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Goin' bad to get better

Posted by blazo on Tuesday, December 26, 2017

I still have the BSO that I bought a little less than a year ago to see if I could get serious about playing before dropping my hard earned cash on a good banjo. My original, bad banjo is a cheap, bottom of the barrel, entry level Fender, plywood rim, crappy tuners, narrow nut, no tone ring, and so on. It has lousy sustain, rapid decay and the strings are too close together for my liking. Hammer-ons and pull-offs typically sound pretty bad due to lack of sustain. I often hit other strings when trying to play clawhammer. I've been wanting to take a banjo to work so I can pick it up when I have a couple of spare minutes here and there and I've heard it said that a good player can make a crappy instrument sound decent.

I decided to pull the BSO out from under the bed and take it to work. I put on new strings and a decent bridge to try to improve the sound. It's helped a tiny bit. I do think, though, that practicing on this banjo will help me improve. I have to really work at getting tone out of hammers and pulls, both striking the string harder and pulling or hammering harder. I have to slow down and focus to hit strings cleanly (both striking and fretting) because they are a bit too close together. My other banjo seems easier to play and is more seemingly forgiving of mistakes. I think this lulls me into lapses and mistakes that I need to work on fixing and I'm hoping the increased focus and concentration gained by playing a bad BSO will stick when I play my good banjo.

6 comments on “Goin' bad to get better”

Judith511 Says:
Tuesday, December 26, 2017 @2:57:40 PM

I bought a cheaper epiphone with no resonator. It is way lighter and therefor I play longer. Neither of my banjos are very expensive the other was a gift from my husband, I enjoy the sound though =, Maybe one day I will bey a better one when my paying warrants it :D

WayneConrad Says:
Tuesday, December 26, 2017 @6:45:15 PM

The two banjos I practice the most on cost all of $150 each. I've played on them enough that they're getting visible fret wear. But they don't stop me from playing well on my better banjos. They don't have any fundamental problems: Their actions are low enough, and they stay in tune, otherwise they'd be no good. A banjo with fundamental problems is just painful, but even a very cheap banjo is fine to practice on if it's in working order.

All that said, I can't decide if there's something to what you're saying. It could be that practicing on an instrument with problems (strings too close together, for example) can make you better with a good instrument, but it could be that it forces you to build muscle memory that is either useless, or counter-productive on a good instrument. I don't think there's going to be a generic answer to that question: It's going to depend on the player and on the specifics of the instruments.

It's good to hear from you again on the blogs. Please let us know how it goes.

Boadicea Says:
Wednesday, December 27, 2017 @12:49:38 AM

Good luck with your practising I will look forward to reading about your practising progressions blazo.

StuartJohn Says:
Thursday, December 28, 2017 @3:02:09 AM

I think it's better to ensure whatever banjo you play is set up correctly. Compensating your playing to deal with defects in the banjo set up cannot be a good thing in my opinion.

blazo Says:
Thursday, December 28, 2017 @4:54:29 AM

@StuartJohn - The banjo set up is OK, it's just not a very good banjo. I don't think any additional set up will improve the banjo. It forces me to play it slowly and deliberately in order to play it cleanly. I'm compensating to ensure good technique, not to overcome bad set up.

bellf Says:
Thursday, December 28, 2017 @2:20:18 PM

I keep my first banjo at work so I can get chance to practice at lunchtime. It's a Rover RB45. No tone ring, but it has a really nice neck, so it is pleasant to play. Sometimes I have no chance to practice when I get home, so I reckon it's a good idea to keep a banjo at work. It's also an excellent excuse for owning more than one banjo.

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