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Getting the right sound outta me banjo

Posted by tonymarkey on Tuesday, April 8, 2008

It occurs to me that I don't sound quite as good as I think I do.

You know what I mean --you play and play and practice and finally you record yourself(or someone else does), and you listen to it and say "I sound like THAT?! Well that sucked!"

It really helps having a nice banjo --clearer tones, faster necks, and all, but the bottom line is if your fingers aren't hitting the strings right (or any of a hundred other problems), then you aren't going to get the right sound out of it.

There's good news, though --and that is that I can begin to figure out how to change my sound. That's something I couldn't hope to do a year ago. Here are a few things I think are important to improving my sound:

1) Having my banjo professionally set up.

2) Crisp timing changes with the left hand --from position to position, or string to string, a hair before you pick the string. This is danged hard to do, when it comes down to it.

3) Right hand angle of attack --when my wrist starts to flatten I start "sliding" across the strings instead of plucking them and my playing sounds muddy. Blech. Tennis ball under the wrist?

4) Good right hand position on the head. Lately I've liked moving right up on the bridge for that tinny twang. Very banjoey. Likewise, you get that spacey effect when right next to the neck of the banjo. I heard Don Reno play like that on a song once and it sounded like he was playing on a synthesizer, it was so "electronic" of a sound. Coooooool.

5) Right hand accents. This, I think, is the hardest of all, and overlooked in most tab. John Hartford called non-accented/less important notes "ghost" notes. It's really important to hit the melody notes so they pop out a little bit, especially in slower songs. Hard to do in the middle of a roll somewhere.

So the quest for the perfect sound continues. Okay, I'd settle for "pretty good" and leave perfect to the likes of Bela Fleck, Noam Pikelny, Jens Kruger, Allison Brown, Jim Mills, Ron Block, Sammy Shelor, Cia Cherryholmes, Don Reno, Earl, ... of course it becomes a mighty long list of exceptional professionals!!


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