one tuning I can
think of that's a sure fire string-buster.
Open C!

If you get to "2 C's" tuning, the
top string is not part of the C chord,
and you put your finger on the 2nd fret to get the C.
I like that, because the hammer-on sounds cool,
and I tend to do similar things
with D and A chords on guitar.

But some people want the unfretted
strings to be a chord,
and they have a problem...
In that case, the top string has to
be tuned UP a whole step from what
it's supposed to be.  If you used a
slightly lighter gauge 1st string
it wouldn't be a problem, but if
it's gauged to be a D, it's going to be iffy.

I'm not sure what it is about banjo...
it's definitely one of the "Rodney
Dangerfield" instruments...
although it shares that role with accordion.
But since accordion is rare in the U.S. anymore,
banjo players make a much more convenient target.
Part of it is a tradition going back to minstrel banjo-
the banjo player is a comedian as well as musician.
In the 20th century Grandpa Jones
and Stringbean played this kind of comic role with
clawhammer banjo.
Also Bashful Brother Oswald.  You
can find videos of all three on YouTube.

Some of it may also be because more
expensive banjos, whether
5 string or plectrum are sonic
powerhouses- they can get VERY loud!
And loud instruments tend to attract brash extroverts...
who may have been the class clowns!
There is a local bluegrass band
with just such a Scruggs player-
he comes to jams, and is ALWAYS
joking about something!
And there is a local plectrum banjo
player (the kind without the 5th
string used for New Orleans Jazz
and also by some players in the "Folk Boom")
locally whose stock-in-trade is
comic songs and is a bit of a cut-up and jokester too.

Anyway, if you become a banjo
player, Madmat has given you a
taste of what to expect!
No respect!

Another factor with Old Time is the retuning-
if the band is performing on stage,
and the banjo player has to retune,
it's a natural place for TUNING
jokes... but the other musicians
are getting impatient with the
banjo player, so it's natural for
them to make the banjo player the
butt of the jokes.

If there are no banjos in the music genre-
a suitable fall-guy will be found-
In rock it's usually the drummer,
sometimes the bass player.
In classical, it's viola players.

Anyway,
if you get serious about this,
by all means check out the Banjo Hangout.
There are both Bluegrass and Clawhammer sections.
I'm banjopogo over there, but I'm not there much since
I don't play banjo all that much compared to fiddle.
But it's a very active, very friendly site.
You might especially enjoy Mary Z.
Cox' stuff over there.

Another thing: fingernails!
If you play Scruggs, you don't need
them, you've got fingerpicks.
If you play clawhammer, you either
need a strong, flexible fingernail
usually on the middle finger, but possibly the index...
or you can use one of a variety of
methods to toughen and/or protect
the nail, or substitute for it.

Michael

Offline madmat

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Re: Banjo players, Talk to me.
« Reply #10 on: Aug 07, 2008, 08:31:05 PM »
Hi Morning I hope you're feeling better.
Not to speak for Ms. Morning, but I'm reminded of the incredibly (brutally!) candid stuff my favorite political writer scrivened when she was under treatment:

Having breast cancer is massive amounts of no fun. First they mutilate you; then they poison you; then they burn you. I have been on blind dates better than that.

-- the late, and still great, Molly Ivins
http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,1101020218-201917,00.html
Not your mama, or Yo-yo Ma!

Offline madmat

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Re: Banjo players, Talk to me.
« Reply #11 on: Aug 07, 2008, 08:33:36 PM »
My mother thinks I need to grow two new arms ( maybe where my recent amputations were).
I'm picturing a Madonna-style brassiere, with opera-length gloves sewn to the cups, concealing robotic arms. ;)

We have the technology.
Not your mama, or Yo-yo Ma!

Offline frodopogo

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Re: Banjo players, Talk to me.
« Reply #12 on: Aug 07, 2008, 08:44:49 PM »
Oh yeah...

you mentioned Julia Delaney...
that's an Irish tune, right?

Be advised, while it is still called "banjo"
what is played in Irish bands is almost unrelated
except for the pot/drumhead working the same.

The 5-string openback was the earliest "modern banjo",
with frets and a tension-adjustable head.

Banjo players who wanted to do chord backup for ragtime
and jazz took the 5th string off cause it just got in the way,
both musically and physically. But the tuning is otherwise the same
That's called a plectrum banjo.
They were very popular because with the addition of a resonator,
they were loud enough in the days before amplification to compete
with trumpets and trombones.
People with a violin/viola/cello background had a hard time with the tuning
though, and so someone devise a version tuned in fifths that string players
could get the hang of easily.
These are notable for having a shorter neck than a plectrum or 5-string banjo.
It is played with a pick just like the plectrum.

While the 5 string banjo was used some for Irish vocal groups,
for instrumentals, the Irish did something different-
they took a tenor banjo, which is normally tuned C-G-D-A like a viola,
and tuned it <down> a fifth so it is an octave below mandolin and fiddle,
and can easily play fiddle tunes in first position, although a bit more hand motion is necessary.
This downtuning also gives the strings on an Irish tenor banjo a soft, rubbery
feel that imparts a softness to the tone better suited to blending in with fiddles and flutes, since Irish music is mostly about unison playing.
In modern Irish music the place of the Irish tenor banjo is sometimes taken by the octave mandola or bouzouki.

Tenor banjos can be hard to find.
Remember that Hohner Travel Banjo I have-
the neck length is the same as a tenor banjo, so
with different strings, retuning, and removal of the fifth string,
you can turn it into an Irish tenor banjo quite cheaply.
This is good because hardly anyone makes tenor banjos anymore.
Many were bought up by clawhammer players who had 5 string necks made for them, and many of those that are left are in bad shape or very expensive.

I also forgot to mention- the tuning machines on the Hohner Travel banjo
are really bad- they should be replaced.... otherwise you will need a chromatic tuner.

Michael

Offline morning

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Re: Banjo players, Talk to me.
« Reply #13 on: Aug 09, 2008, 04:34:43 AM »
Michael, Brad and MAdmat, I have been offline for a couple days. My Pete Seeger book arrived and I have practiced it a lot. And last night we had our weekly jam. I was so thrilled when someone told me I was playing too fast... that was on fiddle of course. I feel like a faithless lover when I pick up the banjo.
You're right, MAdmat, we have the technology. I could have arms growing out of my chest. It makes me smile, to think of myself as something of a western Shiva. Bless Molly Ivins.  I hadn't heard that quote.  She was a funny funny lady.
I'm watching the Olympics opening ceremony. Seeing all those people, even though it's beautiful and artistic, gives me a big sense of Uh Oh! I think we're in trouble. And I'm not talking about sports.
Also, I want one of those dresses the hungarian girls wore. Also the hat, please.


Offline morning

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Re: Banjo players, Talk to me.
« Reply #14 on: Aug 09, 2008, 05:31:20 AM »
Thanks, Michael, I just read and re-read your excellent descriptions of banjo for shut-ins. Actually none of that information has been in either of my two books. The fingernail/fingerpick information was particularly unlikely to appear anywhere else. I sort of suspected that a banjo was an unlikely candidate for a nice celtic sound.
I have copied and emailed myself the post on tuning.
Thanks to you all for your good wishes. I think I'm going to be really fine. I have been told, and I believe that it is so, that when one gets a diagnosis of breast cancer, you can just plan on giving up a year of your life to all the surgeries and treatments. But you can learn a lot of music in a year. This has been a little taste of the inevitable... for which I am not ready, and to which I am frankly opposed. I guess the whole cancer thing really ticks me off, though. I was so looking forward to a heart attack.  :P

Offline morning

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Re: Banjo players, Talk to me.
« Reply #15 on: Aug 12, 2008, 01:55:08 AM »
Ok, guys, I took the banjo to my fiddle lesson and my fiddle teacher gave me a lesson. Now I know the direction I want to take. He teaches clawhammer.
He showed me how to do double thumb and he gave me a song.. Shortnin Bread. I'll take one banjo lesson a month, and the fiddle for the other three.
I like the versatility. I tend to overpractice my fiddle and often learn things wrong and so deeply that I can't un learn them. So maybe this will help me get a little balance.

Offline Emma

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Re: Banjo players, Talk to me.
« Reply #16 on: Aug 12, 2008, 02:07:26 AM »
In my next life I want to learn banjo.
This thread is really interesting.  Thanks Michael for all that great information.  Maybe I won't wait for my next life - my husband's never-played resonator 5 string is propping up one of the walls of the music room!

All the very best of luck with recovery, banjo and life, Morning!
Eat food.  Not too much.  Mostly plants.
(Michael Pollan)

Offline morning

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Re: Banjo players, Talk to me.
« Reply #17 on: Aug 12, 2008, 04:48:18 AM »
Hey, Emma, The first thing the teacher told me was how to get the resonator off the banjo. On this one there are some braces and little tiny phillips screws.Also, for Clawhammer you don't need any dubious jewelry like finger picks so you can just go with it.
I don't know if I'm doing the right thing splitting my committment, but one thing I've learned for sure. Life is short and that 'next life' is pretty much theoretical. So, I'm going to take a chance that  I've got enough in me to do both.
If not, I'll make a new decision.
 

Offline Emma

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Re: Banjo players, Talk to me.
« Reply #18 on: Aug 12, 2008, 02:35:27 PM »
If you play clawhammer, you either
need a strong, flexible fingernail
usually on the middle finger, but possibly the index...
or you can use one of a variety of
methods to toughen and/or protect
the nail, or substitute for it.

The fingernail thing might be a deal-breaker for me.  I'm a reformed nail-biter, and I have to keep my nails very short to prevent relapses.  Can I wear just one finger pick?


Eat food.  Not too much.  Mostly plants.
(Michael Pollan)

Offline morning

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Re: Banjo players, Talk to me.
« Reply #19 on: Aug 12, 2008, 03:37:24 PM »
My teacher is a nail biter too. Actually, you'll end up either using your middle finger or index finger nail. My teacher just grows that one out. Also, people do sometimes use one finger pick turned around backward and bent and modeled real close to the finger. But that's just for clawhammer. One book I got, The Tao and How of Old Time Banjo, says "The less you think about your picking nail, the less trouble you'll have with it."
If you play Scruggs style, you can wear all the finger armor you can find and leave the resonator on too.
It's a beautiful day in Colorado. I think I'll spend it re-learning New Money. At my fiddle lesson, I found that I had morphed the b part a bit and it was not a pretty mutation.




Offline farmerjones

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Re: Banjo players, Talk to me.
« Reply #20 on: Aug 12, 2008, 04:11:55 PM »
Good gracious, when most folks want a break from a fiddle they choose a mandolin, because it's tuned and kind of laid out the same.  You must've had the banjo at hand. Take heart, i've got a guitar, banjo, mandolin, as well as a fiddle, and they all get neglected accordingly, save the fiddle. I pick bare fingered. I can't stand the feeling picks on my fingers, so that seperates me from a real banjo picker. There's a company that makes a Goodtime banjo, though i don't have that brand, i think it's a fitting name. Like a harmonica, it's tough to make an unpleasent sound on a banjo. Not like a fiddle. Enjoy! If you don't have a copy of John Hartford's, Hamilton Ironworks, get one. Great banjo work behind, in front of, and alongside the fiddle. JH said, better are times with a banjo and no money, than times with money and no banjo.

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Re: Banjo players, Talk to me.
« Reply #21 on: Aug 12, 2008, 10:56:39 PM »
I played mandolin before fiddle and guitar. I have house full of them, they're so darned pretty to look at. But to play them, I find them a bit plinky.I am,however going tomorrow night to see Chris Thile and Edgar Meyer play together at the tent in Aspen.
Now,speaking of Edgar Meyer, there's an instrument I haven' tried. The bass.
It's hardly portable, and costs more than all my instruments together. Also, the players I have known complain about their fingers long past the time when I would have grown callouses with most other string instruments.
I'm going over to itunes now to check on that John Hartford recommendation.

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Re: Banjo players, Talk to me.
« Reply #22 on: Aug 12, 2008, 11:02:30 PM »
Oh, Yes, That's Bob Carlin backing him. Sooo fine.
When I hear them both play, I'm back to wanting a new set of arms so I can play both at once.

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Re: Banjo players, Talk to me.
« Reply #23 on: Aug 12, 2008, 11:07:05 PM »
I played mandolin before fiddle and guitar. I have house full of them, they're so darned pretty to look at. But to play them, I find them a bit plinky.
Some of us like that ka-PLINGgggggg... and the fact that the fingering is nearly identical to fiddle. :)
Quote
I am,however going tomorrow night to see Chris Thile and Edgar Meyer play together at the tent in Aspen.
Now,speaking of Edgar Meyer, there's an instrument I haven' tried. The bass.

It's hardly portable, and costs more than all my instruments together.
Not to get your IAS any worse than it already is, but electric basses are affordable and portable... the Ashbory being particularly so:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ashbory_bass

I have one of the old Guild ones... it can be made to sound like an upright with proper (improper for eBass) technique...

The new Ibanez Mikro bass is roughly Stratocaster-sized, and about the same weight... it'll fit in a guitar case. If you don't mind listening to yourself thru phones, you can save yourself amp-lugging.
Not your mama, or Yo-yo Ma!

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Re: Banjo players, Talk to me.
« Reply #24 on: Aug 12, 2008, 11:25:27 PM »
When I hear them both play, I'm back to wanting a new set of arms so I can play both at once.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lakshmi
Lakshmi or Mahalakshmi (pronunciation: [ləkʂ.miː]; Sanskrit: लक्ष्मी lakṣmī) is the Hindu goddess of wealth and prosperity.

Iconography

Physically, goddess Lakshmi is described as a fair lady, with four arms, seated on a lotus, dressed in fine garments and precious jewels. Her expression is always calm and loving.
Not your mama, or Yo-yo Ma!

 




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