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Finally, A Good Use for Banjos

Discussion in 'Bluegrass [DB]' started by BobKay, Mar 22, 2020.


  1. BobKay

    BobKay Supporting Member

    Nov 5, 2012
    Estero, Florida; USA
    After 40+ years of playing bluegrass...
    IMG_0714.JPG
     
  2. jeffb28451

    jeffb28451 Supporting Member

    Aug 6, 2006
    Leland NC
    My first thought when seeing the caption was, “ kindling for Gibsons”. Is it just me?
     
    equill and Timmy Liam like this.
  3. dhergert

    dhergert Gold Supporting Member

    Jan 17, 2018
    Blue Zone, California
    Well, that's not a Gibson, but it's the thought that counts.

    Hey, I want equal (negative) time for accordions and bagpipes!
     
  4. Ukiah Bass

    Ukiah Bass Supporting Member

    May 10, 2006
    mikewalker likes this.
  5. AGCurry

    AGCurry Supporting Member

    Jun 29, 2005
    St. Louis
    I don't get the hating of banjos. ? Watching Earl Scruggs break it down with Lester Flatt gives me big pleasure.
     
    james condino and dhergert like this.
  6. dhergert

    dhergert Gold Supporting Member

    Jan 17, 2018
    Blue Zone, California
    I think they just make great targets. They are a visual anomaly. A male drum.

    From a musical sense, anything that some people have trouble controlling the volume and tone with can become annoying. Hence the association with accordions and bagpipes.
     
    unbrokenchain and HateyMcAmp like this.
  7. BobKay

    BobKay Supporting Member

    Nov 5, 2012
    Estero, Florida; USA
    I don't really hate banjos. I re-figfured the years I've been playing bluegrass, and my original post should have said "almost 60 years." So, I have lots of experience with banjos and banjo players. I actually got my first banjo in 1961; a Vega longneck just like Dave Guard played in the KT. I was learning Salty Dog Blues, playing in my bedroom with socks stuffed in the open back of the banjo. One afternoon my mom came in the room and said "if you play that song one more time, I'm gonna kill you."

    My taste in banjo music has changed. Alison Brown, and others who play a style different from traditional, hard driving bluegrass instrumentation, are more to my liking.
     
    unbrokenchain and dhergert like this.
  8. unbrokenchain

    unbrokenchain Supporting Member

    Jun 8, 2011
    Black Mountain, NC
    Scruggs style is impressive and great in a band context, and when the crowd-energy is really high. Clawhammer is really where it's at though, to my ear. It's like a whole different instrument, can be really soothing and doesn't even need the rest of the band.
     
    dhergert likes this.
  9. dhergert

    dhergert Gold Supporting Member

    Jan 17, 2018
    Blue Zone, California
    There are nuances to each of the 5-string styles... Scruggs style has variances like Reno style, Keith style, etc... Clawhammer has down-picking, up-picking, Seeger style, etc. And there are very loyal followers of each. Then there's Classic banjo and all of its nuances.

    While I really enjoy listening to it, I missed most of the stroke style 5-string banjo playing. I've gone through long periods with Scruggs, Reno and Keith styles and Classic banjo, and now my own home grown 5-string style is somewhat of a combination of each of those plus some other ideas. Then over the last 10 years or so I've also been working on flatpicking for plectrum banjo (and mandolin), where again there are a large number of styles to try to emulate.

    It's not much different from double bass in that respect, we all have our favorite players and/or styles that we like to work toward, usually with our own twists. Gotta make it ours.
     
  10. Richard Blair

    Richard Blair

    Jun 22, 2017
    Toronto, ON
    And then of course there is this...


    A banjo appears to be useful, at least, for playing with Stanley Clarke and Jean Luc Ponty. Just in case such a gig ever pops up, a person needs to be ready.
     
    AGCurry likes this.
  11. matthewbrown

    matthewbrown Supporting Member

    Jan 7, 2003
    Harwich, MA, USA
    It's a fine instrument, but like some others, including the harpsichord, it lacks certain qualities that would lend it greater powers of expression.
     
    210superair and AGCurry like this.
  12. AGCurry

    AGCurry Supporting Member

    Jun 29, 2005
    St. Louis
    You could say the same about just about any percussion instrument, and yet...

    And - no disrespect intended for those who play one - I've long felt the same way about trombones.:D
     
    matthewbrown likes this.
  13. MikeDavis

    MikeDavis Supporting Member

    May 24, 2012
    Indianapolis
    Enjoyed this thread. Seemed appropriate to share this:

     
    matthewbrown, Joshua and BobKay like this.
  14. dhergert

    dhergert Gold Supporting Member

    Jan 17, 2018
    Blue Zone, California
    In fairness, I think that is more in the touch of the player, and in the mind of the listener.

    Really, the same could be, and sometimes is said about double basses. I would respond the same way to those comments about double basses.

     
    Last edited: Mar 25, 2020 at 6:36 PM
  15. Ed S

    Ed S

    Nov 14, 2019
    Yeah - they make good targets. If for no other reason, the challenge of keeping them in tune and the need to retune. Also, they can be LOUD, and some pickers try to overpower everyone else.

    But I picked up clawhammer just about a year ago - looking forward to a decade or more from now when I'm less thrilled about lugging my bass around. Also a lot easier to bring on vacations and such.

    I've attended the bass curriculum at Midwest Banjo Camp 3 times. (Unfortunately, not having a full bass curriculum this year - IF it happens, but Mark Schatz is gonna be there.) Last year I was able to bring both my bass and my banjo. If anyone could listen to the wonderful faculty there and have anything negative to say about the banjo (other than their personal taste for certain styles), well, I'd have a hard time crediting anything they had to say about music.

    Also, my wife plays fiddle. Fiddle and banjo is pretty much classic oldtime. Which is just about my favorite.
     
  16. matthewbrown

    matthewbrown Supporting Member

    Jan 7, 2003
    Harwich, MA, USA
    Exactly so. However, the role of DB in the ensemble and how it sits in the mix are offsetting factors. Bela Fleck can exploit ALL of the expressive capabilities of the banjo because he's a master, but the instrument is always front and center in the mix because of its bright tone. Banjo reminds me of the harp. A wonderful instrument, but meant to be used judiciously in any arrangement. The bass, OTOH, is most noticeable when it drops out of the arrangment, I think.

    There's this to be said for DB: everyone can have a chat during the DB player's solo!
     
    dhergert likes this.
  17. dhergert

    dhergert Gold Supporting Member

    Jan 17, 2018
    Blue Zone, California
    Very well put!

    It can depend on the individual banjo too. I went through the "too fast, too loud" stage early on and even built a banjo that I played exclusively for about 20 years, that was designed inside and out to be played too loud, too fast. Then about 20 years ago I acquired a banjo that produced a sweet, vibrant tone that I had never heard in my hands before, and I re-learned how to play with it; a new style, new postures, everything to exploit those nuances. Now I look for that sweet, vibrant tone in each banjo I play.

    My main playing banjos include a bluegrass-style 5-string banjo, a nylon-strung classic-style 5-string banjo, a 5-string cello banjo and a 4-string plectrum banjo. I do have other banjos, but these get most of my attention. Each produces its own varied tone and range nuances; among them is a voice that when played tastefully could be appropriate for just about any song.

     
    Fretless55 likes this.
  18. james condino

    james condino Spruce dork Supporting Member Commercial User

    Sep 30, 2007
    asheville, nc
    Plenty of people on other forums make the same jokes about bass players. I had a craigslist dork tell me earlier this year that there is no way he would want someone who plays upright bass in his band because it is just a one trick pony and they needed something that was more versatile and could cover a wide range of music (w t f????????).....I responded that it has been working just fine covering the entire world for 300+ years. That caused him to really let loose on my "narrow minded folk instrument..."

    I live in the heart of banjo country and find it to be an amazing full spectrum instrument. The challenge is not the instrument, it is the player: some can bring a tear to my eye, some can make me dance like my feet are on fire....and a few can make me run away as fast as I can with my hands over my ears.
     
  19. matthewbrown

    matthewbrown Supporting Member

    Jan 7, 2003
    Harwich, MA, USA
    Yes, using a variety of instruments really helps. I've never heard a nylon-string banjo, that I know of...sounds lovely.
     
    dhergert likes this.
  20. matthewbrown

    matthewbrown Supporting Member

    Jan 7, 2003
    Harwich, MA, USA
    Yes, using a variety of instruments really helps. I've never heard a nylon-string banjo, that I know of...sounds lovely.
     
    dhergert likes this.
  21. matthewbrown

    matthewbrown Supporting Member

    Jan 7, 2003
    Harwich, MA, USA
    At least
    At least banjoists don't leave puddles of spit behind, unless they chew tobacco.
     
    AGCurry and dhergert like this.

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