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Banjo come a' callin'

Tuesday, September 2, 2008








My Grandfather was apparently a fine musician, playing fiddle, guitar and Banjo but I never heard him play. I do however have his old no-name open back banjo and it was never in playing condition so it never was part of my life. Well, till... I briefly attended an old time jam and started paying attention to Clawhammer. Every so often someone would come in and play Clawhammer beautifully so I thought I should learn.


I mentioned to one of the people there I wanted to find a banjo & he told me a few months later that he saw an old one at a local music shop. I went there the next day (in April 08) & there on the wall was a Bacon & Day Tenor for less than a pair of cheap tires. I bought it but it wasn’t a 5 string and it needed some work so between doing it myself and paying for some more involved work, I got it and my grandfather’s banjo working again. I do enjoy the B&D but I wanted to play with the 5 string so I tried playing that and though the original tuners had been replaced, every time I played a tune it needed retuning. So I decided to find a good one that did not need constant retuning.  

I asked on some of the music lists that if anyone had a used banjo to sell, contact me & through those replies I bought a hardly used Deering Golden Era and received it on Aug 22 08 & that’s significant in this that marks the first time I have started playing the 5 string in earnest. Although the Golden Era is not an OT banjo, I came to find I also want to play bluegrass banjo so I wanted to make it sound as good as possible as that is an important factor in my playing.


Throughout my reading and asking questions I came to understand more about what makes a banjo sound good and I have played with so many excellent pickers in my life that I know what I want sound wise. The Tone ring is such a topic of conversation I looked into it to see what made the most sense to me and in reading between the lines I decided the tone ring that would be optimum for me would be a Dannick. Seeing as I was able to get the Deering at a really good price, I inquired and found Bill Hayes, one of the authorized Dannick No Hole Tone Ring installers was on my way to the Thomas Point Beach festival in Maine. We agreed I’d stop by and he’d install it and do a setup on the banjo.


So now it was time to start playing all of this 18 days ago… Thing is I’ve played so many instruments in my life that learning a new approach and fingering locations is not that difficult for me anymore. That’s not to say I sound good but by the second day I was able to figure out the chords and lead sequence to Little Rock Getaway and the next day I did the same with Tico-Tico. Yes, tough tunes but I wasn’t playing them at tempo nor as notefully as they should be played but it really encouraged me as to what I will be able to do with dedication and hopefully some instruction in the technique. One advantage I think I have is I’ve crosspicked the guitar & mandolin my whole musical life which is very much like doing rolls. Not the same but in many ways, is very similar.


I use Amazing Slowdowner to slow down music to hear it cleanly and at pitch and my first real effort in trying to learn a tune properly was Clinch Mt. Backstep. Listening to the notes in the tune and going back again & again to clone those notes and by the end of the day I pretty much had the notes and timing correct, just not at tempo. More encouragement!


So now come to last week; I can play a bunch of the easier tunes but I know I’m faking them in that I’m not properly playing them via rolls and I’m pretty much treating the banjo like a guitar or mandolin.


Encouraged, I make the stop at Bill Hayes lutherie as I'd mentioned earlier, in Maine and he found the tone ring was on too tight and there are a few other areas needing attention. He carved the stock Cox tone ring to properly fit the Dannick No Hole ring, installed a Remo head and a McPeake bridge. The difference in the sound was really incredible. Incredible does not give it justice as I had been using medium gauge strings and now light strings were on it and it is easily far louder than before with the mediums. The depth of tone is now hugely increased and the separation of notes is awesome. Also, the volume and separation is consistent up the neck.


I was lucky enough to compare it to other banjos including a couple of pre war Gibsons this last weekend at the Thomas Point Beach Festival in Maine and it was definitely stood out in a totally positive way. All I want is a beautiful sounding and good feeling instrument, one that I can play lightly and offers a full beautiful sound and now I have it in this banjo. What a beautifully easy to play and pretty neck.


Right now I can pretty much figure out anything but I don't have the 5 string skill set yet to make it sound right; it is so fun to be challenged by a new instrument, after almost 50 years of playing it’s so much like starting out all over again.


What a real joy.


More as the situation develops.



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History of me Pre-Banjo

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Browse History >

Experience Level: Novice

Occupation: Chiropractor

Gender: Male
Age: 73

My Instruments:
No name 1800's open back with no separate fretboard that belonged to my grandfather.

1923 Bacon & Day Silver Bell Special tenor with extended fingerboard -

2001 Deering Golden Era with a no-hole Dannick Tone Ring in it, installed by Bill Hayes in Maine. (An absolutely stunningly incredible sounding and playing instrument)

Favorite Bands/Musicians:
The Manic Mountain Boys (O'course I'm a charter member of the MMB) - The Georgia Mudcats -
Bluegrass Album Band -
Harbortown -
Any Jam at the Kendallville, IN Bluegrass Festivals

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Profile Info:
Visible to: Public
Created 2/26/2008
Last Visit 6/10/2017

Playing Strings of one kind or another for 45 years - BS in Nursing - Dr. of Chiropractic - 5 years in Chicago doing solo gigging as my primary source of income. (Does that make me a Pro?) - CQ de KA1J

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