Posted by Paul Roberts on Friday, May 23, 2014
Paul Roberts interviewed Ric Hollander in October of 2011
Check out Paul's site for Gold Tone musical instruments at banjocrazy.com
Ric Hollander is among that colorful cadre of banjoists who reside on the cutting edge of creative artistic expression. Ric pulls out some of the most gorgeous tones from of a 5-string banjo, that I’ve ever heard. Ric came to the banjo from a strong background in compositional guitar. This has clearly contributed to the intriguing music he now cultivates on banjo. The sounds he’s getting on his openback and cello banjos are simply exquisite. Ric’s mellifluous playing skills remind me of a classical guitarist - especially his original fingerstyle pieces. The huge lute-like tones he’s getting on his recordings - both his original pieces and traditional clawhammer tunes – are highly pleasing to the human ear, and I’d wager that our neighbors in the animal kingdom would be very appreciative as well. Each of Ric’s recordings reveals a true artist, constantly at work honing his wonderfully fresh perspective on banjo music in the 21st century. He has a highly esteemed presence on banjohangout.com, where his enthusiastic friends and admirers are eagerly awaiting the mainstream presentation of Ric Hollander’s shining banjo music to the world.
- Paul Roberts
Ric, tell us something about your musical background.
As a kid growing up in the late 60’s and 70’s, I was right in the middle of the folk music boom here in the U.S. There was always folk music playing in our home. LP’s from artists like Peter Paul and Mary, Bob Dylan, Gordon Lightfoot, Ian and Sylvia, The Kingston Trio, The Weavers, Simon and Garfunkel, Tom Paxton and others dominated the HiFi. I wonder what happened to that old HiFi; I bet it’s buried in my folks’ basement somewhere. My Mom studied piano and used to play our old upright that we kept in the downstairs playroom. Chattanooga Choo Choo was one of her favorites. My Dad tinkered with the guitar and also got into playing the harmonica. During that time my Mom decided to learn guitar. I remember her taking a course given on channel 13 (public television) by Laura Webber. I recall watching her learning to play arpeggios and Travis picking. She loved it and was a natural on the guitar. She purchased a nice Martin 0016c classical from our local Sam Ash music store on Long Island. I loved watching and listening to her play and sing.
What was your first instrument?
My folks wanted me to study piano as my first instrument so they found a local teacher for me. Her name was Mrs. Block and I remember during our first lesson she explained where middle C was on the keyboard. She took out her red pen and drew a line right on the white painted surface of the piano. You see, the piano we owned had wonderful potential but it was in pretty bad cosmetic shape so it wasn’t shocking that Mrs. Block felt it would be ok to draw on it. The piano was over 100 years old at that time. My folks bought it for something like $40 through Buy Lines. Remember Buy Lines? Anyway, it was painted white and the paint was crackling everywhere. Underneath the white was black paint. It was not a pretty sight but it had beautiful woodcarving, a graceful design and a wonderful bright sound. Years later my folks tried refinishing it but they had problems removing the stubborn layers of antique paint. I remember my Dad even trying a torch as a means of stripping it but he wasn’t successful. They ended up paining it an antique green. How’s that for a 60’s look? Many years later, in 1980, they gave me that old piano. I was determined to refinish it and ended up using marine paint stripper, you know the stuff they use on boat hulls to get off all that old paint. Underneath all of it was tiger grain mahogany and it was worth all the hard work. I even rebuilt the action mechanism. My kids grew up taking piano lessons on that same instrument. It has seen a lot of great use over the years.
When did you get your hands right on the strings?
I think I took piano lessons for a year or two but I really wanted to learn to play the guitar like my mom. My dad still kids me about the first time I held a guitar. Apparently, I wanted to hold it backwards and, thankfully, they insisted I turn it around the right way. I’m told I first began learning the guitar at age 6. The guitar came very easily to me. It wasn’t long before I was showing my mom some cool things I was learning on my own. My mom no longer plays and has since given me that 0016c. I have it on a stand in my studio and play it from time to time. It’s a very special instrument. I learned all the popular folk tunes of the day and started off fingerpicking from day one. I pretty much never used a pick at that time. The bad thing was that I was only using two fingers on my right hand, my thumb and index and rested my other fingers on the guitar top. That’s how my mom played so that’s how I did it unaware that this was not an ideal approach. Many years later, I had to confront that issue. I’ll go into that a bit later.
How serious were you about the guitar at that time in your life?
I pretty much played guitar all the time. As soon as I got home from school I would play and continue until I went to bed with a break here and there for dinner and homework. I remember my mom urging me to go out and play with other kids, but I was really focused on learning everything I could on the guitar.
Any salient memories from that period of your musical journey?
I remember one time I was sitting on my front stoop and the local bully walked by with his sidekick friend. I think his name was Pat Brady. He was a foster kid who lived the next block over. You didn’t want to have a problem with Pat Brady. Anyway, I’m sitting there playing the guitar and I see him walking by. I think I was around 10 at the time. I stopped playing of course as he approached. He walks up our front lawn and challenged me to play for him, assuming that a skinny, curly haired kid like me could not possibly play. I said sure if he would also play for me. He said ok but I had to play first. I did. I played Classical Gas note for note. He refused to play for me but that was a major moment in my young life. From that point on no one ever picked on me at school. I guess Pat spread the word around to his buddies. Who would have thought that music would make such an impression? Good thing for me!
What styles were you pursuing in your guitar playing?
In 1973 when Richard Nixon was being impeached I spent my summer at the Guitar Workshop located at the Planting Fields Arboretum in the town of Oyster Bay. What an amazing experience! It was the first time that I was exposed to the music of Hot Tuna. I loved the way Jorma Kaukonen played. It sounded so big and complete. I was also exposed to the music of Rev. Gary Davis, Blind Blake and others. Once I heard ragtime played on the guitar, I was hooked. I had to learn that! I remember going to the Hicksville Public Library and finding a record with a tab book on ragtime guitar. Remember Kicking Mule Records? I learned every song on that LP and was seriously hooked. I took classical courses at the Guitar Workshop too and met a lot of really interesting people. Classes were given outside under the trees with chairs setup all around. It was one of the best summers ever!
When did you begin teaching guitar?
Many years later, I thought I might have the chops necessary to become a teacher at the Guitar Workshop and arranged for an interview. It was great to be back there again. At that time they were setup in the school of a local church in Roslyn, NY. They’d use the facility in the evening when the school was closed. I remember the interview like it was yesterday. I had prepared a tab book of every solo fingerstyle tune I could play. I wrote them all out by hand (there was no PC or TableEdit yet). I was proud to show the two music directors my book and to play for them. The response I got surprised me. They loved the way I played but said that I could not teach there because of my two-finger right hand technique. They loved the music I was making but not the technique I was using. They also said I needed to be able to write out my tunes in standard notation. I was determined to get that job. I asked them if I could interview with them again in a year and told them I would work on my right hand and learn to read and write music. They agreed.
You had to retool your entire style?
Yes, I found a wonderful renaissance lute and guitar player who started to teach me proper right hand technique. It was like learning to play all over again. I mean, I was fast with those two fingers and so I went on faith that doing a full reset would be a good thing. After a few months, it started to feel natural. My speed improved and I was able to play things I could not before. At that same time, I started taking evening lessons with the head of the band department at my high school. Mr. Buddis was his name and he was a very good music theory teacher. I studied hard and was able to write out several of my tunes in standard notation. I still thought tab was the way to go but I understood the benefit of being able to read music. Anyway, I set up a second interview and got the job. I taught there for several years as their Fingerstyle Guitar Specialist.
At some point, you became a devoted rock guitarist. How did that come about?
While at a summer camp called USDAN Center for the Creative and Performing Arts, I met some musicians who I became friends with. It turned out we lived in the same town (Hicksville, NY) so we formed a band. We weren’t very good but we had a great time anyway. I bought my first electric guitar at that time for $30. It was a Kent and I loved it even though it was an entry-level instrument. I couldn’t afford an amp so I used my folk’s old reel-to-reel tape recorder. The band was short-lived, but when I went back to USDAN a few years later, I reconnected with one of the guys I met that summer - Dave Hutchings. We had both gotten better and started jamming together. Dave played trumpet at the time but what we really needed was a bass player so he took up the challenge. Dave is an amazing bass player today and still plays professionally. We then found an awesome drummer (Matt Barry). We were almost there but we needed one more member.
I had struck up a friendship at high school with a guitar player named Bill VonEschen and went over to hang out at his house one day. He told me he was a pretty decent guitar player. He played for me and I thought to myself that he was ok but nothing really special. As I was about to leave, I saw a small upright piano in the living room and asked who played it. He said he and his older brother played a little. I asked him to play something and I was completely blown away. I said, “Bill, you are an amazing keyboard player not a guitarist”. I told him we were in the process of forming a band and asked him if he would be interested in playing keyboards. He agreed and the four of us starting working on our repertoire.
What kind of gigs did you play?
We began playing gigs at local dances and worked our way up to sweet 16 parties and high school proms. We played a variety of 70’s rock music but our love was the intense and complex progressive rock from bands like Emerson Lake and Palmer, Pink Floyd, Argent, Starcastle and others. At the same time, we started writing our own material that was in the same progressive rock genre. We had a blast and even won three “Battle of the Bands” competitions. We became best friends and continued playing together throughout high school. When we eventually parted ways, we had a manager, a light man, a soundman, several roadies and a basement full of gear. We used to haul around a Hammond M3 organ and a full size Leslie speaker system, not to mention a huge mixing board, a stack of PA cabinets, monitors, lights, etc. We were too young to drive so we paid an older guy named Lee Epstein (I think he was 19) to drive us to and from our gigs. I remember sitting in the back of his Dad’s van that was full of our equipment. We use to set up picnic benches on the sides of the van and put all the gear in the middle. Not exactly safe, but thankfully nothing bad ever happened.
What is your most notable memory from your rock ‘n’ roll period?
One of the gigs we played at on a regular basis was an ice skating rink called Twin Rinks in Roslyn, NY. We would set up in this really small balcony area overlooking the rink below. It was freezing up there and our hands would turn blue. But, as usual, we had a great time and made some extra money in the process. We enjoyed watching all the pretty girls skate as we played. One of those lovely ladies turned out to be my future wife Debbie. One day she and I were chatting about old times and somehow it came up that we used to play at Twin Rinks. She remembers going there and enjoying listening to the live band. To my knowledge, we were the only band to play there. Fast-forward 26 years to our wedding day. Although we never spoke at that time, we can honestly say that that is the first time we saw each other.
The band eventually broke up but we all remained close friends. I was tired of loud rock music, playing at clubs, hauling all that gear around and missed the simplicity of playing solo acoustic guitar, so I sold all my gear including my custom-made Fender Strat that I special-ordered, my Acoustic 150 amp and my SRS speaker cabinet. I sold all the effects too. All of it! I traded it in for a brand new Martin D-35 acoustic guitar. It was a treasure to me but it was really hard to play. The action was super high. I gave the guys at the Guitar Workshop a call and asked if they knew anyone who could do a proper setup for me. They recommended a luthier working out of his home in Islip, NY. His name was John Monteleone, now one of the most prominent luthiers in the world. John makes amazing mandolins and arch-top guitars. Back then he was doing repair work. I remember entering his workshop and being mesmerized by the whole environment. The tools, the sawdust on the floor, the big machines – I knew this was something I wanted to do some day (more about that later). Anyway, John did a great job of replacing the plastic nut and saddle with bone as well as doing a fret job. The guitar now had feather-light action. You know, the D-35 had no adjustable truss rod at that time (not sure if it does now) so there was no way to tweak the neck – it had to have a perfect neck angle in order to play well. Fortunately, this one did. I played that guitar for many years and joined up with a female vocalist to play some restaurant gigs in Great Neck, NY.
Time passed and my boys Adam and Steven were born. As you would expect, life became hectic. I was working a full-time job, going to school at night and teaching guitar too. I was even recording folks from my home in a small studio I put together. There were soccer practices and jazz band rehearsals for the boys, not to mention boy scouts and lots of other activities. This was a dry time for me musically. My guitar pretty much sat idle in its case. The hunger for music was still there but it would to have to wait.
In the 90’s, I rediscovered the guitar again. A lot had changed since the last time I was really into it. Michael Hedges was making music with a completely new and exciting sound. Alex de Grassi was recording for Windham Hill and doing amazing things with solo fingerstyle. Billy McLaughlin was playing with a totally two-hand touch technique. There were some really cool things going on and I was eager to get back into the middle of it. I sold my D-35 and got a Taylor 812 – a guitar designed for solo fingerstyle. Once I discovered alternate tunings, my musical world changed. DADGAD was just the beginning. The whole timbre and resonance of the instrument opened up and so did my approach to playing and composing music. I started writing a ton of stuff and I would record my ideas on cassette tape so I wouldn’t forget them. When I had a good theme going I would stitch those ideas together into a complete tune. I have two of them posted on Banjo Hangout (Flash Point and Twist of Fate). The guitar had been the center of my musical world for so long and it was great to reconnect with it.
Earlier you described your experience getting your D-35 set up. Was that an important harbinger of you becoming a luthier?
I had always loved working with wood. My folks had an antique shop when I was a kid and I would help my dad refinish furniture. The first instrument I built was a flute. I made it from an old bamboo fishing pole that I found in my then father-in-law’s loft above his garage. I yearned to someday build a guitar but had no idea what was involved. About 5 years ago my wife Debbie gives me a pile of instrument grade wood, fret wire, nut and saddle blanks, etc. for my birthday and said “You’ve been talking about it long enough now go and build a great guitar.” To say I was overwhelmed was an understatement. Where do I begin? I started doing research online and began participating in luthier forums. I bought a pile of books on the subject and started to dig in.
One year later and I completed my first guitar. To my surprise, it had a wonderful full and balanced sound and played great. It had so much more life to it than any other guitar I had ever owned.
You see, mainstream builders like Martin and Taylor (who make wonderful instruments) tend to overbuild them. By that, I mean they are a bit beefier then they need to be. This cuts down on warranty returns and results in a more solid but less responsive instrument. Everything I read talked about building a guitar that is at equilibrium, meaning that it is built solid enough so that it won’t implode on itself, but no more. You achieve this by how you brace the top. The bracing is so important and is an art form in itself. Anyway, building that first guitar was one of the greatest and most stress-filled experiences of my life. Every step is dependent upon the success of the previous one.
I will never part with that first guitar and I have since sold my Taylor. I built two more, both refined versions of the first, with master-grade tone woods and a really pretty koa rosette. Both sold before they were completed.
Okay, the moment we’ve all been waiting for: how did the banjo come into your life?
My wife Debbie and I love to go to garage sales and on one summer morning in 2009, we decided to do just that. We looked through the newspaper and found an interesting estate sale in an older part of Long Island in the town of Freeport. We arrived at the sale and were greeted by a gentleman at the front door who told us that everything needed to be sold and that the pricing was very flexible (all good!).
We made our way to a small room in the back of the house and sitting on a chair was an old banjo in desperate need of repair. I was drawn to the instrument because of its beauty and nostalgia. It appeared to be a genuine antique, i.e. over 100 years old. I inspected it closely. The fingerboard looked to be in marginal shape. The frets were worn and original. The skin head, stamped with Jos. Rogers name was in great shape. The metal parts were all pretty badly corroded. I had no real interest in the banjo at that point. As I looked over the banjo I was thinking – “Do I really need another project?”
I had a commission guitar build that was partially completed on my bench and I knew that if I got this banjo that it could become a major distraction as I knew that I would be eager to work on it. So, I decided to make an offer and happily walk away if it didn’t work out. I was directed to an older man who was sitting at the kitchen table with his granddaughter. I told him that I was interested in the banjo and offered him $75. I had absolutely no idea of its worth and knew nothing about banjos at that time. He explained that someone else had offered him $200. I explained to him that I build acoustic guitars and I would really enjoy restoring this beautiful instrument. We seemed to connect and chatted a bit more. He said he’d think about it and Deb and I continued our walk through the home. We were on the second floor when one of the people working the sale came upstairs and asked us if we would pay $85 for the banjo. I said sure and told her we’d be back down in few minutes. The older man seemed pleased that we were taking the banjo and that I would be restoring it and keeping it. He told me that it was his friend who owned the home we were in, and that he had passed away recently. He and the other folks there were selling the contents of his home. He told me that the banjo was owned by the man’s father, and they found it in the attic. The leather case it sat in had disintegrated over the years but it did a good job of insulating the instrument from the harsh changes in temperature and humidity.
As we left and said our goodbyes, I had a feeling that this was a life-changing moment for me. I restored that banjo back to pristine condition and even had it appraised by John Bernunzio. He said it was a fine instrument and worth around $1,500. Not bad for an $85 investment and maybe another $200 in parts and a case.
So the banjo was done but I have no idea how to play it. Sure, I could approach it like a round guitar with an odd 5th string but I didn’t want to. I wanted to really understand the music that might have been played on this instrument back when it was made around 1890. In the process of searching online for info about my restored antique I discovered banjohangout.com. What a cool online community of incredibly talented and friendly folks!
As I looked over the forum names, I saw “clawhammer” mentioned. Can you believe it; I had never been exposed to clawhammer music before that. I knew the moment I heard it that this was what I wanted to learn. I loved the driving rhythm of clawhammer and its strong emphasis on melody. The idea of using multiple tunings was also very familiar to me, as I just about never play guitar in standard tuning any more.
How did you learn to play in the clawhammer style?
Clawhammer was both completely new and familiar at the same time. It was so cool to be a beginner again! I started buying clawhammer CD’s and method books and downloading tabs. I was on a mission! One thing that was of utmost importance to me was to learn the absolute correct way to play clawhammer. I did not want to make the same mistake I did when learning guitar. I set up a two hour one-on-one with a local clawhammer banjo player I found online (Alan Friend) who agreed to meet with me. I wanted him to take a critical look at my right hand technique. It was a helpful meeting and he pointed out a few things that I needed to work on. It’s always best to have an expert evaluate your technique, especially before you are too set in your ways and it’s difficult to make changes. I found clawhammer to be challenging but I was able to get the hang of it after working at it religiously for a few months.
Most everyone I knew could not understand why I was not playing the guitar - after all, it had been the sole way I expressed myself musically. They thought the banjo would be a phase that would pass. It hasn’t. And it won’t! I knew deep down that I had found something that I didn’t even know I was searching for. Something about the sound and feel of this instrument, especially when strung with Nylgut or gut strings speaks to me in a way the guitar did not. My family completely supported my new musical journey, which is great and so much appreciated. My wife even got inspired to start learning to play the fiddle!
You had been doing fingerstyle guitar playing, yet you chose a different motion, the down-stroke, with which to enter the banjo arena. Weren’t you tempted to try fingerstyle on banjo?
I kept holding off on playing fingerstyle on the banjo but the time finally felt right. At first, I started arranging old-time tunes using my own 2, 3 and 4 finger right hand approach. I wasn’t really drawn to playing bluegrass 3-finger style, and wanted to do my own thing. I soon began composing lots of stuff but now I was recording my ideas on my iPhone. Isn’t technology great! The sound I was getting was different and at the same time familiar. By that, I mean I was using a strong melodic approach (like old- time) while incorporating some of the right hand fingerstyle guitar techniques. The one big game changer is the 5th string. For me it is everything! It adds such resonance and openness. I also strive to play melodies across strings so that they can ring out over each other and combine to form unexpected harmonies.
Did you cross over to the banjo ideas you had come up with on guitar?
I didn’t want to write fingerstyle guitar tunes for the banjo. Rather, I wanted to put all the different techniques together to come up with something unique and true to this wonderful instrument. Sometimes when I’m composing, I hear a full progressive rock band in my head and other times I hear a solo baroque or Renaissance lute. I think all people who write music bring together the sum of their life experiences, both musically and otherwise when they compose. For me, its folk music, classical, progressive rock, cutting-edge fingerstyle guitar and old-time that come together into something new - and I hope pleasing to others. For me it’s all about creative self-expression and this is the way I choose to do it. I have the utmost respect and admiration for any musician who stays focused on a particular style, like bluegrass or old time. The only way you can become an expert at something is to stick with it, so hats off to these folks for achieving true greatness. For me it’s always been about creating. I consider myself a composer first and a banjo player second. There seems to be a lot of uncharted territory on the banjo and I’m really enjoying the discovery process.
Please tell us about your banjos.
I have seven banjos, each with a unique sound and feel. The first banjo I obtained was the Rettberg and Lange Manhattan model that I restored. In the process of restoring it, I made some improvements as well. At first I was concerned about reducing its value by doing alterations to the original design, but after speaking with the folks at Bernunzio’s Uptown Music I was assured that the types of changes I was proposing would be ok. It now has a scooped ebony fingerboard and an adjustable double-action truss rod. The friction tuners have been replaced with Five-Star planetary pegs. It still has the original skin head, labeled Jos. B. Rogers Union Brand. I have it strung with Minstrel weight Nylgut strings. I fashioned a new bone nut. The bridge is one of Randy Stockwell’s Moon bridges. It has a great sound and is the banjo I use for Clawhammer. It’s an easy clucker!
I have a Huss and Dalton Singletree with a Tubaphone tone ring. It came with steel strings but I’ve got it strung with Nylgut classicals now. This one also uses a Moon bridge. I have attached a Pick-up the World transducer to this one and it sounds great amplified. The neck is also scooped and this banjo works great for Clawhammer or fingerstyle.
My favorite of all is the banjo that Jason and Pharis Romero built for me last year. It is so amazingly beautiful - both aesthetically and the way it sounds. It has such a rich and resonant voice. The neck is wonderful and a joy to play. I was at a crossroad when I commissioned this banjo from Jason. I had considered building one myself. I had most of the tools and the space to do it, but decided to focus on making music rather than making banjos. I have never regretted that decision. This banjo is a true treasure that will be passed down to my kids someday.
I also have a cello banjo that I purchased from banjocrazy.com and I am really enjoying this instrument. It too has a very unique sound and feel. At first, I tried playing tunes like I do on my other banjos. Most didn’t sound great but a few did. I’m developing an approach that is unique to this instrument. Because of its large pot and a ton of natural reverb you have to play in a way that embraces these qualities to the fullest. More space is needed between notes at times and the method of attack with my right hand is also a bit different. I’m finding that I’m using more finger rather than nail, or rather finger followed by nail. This gives me the most pleasing and clearest tone. On my other banjos, I tend to use mostly nail for the right hand attack. I’m really enjoying the whole discovery process with the cello banjo.
I have three other banjos that I really don’t play that often. One is an all-wood banjo (no J hooks, tension hoop, etc.) that I bought on eBay. I had to replace the fingerboard on that one too, as the frets were not spaced correctly. I thought it was going to be a polish-and-play banjo but it needed a good amount of reworking. It has a very deep bellowing tone and I ended up putting on a fretless fingerboard. It has a Renaissance head and is strung with Nylgut Minstrel strings. I have a Deering Goodtime Parlor banjo that I leave out on a stand. It’s great to use for tabbing out my tunes at the computer and is a nice travel banjo. It is strung with Nylgut Classicals. And the last one is a spun-over rim mail order banjo circa 1900. I also had to replace the fingerboard on this one and I put in Peghead tuners - you know the ones that look like violin pegs but are actually planetary tuners. It has a skin head and is in need of a neck angle adjustment at the moment.
I’ve done a lot of talking over the years about self-producing a CD of my music but it just never seems to happen. Before I discovered the banjo in 2009, I had written enough original fingerstyle guitar material for two or three CDs. I started recording in my home studio and got a few tunes down but never stayed focused long enough to finish the project. It’s a challenge when you have a full-time day job and are actively involved in lots of things. Anyway, I made a commitment to my wife that I would record a CD’s worth of my banjo music and I intend to get it done this time. I have recorded five tunes so far but when I listen to them now, many months later, I hear things that I want to change, so I will probably re-record them. The CD will be a combination of my original fingerstyle tunes; two-hand tapping pieces and my arrangements of old-time pieces played using both fingerstyle and clawhammer techniques. If for nothing else, it will be a way of encapsulating my music in a tangible form that can be shared with my close friends and family. If other folks out there are interested in hearing my music that would be really wonderful but that is not my overriding objective with this project.
I understand you do take the art of recording seriously. Tell us about your recording studio.
It’s possible today to make first-rate recordings at home that are on par with the quality of a professional recording studio. With the right instrument, mics, software and a decent recording environment you can really do some amazing things. I am fortunate that I have such a setup but it took me many years to put it all together - lots of trial and error. In the past, I used a reel-to-reel recorder with sound-on-sound capability to layer tracks. It was all analog and the quality of each successive track would degrade the previous ones. I then upgraded to a Tascam 4-track cassette deck. It was a great improvement but lacked the fidelity I was looking for. The next upgrade was to the Roland VS-1824 DAW (Digital Audio Workstation). It had wonderful sound quality but a difficult UI. Editing was a bit of a challenge. I always wanted to have a computer-based setup but for a variety of reasons, I stayed away from it. I spend all day doing visual design on a Mac and I wanted a simpler, dedicated system for recording.
A couple of years ago I realized that I would have to take the plunge into a computer-based system in order to get all the features and quality that I was looking for. The system I have today is based around Apple’s Logic 9 software and runs on an iMac 24 with 8GB of RAM and a total of 7TB of hard drive space. I also do video editing on this machine so hence the huge amount of hard drive space. For recording, I use a dedicated 500GB Firewire drive from Glyph. It’s super-fast and very quiet. I have another drive just like that one that contains all my sampler instruments. Using a dedicated drive for recording and another for sampler instruments allows the system to efficiently stream the sampler audio while effortlessly recording new material. I use a pair of Shure KSM27 large diaphragm condensers mics and I record all my banjo music in stereo. I have owned more expensive mics in the past and by far, to my ears anyway, these are the best, even better than the Neumann KM-184’s I use to use. The mics are routed into an Apogee Duet preamp. I can’t say enough about how much I like this preamp. The sound quality is spectacular. It also functions as an A/D and D/A converter. For monitors I use a pair of Genelec 8020A powered studio monitors, which are also routed through the Duet. These speakers are small but have a huge, accurate sound. It’s really important that you can trust your monitors. I also have a Tannoy sub-woofer that adds some punch to the really low end. I use a Novation 49sl MKII keyboard controller for laying down sampler instrument parts.
The room I record in is a spare bedroom that I have set up as a studio. I had an acoustical analysis done of the room by the folks at Auralex and they recommended that I apply an assortment of acoustical foam to the corners, walls and ceiling. The difference in sound quality with the foam is remarkable. No more standing waves that artificially boost the midrange. All in all, it’s a really wonderful system that is a pleasure to use. My only gripe is that the mics pick up sound from outside the windows, which makes it a challenge to record during the day. I can hear a car coming from a block away in the headphones. I’ve looked into using a vocal booth and also into special soundproof windows but that is not in the plan for now. I’m really looking forward to getting back into recording on a daily basis. In the meantime, I continue to write lots of new material, so whenever I do finish the CD, it will contain a nice variety of tunes that I hope others will enjoy.
Ric, every time you post a new tune on banjohangout.com it’s like a revelation, the way you continually bring out something creative – something special – in everything you do. You creative musical refinements redefine and open up a wonderful landscape of possibilities for banjo lovers of all styles. Thanks for the interview and we’ll see you on the hangout.
Thanks very much Paul for your interest in my music and for your very kind words, and thanks for taking the time for this interview too. Music is such an important part of my life as I know it is yours and I am continually inspired by the wonderfully talented musicians that share their music on the hangout. I know my music pushes the genre boundaries a bit and I'm always thrilled when people enjoy it. I feel there is so much yet to be discovered on the banjo and I am really enjoying the journey!"
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'Gibson parts banjo' 42 min
'John Hartford-Lorena' 4 hrs