Detail from John Cohen's iconic photo of Roscoe Holcomb. The distinctive asymetrical peghead identifies the banjo as a 1930s or '40s "Old Kraftsman" or "Kay Kraft" model -- made somettime after 1931, when the Stromberg-Voisinet Co. changed its name to "Kay". The flange is the same type used on the earlier Stromberg-Voisinet banjos, of the 1920s.
Wednesday, August 6, 2008 @9:59:42 PM
Hi Ed, Wow--just checked the picture on my LP, and this is the same kind of banjo Omer Forster played. His 1970s LP on Davis Unlimted, Flowery Girls, was reissued a couple of years ago on Springfed & I've been enjoying it immensely. He had his own gorgeous 2-finger style somewhere between Will Keys & Oscar Jenkins. On the recordings the banjo sounds like something from another planet--shimmery & otherworldly. Did those Stromberg-Voisinet Kay banjos have some kind of tone ring or was it just the magical touch of a genius? G
Sunday, August 10, 2008 @6:45:24 PM
Sorry we didn't get a chance to get together, and play a few tunes, at Clifftop.
I remember vividly hearing Will Keys for the first time, at the Tennessee Banjo Institute. THE most riveting aspect of of his playing was EXACTLY that ethereal, shimmering, sustained sound -- which would feed on itself, and swell -- until it surrounded you entirely.
It's very similar to what happens with a Caribbean steel drum. The sound surrounds you -- and if you can't actually see the steel drum -- it's difficult to tell which direction the music is coming from.
At Clifftop, I had a great discussion with Chip and Tish about some modifications that Will had made to his Paramount -- which would have emphasized that quality of extra sustain. The principle he uses was VERY similar to the the tone ring of a late VanEps banjo.
As for the KAY banjos... they were mostly inexpensive banjos, often private-labeled and sold mail order. EXACTLY the type of instrument your expect to find in a rural and poorer economic environment.
All that most of them had was a steel rod sitting on top of a 1/2" thick light-weight birch or poplar rim. But they did have a massive cast pot-metal flange which was MUCH thicker, heavier, and solid, than a Gibson flange.
It was probably the MASS and weight of that flange, which gave the banjo extra sustain. (I think I still have the rim and some parts of an old Stromberg-Voisinet/Kay buried in an old box in the basement...)
Never thought about that aspect of the Kays... Interesting observation, Gail.
But... I also think that (like Will Keys) Forster probably knew exactly where the "sweet-spot" was -- which would emphasize that shimmering quality of tone. It's obvious to me that Will *wanted* that specific sound. And I wouldn't be surprised if other regional players sought a similar sound.
You must sign into your myHangout account before you can post comments.
The Banjo Hangout myHangout photo albums were created to allow members to post photos which 1) they own the copyrights to, or 2) which are non-copyrighted. Please respect others by not posting their copyrighted images. Photos posted in violation of this notice may be removed by the webmaster without prior notice, and may result in a locking of your myHangout account. Read complete copyright policy.
'Big sandy river' 1 hr
'Pickers' 3 hrs
'Burnt Hotdogs' 5 hrs
'Good Tuesday Morning' 6 hrs