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Jun 25, 2024 - 9:47:49 AM
1255 posts since 2/12/2003

If Earl Scruggs, JD Crowe, Sonny Osborne, etc. were to play say a pre-war Gibson, a Deering, or any other top end banjo, would you be able to tell the difference if you couldn't see what they are picking?

Jun 25, 2024 - 9:57:42 AM
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Jbo1

USA

1356 posts since 5/19/2007

I think I would recognize the playing of each person, the notes they picked and the way they accent those notes, more so than if the banjo they played.

Jun 25, 2024 - 10:39:26 AM
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Owen

Canada

15311 posts since 6/5/2011

Nope ... and you could probably safely include m-a-n-y other players and banjos... top end or otherwise.   But, but, but, I can pretty reliably distinguish between Crowe and Scruggs when shown a photo.  wink

Edited by - Owen on 06/25/2024 10:39:45

Jun 25, 2024 - 11:15:38 AM

15440 posts since 6/2/2008

The difference among the players? Yes.

The difference among the banjos? Probably no. Except for maybe a Stelling. And that's maybe.

Jun 25, 2024 - 11:32:26 AM
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2316 posts since 4/18/2006

Maybe. It depends on the quality of the recording too. Most pro players pull a tone that is very much them out of any decent banjo, which is why when these topics come up I feel it's important to mention that it's just as much about the feel of a particular banjo as it is the tone. A lot of those special prewar Gibsons respond easier and have a more consistent tone up and down the board.

I will say, on Bela's record The Bluegrass Sessions, I can definitely tell the difference between the tracks where he is playing his Granada and not his -75.

Jun 25, 2024 - 1:13:46 PM

2365 posts since 5/19/2018

Live? Probably could discern the players, unless they were goofing around and trying to imitate each other, which would be an incredible session.

The instruments, probably no. I have seen and heard top level players, ES being one of them, take the most P.O.S. Instrument you have ever seen and make them scream.

It has been said hundreds of times…99% of the sound is the player and 1% is the instrument.

Jun 25, 2024 - 2:50:01 PM

40 posts since 3/4/2023

Depending on what songs they are playing, and if they are playing solo or in a group, I like to think I would be able to make good guesses? Wouldn't feel confident though.

Like Gabe's example, there are some pros that record with a few different banjos and I think I've been able to tell the difference (in some cases), but I bet some of that is the pro intentionally making a different sound to feature a different instrument.

Definitely wouldn't be able to guess the specific make without being given options to choose from up front.

Jun 25, 2024 - 5:56:54 PM
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roydsjr

USA

864 posts since 5/17/2007

I agree with Alvin that the players produce the quality sound more than the instruments really. I've been around several banjos over the years and players and a good player and a not so good player can make a difference in the sound of a banjo. I got to play a 70's RB-250 a friend owned and I didn't think much of the banjo until I got to pick it and it came alive! (I'm not saying I'm a good banjo picker I just had a different attack on the instrument than the owner and I also picked harder)

Jun 25, 2024 - 7:28:10 PM
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4867 posts since 3/28/2008

quote:
Originally posted by Old Hickory

The difference among the players? Yes.

The difference among the banjos? Probably no. Except for maybe a Stelling. And that's maybe.


Tony Trischka once told about a time he was playing in Scandinavia on a show that also included the Osborne Brothers. While warming up in his dressing room, he heard Sonny warming up down the hall and was surprised that Sonny would fly overseas with his Granada. He peeked in at the door, and it turned out that Sonny was getting that distinctive tone from a brand-new Stelling.

I'd say that in general each great player will sound like we expect him to sound--provided the banjos are above a certain level of quality. I once heard David Grier play roughly half of a concert on a plywood Kay from the '60s, and he sounded like David Grier playing a really crappy guitar. You'd never mistake it for his Martin, NGC, or whatever.

Edited by - Ira Gitlin on 06/25/2024 19:31:07

Jun 25, 2024 - 7:49:30 PM
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15440 posts since 6/2/2008

quote:
Originally posted by Ira Gitlin
I'd say that in general each great player will sound like we expect him to sound--provided the banjos are above a certain level of quality.

No argument here.

As I assume did many or most banjo players my age, I first heard of Alan Munde on the first two Country Gazette albums from the early 1970s. A Traitor in Our Midst (1972) and Don't Give Up Your Day Job (1973). He played a Gibson on these. Beyond that I don't know what model or year.

Alan re-recorded Hot Burrito Breakdown from the first album on his Festival Favorites CD. Except for a few new licks, his playing sounds the same. But even though everything he plays has his recognizable attack, timing, drive, bounce, and I'd say personality, his Stellings sound different than his Gibson. Stellings have a clank I can often recognize.

I heard Country Gazette live in 1975 at the Red Fox Inn in Bethesda with Alan on his then-new Staghorn, and some time in the early 80s at the second Birchmere. Everything he played sounded like Alan. Through a PA I can't really tell the difference of one banjo over another.

Today I'm an old man with impaired hearing and hearing aids that are infinitely adjustable. So I have no idea what I'm hearing.

Jun 25, 2024 - 8:04:25 PM

3154 posts since 12/4/2009

Hello,

Each banjoist had their style of attack and play. Earl moved his hand away from the bridge to give a tone different from near the bridge. In his book, he claimed that a banjo had to have three different sounds. All other players listed approached banjo’s monolithic like, by the bridge. So, yes. Earl is easier to pick out than the others.

Jun 25, 2024 - 8:34:27 PM
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5855 posts since 5/29/2011

quote:
Originally posted by Ira Gitlin
quote:
Originally posted by Old Hickory

The difference among the players? Yes.

The difference among the banjos? Probably no. Except for maybe a Stelling. And that's maybe.


Tony Trischka once told about a time he was playing in Scandinavia on a show that also included the Osborne Brothers. While warming up in his dressing room, he heard Sonny warming up down the hall and was surprised that Sonny would fly overseas with his Granada. He peeked in at the door, and it turned out that Sonny was getting that distinctive tone from a brand-new Stelling.

I'd say that in general each great player will sound like we expect him to sound--provided the banjos are above a certain level of quality. I once heard David Grier play roughly half of a concert on a plywood Kay from the '60s, and he sounded like David Grier playing a really crappy guitar. You'd never mistake it for his Martin, NGC, or whatever.


The banjo Sonny played on that tour was the Sonflower which Stelling made to his specs. 

Edited by - Culloden on 06/25/2024 20:35:19

Jul 1, 2024 - 7:29:40 AM

phb

Germany

4072 posts since 11/8/2010

quote:
Originally posted by Ira Gitlin
I once heard David Grier play roughly half of a concert on a plywood Kay from the '60s, and he sounded like David Grier playing a really crappy guitar. You'd never mistake it for his Martin, NGC, or whatever.

The most interesting thing about this to me is: why did he play such a crappy guitar? Decent guitars are easy to get hold of.

Jul 1, 2024 - 7:45:15 AM

4867 posts since 3/28/2008

I think he said someone had given it to him. Why play it on stage? Why not?!?

Jul 1, 2024 - 10:07:29 AM

3837 posts since 4/5/2006

At BG festival late night j fireside am session, someone handed Pat Cloud a cheap Sears banjo & requested Somewhere Over the Rainbow. Pat had no problem pulling tone from that banjo. Furthermore, his rendition was typical Pat Cloud.

But yeah, Although each learned the basics from Earl, Crowe & Sonny each had a distinct style.

Jul 4, 2024 - 7:53:30 AM

79867 posts since 5/9/2007

Concerning what the different banjos sound like I think it depends on how they are PA'd.
Lots of room for variation,there.
Kinda what Gabe said.

Jul 4, 2024 - 1:20:41 PM
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15753 posts since 10/30/2008

I've heard the famous Matha White radio tape where Earl introduces, describes and plays his Vega Earl Scruggs model. Around 1960-61 I think. He plays Foggy Mtn Breakdown. Yes, it's a tape played into an AM radio microphone.

Sounds just like Earl playing his Granada in the same setting.

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