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Status report plus keeping the rhythm

Posted by Paul Bock on Tuesday, June 11, 2024

Hi guys (and gals),

     First, an update on "banjo tinkering" (something I prefer to minimize as much as I can):  "Snowflake" plus the Tennessee 20 tone ring has turned into a nice stable "marriage".  Strong, solid, clear notes, great "crack" to the sound, and very powerful.  In fact, just a little too powerful for playing in a condo (I swear that it could knock bricks out of the building if you played hard enough).  To "soften" it just a tad, I bought one of those "Banjo Bolsters" online and stuck it inside the pot, and it does the trick.  Sound is still solid and well-balanced, very clear & pleasing (meaning not "muffled") but it's "toned down" just enough that I can practice in the condo without really bothering anyone (condo-to-condo soundproofing is excellent in this building).  Of course, I only practice during the daytime, never in the evening or too early in the morning.  If I was in an outdoor jam I could always take off the resonator and remove the "bolster" to get back the extra volume if I felt I really needed it.

     I did change the tailpiece from a Prucha gold Presto to a Prucha gold Kerschner, which I like much better.  I used a Kerschner for many years, then sold the old one I had after I bought the Presto two years ago, so I was forced to cough up a lotta dough for the new Prucha but it is such a fine piece of work it was worth it.  I also switched off of the old Snuffy Smith 11/16 bridge to a Huber 11/16 for a while, but just went back to a different Snuffy 11/16 with the Crowe spacing a couple of weeks ago to try the extra width.  I'm beginning to think that the little bit of extra spacing helps with accuracy of my right hand, but I'll give it a while longer before I make up my mind.  I also have a Huber 11/16 Crowe-spaced so I'll try both of the wider ones (Snuffy & Huber) and see if and/or how much the tone changes, but I think they're very close and that would amount to nit-picking, anyway, which IMHO is wasting time.  Some of you readers may remember years ago when the late, great Sonny Osborne stated something to the effect that "these young players would be better off to stop tinkering with their banjos and spend more time practicing."  That's good advice at any age. 

     As for progress:  Picking skills are g-r-a-d-u-a-l-l-y improving, but you'd expect it to be slow for someone in their early '80s.  It's a matter of rebuilding my muscle memory again and also building up hand strength, the latter being something that is definitely problematic as you get older or have suffered injury (and I've had injuries to both hands).

     Now, about keeping good rhythm:  Playing along with "slow jam" DVDs is one way, and I like the Murphy Method "Slow Jam" and "Picking Up the Pace".  I haven't figured out yet how Murphy & Casey manage to keep smiling all the time, but whatever.  Very helpful.

     I've also hooked up with "Strum Machine" about a year or so ago and it is SOOOO much better than a metronome!  I've even set up my own song list of what I want to work on; just type in the chords and bingo! you have a guitar, bass, and mandolin chops laying down that rhythm AND you can adjust the tempo with a mouse-click in 5 bpm increments.  I even loaded the app onto my iPhone so that I can get timing/rhythm practice any place, any time.  Here's a link:     Strum Machine

     And as someone famous once said, "Timing is everything."

     Happy pickin'!

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