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Ringing the old banjo

Posted by dculgan on Saturday, August 9, 2008

For most of the time I've been playing with the Camptown Shakers I have concentrated on playing minstrel style banjo, or my gourd banjo, and mosty ignored some of the others in my collection. Last weekend I got out my 1920's era Vega "Little Wonder" to tinker with. I find banjos to be a lot like guns, they're fun to take apart and put back together. This Vega was a banjo I picked up in the late 70's from my friend Russ Smith a founding member of Rural Rhythm, at least for a few weeks. We were a two banjo old time band then. Anyway it was a tenor. With my brother's help we made a really nice 5 string neck for it. I played this banjo a lot in Rural Rhythm, mostly at dances, and to look at the ebony fretboard wear and fret wear, I must have a really heavy hand.

Anyway this banjo got turned back into a tenor when I was hopig to learn some Celtic stlye, but it was a 17 fret, and I never could get the string gage to sound right in the Irish style tuning. It mostly sat in its case for 15 years.

Last weekend I put the 5 string neck back on, spruced it up (detail strip), and since I couldn't find a set of five steel strings I sorted through my string stash and strung it up with nylon. A while back I had fitted a renaissance head, and did a mod to the tone ring where you raise it up a slight amount on little brads that supposedly gives it more of a Whyte Laydie sound. With the nylon stings and a nice thin bridge it really had a nice pop. I've been playing the two classic stlye tunes I know, Hot Foot Ike and Red Rover March and they sound great. I've also done a little of the old clawhamer stuff I used to play with Rural Rhythm. I think I'll leave it set up like this for a while. The grooves in the frets and fretboard don't seem to be a problem with the nylon stirngs though I recall they were with steel. Its set up a lot better for classic style than my S.S. Stewart Thoroughbred and it doesn't hurt having geared tuners either.

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