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Your Favorite (recorded) Bluegrass Banjo Tones in the Last 30 Years?

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Apr 1, 2020 - 6:43:50 AM
253 posts since 4/26/2007
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Recent discussions with my banjo pals inspired me to create this thread.

What would you guys consider your favorite/preferred bluegrass banjo tones heard on recorded projects? I'd say keep it within the last 30 years or so, for several reasons: 1. mic technology is so much different compared to the first & second generation grassers, and 2. the tones from Earl, Crowe, Sonny, Ralph, etc. are timeless and go without saying.

What recordings and/or albums can you point to and say "THAT'S how I think a bluegrass banjo should sound!"? Let's keep it to a specific studio recording(s) if possible, please.

I limited my favorites to five, although I could probably double that. In no particular hierarchy:

1. Steve Huber on Kenny & Amanda Smith's "House Down the Block"
Banjo used: 1930 RB Granada flathead
Tone track of choice: "The Girl Next Door"

2. Jim Mills "My Dixie Home"
Banjo used: 1940 'Mack Crow' RB-75
Tone track of choice: "Sledd Ridin"

3. Steve Dilling on IIIrd Tyme Out's "Singing on Streets of Gold"
Banjo used: 1934 Granada flathead
Tone track of choice: "Light at the River"

4. Jason Davis on Kenny & Amanda Smith's "Tell Someone"
Banjo used: 30's TB-11 conversion
Tone track of choice: "Great Big Hand"

5. Ron Stewart on Lynn Morris band's "Shape of a Tear"
Banjo used: 1933 TB-1 conversion
Tone track of choice: "I'm Going to Have Love"

Well, what can I say? I'm partial to the old fives, go figure. Interesting that four out of five banjos listed have maple necks (the Mack Crow being the exception).

Edited by - HuberTone on 04/01/2020 10:24:14

Apr 1, 2020 - 6:54:03 AM
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12813 posts since 10/30/2008

Jim Mills playing 4 old RB Mastertones on his CD Hide Head Blues. All had calfskin heads on them.

Crowe on the Merle Haggard salute CD he made with Rickey Wasson.

Many of the banjos on the Tribute to Earl Scruggs project. The opening cut Flint Hill Special by David Talbot especially. All the pickers were top Scruggs style players with great banjos, beautifully recorded. I believe I heard a little bit of the old Columbia records "reverb".

The best Reno-style tone I've heard is on the latest CD by High Fidelity.

The best Stanley-style tone is on the new CD from Po' Rambling Boys.

Apr 1, 2020 - 7:38:13 AM

253 posts since 4/26/2007
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quote:
Originally posted by The Old Timer

Jim Mills playing 4 old RB Mastertones on his CD Hide Head Blues. All had calfskin heads on them.

Crowe on the Merle Haggard salute CD he made with Rickey Wasson.

Many of the banjos on the Tribute to Earl Scruggs project. The opening cut Flint Hill Special by David Talbot especially. All the pickers were top Scruggs style players with great banjos, beautifully recorded. I believe I heard a little bit of the old Columbia records "reverb".

The best Reno-style tone I've heard is on the latest CD by High Fidelity.

The best Stanley-style tone is on the new CD from Po' Rambling Boys.


Very good call on the Scruggs tribute album, excellent collection of pickers and banjos. You're right about the reverb especially prominent on the Talbot cut, that was the first thing I noticed listening to it. I'm also partial to Craig Smith's track, which I believe he cut with his Granada?

Apr 1, 2020 - 7:50:20 AM

chuckv97

Canada

49039 posts since 10/5/2013

I saw Jereme Brown of the Po’ Ramblin’ Boys at the Blueberry Fstvl 4 years ago. His banjo (I forget now what model/vintage he was playing) was the best sounding banjo of the weekend, and I hesitate to say that because Charlie Cushman was there with The Earls of Leicester. Jereme did the banjo workshop. A pic ,,,me on the left in the red & white shirt holding a coffee.

Apr 1, 2020 - 7:58:18 AM

12813 posts since 10/30/2008

I guess I should add a Charlie Cushman reference, seeing his name mentioned by chuckv97.

When the Earls last played Thomas Point Beach Festival in Maine (last year? Year before?) they did a night show closing out the day. I got to see Charlie toting some banjo I didn't really recognize, backstage, and he was picking it a little for banjo freaks. It was loud but had the softest tone, it really impressed me. Sounded terrific through the sound system, which was CRANKED. But that particular banjo really impressed me with its velvety tone. Not a Granada I don't think.

Apr 1, 2020 - 8:09:56 AM
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3012 posts since 5/29/2011

You stopped me cold by stipulating the last 30 years. My two favorites came before that.

Apr 1, 2020 - 9:00:06 AM

106 posts since 4/20/2009

Aaron McDaris and Kristin Scott Benson anything they did with the Grasscals. I never hear them on a list of players its always earl and the boys.

Apr 1, 2020 - 9:36:36 AM

5313 posts since 12/20/2005

I've not listened to many of the names mentioned, but I will soon.

Scott Vestal Bluegrass albums during the years he was doing that were out of this world.

Apr 1, 2020 - 9:42:14 AM

931 posts since 1/25/2017

They all pretty much sound alike to me.

Apr 1, 2020 - 9:49:14 AM

253 posts since 4/26/2007
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quote:
Originally posted by Culloden

You stopped me cold by stipulating the last 30 years. My two favorites came before that.


Aw heck, go ahead and list your 3rd favorite recording then. You can do it, I believe in you!

Remember, I'm not asking for a favorite player; I'm asking for your favorite tone of banjo that's been recorded in a studio setting. Or, to rephrase, what's the the greatest example of what a banjo should sound like, in your opinion? Sometimes the player, instrument, mics, positioning, and everything else combine to create an amazing sound that was never otherwise duplicated on other albums or onstage. 

Apr 1, 2020 - 10:05:36 AM

Mooooo

USA

7816 posts since 8/20/2016

I love Noam Pikelny's tone on the Noam P. plays Kenny B. Plays Bill Monroe. Also, Jim Mills on Hide Head Blues, and Terry Baucom, especially with Doyle Lawson. Jody King has great tone as does Lynwood Lundsford, both from Lost and Found. So many more...

Edited by - Mooooo on 04/01/2020 10:10:53

Apr 1, 2020 - 10:40:51 AM

253 posts since 4/26/2007
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quote:
Originally posted by Leslie R

I've not listened to many of the names mentioned, but I will soon.

Scott Vestal Bluegrass albums during the years he was doing that were out of this world.


Yes, please check those names and albums out if you haven't, they're all superb.

And Vestal's sound on those Bluegrass albums was fantastic and different but still worked out great in a bluegrass context. It's amazing the tone he pulls from the Stealth banjos while still sounding completely different tone-wise from, say, the flathead he played with Southern Connection and DLQ.

Apr 1, 2020 - 11:37:56 AM

4712 posts since 9/5/2006

craig smith playing bootleg john on the stanley tradition project ,,, gets me every time

jim mills on poor ellen smith,,,, diggin in

and robby mcCoury when he comes in on Loser with the traveling mcCourys (studio version) set back and groove on that

 

oh i forgot,,,, matt menefee when he comes in on born lonesome,,,,  geeezzzz  

Edited by - 1935tb-11 on 04/01/2020 11:51:37

Apr 1, 2020 - 1:05:50 PM

161 posts since 6/25/2016

Great thread! But, the banjo and the player are only part of the tone we hear on a recording. It would also be nice to know something about how these wonderful tones made it from the banjo to our ears - microphone type and placement, engineer, etc. I know that's not common knowledge, but if anybody does know about it, it would be very welcome info.

Apr 2, 2020 - 4:13:35 AM

253 posts since 4/26/2007
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quote:
Originally posted by loonsailor

Great thread! But, the banjo and the player are only part of the tone we hear on a recording. It would also be nice to know something about how these wonderful tones made it from the banjo to our ears - microphone type and placement, engineer, etc. I know that's not common knowledge, but if anybody does know about it, it would be very welcome info.


That's an excellent point, loonsailor. Sometime magic happens in the studio where all the pieces happen to come together and everything from mic placement to sound mixing to banjo setup is optimal. 

Several of the banjo + player combinations I mentioned in the OP  have been heard on other albums as well, but I tried to pick what I thought were the "ultimate" showcases for banjo tone. They never sounded better than on the records I mentioned, IMO.

Apr 2, 2020 - 5:54:19 AM

2674 posts since 11/15/2003

Ok Gang...Time to go to school.....

Inspired by his Uncle's Influence...and Earl Scruggs...

Wynn Osborne, and his Bluegrass Playboys

" I think he was using Sonny's Granada."The best sounding maple banjo on the Planet..

Tone Track of Choice....Flint Hill Special..."YOUR ON"...All hell breaks loose

The whole album is total Scruggs timing...Scruggs attack...they way it should be!

Nuff Said!

Warp!

Apr 2, 2020 - 1:57:06 PM

1717 posts since 9/10/2003

winkHey warp!
Schools out for the rest of the year, At least hear in Indiana. That's what our Governor just broadcast about an hour ago.

Thanks anyway,
Brian

Apr 2, 2020 - 9:21:55 PM

3012 posts since 5/29/2011

quote:
Originally posted by HuberTone
quote:
Originally posted by Culloden

You stopped me cold by stipulating the last 30 years. My two favorites came before that.


Aw heck, go ahead and list your 3rd favorite recording then. You can do it, I believe in you!

Remember, I'm not asking for a favorite player; I'm asking for your favorite tone of banjo that's been recorded in a studio setting. Or, to rephrase, what's the the greatest example of what a banjo should sound like, in your opinion? Sometimes the player, instrument, mics, positioning, and everything else combine to create an amazing sound that was never otherwise duplicated on other albums or onstage. 


My third favorite was recorded more than thirty years ago as well. Since you are asking about banjo tone I will go ahead and list my three favorites anyway.

1) Sonny Osborne's banjo on Leaving's Heavy on my Mind from the album Number One.

2) Earl's banjo on Flint Hill Special from the Will the Circle be Unbroken album.

3) Sonny's banjo on Unclouded Day. That was recorded on the second album he did after he got his Granada.

Those are my three favorite tones. Timeless.

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