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Roy Smith

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Playing Since: 1963
Experience Level: Purty Good

[Jamming] [Socializing] [Helping]

Occupation: Retired

Gender: Male
Age: 75

My Instruments:
I've built the necks for all my banjos: 1927 Vega Tubaphone | 1920's Orpheum No. 1 | Ramsey 12" Woody | bark-peeling parts masterclone | A-scale mountain banjo

Classified Rating: not rated
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Profile Info:
Visible to: Public
Created 4/21/2004
Last Visit 11/20/2020

Clawhammer player who used to play bluegrass. Gentle, housebroken, plays well with others. No teacher but generous with advice of dubious value. Will build custom necks or entire banjos by special order. I came to love banjo and fiddle music through my father, who was a singing caller. He taught square dancing and held dances weekly, and I was a part of it from the time I could walk. He'd call using old 78's as his dance music, and I marinated in old time music for 4 or 5 years. I didn't realize that there even was any other kind of music until I heard it on the radio when I was in elementary school. Pop music in the mid 50's did nothing for me, but predictably I got swept up by the folk music revival that started with Tom Dooley. I learned guitar, then banjo. In those days, around 1963, banjo playing wasn't subdivided, so I learned 3-finger picking and frailing at the same time. I played in various bands (playing bluegrass style) in eastern Pennsylvania until 1984, when my daughter was born, I got my doctorate and moved for my new job, and... I went deaf. This deafness business was very hard to take, because among other things I lost the ability to distinguish pitch. So I put my instruments down, closed the musical chapter of my life, and got on with being an adult (as I saw it). Except banjophilia never really goes away, it just goes into remission. About 20 years later I got recruited into a variety show at work because somebody found out I once played banjo. The idea was for me to dress up like a mountain man and look like I was playing my banjo. Except that I discovered that I could actually still play it, and that electronic tuners had gotten so good and cheap that tuning was now a snap. Better yet, my new digital hearing aids did a decent job with the banjo's tone, but not its pitch. Once I realized that I really was going to play again I started working on clawhammer. I had the basic motion from way back, so I worked on drop-thumb and repertoire. In the process of doing this I learned that music happens in the brain, not the ears. If I hear a tune but don't know what tune it is, it's just noise to me. But if I know the tune and someone tells me that it's THAT tune I'm hearing, then I can hear it just as well as ever. Seriously. So to be an effective jammer, I need only to know the tune and the place in the tune, even though I'm still totally tone deaf. Ryhthm, fortunately, I have no problem with thanks to those old 78's. Along the way I also learned to build banjos, because (a) I enjoy it and (b) it was the only way to be able to afford the banjos I wanted. Enjoyment wins, because I can now afford good instruments but continue to build them anyway. Now that I've retired I'm looking to build 5-10 custom necks a year.

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