I'm not sure I have a favorite tone ring. I always thought the gold plated ring tended to soften the tone and produce the best sustain, which goes with what I did. But I have seen and heard banjos that had very little the way of a tone ring and they still sound good. So, a favorite for me would have to be an old, flat, gold plated Gibson ring from about 1934. but then......? Do you prefer one over another?
The ring I'm using in the Chief banjo was a design from Bill Blaylock and me and they sound pretty good. Frank Neat has his own design and they sound pretty good too....I'm truly of the belief that there about 20+- parts that must be just right for a banjo to sound really at it's very best. And Mr. Neat is just about the best at doing a set up of that nature too. I've seen him do wonders.
I didn't get to meet Dave Macon, I came a year too late. I did see him perform several times however. Extraordinary might be a watered down version of Dave, so let's just say he was interesting. He did not like competition. Earl told me quite a lot about him. Earl said Dave always called him Ernest! And he told Bill that Earl could "play the banjo pretty good but he sure was not funny!"
I did know the old guys...remember I was a 14 year old kid playing with Monroe but they treated me like an equal. They had a specific dressing room at the old Ryman and when we were in town, which in those days was every Saturday, I would go and hang out with them. Incidentally, two others treated me as a human at that time. George Morgan and Jack Anglin...and Hank Williams SR. talked to me some.
I knew Sam and Kirk McGee, the Boys From Sunny Tennessee, The Fruit Jar Drinkers, The Possum Hunters, lazy Jim Day, Rod Brassfield, Minnie Pearl, and others. Man....Ernest Tubb, Roy Acuff, Red Foley, Marty Robins, Ray Price, Eddie Arnold, Grant Turner, Dee Kilpatrick, Jim Denny....The Grand Ole Opry was THE DEAL then. I felt it an honor to just walk BY the Ryman, and then be able to walk in the building...much less to go out on the stage and play my banjo.
THAT WAS THE HONOR
Edited by - TheChief on 05/14/2019 12:21:29
Originally posted by TheChief
Chuck in Alberta;
Benny Birchfield played the lead banjo and I played harmony on the MGM recording of Red Wing. Great tune to play, if you play it right. It's a bit harder than it seems. Tricky. Played in G, the part that goes to C is: Middle, Index, Thumb, Middle, Thumb. Noted....1st on 2, 2nd on 1, 3rd o, 1st on 2, 5th o.
Thanks, Sonny. I’m amazed again by your memory. That C-section (!) had me twisted up for a while when I learned it.
Sonny, I always appreciate you answering my crazy questions. What you've seen and done is quite legendary! I'm sure your book too, would be one that I would have a hard time putting down.
thanks sonny for the 2011 Osborne chief... I just bought it today from a friend of yours and frank, his name is Harlan and was a neighbor of frank before he moved to mn. where I live also... again thanks for the great banjo... I would like to possibly order a new custom one for me in the next year... there on a waiting list I,am sure of that... maple with a speed neck in flying eagles inlay and I think they call it shelled maple on the back of the resonator like the one frank made for Harlan in 2015 or so... ballpark price would be???
Would you care to comment on what your thoughts and experiences are with straight grain maple necks?
Hope you are having a great summer.
Ken...I don't know that I ever had anything with straight grain Maple. Everything I've had any experience with has been of the Curly Maple. I can't honestly say that I've seen one. I wonder if it warps and twists like the Curly Maple will do if the neck gets too small. I know they are bad for that. The early Granada banjos came with a large neck to guard against that. Earl attempted to shave his original down because he had small hands and it was just uncomfortable. It warped. Lester told me he cut it down with a wood rasp. How bout that?
Tell me more about the straight grain Maple.
Sonny, Kevin Hendrix is having a straight grain maple neck banjo made for him. He has been partial to the sound of Curtis McPeak's Old Betsy banjo which was also a straight grain maple. From what I understand, Gibson was going to make some copies of Old Betsy and had made a few prototypes with the straight grain maple. However they never put it into production. As a hobby project, I was toying with the idea of trying to put a parts banjo together (you can never go wrong with bringing a new banjo into this world right?) and was toying with the idea of doing a straight grain maple. From what I have heard people say, the straight grain sounds like more bite/crack. Others have told me that the sound you get from straight or curly maple just depends upon the individual piece of wood you use. Soooo, with the ear and experience you have, I was just trying to see if you had any thoughts about it.
And I guess I have to say, that I have never heard anyone talking about Earl being that "raspy" of a guy. (sorry, bad pun - )
Thanks for your answer.
Edited by - From Greylock to Bean Blossom on 06/07/2019 13:16:32
I was interested to read your post about Curtis McPeake's 'Ole Betsy'. A Hangout member here in the UK is selling a Gibson-made 'Ole Betsy' re-creation. Here's the ad banjohangout.org/classified/68698
I have no connection with the seller other than that I bought a Nechville Meteor from him a few years ago, That was a great purchase and a good experience. I'm sure he would be happy to answer any questions you may have about the banjo he's selling.
I don't have any experience with straight grain maple.
Question would be....by having a neck made of this cause your banjo to sound like Curtis? His banjo is what, 85 years old?
Sonny, I had Steve Huber build me a Banjo about 9 years ago and I supplied him with old barn wood straight grain maple. So the remainder of the Banjo was new wood and the neck was old, straight grain maple. From the start those who played it said it sounded different from his other banjos. I can only ascribe it to the neck wood - straight-grain maple but also very old. I think the age of the wood has more impact than the grain. IMHO. BTW: the irregularities in the neck close up are worm holes - maybe that makes the difference! ;-)
Edited by - markbyrum on 06/09/2019 15:03:27
Hi Sonny, I see above where You talked with Jack Anglin, I liked His singing, good range of voice. It's pretty ironic that He was killed in car wreck on the way to Patsy Clines Funeral. Did You ever talk to Patsy? And do You think Huber makes as good a neck as Neat?
Hey Lee, good to hear from you.
When I came to Nashville at 14 years old, two people on the The Real Grand Ole Opry treated me like a human being...Jack Anglin and George Morgan. Jack didn't live long enough for me to be well acquainted with him as an adult, sadly...but George and I became close friends.
I was on a friendly basis with Patsy's husband..Charlie Dick...but The closest I ever came to talking to Patsy was as she was recording Faded Love. We waited until she finished so we could get into the studio...I believe that would be The Quanset Hut...do our session.
I'm sure others are building good necks. Huber, Stelling, Robin Smith...but Frank Neat is the best in my opinion..maybe because he has built hundreds for me. Each Chief banjo has a Frank Neat neck and never a flaw, and they always fit perfectly so I gotta go with Mr. Neat.
Mark...that's a good looking five....I see you have the neck finish taken off...I had been doing that since the 70's and it sure makes a big difference in playability. Do you still have that banjo? Wonder how it would have sounded like if you had the rim made from the old wood?
Good pictures, thanks.
Thanks, Sonny. It's a great banjo and I like it. An old wood neck AND rim was the original plan. Great minds think alike! I supplied the old neck wood AND old maple flooring sourced from a Reclaimed flooring company in Virginia - enough for 4 rims. But Steve's rim builder was unable to bend it without breaking it, so we went with the standard Huber rim (pre-Truetone days). So I have a modern wood rim and old wood neck. Sounds great. And you know Earl's Granada was less than 20 years old when he recorded the Country Music album. Aren't your early Chief's getting up there in years? They're sounding better all the time!
The first Chief banjo got to me June 16, 1998. so, YES...IT'S 21 YEARS OLD.
That would be number 00...or "snake eyes"
"Bluegrass Today" is running a series of articles called: "Ask Sonny Anything" and if you're interested in that sort of thing..you may wish to participate.
Just a word to clarify something that surfaced.
I read only this part of Banjo Hangout. Sometimes people send an email and refer to something someone has said concerning me, something I might have said, my opinion of another person or banjo, or the Chief banjo. Most time I don't have a clue as to what is going on out side this page and you good folks.
I remember a very hot August afternoon in Hugo, OK about 40 years ago. It was around 100 and Bobby had a towel around his neck to absorb the sweat. Then, to top things off, the band on stage before you had played a number of Osborne Brothers songs. You were hot and not just because of the temperature. I recall your discourse about there being "no need to the Osborne Brothers since our music has already been played. I will not mention the other band, but I expect you remember them.
Mr. Sonny,, your reply in your Bluegrass Today column about the vasectomy was hilarious.... !
Hi Chief! Are we getting any closer to the Book? We all sure hope so! Have a great Weekend!
FOR THOSE OF YOU WHO HAVE NOT HEARD THE BAND, "MERLE MONROE" YOU SHOULD. THEY'RE GOOD. OUR OLD FRIENDS DAN'L GRINDSTAFF AND TIM RABON ARE BETTER THAN GOOD. IT'S TITLED "BACK TO THE COUNTRY."
Dees, I remember that well. I think the group you are talking about was a motorcycle gang.
You know, that happened often with them and a few more. I never understood what the point of that action was. They seemed to think it was funny somehow. Weird...but, the world goes on turning!
The good part of all that, and I told our guys and Bobby...when we go home, the next day we go to the bank...when they go home...that's what they do...go home!
if we did a Stanley Bros. song I always asked Ralph for permission...We did Rank Strangers a lot, but if he was there I always asked.
The subject of the book has come up. This is all the info I have. Beginning till now.
Scott Street had the idea and did a tremendous amount of legwork doing interviews etc. Before he could finish it he passed away, Bill Evans agreed to finish it. His wife was diagnosed with leukemia and this pretty much filled up Bill's plate, so then Daniel Mullins agreed to do it...and that's where it is now. I haven't heard anything concerning the book in quite a while...so I think it might be a dead issue. Seems as though it's had a dark cloud around it from the beginning...so, maybe it's best. That's absolutely OK with me. When Scott asked my permission to do it, I was 50-50...so maybe it IS best.
THE BLUEGRASS TODAY, "ASK SONNY ANYTHING" HAS BEEN ACCEPTED REALLY WELL, I'M TOLD BY TERRY HERD. PLEASES ME GREATLY. I LOVE DOING IT BECAUSE THERE ARE NO CONSTRAINTS SO FAR AS QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS ARE CONCERNED. THEY SEND ME THE QUESTIONS AND I ANSWER THEM...AND THEY PRINT MY ANSWERS...NO QUESTIONS ASKED, NO EYEBROWS RAISED, NO ROLLED EYES....CASE CLOSED!
I am going to chime in here with my own "Sonny Osborne story".
I don't know if Sonny will remember it, or not. I am sure it is just a boring, mediocre tale, anyway. But here goes....
When I first got into the banjo and bluegrass, about 10-11 years ago, I went to the IBMA World of Bluegrass. Back then, it was still in Nashville. I was there by myself, and I was a TOTALLY green newbie to all things banjo and bluegrass. I only knew that I loved it. I stopped in to eat lunch at the Subway sandwich shop there in the convention center. There were very few tables available. A gentleman asked a few minutes later if he could share my table. It was Sonny. I was such a newbie, I had no idea who he was.
After eating our sandwiches, he ended up headed the same way as me (big surprise, in retrospect!), so we ended up at record table in the main showroom. He invited me to sit with him, and started showing me his banjos. If I recall correctly, he had 3 Chiefs there. He had them under the table, but wasn't making an issue out of them, at all. Of course, it didn't take me too long to put 2 and 2 together, and figure out who he was. LOL!
I spent a great deal of time sitting next to him and picking around on the banjos over the next few days. I got to meet lots of real nice folks who would come by to say hello to Sonny.
On Sunday morning, just before I left to drive back home, I talked to my wife on the phone. I told her my story. She said, "why don't you buy just one those Chief banjos, you know that you want one". So, I called Sonny and told him that I wanted one. He said "you rascal!" (or something along that line!). "You have waited until the very last day, after I left to come home, and the banjos are all with me". Naturally, I felt really bad! But then he said, "I will deliver you the banjo, for a fee". I tentatively said "great, how much do I owe you?". He replied, "a Starbucks coffee for both me and my wife. She is coming with me!". He asked me which one I wanted. I told him whichever one he thought was the best out them.
And that is how I got my maple Chief banjo!
'Prairie Winds' 10 min
'1992 Gibson RB-1 in B' 2 hrs