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My mama always said…


…for a fresh start, a fresh banjo head.

Okay, I’m lying. My mama never said that. My mama was a music hater in a family full of loud, enthusiastic bad musicians; she flippin’ hated the banjo. (It didn’t help that my dad practiced in the bathroom “for the acoustics”).

You’ll note my banjo has an arched top; it gives the instrument a treblier, screechier sound. Great idea, no? That curious design feature is probably the reason I was able to afford this one. When I was in my twenties, I burned up Nashville looking for a decent banjo within my budget — a good one, even then, was upwards of a thousand bucks (which was, like, a thousand bucks to me in those days). And no more great deals to be had in pawn shops, nossir.

On my way out of town, I stopped at one more music shop…and found this Epiphone deluxe marked down to $300. Seventy-something percent off. Flamed maple, arched top, fake abalone inlay.

It’s gaudy as shit.

But it is a pretty decent banjo. And trebly. And LOUD. Needs a new head, though. The old one’s go-bust, so I’m not *really* getting the volume out of it.

While I was unscrewing the brackets tonight, I said to Uncle B that I’d like a good banjo mute for my birthday.

And he goes, “what’s a banjo mute?”

And I’m like, “if you value your happiness, I suggest you find out. Soon”


Comment from Jill
Time: March 23, 2009, 8:55 pm

Well, hell’s fire…if I’d a knowed you was all het’ up to find you a banjo, I’d have given you one for nuthin’.

Seems the GWC acquired one somehow, and heck, we’re just using it to slice hard boiled eggs.


Comment from S. Weasel
Time: March 23, 2009, 8:56 pm

Well, I’ve got three. But my dad has seven, so I feel inadequate 🙁

Comment from Uncle Badger
Time: March 23, 2009, 9:07 pm

Best banjo mute I know is broken fingers…

Comment from S. Weasel
Time: March 23, 2009, 9:12 pm

Pff! This is banjo we’re talking. Wouldn’t even slow me down…

Comment from Andrea Harris
Time: March 23, 2009, 9:47 pm

“what’s a banjo mute?”

A sledgehammer?

Comment from Jill
Time: March 23, 2009, 9:55 pm

“What’s a banjo, mute?”

“It’s a musical instrument, harelip.”

Comment from Machinist
Time: March 23, 2009, 11:00 pm

“what’s a banjo mute?”

A blessing!

Comment from Machinist
Time: March 23, 2009, 11:03 pm

A banjo is kind of to instruments what rap is to music, isn’t it??(He asks innocently)

Comment from Mrs. Hill
Time: March 23, 2009, 11:21 pm

Are there banjo player jokes like there are bodhran player jokes?

Comment from Mrs. Hill
Time: March 23, 2009, 11:30 pm

So, are there banjo player jokes like there are bodhran player jokes? (mind the space — http ://www.ceolas.org/instruments/bodhran/jokes.shtml )

Hmmm. I think Akismet ate the first attempt — sorry for my ineptitude!

Comment from MCPO Airdale
Time: March 23, 2009, 11:43 pm

A banjo is a mandolin with a loud mouth and an out-sized ego.

Comment from Dawn
Time: March 24, 2009, 12:16 am

Speaking of banjo…
These two together must be what the angels sound like.

Comment from glenster
Time: March 24, 2009, 12:34 am

That’s a five-string, isn’t it? If you can’t find one locally, let me know – I’ve got several.

(A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away, I played string bass in a number of bluegrass groups.)

Comment from scubafreak
Time: March 24, 2009, 1:18 am

OH God! I feel a flashback coming on.

It’s Deliverance!!

(the musical)



Comment from Scott Jacobs
Time: March 24, 2009, 2:21 am

Sir Badger, Might I suggest investing instead in something like this?

I mean, Don’t you think it would be cheaper, and more useful? I mean, it won’t just mute the banjo… Just think of how nice they’d be for long car-trips…

Comment from Bekka
Time: March 24, 2009, 8:28 am

Being from Kentucky, the land where if one tosses a banjo up in the air anyone who catches it can play it, I adore the sound of a banjo.

Now you must have a post about clogging, and I’ll feel like I’ve died and gone to Heaven. Hillbilly Heaven.

Comment from Princess Bernie
Time: March 24, 2009, 10:52 am

Oh, yes, Bekka. You know what’s better than clogging?

SPONTANEOUS clogging – to banjo music.

Being in Kentucky, I’ve witnessed it first hand. Makes me want to buy a pair of white tap shoes.

Comment from Allen
Time: March 24, 2009, 12:19 pm

Sniff, sniff… This is making me misty eyed. It reminds me of canoeing on the Chattooga, and Nantahala rivers, tent revivals, and those wild and crazy days of my youth. Fast cars, corn likker, and assorted bits of insanity.

Hey did I ever tell you about “square groupers?” Ha! The Outer Banks have been the go to area for smuggling and piracy for 400 years.

Comment from TwoDogs
Time: March 24, 2009, 12:47 pm

Banjo ! My wife took lessons long ago and got pretty good at it. Then we had kids and she let it slide. A few years ago we fell in with some folks who were into bluegrass and she decided to learn fiddle, and she never did get good at that. She never could get the pitch juuuuusssst right and it drove me crazy. I’d much rather listen to banjo practice than bad fiddle practice.

Comment from Gromulin
Time: March 24, 2009, 12:56 pm

As a city boy, I was shocked how FUCKING LOUD a room full of Banjo players are. Marshall stacks?…pffffft. I spent a long drunken weekend with a bunch of Banjo players when I was in my 20’s. I’ll never forget that as long as I live.

I’m from an accordian family. I still have my child-size squeeze-box, and if I can find a teacher (most likely from the Latino community, strangely enough) my 7 y/o son will also get to enjoy the family curse.

As they say, a wise man knows how to play the accordian but chooses not to.

Comment from Princess Bernie
Time: March 24, 2009, 1:49 pm

Allen, I raft the Nantahala several times a year – hubby and I bought a raft so we can take friends. Camp at Turkey Creek.

One of my favorite places is The Breaks Interstate Park where I’ve witnessed spontaneous clogging to live bluegrass music more than once.

Comment from Dawn
Time: March 24, 2009, 2:37 pm

Can you do this?


Comment from Mrs. Hill
Time: March 24, 2009, 2:50 pm

Oh, hey — I’m free! Thanks, Stoaty! I won’t be making any banjo jokes — no room to talk since I’ve had my eye on an Irish Tenor (don’t tell Mr. Hill!) for years. For now I just abuse an octave mando and occasionally a fiddle (mostly when the rest of the family are safely out of the house). Yep, that’s about it for me. Uh,huh. *hurriedly stuffs bodhran bag behind bookcase* Nothing to see here!

Comment from Nicholas the Slide
Time: March 24, 2009, 3:35 pm

I could make comments… but I’m an extreme Tartanic fan, and I’ve long lived by the idea that if you like bagpipes you can’t really pick on anyone else’s choice of instrument. 😉

EDIT: And going to get that link just revealed that the band has dissolved. No Tartanic at next years RenFest… it just won’t be the same. 🙁

Comment from Mike C.
Time: March 24, 2009, 5:29 pm

I did not know Epiphone ever made an arch top. What vintage is it ?

Point the second – Are there jokes about such as myslf, who own both a banjo (the old Fender, A.K.A American Banjo Co., before the buyout back in the early 70s) AND a bodhrain ?

Main point – you don’t need a mute. Remove the resonator and stuff a T-shirt or some such between the neck adjusting rods and the head. Replace resonator if you must. Cheaper and more effective than a mute.

Comment from Uncle Badger
Time: March 24, 2009, 6:03 pm

So many comments to catch up on!

Dawn – enjoyed Kraus and Plant. Gave it to her Ladyship, in fact.

Scott – only 30dB? Hardly worth the bothering. That damned thing would still deafen you at 70 paces.

Mrs. Hill – octave mandola! Now you’re talking. Not a Planxty fan are you, by any chance?

Grumulin – I am going to steal that quote! 🙂

Comment from Allen
Time: March 24, 2009, 6:05 pm

Princess Bernie, cool. I haven’t been on the Nantahala in over 25 years, but I remember it well. Including one hydraulic.

I spend all my free time in the Sierras these days, there is some great rafting on The Kern River

Comment from Scott Jacobs
Time: March 24, 2009, 8:34 pm

Uncle badger, I really don’t think that it’s proper to refer to your wife as “that damned thing”…

Oh, you meant the banjo. Heh. My bad.

I’m sure there are versions rated for higher dB levels. Try a place where the shotgun-using folks go. They might know where you could get some ear protection for shooters.

Comment from S. Weasel
Time: March 24, 2009, 9:13 pm

Oh, gosh. So many comments, so late at night.

Mike C., I bought this one in about 1985. The peghead has completely delaminated, but it’s otherwise a very nice instrument.

My father has a Baldwin banjo (yes, as in piano) that once belonged to Earl Scruggs. Before Earl endorsed Gibson, Baldwin tried to get him on board. Bestest, heaviest banjo I’ve ever held. I lust after it badly.

I’ve stuffed a handtowel or t-shirt behind the resonator before, and it works a treat. But a mute can be whipped off suddenly, giving you the advantage of acoustic surprise!

Comment from jwpaine
Time: March 24, 2009, 11:38 pm

I learned to miss-play 5-string on a $125 banjo. Much later, I was able to afford an expensive Deering, and discovered I was quite capable of making it sound like a $125 banjo.

A buddy of mine, Mort Castle, showed me once how it could be made to sound. To this day, he’s the only person who ever got more than $125 worth of banjo out of it.

I think I’m gonna buy me some bagpipes.

Comment from Mrs. Hill
Time: March 25, 2009, 12:07 am

Uncle B,
Enough of a fan to snap up a “Well Below the Valley” cd when I spotted it in a thrift shop recently, even though I already have it on vinyl — greedy me! There’s some Patrick Street and Bothy Band on the shelf, too :).

Roger Landes’ Dragon Reels is a ‘new’ favorite — love it when the zouks get to shine!

Comment from Princess Bernie
Time: March 25, 2009, 10:12 am

Allen, we have crossed paths, literally.

I spent from early to late ’70’s in the high desert of SoCal – even attended Cal State Bakersfield. Moved to Kentucky and have been here ever since. So when you discuss your digs and what you are doing, it’s like going home.

Need pictures of desert poppies blooming this spring, please…

Comment from TheBigBlueBug
Time: March 26, 2009, 11:01 am

I miss my 60’s vintage Gibson Mastertone. Hot Corn/Cold Corn FTW!

It had to go,I sold it cheap.
Because it’s gone, I softly weep.

My wife is thrilled though.

Comment from jwpaine
Time: March 26, 2009, 4:00 pm

I bought a Framus guitar in Germany a couple of eons ago, the best guitar I’ve ever owned. It was stolen at a party several years later while I was outside throwing up in the bushes. That guitar stayed in a Yugoslavian hotel where the sheets bore the impression–and odor–of its previous occupants, crossed the Bosphorus, snowshoed out of the Turkish mountains during a blizzard (where it earned a seam-crack on its face that affected its sound not-at-all), and motorcycled from Jacksonville, Florida to Madison, Wisconsin (where it was abscounded with).

I think it was John Prine who wrote:
“She never was too much,
Just a Framus Backstage Deluxe,
But a lady never fared so well
Who traveled near so much.”

Comment from jwpaine
Time: March 26, 2009, 4:29 pm

I should have noted that it did all that stuff while it was in my possession. Who knows what other adventures it’s had since then? I wish it well.

Comment from Mike C.
Time: April 2, 2009, 7:21 pm

Humpf. My first banjo was a Kay. I gave a college room mate $ 25 for it. Which was a lot of damned money to me back then. I had a cheap piece of Jap crap after that, then a rather old no-name and a Lyon & Healy “Mystic” model that I had re-done as a fretless banjo. Both of the latter were stolen. I think I paid $ 325 for the Fender/American Banjo Co. one back in 75, new. Even has two Scruggs-Keith tuners on the second and third strings. What it doesn’t have is a decent tone ring. I would give part of my anatomy for a good Wildwood or Stelling (let’s hear it for VA !), but unfortunately, they both want money. And money has to go for other things. Like guns !

Comment from memomachine
Time: April 4, 2009, 8:44 pm


“Being in Kentucky, I’ve witnessed it first hand. Makes me want to buy a pair of white tap shoes.”

Note to self: do NOT move to Kentucky.

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