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Early Keith , Bump , Scrugg's D tuners

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May 24, 2020 - 4:08:04 PM
109 posts since 6/14/2004

Reckon what year these were manufactured ????

Edited by - banjermun on 05/24/2020 17:39:14

May 24, 2020 - 5:22:20 PM

333 posts since 3/27/2011

I have a set that I purchased around 1968, not sure of the exact dates tho. Mine still work great. They’ve been on a vega ranger, fender concertone, 32 tb2 conversion, a old flathead and an rk elite

May 24, 2020 - 6:58:29 PM

Bill Rogers (Moderator)


23614 posts since 6/25/2005

I think some were produced before the addition of Scruggs to the branding mix. No idea how many.

May 25, 2020 - 3:19:44 AM
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21707 posts since 7/6/2005

The exact date is not mentioned on Beacon Banjo's website. Interesting story, though. Perhaps if you contact Beacon they could nail it down for you.I have a set of those and a couple sets of Keith-Bump-Scruggs and a set of Gotoh's(I think) that are stainless like the Keith and unlike Schaller.

I seldom use my tuners, but I like having the option. if I was a big fan, I'd go with cams, because they have a "better" whine sound than the planetary models. I don't favor drilling holes in the peghead, and I do not like the bulk of clamp-on tuners, so Keith remains my choice.

May 25, 2020 - 11:58:22 AM

109 posts since 6/14/2004

By the end of January 1964, Dan and I had incorporated the Beacon Banjo Co., with myself as President and Dan as Vice President. We each invested about $2500 to get the ball rolling, and placed an order sufficient parts for 100 pair at the machine shop. Within a few weeks we had all the parts, and met at Dan's parents' house during the days to assemble and test the tuners before final knurling on a neighbor's lathe. These first tuners were stamped on the back edge with my name only. Earl and Louise had informed us that in light of Earl's agreement with the Vega Co. we could only use his name to advertise the tuners if he were part-owner if the company, so as I recall, Earl bought $1500 in Beacon Banjo shares. Once we had legal rights to use his name, we made another stamp to add the names "Bump" and Scruggs" to the tuners already stamped "Keith", and began to advertise "Scruggs-Keith" tuners in one of the few folk-music publications being published at the time -- Sing Out. Orders started to come in -- we were selling them direct to the customer at $50 per pair. By the end of 1964, we were ready to place our next order at the machine shop, this time for 500 pair.

May 25, 2020 - 12:44:37 PM
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109 posts since 6/14/2004

John Harris
9/3/2016 4:43 AM

I had the foresight to copy Bill Keith's BHO autobiography series he wrote in 2005.

Here they are...
20 Aug 2005

Hello everyone,

I recently got a copy of the new Earl Scruggs book and have been checking it out. And I welcome this opportunity to answer your questions, and maybe to ask a few of my own... I'll try to keep things short and factual, although the whole story is rather long and convoluted, too long for a single post. As I see it (and lived it), the story breaks down into several 'chapters':

* before meeting Earl (creating my big book of tabs)
* the meeting Earl describes in his first book (who was there, his"audition" of my tabs)
* going to Nashville at his request (staying at Earl's house and working on the book, 'jamming' with Earl, going to the "morning show" tapings, to the Opry and to other gigs)
* Bill Palmer's visit with Earl (recounted on his website)
* the "Scruggs-Keith" tuners (when and why his name was put on them, and when and why it was taken off; the letter from Louise)
* the confrontation about royalties (at Earl and Louise's house on Donna Drive)
* the lawsuit and settlement (maybe you never knew...)
* subsequent encounters (in Dayton OH, at the Grey Fox Festival, at the Johnny Keenan Festival)
* the new book (revisionist history? And are those Schaller tuners on page 20?)
* what next?

(There are also a few other 'chapters' concerning Earl that are not related to the book...)

First, in answer to the questions above:

Banjoman -- No, I didn't send the tabs in the mail -- Earl first saw them in Baltimore in 1962, as he mentions.

Banjoken -- I have a picture-and-songbook published by Peer with some of his tunes in music notation. These transcriptions are very inaccurate. You can take a look at Peer's book at -- it's the one published in 1962.

Adk Rebel -- Thanks for the kind remarks and for mentioning my new book.

tomt -- In addition to the acknowledgement, I'm also mentioned on page 22 and page 60

randybartlett -- That's true, I never had the chance to proofread the first edition.

Howsy-bee -- That's also true, and remains true to the present day...

Herr_Grepper -- Yes, that's just one of the misprints in the first edition. Earl gave me two copies of the first edition (which I still have), signing one "to my good friend Bill Keith". This copy also has a stamped entry on the same page when it was entered as evidence...

I'll try to post again this weekend and cover the first 'chapter' or two for those who are interested. Thanks for your patience.

Bill Keith
21 Aug 2005

Hi everyone,

I hope you'll bear with me as I fill in a little background to my first meeting with Earl Scruggs, and what transpired there. I'll try to be as concise as possible...

I bought my first 5-string banjo in September, 1957, after four years of piano lessons followed by several years of playing the tenor and plectrum banjos. I immediately got Pete Seeger's instruction book, and the first thing I learned from it was the tablature system. I worked my way through the book to the chapter on the 3-finger style, where Pete suggests getting an Earl Scruggs record and a Don Reno record, which I did. The Earl Scruggs record was "Foggy Mountain Jamboree", and as soon as I heard it, I knew I wanted to play like that. But there was no tab available, and the music notation that was available from Earl via his publisher, Peer International, was grossly inaccurate. So I decided to make my own tabs, following Pete Seeger's example.

Using a reel-to-reel recorder to slow Earl's recordings to half-speed, and thanks to my piano training, I was able to write down in music notation the notes that he played, then to 'reverse-engineer' the tablature from the notes. This process was very time-intensive -- at first it took me almost three hours to transcribe and tab about three minutes of music. So in the spring of 1958, I began transcribing and tabbing all of Earl's instrumentals from any and all recordings I could locate. I continued to add to the book over the next three years, and by the summer of 1961 I had 24 instrumentals (several had all the banjo breaks written out) and four vocals transcribed.

In the fall of 1961, I enlisted in the Air Force and after basic training I was on active duty until July, 1962. That fall I moved to Washington, D.C. to play banjo with Red Allen and Frank Wakefield and the Kentuckians. I was staying with Tom Morgan, a well-known and respected luthier and Gibson banjo authority, learning banjo luthiery, copying tapes of bluegrass shows, and working on my tabs during the day, and playing with Red and Frank in the evenings and on most weekends. When Tom and I heard in December that Flatt and Scruggs were appearing in concert at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore we decided to go, and I took the Peer songbook and my book of tabs along with me. I worked on these tabs off and on for more than four years, and they were mostly complete before I met Earl for the first time -- they were not done at his request.

The show at Johns Hopkins University (Flatt & Scruggs were opening for Merle Travis) was produced by Manny Greenhill whom I'd known for several years, and when it was over Manny arranged for Tom Morgan and me to visit with Earl in the 'green room' backstage. That was my very first meeting with Earl and Louise Scruggs -- in mid-December 1962, just before my 23rd birthday. After the usual pleasantries, the first question I asked Earl concerned the accuracy of the transcriptions of his music that Peer had published in the most recent (1962) songbook. I played one or two of them as written, and he agreed that they were not at all accurate. He said he couldn't read music so he had had no way to check on the accuracy of these tunes, but he had trusted Peer International to do it right since they were music publishers.

So I showed him my book of tabs which he looked through carefully, then he asked what 'tab' was -- he had never seen it before. I explained how it works, so he handed me his banjo, opened my book to "Home Sweet Home", and asked me to play it from my tab. While I was playing he had his head turned more or less toward my book, but I could see that he was watching my right hand out of the corner of his eye. When I had finished, he said that I had played it absolutely correctly. Then he turned to page 76 in my book for "Sally Goodwin", which I also played for him. Except for one mistake that he pointed out, he said that I had played it correctly, too. (My mistake was holding the third string fretted at the 9th fret, instead of bouncing it on that fret only when that note was needed. The notes I was playing were correct, except that the E was being held too long...)

After consulting with Louise, Earl asked me for my name, address, and telephone number and he gave me his. Then they invited me to Nashville to work on his book. At that time the Air Force required me to report for duty one weekend a month, so my trip to Nashville didn't take place until January, 1963.

I'll try to post the next part in a day or two...
Bill Keith

27 Aug 2005

Hey folks,

Thanks for your interest and the encouragement to continue; this part is a little longer; perhaps too long... (?)

At Earl's request, I flew down to Nashville in early January, 1963, and stayed at his house for the next few weeks to continue working on the tab for his book. I had written some of my tab with the numbers below the lines so I could read it more easily, but Earl wanted the tab to be like it was in the Pete Seeger book, with the numbers above the lines, so I had to rewrite some tunes so everything was consistent. Earl also asked me to prepare a 'lead sheet' in music notation for an original unrecorded tune of his -- "Nashville Blues". He submitted this lead sheet as part of his application for his own publishing company and shortly thereafter, "Flatt and Scruggs Publishing Co., Inc." was born (see the bottom of page 96 in the first edition). Incidentally, it was Earl's decision to include both music notation and tablature in the first edition.

Work on the exercises consisted of isolating the important 'licks' and right-hand patterns and presenting them in short repeatable phrases. It was at that time when these patterns were named -- I suggested the names "forward roll", "backward roll", "reverse roll", and "alternating thumb". Not long ago I ran across this bit of history on Bill Palmer's website ( "When I went to visit Earl in his home in Madison TN back in 1963, I asked him what he called a certain roll, because I wanted to use the "official Earl Scruggs name" for it. Bear in mind that this was before "Earl Scruggs and the 5-string Banjo" was published. He said, "I never heard of a roll until Bill Keith showed me all of those tablatures of my tunes he had taken off my records. I just play the melody with my thumb or index finger and fill in the gaps with whatever is left over." Bill Palmer also adds: "The teaching tape that Earl did was done to a script Bill Keith wrote for him."

I remember showing Earl the symbol for repeating a measure and saying that we could put a number above it to indicate how many times it should be repeated. I suggested putting '12' above these measures, but Earl said "How about a thousand?" So that's what we put in the book!

We didn't spend all our time at his house working on his book -- I went with him to the WSM radio studios and watched as he and Lester and the boys taped about a dozen of the early-morning Martha White radio shows, and to the WSM TV studios for recording some of the shows which are soon to come out on DVD (and are already being circulated among 'tapers' and CD traders). And I rode with Earl and the boys on the bus to attend several jobs out of town. He also drove me around Nashville to show me the sights -- including Roy Acuff's new tombstone (and Roy was still alive at the time!). And once or twice when the weather was good, we went for short flights in his plane. Sometimes we just sat in his office and picked -- trading breaks on his tunes and playing back-up for each other. He occasionally played my banjo and I played his. He also played some guitar back-up for me, and I played a few Carter Family tunes on the autoharp. I recorded a couple of these 'jams', and still have a copy on CD...

One of the trips I made with Earl during this period was to the Grand Ole Opry at the Ryman Auditorium in downtown Nashville. I took my banjo with me and was playing with some of the other musicians that were warming up backstage when Kenny Baker walked in, listened a bit, then left. He returned a few minutes later with Bill Monroe, and they both stayed a while to listen. When I was leaving at the end of the evening, Kenny Baker approached me and told me that Bill Monroe wanted me to join his band. To say the least, I was elated and decided to accept the offer. But first I had to return home for a Air Force weekend meeting and to apply for a transfer to a similar unit in Nashville.

Shortly thereafter I returned by car to Nashville and at Bill Monroe's suggestion, took a room at the Clarkston Hotel on 7th Avenue. At the time, the cheapest rooms were only $14 per week! And while waiting to pay my bill one day in the attached restaurant, I noticed that the Health Inspector who had signed the restaurant's certificate was none other than Kirk McGee! There's now a parking lot where the hotel used to be...

Del McCoury also arrived the same day as I did, and we met at the hotel. He had his banjo with him; it turned out that Bill had also asked Del to play banjo with him. We both auditioned on a Friday night, in the same studio that I had been in to watch Earl record the Martha White radio shows, and when Bill discovered that Del was also a fine guitar player and singer, he hired us both. During the next few days I joined the Musicians' Union in Nashville and the following Saturday night I played for the first time on stage at the Ryman. For some reason, Del didn't join the Union until a few weeks later.

Even at that time I was aware that Bill Monroe and Flatt & Scruggs were not talking to each other, and that each of them knew that I was working with the other. So I talked the situation over with both Earl and Bill (separately), and neither said that it was a problem.

The Bluegrass Boys mostly worked on the weekends -- playing either on the Opry or out of town -- so during the weeks I frequently went out to Earl's to continue work on the book, which began to take shape. I met Burt Brent at that time, and learned that he would be writing an article on 'how to build a banjo', would take some necessary photos, and would also be working with me on the text and the exercises. Louise would be writing an article about the history of the banjo, Earl would be writing about his musical history, and Nat Winston, a neighbor of Earl and Louise's, would write the Forward. But it was clear that the music notaton and the tablatures were my responsibility. During the ensuing weeks I drove to Fort Campbell, KY two or three times to visit with Burt Brent and his first wife, Belinda, and work with him on the text and the exercises. I don't recall that Earl accompanied me on any of these trips. Nor do I recall meeting Warren Kennison, Jr. during this time or hearing him play, but I do remember that Burt showed Earl and me a tab of "Sally Goodwin" that Warren had prepared. After looking it over and pointing out that all the measure lines were in the wrong places, I thought it best to use my tab which Earl had already approved. Check out Warren's tab of "Sally Goodwin" in the new book -- any musician that's familiar with the tune and with writing music will tell you that as it's written all the phrases start in the middle of the measure rather than at the beginning. This error in transcription is the first one I found in the new book, and there are others...

At some point, once the exercises were in final form and sequence, Earl decided that there should be a recording of them to accompany the book. So I brought in my reel-to-reel tape recorder, microphone, and a reel of blank tape and we set it up in Earl's guest bedroom. But there was a problem -- Earl couldn't read the tabs of these exercises, so he asked me to play each exercise and then record him playing what I had just played. (He didn't always get it right -- on several occasions, I had to rewind the tape and play the example again a few times, so he could record it as it was to appear in the book.) At the end of the day I handed him the reel of tape which, after a little editing, was turned over to Nashville Record Productions who pressed the "Earl Scruggs and the 5-string Banjo" album that many are familiar with. So it cost little or nothing to produce the tape, and from personal experience I knew that having a similar album pressed cost me less than 80 cents each...

At that time, Earl told me that he had decided that it was best to publish the book privately, and had several mock volumes made up with different grades of paper to see what it might look like and how thick it would be. He also said that since publishing and printing the book would be expensive, it would take some time to recoup the expenses, after which I would begin to receive my share of the profits. Of course I took him at his word, and we shook hands on the deal.

On one of my occasional trips to Boston for my monthly military meeting, I sat down with Dan Bump, a friend from college who shared a lot of interests with me, including the 5-string banjo. At the end of the afternoon we had drawings for the D-tuner that now bears my name. I returned to Nashville, and Dan had the prototype pair made by Loring Hall, another friend whose wife, June, taught me 'Devil's Dream'. She is also the great aunt of Jeff Coffin, who plays with Béla Fleck! Small world, or what?

Dan sent me the new D-tuners just before we left Nashville for a tour in California and I put them on my banjo out there and with the help of Walt Pittman, improved their appearance with better thumbscrews and hex nuts. He also made me a sliding 5th-string capo, which is still in use. Walt had worked on Earl's banjo; he replaced the old fingerboard with the bow-tie inlays with a new ebony fingerboard with the hearts-and-flowers pattern, and had made him an excellent pair of cam-style tuners, which Earl was then using. But the prototypes of my new D-tuners worked even better -- and still do -- so as soon as we got back to Nashville I showed them to Earl. He was very interested in them, and offered to help us market them.

The Air Force had somehow lost my records for several months which had left my weekends free, but I was finally assigned to a unit in Nashville and had to start attending meetings once a month, which interfered with my playing with Bill Monroe on certain weekends. For this and other personal reasons I decided that I would have to give notice before the end of 1963. In late November we left Nashville on what was to be my last tour as a Bluegrass Boy; our first concerts were in Miami, Florida, followed by an appearance in Town Hall in New York City on a Friday night, then an appearance on the Jamboree in Wheeling, West Virginia on Saturday night, then we were to open the following Tuesday in Hollywood California. Before leaving town I called Earl to let him know I would be away for a month, and he told me over the phone that John Kennedy had just been assassinated that morning...

The gig in Hollywood was at the Ash Grove -- the second time we had played there during my tenure. The first time, we appeared with Doc Watson, who was touring with Clint Howard and Fred Price at the time. During the week we were playing there, Bill and Doc started singing some songs together and by the end of the week they were doing a set on stage. Some of these appearances were recorded and issued later in Canada as a 'bootleg'. Also during that week we learned that the band that was supposed to play at the club the following week had cancelled, so Ed Pearl, the club owner, offered the additional week to Bill Monroe who accepted it. But since I had my last Air Force meeting in Nashville -- I had to report in or I would have been officially "AWOL". Since I was unable to play the last week at the Ash grove, Ed Pearl asked me to coach a young banjo player who would be taking my place. His name was... Ry Cooder!

So in mid-December I flew to Nashville for the Air Force meeting -- and to apply for another transfer back to Boston -- then returned to Brockton, Massachusetts, to spend Christmas with my family. During the next few days I finished the machining and assembly of the second prototype pair of Keith tuners, then left on a three-week vacation in Europe. (The highlight of that trip was seeing the Beatles play live at the Olympia Theatre in Paris!!) In mid-January I returned home and Dan Bump and I formed the Beacon Banjo Company, and I became it's first President. We invested some money, and started manufacturing the first Keith tuners (the first 100 pair were stamped with only my name). Earl had told us that we could only use his name to advertise the tuners if he were a part owner in the company, so we sold him some shares, added his and Dan Bump's names to the rest of the tuners, and began advertising them as "Scruggs-Keith Tuners". I'd point out that these tuners are pictured in the first edition of Earl's book mounted on a banjo as well as in parts, and the photo could not have been taken any earler than the spring of 1964. So at that time the book remained unfinished...

This seems like a good place to stop for now for now...

Bill Keith


6 Sep 2005

Hi folks,

Sorry to have taken so long to post again, but as some might say I've had 'other fish to fry'... And I can't post every day -- it takes me too long to write, reread, and edit each 'chapter' to be sure that I remain historically accurate and, to the best of my ability, objective. I appreciate all the encouragement to continue and to go into further detail, so I'll do just that.

But first, since it has to do with the development of the Keith tuners, I'd like to fill you in on my mechanical history up to 1964. It started when I was given an electric motor (110 volts!) when I was 5 years old. During my early years I took apart every motor, clock, and radio that I could get my hands on. In 1955 when I was 15 I bought my first car -- a 1931 Model A Ford that cost me $15! -- and spent part of the summer rebuilding the engine (rings, valves, and clutch) and chassis, (brakes, shocks, bushings, kingpins, etc.) and painting and preparing the car. I drove it the following year when I turned 16 and had my license. Two years later I sold the car and bought another Model A -- a 1930 roadster -- and rebuilt it. That was also the year (1957) that I saw someone playing a 5-string banjo for the first time, and shortly thereafter, bought one.

I sold the Model A roadster that year and bought a 1910 Brush car -- a rare single-cylinder car with a planetary transmission. I found a machinist willing to help me restore it, and ended up 'apprenticing' in his shop and learning how to operate lathes and horizontal and vertical milling machines. A year or two later I made the acquaintance of Dan Bump -- he had a Model T Ford, which also had a planetary transmission. One of my summer jobs during this time was working on a farm and maintaining the farm truck and tractor. And when I wasn't working, I was spending most of my time playing banjo.

When Dan Bump and I got together in 1963 to design the tuners, it seemed natural to us to incorporate a planetary gearset, since we were both familiar with it. By that time, both of us also had modern cars; I was driving a 1963 Chevy 327 with Isky hydraulic lifters, a high-performance cam, and headers. After totalling that car, my next one was a 1964 Jaguar 3.8S sedan, into which I'd stuffed another 327 Chevy engine with 12:1 compression, ported and polished heads, hot cam, headers, etc. Seven-inch wide Camaro wheels with Pirelli racing tires bolted right on, and on the end of the Muncie 4-speed close-ratio transmission I installed an adapter and a Ford R-11 overdrive (28%), which was a planetary unit. This fed via a shortened driveshaft into the Jaguar differential, in which I'd replaced the stock 3.56:1 differential gears with 3.96:1 gears from a Ford Thunderbird, which bolted right in. You do the math -- this gave great acceleration in town, and low RPM at highway cruising speeds. Yeah, I was a real 'car freak'...


On with the story:

After returning to Boston in mid-January 1964, there was a lot to do: I met with Dan Bump to discuss the performance of the 2nd prototype Keith tuners and to develop drawings for the first production run. We also went looking for a machine shop to produce the parts and found one nearby that would talk to us and that we felt comfortable with. The shop we found made high-precision small parts for the defense industry, but they were interested enough in our project to invest in an "automatic screw machine" (a cam-operated Swiss lathe) which could handle stock as large as 3/4". ( Incidentally, the tuners are still made in the same machine shop, although there have been many changes over the years -- the parts are now made on CNC machines, and the assembly is done at the machine shop. And the boss of the shop these days is the son of the man I talked with in 1964.)

I also got a call from Bill Nelson, the President of the Vega Company, who told me that Earl Scruggs would be endorsing the new Vega banjo (!) and he invited me to their factory in Boston to check it out. He had used a thin spun flange instead of a cast one, and when I saw it I thought to myself that it would never withstand the tension of the new plastic heads that were just coming into common use at the time, higher tension than the calfskin heads that I'd previously had to deal with. He shipped the banjo to Earl, and as it turned out I was right -- the flange failed during shipping, and when Earl opened the case, the pot assembly had fallen into the resonator and the banjo was unplayable. Earl returned it, and Bill Nelson added pieces of 1/8" brass plate to reinforce it before returning it to Earl.

Bill Nelson also asked me for the names of other well-known banjo players in Nashville -- he wanted to give them Vega banjos, too. I told him that in my opinion Sonny Osborne and Allen Shelton were the players most people were watching, and before long both of them also had Vega banjos. As it turned out, Earl kept his Vega on the bus with a broken head on it and told the folks who asked that the head had just broken the day before, so that tonight he'd be playing his Gibson...

By the end of January 1964, Dan and I had incorporated the Beacon Banjo Co., with myself as President and Dan as Vice President. We each invested about $2500 to get the ball rolling, and placed an order sufficient parts for 100 pair at the machine shop. Within a few weeks we had all the parts, and met at Dan's parents' house during the days to assemble and test the tuners before final knurling on a neighbor's lathe. These first tuners were stamped on the back edge with my name only. Earl and Louise had informed us that in light of Earl's agreement with the Vega Co. we could only use his name to advertise the tuners if he were part-owner if the company, so as I recall, Earl bought $1500 in Beacon Banjo shares. Once we had legal rights to use his name, we made another stamp to add the names "Bump" and Scruggs" to the tuners already stamped "Keith", and began to advertise "Scruggs-Keith" tuners in one of the few folk-music publications being published at the time -- Sing Out. Orders started to come in -- we were selling them direct to the customer at $50 per pair. By the end of 1964, we were ready to place our next order at the machine shop, this time for 500 pair.

When the Keith tuners were in production, we sent Earl a pair of them to try out. We soon heard from him that they didn't work! He sent them back, and we discovered that knurling the gearbox to close the tuner had caused the sides of it to "bell" slightly and the ring-gear was too loose in the housing; the gear would slip and the tuner couldn't bring the string up to pitch. The solution was to drill through the knurl along the parting line, and install a small roll-pin to prevent the ring-gear from turning. We subsequently changed the design, but the earliest Keith tuners all have these small pins in the knurl... We sent the tuners back to Earl, who reported that they now worked as they should. We also took a few photos of the tuners mounted on a banjo, and sent the photos to Earl for inclusion in the book.

Once the tuner business was up and running I asked Earl if he had any ideas for other products we could advertise and sell along with the tuners. He already had a deal with the Vega Company which included Earl Scruggs strings, so that option was out. But after giving this some thought, he mentioned that every time he happened to break a string onstage, someone always came up to him after the show and asked him for the broken string. My side of the conversation went something like this: "So Earl, are you suggesting that we should sell your broken banjo strings? What happens if we don't have enough? Should we break a few just to fill some orders?" Needless to say, we didn't pursue this idea. However, Earl had previously shown me three Flatt & Scruggs picure-and-songbooks originally published in 1950, 1951, and 1952. I thought there might be a demand for these so, with Earl and Louise's permission, Beacon Banjo Co. reprinted these three songbooks. I think I still have a few of them around here...

During this time in Boston I occasionally got together with David Grisman and Peter Rowan who had started an electric band called "Earth Opera"; the three of us appeared as the "Bluegrass Dropouts". For the most part I felt that playing bluegrass music was somewhat anticlimactical after playing with Bill Monroe, so when Jim Kweskin asked me if I'd like to play in his Jug Band, I accepted. For the next few years Dan Bump managed the Beacon Banjo Co.; I worked there during most weeks and went on the road with the Jim Kweskin Jug Band on the weekends. Life was good! I was having fun playing music with my peers, the Beacon Banjo Co. was doing well with the Keith tuners, and Earl's book with all my tabs in it had been completed and had come on the market.

But I was ill-prepared for the next development in the story; A few years later I happened to read an article in Time magazine that Earl's book had sold more than $1 million in retail sales, so the next time I was in Nashville I dropped in at Earl and & Louise's house at 201 Donna Drive in Madison to discuss the situation...

Sorry to have to stop here, but that's all for now...

BTW, I was interested to read Jack Baker's posts parrying questions about the identity of the Flint Hill Flash. I made a post or two on another thread concerning the Flash's identity, but received an e-mail from a friend of his asking me not to tell, saying "this man's contribution to the banjo world has been great." Can anybody tell me what this 'great' contribution is/was? Was it branding me "the Darth Vader of the banjo"? Or his incessant criticism of the melodic style? In the sense that the FHF is part of the story concerning Earl and the book, I'm reconsidering my silence...

Bill Keith


10 Oct 2005

Hello again,

Very sorry to have taken so long to follow up here. I was away on vacation for a week in Ireland -- got to play a tune with Tony Trischka and Béla Fleck at the Johnny Keenan Banjo Festival -- then had an unexpected bumpy detour on my way back to this thread via another. And "the gig from hell" last weekend. And some BeaconBanjo biz to take care of. And the results of my latest series of MRIs and the surgeeon's advice. But enough of all that for now -- I'm late with this installment...

First, thanks to one and all for your posts. I'll do my best to address all your questions in the near future.

And I'm looking forward to cripplecreeker's findings on the work of us 'scribes'. But in this regard let me quote Earl Scruggs from the opening pages of the first edition: (as much for the benefit of those who haven't read it as it is to establish the timeline)

"I would like to express my appreciation to Billy Keith (sic) and Burt Brent for the assistance they gave me in preparing this book.

"I first met Billy in 1962 when our show was appearing in concert at Johns Hopkins University. Billy came backstage after the concert and he had a notebook with him that contained the tablature to all my songs. We discussed the idea of Billy coming to Nashville to work with me on the book, which resulted in his spending several weeks with me working on the tablature.

"I met Burt Brent in the fall of 1964 when he was serving at the Fort Campbell Air Force Base in Kentucky. ..."

The notebook I had with me (which I still have) is a spiral notebook of music paper (about 140 pages), with most of the transcriptions written in pencil (easily correctible), in first draft. I wrote them out for myself, in order to learn to play the tunes. The book also contains tabs of tunes by Allen Shelton and J.D. Crowe and fragments from other players. All of the material is in music notation, with tab for much, not all. At that time in 1961 and '62, there were no photocopy machines -- no easy way to copy and distribute these tabs had that been my intent, which it wasn't. Randy B is correct. I was finishing school, then doing my time in the Air Force, then playing with Red Allen and Frank Wakefield -- I wasn't teaching.

Incidentally, I've been told that this notebook is copyritable in its present form, even today... Speaking of copyrights, I notice that some of the incremental exercises were copyrighted in 1966, but the first edition was copyrighted in 1968, the date of the first printing. What does this mean? You tell me...

Bear0422: I'm saying that one shouldn't distribute (which I believe is to "publish") someone's material without their permission. But I don't believe that to "produce in any printed form" -- which I take to include transcriptions (tabs) -- for one's own use requires permission. Let me add that there's a big difference between the recorded tunes and their representation on paper. Of course I have no claims on the recordings of the tunes or their arrangements, but I do feel that the tablature itself, a result of my efforts, has value. It certainly turned out to be valuable to Earl and Louise! And I agree with wkb28791 and oughtsix's conclusions -- the money was and is a major factor. But it couldn't be the whole story -- right or wrong, Earl and Louise already have the money, so why should they bother removing my name, the photos of the Keith tuners, the exercise I suggested, and attempting to revise history in the new book? In my opinion, it goes much deeper than the money...

The photos of the Keith tuners that appeared in the first book on page 22 have been replaced in the new book by a photo of the Schaller copies on page 20. Here's a recap of that story: after the Gibson Company was purchased from Norlen Industries by Henry Juskiewicz and relocated to Nashville, they introduced the Earl Scruggs model with Schaller tuners as standard equipment. A year or so later I got a call From Charlie Derrington, the gifted luthier who rebuilt Bill Monroe's mandolin who was working for Gibson at the time. Charlie told me that the Schaller tuners had proven to be unreliable, and he wanted to know if Gibson could purchase the Keith tuners for factory installation. I referred him to Dan Bump, acting president at the time, and they came to a deal; Gibson submitted a purchase order for 1000 pairs of Keith tuners. But shortly thereafter, Beacon Banjo received a letter from Louise Scruggs saying that our D-tuners were unacceptable, since they had the name "Keith" on them. Somewhere in the archives of Greg Rich's posts here on the Hangout, he mentions being present during a big argument between Earl & Louise and Gibson about this... (Can you give us any more details about this, Greg?) In any case, I informed Earl & Louise that we could supply tuners without the name Keith on them, but under no conditions would the name "Scruggs" appear on them, either. We compromised by stamping them "The Gibson Banjo Tuners". I heard later through the grapevine that Charlie Derrington had been fired... Could it have been because of this? Are you out there, Charlie? Could you please enlighten us? Incidentally, Gibson did purchase all 1000 pairs and then some more, but it took them a few years to do it, taking delivery of only 15 or 20 pairs at a time, and taking up to 90 days to pay for them. I finally had to put Gibson on COD terms, where they shall remain...

Along with those early Earl Scruggs models, Gibson furnished a small pamphlet in which Earl provided details about himself, the banjo and how to care for it, and the tuners. On one page he describes how he had come up with the idea for the tuners years previously, without specifiying that his idea was the cam-style tuners. On the next page of the pamphlet, Earl explains how to adjust the tuners, but he's describing how to set the Keith tuners, not the cams. To me, the clear and purposeful implication of this juxtaposition was that he had invented this new tuner design. Yet another attempt to co-opt someone else's work, and yet again, that someone was me. I fired off a letter to Gibson objecting to this implication, and I'm quite sure that the pamphlet was removed from circulation.

But we may be back to square one on the Gibson-Schaller connection; since seeing the photo of the Schallers in the new book, I've come to the conclusion that Earl & Louise are endorsing Schallers now. Consequently, I've advised Andy, the purchasing agent at Gibson OAI, that I could no longer fill their orders for Keith tuners unless each and every order came with a letter which I could make public, signed by Earl & Louise, that the Keith tuners were their choice for factory installation. Gibson hasn't placed any orders since then, and frankly, I could care less what tuners they choose to put on them -- Beacon Banjo is doing just fine without them. But since this thread is in the "Product Reviews and Shopping Advice", I'd advise any prospective customer of an Earl Scruggs model to inquire before buying, and think twice about what he or she is getting for the money.

Perhaps most of the above is of little or no interest to many readers who are waiting to hear what happened when I went calling on Earl & Louise at their home on Donna Drive in Madison after reading in Time Magazine that the book had enjoyed more than one million dollars in sales. Perhaps this part of the story will seem anti-climactical, but here goes: Earl opened the door and invited me in. We sat and chatted for a while about various things, then I raised the subject of the book -- and the money. {the following dialog may be approximate, but the meaning was unambiguous} Louise answered, chuckling: "You should have had a contract." I pointed out that I did have a verbal agreement with Earl and had shaken his hand -- and that was tantamount to a legal contract. Louse countered with: "Well, you can try to take that to the bank." and tried to change the subject. I began to get the picture -- I'd been had... During all this, Earl just sat there -- he never said a word, despite my further remonstrations. I finally decided that more conversation with them would lead nowhere, and I left, very disillusioned and angry, feeling betrayed by the man whom I had held in such high esteem. On my way home, I considered my options, including suing Earl & Louise for breach of contract and fiduciary trust...

But all that's going to have to wait until my next post later this week.

Bill Keith

...and that was his last post (AFAIK). I met him a couple of times in 2005 (at the Johnny Keenan Banjo festival in Ireland as mentioned above) and he

May 25, 2020 - 12:48 PM
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109 posts since 6/14/2004

Good Read Sorry it's so long but I couldn't find the correct link !!!!

May 26, 2020 - 8:32:49 AM

2660 posts since 12/4/2009


Thank you for posting Bill Kieth’s story. I appreciated his comments then and now.

I keep thinking how bloody Earl’s new book has become to me. Intellectual theft is too common when a product becomes successful. Having Earl’s copyrighted music in tabulation form is still Earl’s music.

I am glad to have both versions. The differences now are significant. One version is collaborative. The other is an attempt to eradicate Bill’s work.

May 27, 2020 - 7:54:05 AM

3430 posts since 3/28/2008

Originally posted by banjermun

Good Read Sorry it's so long but I couldn't find the correct link !!!!

Thanks for posting this important piece of bluegrass and banjo history. I look forward to reading it a little later today.

May 28, 2020 - 6:35:41 AM
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1362 posts since 11/29/2004

Thanks for sharing this. I had it saved a couple of computers ago.  I heard the whole story from Bill on several occasions during my time at Gibson, and his reluctance in putting another name on the tuner(he told me it was a cost issue).  And yes Charlie Deerington was fired after the meeting of Henry , Louise and Earl.  Henry saying he would have "no employee speaking to an endorsing artist like he did".  I wasn't there, but the story at the factory was Charlie said his peace and ended by saying "Why can't ya'll all just get along".  Actually I came by the factory on Friday on my way to Oklahoma and met with Greg, Jim Triggs and Charlie and when I returned back that way on Monday Charlie was gone.

Edited by - DHutchens on 05/28/2020 06:46:23

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