Posted by Rob MacKillop on Tuesday, October 13, 2009
I've been remiss of late in not contributing to my blog here at BHO. There have been a few changes. I have a new banjo by Luke Mercier which is ideal for the purpose I have for it - the music of Frank B. Converse, one of the greatest 19th-century banjoists. Frank stradled the minstrel and elevated styles, wrote the first in-depth description of playing the banjo in the new-fangled guitar style, and gave a huge amount of information on the technique for the old stroke style. He also wrote some of the finest banjo music ever. I wanted a banjo that inherited some qualities of the old 'tubs' of the minstrel players, yet looked forward to a new age. Luke's banjo has only fourteen brackets - enough to retain some of the old, mellow tub sound, but has a Dobson tone ring, and frets. It has to be one of the most mellow banjos ever made, and is perfect for parlor playing. The ultimate parlor banjo. See photos on my www.classicbanjorm.com website.
It came with all-gut strings. The fourth sounded great when in tune, but that was the problem - it drove me to distraction trying to pitch it accurately. I've now replaced it with a classical guitar string, but I am not happy with it. I have in mind an ideal string - one from the Gut and Silk set by Aquila for late-19th and early-20th-century guitars. I have them on my Panormo. The basses have a great fundamental, very like gut, but have presence as well. I hope to get one soon.
Clawhammer - I enjoy doodling with clawhammer style when I have a spare moment. It's such a physical style, far removed from the classic technique I use. I had a Gold Tone Bob Carlin model, but although it is a great banjo, it really does require a good whack to make it sing well. My technique is too, shall we say, delicate...I spoke to Andy Perkins of www.Andybanjo.com who knows everything there is to know about banjos - well, to me he does. He suggested a swap for one of his Grafton 'Boucher'-style clawhammer banjos, which he assembles from parts. He promises it will be the equal to the Gold Tone in build quality and sound, but much more playable for me. It will have a White Lady tone ring. He will assemble it over the next few days, and I should get it early next week. We shall see... I'd like to try playing traditional tunes with a fiddler, and although Edinburgh is awash with great fiddlers, I don't know any who play in an Appalacian, for example, style, using open tunings and suchlike techniques. Maybe one day. In the meantime I'll work on my clawhammer technique.
Thursday, October 29, 2009 @10:10:34 AM
hi rob. interesting to hear of your developing interest in the queen of all instruments. enjoyed reading your comments. i was fortunate some years ago to get a shot of richard blaustein's boucher (wunder) banjo. it had i think 6 tensioners and gut strings and was a deeply formative experience (ie there's no substitute for gut). fabulous piece of kit. as for fingerstyle banjo - great to watch others do it, but i anin't got the technique or the wiring in my head to do that. i'll just keep it old-time. There's sympathetic fiddlers in scotland, even in edinburgh. interested to hear how you get on with your new banjo. regards, iain
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