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Getting more into clawhammer banjo!

Posted by banjopogo on Tuesday, January 1, 2008

"So why is that a big deal?" you might ask. Because I am a fiddler and a guitarist as well- banjo has some competition for practice time! I bought a Hohner Travel banjo a year and a half ago (pictured as my avatar) almost as an afterthought- I do volunteer gigs at nursing homes, and I knew my resident fans would love to hear "Oh Susannah" with a banjo on my knee, and it was less than $200, so there I was. And I signed on to this site partly as a way of boosting my interest in the banjo. However, after an initial flurry of activity... I faded. I've continued using the banjo for a few tunes sandwiched in between the fiddle and guitar numbers at gigs.

 Recently a jamming partner pointed out to me that my banjo playing was a "sleeper"- he felt I had a distinct and appealing style and that I needed to pay more attention to it... so I have been, and it's been paying off. Yesterday at one of the nursing homes, the banjo just clicked- I was playing about the best I've ever played-it was great! And they loved it of course. And this morning I've been playing for a couple of hours. I think part of the breakthrough is that I'm starting to play more accurately and efficiently, which means I don't tire as quickly, which means I can practice more, which means I can play more accurately, which means I don't tire as quickly which means I can practice more ;^)! It's snowballing, I guess... synergistic... something like that!

 The Hohner Travel Banjo is a sleeper too. It comes with a simple brass tone ring, and I think that is part of the secret-surprisingly good tone for the price- so much so that the aforementioned jamming partner just bought one for himself. I like the short scale- I leave it tuned in "Two Cs" up a whole step in D- (I sing a lot with it, and D is both a good key for songs and a good key for my voice) It is thoroughly tweaked though! Masking tape under the head, stuffed carefully to kill high treble on the plastic head (Fiberskyn, actually, but it needed more help) and 3 guitar picks (white ones) as shims under the bridge's feet! Weird, huh? But it's sounding great!

2 comments on “Getting more into clawhammer banjo!”

laojim Says:
Tuesday, January 1, 2008 @4:13:50 PM

I don't quite follow what you're putting under the bridge, something to shim it up? It is common practice to modify the sound of a banjo with wads of newspaper, plastic dry cleaning bags, old sox, moon goo, or whatever. you migt try just tigtening the head which you can do simply by going around the nuts and giving each one a quarter turn until you get a better sound. You might want to consult a serious player about how tight you can make it but stop if you hear a pop or crackle from the head. It usually makes some noises long before it breaks and they are a really good sign that you have tightened it enough. Find a banjo player, though, music store people never know about this. This should improve the sound and raise the bridge just a little. Now, other banjists will give you other advice......

laojim Says:
Wednesday, January 2, 2008 @12:43:53 AM

I understand now. Well, if you want it plunky then you don't want that plastic head to tight. I like is, as they say, tighter than a gnat's ass stretched over a rain barrel. As they say. I would suggest finding either a higher bridge or a neck adjustment cause your bound to loose something with the picks. Still I would be the last to argue with suddess.

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