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Sep 17, 2019 - 9:25:47 AM
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455 posts since 2/21/2005

After giving the matter a great deal of thought, I’ve decided that the best word to describe the tone of Earl’s banjo playing is “crunchy”. That’s right, crunchy. It’s amazing, but no matter what other banjo I listen to, it’s never crunchy like Earl’s. I can explain this based on 3 criteria: First, is the 4th sting which has an incredible bassy pop. Second is the snappy quality of the 2nd and 3rd strings, and finally, the sound of the 5th and especially the 1st sting as it is played high up the neck. It is never harsh or brittle sounding, but has a wonderful crackling sound. So essentially, his sound is based on snap, crackle, and pop. And to me, snap + crackle + pop = crunchy. And with that, I’m going to have some breakfast.

Sep 17, 2019 - 9:29:38 AM
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chuckv97

Canada

43323 posts since 10/5/2013

Sep 18, 2019 - 12:05:54 PM

2683 posts since 5/29/2011

Over the course of his career Earl's banjo had many different tones depending on a variety of factors. The skin heads, head tightness, which neck was on the banjo, the type of recording equipment, the microphones used in TV and radio performances, and the early plastic heads all contributed to the sound of his banjo. Listen to some of the YouTube videos of Flatt and Scruggs on the Martha White Show. His banjo usually had a flat, dry tone compared to the deep, full sound he got out of it on the Will the Circle be Unbroken album in 1971.

Sep 18, 2019 - 12:22:23 PM
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2558 posts since 11/15/2003

I agree, with most of what Mark says, with exception to the following....as i learned from having had a close association with some of the former touring and now aged legends, "earl was not the earl of his youth....really after Foggy Mt Banjo, as far as tone goes.....he was done....and those that are in the know....know this to be true!

Earl stated himself in his book that he liked keeping his head as tight as he could, almost to bursting, then backing the tension off some....and i get that, and so do many others.

Other factors that Mark spoke of and some he didn't.....neck woods....Earl started with Curly Maple and ended with Mahogany ....at least that is what the Gower neck was that he cut Foggy Mt Banjo with.
Now i do know at times he would appear on the road with a Stock Earl Scruggs Model in the 90's but as i said...for my ears, i was not impressed with his tone due to also knowing he was suffering with hand injuries and just aged a bit quicker than Sonny or Jd did when preforming at the same age, the proof is out there for all to hear and it is noticeable , you just have to be willing not to let the Hero worship get in the way.

This is in no way meant to disparage Earl, i love him just like all banjo pickers do, but he was done , tried and wore out, by the time he was ready to start his second career with his sons, and there is very few things after him and lester that i find good enough to compare to his glory years!

Warp!

Sep 18, 2019 - 1:50:38 PM

2683 posts since 5/29/2011

When I referred to which neck was on the banjo I was talking about the different necks that were on the Granada over the years. The different woods had a definite impact on tone.

Sep 18, 2019 - 2:19:23 PM
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730 posts since 10/7/2005

quote:
Originally posted by warpdrive

I agree, with most of what Mark says, with exception to the following....as i learned from having had a close association with some of the former touring and now aged legends, "earl was not the earl of his youth....really after Foggy Mt Banjo, as far as tone goes.....he was done....and those that are in the know....know this to be true!

Earl stated himself in his book that he liked keeping his head as tight as he could, almost to bursting, then backing the tension off some....and i get that, and so do many others.

Other factors that Mark spoke of and some he didn't.....neck woods....Earl started with Curly Maple and ended with Mahogany ....at least that is what the Gower neck was that he cut Foggy Mt Banjo with.
Now i do know at times he would appear on the road with a Stock Earl Scruggs Model in the 90's but as i said...for my ears, i was not impressed with his tone due to also knowing he was suffering with hand injuries and just aged a bit quicker than Sonny or Jd did when preforming at the same age, the proof is out there for all to hear and it is noticeable , you just have to be willing not to let the Hero worship get in the way.

This is in no way meant to disparage Earl, i love him just like all banjo pickers do, but he was done , tried and wore out, by the time he was ready to start his second career with his sons, and there is very few things after him and lester that i find good enough to compare to his glory years!

Warp!



 

Sep 18, 2019 - 2:41:52 PM

2558 posts since 11/15/2003

Hey,

I didn't say everything he did after he broke with lester was un-impressive, just most things.

I went back and listened to the tracks he did on the first Circle album, and there was a bit of snap still present in his roll on those tracks.

We are all going to face the great "equalizer " that is old age, and no matter how much we love and adore hero's, them and us alike will slow down and the skills will diminish , or as someone once told me

"if you don't want to know how the sausage is made, stay out of the kitchen"

Warp!

Sep 18, 2019 - 3:29:09 PM
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5449 posts since 3/6/2006

quote:
Originally posted by warpdrive

I agree, with most of what Mark says, with exception to the following....as i learned from having had a close association with some of the former touring and now aged legends, "earl was not the earl of his youth....really after Foggy Mt Banjo, as far as tone goes.....he was done....and those that are in the know....know this to be true!

Earl stated himself in his book that he liked keeping his head as tight as he could, almost to bursting, then backing the tension off some....and i get that, and so do many others.

Other factors that Mark spoke of and some he didn't.....neck woods....Earl started with Curly Maple and ended with Mahogany ....at least that is what the Gower neck was that he cut Foggy Mt Banjo with.
Now i do know at times he would appear on the road with a Stock Earl Scruggs Model in the 90's but as i said...for my ears, i was not impressed with his tone due to also knowing he was suffering with hand injuries and just aged a bit quicker than Sonny or Jd did when preforming at the same age, the proof is out there for all to hear and it is noticeable , you just have to be willing not to let the Hero worship get in the way.

This is in no way meant to disparage Earl, i love him just like all banjo pickers do, but he was done , tried and wore out, by the time he was ready to start his second career with his sons, and there is very few things after him and lester that i find good enough to compare to his glory years!

Warp!


I'm going to disagree with you somewhat Warp - don't get me wrong, I'm not into hero worship either and I have heard performances by Earl in his later years that were obviously no match for his glory days. But I heard him at Byron Berline's festival when he was 80 old, and he was just on fire! His timing was great, his speed was such that he often left the band in the dust. I can't exactly comment on tone, since we were all at the mercy of the PA system, but it did give me hope that even when I'm an old geezer (and it won't be long now) that I might be able to play with that same fire and enthusiasm - go Earl!

Sep 18, 2019 - 3:39:16 PM
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chuckv97

Canada

43323 posts since 10/5/2013

Here are some of Sonny’s thoughts , from his “Chief” thread....

“Ken....that's hard to answer because we are all wired differently. You are correct about Earl, particularly the earlier days of Scruggs. He and Flatt were beginning to be a big success and they were not road weary in 1953. I think their recordings show this too. Earl really loved the banjo. It shows on Foggy Mtn. Breakdown, Flint Hill Special, Dear Old Dixie, all show a fire, hunger, pride, want to, different attitude than Randy Lynn Rag. True, his playing was different then. I first met Earl in 1952, and later when we moved to Nashville Earl and I became closer friends and I saw a different Earl. Secure, successful, road weary. He made a mental statement to me then that I didn't understand until 1978. He made a verbal statement directly to me (not hearsay) in about 1966; "I HAVEN'T BEEN INTERESTED IN THE BANJO IN 10 YEARS." It broke my heart in 1966, but then I came to understand it in 1978. Ken, I realize this is way too much information than was necessary, but...I get carried away when I talk about a subject that I also loved that much. If it were somehow possible, when I leave this life I would come back as a 1934 Granada...9584-2 ”

Sep 18, 2019 - 3:49:57 PM
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2558 posts since 11/15/2003

Larry,

I will take you at your word on that!

Seriously, i seen Earl back in 98 or 99, and i was close enough that i could hear his banjo un-miked, and i could not get past the missed noted strings and loss of hand timing. Was i glad to see earl, sure i was, but i guess i am such a realist that could not get past my hero was not doing what made me love his banjo in the first place, which i realize is my short falling, but still yet, i'm just being brutally honest.

I can say that i did get to see him and lester in 67 at the Ryman, we were sitting in the balcony, but i was so young i really can recant what was played.

I am at the first in line to Herald what Amazing picking he did and what we have audio and visual account of from his youth till he and lester broke up, but i just don't have the personality make up, to let things that were better in the youth to bleed over into the old.

I am glad that there are people like yourself that had good experiences seeing earl not in his prime, unfortunately , i'm not one of them, and as Forrest Gump says...

"Thats all i have to say about that"!

Thanks for not ripping me a new one Larry, you've always been one of my fav's!

Warp!

Sep 18, 2019 - 4:03:26 PM

chuckv97

Canada

43323 posts since 10/5/2013

I saw Earl with the Revue in ‘77 at the venerable Horseshoe Tavern, a Toronto club. He looked a bit tired, and mostly played in the background other than a couple of his trademark numbers. I just wanted to see him once, cuz I’d never seen him in his earlier days. I remember as they walked off the stage the noticeable limp from his hip surgeries. (I lightly touched him on the shoulder with my picking hand as he walked by a line of us slack-jawed gaping fans - he stared right at me and said,”Stay the hell away from me!” .... no, no, wait ; that’s Laurence’s joke ;-) I’m glad I went, but I knew it wasn’t the “old Earl” I’d heard on my Mercury and Columbia LP’s.

Edited by - chuckv97 on 09/18/2019 16:19:03

Sep 18, 2019 - 4:08:15 PM
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5449 posts since 3/6/2006

...and Chuck hasn't washed that hand since!

Sep 18, 2019 - 4:17:58 PM
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chuckv97

Canada

43323 posts since 10/5/2013

quote:
Originally posted by Laurence Diehl

...and Chuck hasn't washed that hand since!


You been reading my mail...??


 

Sep 18, 2019 - 4:34:02 PM
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2558 posts since 11/15/2003

See guys,

Its like this.....

If i was to see Clint Eastwood, and he pointed a M1 Garand at me and said

" GET OFF MY LAWN"

i would be soooooooo happy, and not think i of that as a disappointing encounter, because he would be living up to the legend!

Does anybody not understand where i am coming from.....

Somebody pleassssssseeee throw me a bone, and no, i don't mean stick one through my nose!

warp!

Sep 18, 2019 - 5:27:18 PM
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5449 posts since 3/6/2006

“Man’s gotta know his limitations “ 

okay I’m done 

Sep 19, 2019 - 5:20:28 AM
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5237 posts since 10/13/2007

As a side note, I want to mention how the Sonny Osborne thread is a real treasure. It should be turned into a book.
ken

Sep 19, 2019 - 5:36:15 AM
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chuckv97

Canada

43323 posts since 10/5/2013

Right, Ken. Between his thread here and more stories in his Ask Sonny column in Bluegrass Today.  Here’s a gem :

“Sonny, In one of the videos with Mac Wiseman from 1999, you talked about being in some small town in Quebec, Canada in the wintertime and playing a show where the promoter never showed up. Do you remember where in Quebec this show took place and who was playing guitar for you at the time?

Peter D.

During that time, 1955, Bobby and I worked with Charlie Bailey in Wheeling, WV. So he would be the guitar player. It was snowing so hard you could hardly see the building. Kids were playing hockey in the street. So, showtime came and the promoter was not there to open the door, and the building was locked. We were all broke too with a half tank of gas. Tough times. I saw a few people gathering at the door so I started looking or some way to get in… I found an unlocked window and crawled through. Found a light switch and opened the front door. By then a pretty decent crowd had appeared so I got a chair and collected admission… When they stopped coming I had amassed a total of $490… and I started hoping the guy wouldn’t show up because that was enough to get us back to Wheeling, and have some left over. He didn’t show, we kept it all, did a decent show, the folks were pleased, we loaded our equipment up, I locked the front door, turned out the lights, crawled back out and shut the unlocked window and we had a pretty good trip back to Wheeling.”

Edited by - chuckv97 on 09/19/2019 05:51:39

Sep 19, 2019 - 11:41:19 AM

891 posts since 6/6/2008

quote:
Originally posted by Culloden

Over the course of his career Earl's banjo had many different tones depending on a variety of factors. The skin heads, head tightness, which neck was on the banjo, the type of recording equipment, the microphones used in TV and radio performances, and the early plastic heads all contributed to the sound of his banjo. Listen to some of the YouTube videos of Flatt and Scruggs on the Martha White Show. His banjo usually had a flat, dry tone compared to the deep, full sound he got out of it on the Will the Circle be Unbroken album in 1971.


that had to do with microphones, recording equipment and room.  

Sep 19, 2019 - 11:43:44 AM

891 posts since 6/6/2008

I'm fully convinced that tone is greatly attributed to the right hand. A perfect example: Charlie Cushman can get tone out of your banjo, that you can't get yourself. It's the same banjo(s), but different right hand.

Oct 2, 2019 - 2:04:32 PM

1520 posts since 4/10/2005

[[[I'm fully convinced that tone is greatly attributed to the right hand]]]

Well, you're in good company there, as this was famously the view of Mr. Scruggs himself.

OK. Assuming that Earl Scruggs really said he hadn't been interested in banjo since 1966, and assuming if he said it, that it was TRUE (as opposed to exaggerating a tad) . . . Then what DID interest him? He lived another 45-plus years after 1966. That would be a looooong time to go in your life without an absorbing interest(s) or passion(s).  So . . . what was there for him?  What floated his boat?   This is a serious, very intriguing question here.

Edited by - ceemonster on 10/02/2019 14:08:50

Oct 2, 2019 - 2:35:15 PM
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chuckv97

Canada

43323 posts since 10/5/2013

I surely am not in the know or closely associated with anyone that knew Earl, but from what I hear he had regular jam sessions at his house for years. Some at others’ houses are on YouTube, so he must’ve been still passionate about music. Sonny says he lost his mojo in 1978 before he got the Granada so it’s maybe possible to go in a slump for a few years and then get revived. I think Earl, by the time his gig with Lester was running out, needed a new fresh start which is what most creative people want. He must’ve felt trapped into the “1953 Earl”. imho

Oct 2, 2019 - 3:36:26 PM

6294 posts since 8/30/2004

Right... I think it's also about your ears and how you hear tones etc. high or low...Earl had to deal with his aging body as we all do. He did sound great at 80 as Laurence said....Jack

Originally posted by o2playlikeEarl

I'm fully convinced that tone is greatly attributed to the right hand. A perfect example: Charlie Cushman can get tone out of your banjo, that you can't get yourself. It's the same banjo(s), but different right hand.


Oct 2, 2019 - 10:01:43 PM

1520 posts since 4/10/2005

I think the question is compelling from an existential standpoint. Some master musicians are fascinated by their instrument and its possibilities for life. They might be always trying to improve their playing, even if to those standing outside they sound as if there's no room for improvement. Or, they might be continually trying to take the instrument's capabilities to another place they have not yet explored. Or, they simply have a lifelong love affair with the style the mastered, or with the instrument itself.

I do understand people getting sick of the touring/showbiz life. But this quote was about the instrument itself. To become a preeminent master of an instrument and stop finding it interesting at a point when you're far from decrepit and indeed still have forty-five years-plus to go in this mortal coil does beg the question of what, if anything, put a sparkle in your eye after you lost that interest.    I do hope there was something. That's kind of a sad quote.  I'm not putting down Earl Scruggs for feeling that way if in fact he did.  I'm just wondering about those next forty-five years or so . . . One does hear of virtuoso masters who at a certain point put their instrument aside in favor of another focus that consumes them.    I hope something came along that made Earl Scruggs want to jump out of bed in the morning . . . 45 years is a long time to go after losing interest in a creative focus you've taken to that level of mastery.

Edited by - ceemonster on 10/02/2019 22:17:22

Oct 2, 2019 - 11:13:35 PM

1520 posts since 4/10/2005

Actually, I see my math was off. Mr. Scruggs said in 1966 he hadn't been interested in the banjo in 10 years. So, that purported cessation of interest would have been 1956, making it over fifty-five years yet to live, a decade more than the forty-five I was bandying about.

Oct 3, 2019 - 8:52:07 AM

1223 posts since 2/10/2013

I think Earl's wife made decisions about Earl's career. She may also have been a factor in his breakup with Lester Flatt. Earl Scruggs always gave me the impression he was a modest unassuming individual. An aggressive spouse can have a big impact on career/life choices. I have read that when on tour he enjoyed "living it up" with the Josh Graves. I am guessing that he could not do that at home.

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