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The precise open back sound I’m looking for (John McCutcheon’s banjo)

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Sep 26, 2020 - 4:02:53 PM

coreyowen

Canada

251 posts since 7/26/2006

Hi Everyone,

If you’ve heard John McCutcheon’s recording of “Mole in the Ground” on the compilation “Banjo Gathering”—that is the exact sound I crave in an open back.

The problem is, I have no idea what he’s playing, and I’ve found no way to contact him directly to ask.

Does anyone have any idea what kind of banjo he’s playing in that particular recording? I don’t believe it’s the Ome Minstrel he plays in the YouTube videos, though it could be—I’m not sure.

Since I’m hoping to order a similar configuration, I’d be grateful for any help!

Corey

Sep 26, 2020 - 4:45:24 PM

639 posts since 6/6/2007

Perhaps you could contact him through his web site or folkmusic.com.

Steve

Sep 26, 2020 - 4:47:23 PM

3897 posts since 10/13/2005

Sep 26, 2020 - 10:56:34 PM

Bill Rogers (Moderator)

USA

23981 posts since 6/25/2005

Of course there are several types of Ome openbacks, some no longer made. Many are made-to-order (without being true custom instruments. Finally, setup is everything. The banjo you choose must beset up pretty much the same as the one you want to duplicate. My advice: get a similar banjo to McCutcheon’s and start experimenting.

Edited by - Bill Rogers on 09/26/2020 22:57:32

Sep 27, 2020 - 4:01:53 AM

13212 posts since 6/29/2005

Over the years, I have gotten a lot of inquiries asking if I can make a banjo that sounds like some particular banjo on a particular tune or recording.

It's impossible to do that unless you exactly duplicate the banjo being played, with the identical setup, played by the same person, and recorded using the same recording equipment in the same room.

Based on what you read on this forum, even people who play Bluegrass, same tunes, on Gibson Mastertones, and copies thereof, which are all very similar, cannot ever quite achieve the sound they have heard on some recording despite a plethora of boutique tone rings and other interchangeable components being available—I think maybe it's subjective.

Sep 27, 2020 - 4:57:52 AM

10838 posts since 4/23/2004

I remember seeing John in concert back in the 80s. IIRC, he was playing a Paramount style C at the time.

Sep 27, 2020 - 5:39:02 AM
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Players Union Member

Eric A

USA

845 posts since 10/15/2019

quote:
Originally posted by Ken LeVan

Over the years, I have gotten a lot of inquiries asking if I can make a banjo that sounds like some particular banjo on a particular tune or recording.

It's impossible to do that unless you exactly duplicate the banjo being played, with the identical setup, played by the same person, and recorded using the same recording equipment in the same room.

Based on what you read on this forum, even people who play Bluegrass, same tunes, on Gibson Mastertones, and copies thereof, which are all very similar, cannot ever quite achieve the sound they have heard on some recording despite a plethora of boutique tone rings and other interchangeable components being available—I think maybe it's subjective.

 


Totally agree.  Take one banjo and play it in three different rooms of your house, and then outside.   It may sound to your ear that you have 4 different banjos.

Play once facing a large window.  Then turn and face the rest of the room.  Totally different sound.  To your own ear, that is.  To your wife's ear it may all sound like a pack of coyotes.

Sep 27, 2020 - 5:45:33 AM

52 posts since 8/23/2013

Many years ago, when still fairly new to clawhammer playing, I heard Steven Keith play "Blackberry Blossom" with Mason Williams and the Santa Fe Recital on their album "Fresh Fish." I loved the sound of his banjo, and right away assumed it what what he was playing. In the photograph, it looked like a Fairbanks Whyte Laydie (#9?). Later, I realized the instrument was only playing a part of what I found appealing. It was probably more HOW he was playing than WHAT he was playing. That is, I liked the slight "clucking" sound he got, and discovered eventually that it was by him playing over the fretboard, rather at the rim or over the head.

My point: As others here have stated, there are so many factors that go into a particular sound, and one of them could very well be what the hands are doing, irrespective of the instrument.

Edited by - Patrick Dengate on 09/27/2020 05:47:17

Sep 27, 2020 - 5:59:42 AM

1749 posts since 2/12/2009

while true, I think that most replies are being a bit pedantic here, you could say the same of Earl, Lester etc, getting a similar/same model will surely get the OP in the ballpark, after all most manufacturers have been marketing so and so signature models for years so we can emulate (to a point) our heros.

Sep 27, 2020 - 10:11:58 AM

7812 posts since 1/7/2005

I'm still trying to find the tennis racquet that will allow me to play exactly like Roger Federer.
DD

Sep 27, 2020 - 4:28:07 PM
like this

13212 posts since 6/29/2005

(1) Someone made a youtube of me years back playing one of my banjos—it was made outdoors with a REALLY good mike, and I always thought "holy cow—is that what that banjo sounds like to other people?"  How can you know?

(2) Around 10 years ago, when I noticed a tendency among some makers to design the scale so the bridge placement was too close to the dead area in the middle of the head, I talked about it to another banjo designer (who had done work for OME) and said "don't they realize that's going to make a tubby sound?"  He said "lots of people actually like that because they have been listening to old recordings done with funky equipment, and they want to duplicate that sound, thinking it's caused by the banjo".  I had not realized that up until that point, but it changed my thinking henceforth.

(3) The movie "Bonnie and Clyde" famously used an old recording of Scruggs playing Foggy Mountain Breakdown—it was a sensation and became a trope in movies and TV, whereby any chase scene involving a pickup truck would have bluegrass music as the background music. ANYWAY all the incidental banjo music in that movie was played by Douglas Dillard using an old archtop to match the sound of the old Scruggs recording—nobody ever questioned the sound.

(4) Julian (Winnie) Winston, who wrote and first played the Car Talk theme used an early ball bearing Granada to win every banjo contest from Philadelphia, to West Grove, to Union Grove, etc., He relied on the fact that that banjo sounded in person like all the old Scruggs recordings.

http://julianwinston.com/music/me_and_my_old_banjo.php

http://julianwinston.com/music/me_and_my_old_banjo2.php

As I said earlier, it's all subjective and depends on the ear of the beholder.

Edited by - Ken LeVan on 09/27/2020 16:34:07

Sep 28, 2020 - 12:21:05 PM

coreyowen

Canada

251 posts since 7/26/2006

Thanks everyone for your thoughtful replies! The recording is pre-2007--I don't recall whether Ome offered the Minstrel model at that time. I'm 90% sure it's a wood tone ring, whatever it is. At any rate, I'll try to contact John and find out directly.

Thanks also for reminding me how different even the same banjo can sound under different circumstances. My main player records very nicely when I play it solo, but I find when it's recorded in a group setting, it doesn't come across nearly as well--it sounds like an entirely different instrument. Not to mention how differently it sounds to me on any given day.

Corey

Sep 29, 2020 - 8:27:17 AM

Helix

USA

12970 posts since 8/30/2006

While you are at it invite Mr McCutcheon to join us and participate on the banjo hangout

No offense but I think the goose is chasing you, Corey. Get the right form and it may or may not fill with your personal molecular content

I am constantly amazed at the different qualities of sound I hear off the internet

It’s your quest, It can be a real positive growth experience

Sep 29, 2020 - 9:14:52 AM

coreyowen

Canada

251 posts since 7/26/2006

Thank you for that thought, Larry--I think you may have hit the nail on the head, if I understand your meaning. I believe I may have spent too much of my life wrestling with notions of correct form that ultimately do not resonate with my "personal molecular content."

Corey

Sep 29, 2020 - 9:35:08 AM

Helix

USA

12970 posts since 8/30/2006

McCutcheon is himself and has developed his gifts

You are on the path to the heart of the music

You sound very reasonable
Play more, chop some wood, throw some chips. I speak in slang, you do play an axe, don’t you?

Sep 30, 2020 - 9:54:26 AM

1272 posts since 2/9/2007

There are innumerable stories which make the rounds among musicians on the theme, frinstance:

Chet Atkins is warming up backstage. Another musician listens intently for a while, then comments, "Man, that is the best-sounding guitar I've ever heard!"
Chet puts the guitar down, glares at the fellow and says, "Don't sound like much now, does it?"

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