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Can’t talk. New banjo.

Huh. First time I’ve ever gotten overnight service on an eBay purchase (turns out the seller has a relative in the courier business).

Yep, this is the banjo I bought by accident. I watch interesting banjos and put in a bid if I think they’re underpriced. It’s usually harmless fun; an underpriced instrument always goes through the roof in the last seconds of the auction.

Not this time. I was all on my ownsome bidding on this one. Oh, well…I got a great instrument at a great price.

It’s such a buyer’s market, I’d put all my dough in underpriced banjos. If I had any dough.

This is an English banjo of the Twenties. It was played in a dance orchestra. As it happens, the seller was able to tell me quite a bit about it and its first owner, which is really weird because he didn’t until I asked. Today. After the sale.

Why not put it all the interesting bits in the description? Might’ve fetched a few more quid. People are so weird.

The pre-War Gibsons beloved of bluegrass players were also originally sold for this market, the orchestral and dance band market of the Twenties and Thirties. They’re loud as hell, because they had to be to hold their own against the brass section.

Which is why the bluegrass boys love them. Earl Scruggs played a Gibson Granada in the Forties which set the standard for what a banjo should sound like. An especially good Gibson with all its original bits will easily sail over $200K.

This one…didn’t cost anything like that, but I don’t believe I’ve ever heard a louder banjo. It is, in the terminology of banjophiles, a hoss.


Comment from J.S.Bridges
Time: November 21, 2011, 9:32 pm

Very nice – my boss on the first overseas contract I did, back in 1996, was a P.E. by day and an aspiring Bluegrass banjo-player by evening-and-weekend avocation. When I told him that I’d come over to Germany with a rather wide selection of audio tapes, some of which were Blues and Bluegrass that included considerable pickin’ an’ grinnin’ selections, he immediately borrowed them to make copies – the ones he didn’t already have copies of, that is.

I was treated to his rendition of “Smokey Mountain Breakdown”, among other selections, when invited over for dinner on a couple of occasions. He was pretty good, and was getting better – we temporary expatriates didn’t have a lot of evening recreations/distractions, aside from a few beers down at the Gasthof, so he was getting in a fair amount of practice time…

We had to go down to the basement (Keller it is in Deutsche-speak, I think), though – his wife was not a banjo fan at all, and his five-string (not a Gibson, I don’t think) was definitely a “hoss”.

Comment from S. Weasel
Time: November 21, 2011, 9:44 pm

My first banjo was an Epiphone masterclone. It’s hoss-loud, but it sounds (in the worlds of Uncle B) like two dustbin lids banging together.

Comment from BigBluBug
Time: November 21, 2011, 9:58 pm

Nice catch Stoaty.

For anyone who’s interested in fine banjo music, I suggest a look around itunes/etc for works by Alan Munde and Butch Robbins. Munde mingles some rather eclectic things with the Scruggs stuff.

And Butch Robbins “40 Years Late” is very much worth listening to.

The nicest banjo music I’ve ever heard was a sweet rendtion of the Christmas Silver Bells piece. Not the effete Bing Crosby thingy, rather the choral piece (can’t seems to find a youtube of it).


Comment from Deborah
Time: November 21, 2011, 10:31 pm

Oh, very nice. Is the little dragon red? πŸ™‚ I have such a lovely mental image of Weasel playing the banjo, while the chickens sit ’round about in rapt attention. And Mr. Fox is just on the edge, listening too, while Charlotte licks her paws, pretending not to care. Uncle Badger is listening too, with his eyes closed and face lifted up to the sun, but you can see him tapping his toe.

Comment from Can’t hark my cry
Time: November 21, 2011, 10:37 pm

BigBlueBug–not a banjo rendition, but is this what you meant?


Comment from Feynmangroupie
Time: November 21, 2011, 10:56 pm

***idly wonders if there are any forums that cater to banjo players who want advice and critiques of their skills***

***even more idly wonders if there are any forum-members in the aforementioned forums with mustelid avatars***

Comment from S. Weasel
Time: November 21, 2011, 10:57 pm

The chickens do actually appear to like the sound of the banjo. I suspect that’s because they associate it with Summer sunshine, and me sitting out in the garden with them. Also, chickens like sounds — you’ll often catch them pecking at things that are not edible but make interesting sounds. Some day, I shall design a chicken toy based around this.

The dragon, like all the inlays, appears to be Pearloid, AKA Mother of Toilet Seat. As this is clearly a high level instrument, I can only assume they got carried away by that new-fangled wonder substance, plastic.

Comment from S. Weasel
Time: November 21, 2011, 11:02 pm

Heh heh. There is such a forum, FG (in fact, there are several). Which is why I was vague in describing this banjo — I’m going to want to brag about it, and I post on those forums using — gasp — my own real name.

I haven’t posted any audio anywhere, though. The way I grew up playing, we’d all just jam and everybody would get a break. I don’t believe I know a single tune from beginning to end as a soloist.

Comment from Mitchell TAFKAEY
Time: November 21, 2011, 11:16 pm

“…I post on those forums using β€” gasp β€” my own real name.”

But, there are CRAZY people on teh innernets! Some day you’ll wake up in a pit with some dude saying “It puts the lotion on the banjo”.

Comment from steve
Time: November 21, 2011, 11:22 pm

Practice up, Stoaty…

I fully expect you to be able to knock this out, shortly…


Comment from BigBluBug
Time: November 21, 2011, 11:23 pm

That is indeed the piece.

I believe it was played on a tenor banjo which had been
converted to a 5 string. It seemed a nice balance between extending the range while keeping the timbre of a tenor. Now I’m sorry I sold my Mastertone ;>(

Oh well, back to the colored pencils. The Tulle in a finely detailed tutu makes me want to design laser based colored pencils. Like this:


Comment from steve
Time: November 21, 2011, 11:25 pm

Oh….and one more for you to work on…


Comment from S. Weasel
Time: November 21, 2011, 11:41 pm

Somebody I know took lessons from Fleck in Providence in the early Eighties. I cannot beLIEVE he was there when I moved there and I never knew it (not that I had heard of him until many years later).

Bug, dude — is that your blog? Put the link in your comment details.

Comment from BigBluBug
Time: November 21, 2011, 11:50 pm

Ah the Flecktones. Off to iTunes.

Comment from Can’t hark my cry
Time: November 21, 2011, 11:55 pm

BBB–well, there were a couple of Youtube banjo versions of the Carol of The Bells, but nothing that really floated my boat. . .but then, I’m very verbally oriented, so even the most impressive solely-instrumental stuff doesn’t get the admiration it deserves from me.

Comment from Rip VanBullwinkle
Time: November 22, 2011, 12:01 am

A Banjo, eh? Have you limeys ever seen “Deliverance”? Team building canoeing trips are never pretty… well, except for one unfortunate souls mouth.

Comment from Gromulin
Time: November 22, 2011, 12:10 am

Some day, I shall design a chicken toy…

In case you were looking for that tipping point to “I have too much time on my hands”, you may have found it.

Comment from Christopher Taylor
Time: November 22, 2011, 12:14 am

According to Pawn Stars, those old Gibson Mandolins sell for a ton, too. I actually prefer the shuffling sound of the mandolin over the plonka plonka sound of the banjo but they both have their place in good bluegrass.

Comment from Redd
Time: November 22, 2011, 12:32 am

Chickens and banjos…what’s next? A banjo picking chicken? If anyone could pull it off, our girl, stoaty, can. πŸ™‚

Comment from S. Weasel
Time: November 22, 2011, 12:52 am

Chicken toys would be a revelation, Gromulin. It means all those poor, bored battery hens would have something to do other than peck at each other their whole short, miserable lives.

I bet chickens could play Pong.

Comment from Uncle Badger
Time: November 22, 2011, 12:59 am

Deborah, you are deeply psychic.

One of my enduring memories will be of an afternoon a few months ago when I rounded the corner by the greenhouse, one paw full of worms, the other of seedlings, to find Her Stoatliness sitting on a wooden chair by the back door, a row of chickens gathered about her feet, like the front row at a Metallica gig, as she serenaded them with ‘two skeletons copulating on a tin roof’ or whatever banjo anthems are called.

This Really Happened.

And it was very, very strange.

Comment from S. Weasel
Time: November 22, 2011, 1:17 am

Badgers eat worms. Hundreds of them in a night, sometimes. It’s why they make such a mess of people’s gardens. It’s their main protein source.

I keep telling him that almost nobody knows that, and he keeps posting cryptic references to worms.

Comment from Some Vegetable
Time: November 22, 2011, 1:44 am

Hmm from the tone this happily married couple’s posts it sounds like some certain Badgers would rather eat worms than listen to baajo music.


Comment from Oldcat
Time: November 22, 2011, 2:12 am

They know it if the remember their Beatrix Potter. Mr Badger was complaining about lack of worms and grubs, so he swiped the Flopsy Bunny babies for dinner instead.

I think they used to train chickens to play actual ping pong…or was that pidgeons?

Comment from Christopher Taylor
Time: November 22, 2011, 2:28 am

I’m holding out for the bluegrass Catsophone.

Comment from Nina
Time: November 22, 2011, 3:59 am

Wait…Stoaty Weasel-Badger is not your real name? Really?

Sooooo disappointed here.

Comment from Deborah
Time: November 22, 2011, 4:32 am

I have to ask: What does Uncle Badger do with the worms? Does he use them to aerate the soil in his garden? Does he treat the girls, hand-feeding them one worm at a time? Or does he just toss them out into the grass—like so many Easter Eggs—for the them to happily find? Or OR! I can’t bear to think about it—does he nibble on the worms himself?

Comment from catnip
Time: November 22, 2011, 4:53 am

I wasn’t going to mention this, but since someone brought up the subject of chickens…. Jan Brett, author and illustrator of children’s books, was in our city this weekend and was interviewed by the local rag. She & her husband, a bassist with the Boston Symphony, love animals and keep some 60 exotic chickens. She admits to giving some of them kisses and foot massages now and then, and there’s one that sits on her shoulder at night while she paints. Right now she’s working on a book about a chicken Cinderella, and has chosen which two of the flock will be the models for illustrations of Cinderella and her prince.

Comment from beasn
Time: November 22, 2011, 5:48 am

Uncle B, you thinking of holiday fruit cakes yet? Never could stand them but this fruit – but not quite like the nasty I’ve had before – cake, looks rather good. Maybe because it doesn’t have that candied stuff.


What are sultanas? Arab raisins?

Comment from beasn
Time: November 22, 2011, 5:49 am

Chicken Cinderella? Bless her.

Comment from beasn
Time: November 22, 2011, 5:59 am

Found that recipe here- from Mildred and Fairy, on your side of the pond. Fairy, a lethal white, is a good watch…er…(lethals are blind)…um…helper.


Comment from SCOTTtheBADGER
Time: November 22, 2011, 8:49 am

The European Badger is a vermivore? The American Badger prefers small animals and fruit. And the Wisconsin Badger prefers pizza and brats.

Comment from MIke C.
Time: November 22, 2011, 11:22 am

Oh, fer cripe’s sake… What make and model banjo is it? What kind of tone ring? Resonater or no? Plectrum? Tenor? 5-string? Inquiring minds want to know…

BTW, I recently acquired a very fancy revolver in a similar manner. Still reaserching it and trying to get full details and a fair price estimate. I promised the previous owner if I found what I considered a fair price buyer for it, I would remit to her the difference between what I already paid her and that price, minus any expenses. I just didn’t want to see her get ripped-off. I was afraid she might put it out at a garage sale and take the first $ 100 that came along, which would be absurd. She knows nadda about guns.

Comment from J.S.Bridges
Time: November 22, 2011, 2:44 pm

I thought I remembered seeing something cogent and delightful (perhaps?) to the banjo-philes – took me a bit to find it (there is a helluva lot of YouTube banjo stuff – not all of it great, perhaps, but most of it at least pretty good)…

Mayhap some will enjoy this piece of clawhammer work, called “The Great Remember” – Fair Warning: It’s a solo bit, from earlier this year, by Steve Martin, who is not to some people’s taste, but whom I personally find to be extremely worthwhile. While some may disagree, I like him quite a lot because he’s good at a whole bunch of stuff (in fact, damn good at the whole bunch) while remaining, to all appearances, not especially egotistical about any of it.

He is, for instance (as our U.K. cousins would put it), a fair dab hand with a five-string, and knows his way around some solid Bluegrass.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

MIke C. – If you could use any assistance on details and/or fair price on your revolver, I am (and have been for quite some years) a gunsmith as a second occupation (more of an avocation, mostly), and might be able to lend some aid. If interested, PM me at bridgesjsjr(at)hotmail(dot)com, and let me know.

Comment from jwpaine
Time: November 22, 2011, 6:14 pm

I had a couple of $90-$100 banjos in my time, and taught myself to play the banjo, using the 3-fingered picking style I taught myself on guitar.

Then I acquired some “leisure money”, and promptly bought myself a Deering for a little over $900. Alas, it turns out I am a 100-dollar banjo player, not a 900-dollar banjo player–a point driven home to me quite viciously when a visiting buddy of mine picked it up and played it. ZOMG.

My 3-finger picking style is fine for the guitar, but on the banjo–oh, my god, is it ever wrong. Unfortunately, I’m too lazy to break myself of the badness, so my banjo playing will never rise above the poor-to-mediocre range. Or, to put it more succinctly, the hundred-dollar range.

Comment from S. Weasel
Time: November 22, 2011, 8:44 pm

I’m strictly a porch picker, JW. When it comes to serious Scruggs-style tunes, it’s like my fingers go, “wait, you want me to play ALL those notes?” However, Instrument Acquisition Syndrome is not in the least related to musicianship.

It’s a resonator, Mike. Which is unfortunate; I don’t have a good frailer and that’s what I was looking for. Still, banjos are like cats…when one fetches up in your life, you have to take it in.

And I loved that clip, J.S. Most banjoists seem to think Martin is doing us a service, raising the instrument’s profile a bit. Particularly clawhammer, which isn’t as well known. He’s a good player in both styles.

Comment from jwpaine
Time: November 22, 2011, 11:03 pm

Instrument Acquisition Syndrome… I knew I had something!

Weez, I can do Foggy Mountain, but it doesn’t (and will never) sound as smoothly, flowingly articulated as it would if I had learned to finger-pick properly. On the guitar, the thumb is kinda my cheap bass player; when I moved over to banjo, unfortunately, that cute little fifth string on the banjo made Mister Thumb think he was promoted to playing the lead. A tragedy in one act.

I like listening to frailing, but I never got the hang of it, and it wasn’t as grandstanding-friendly as finger-picking, so I naturally avoided it. I like to show off, even with stuff I’m pedestrian at.

Hey, my new motto: “Pedestrian, and Proud of It!”

BTW, J.S.: Martin started out playing banjo at Disneyland (but you probably already knew that). I like pretty much everything he does (comedy, writing, bluegrass), but his art taste leaves me totally unimpressed. But then, most modern art seems to have aggrandize linoleum patterns, which I’m pretty convinced is an elaborate practical joke being played on the people who buy it.

Comment from Uncle Badger
Time: November 23, 2011, 12:56 am

Sorry for the slow response – duty called and all that!

Us Eurasian badgers eats more or less anything, but worms are a great staple component of the diet. An upturned dustbin filled with discarded Big Macs can come a close second, mind you.

Pride? That’s for lions.

As for fruit cakes, I delight in grossing out Her Stoatliness in tea rooms, which I rate solely on their ability to make a good, moist fruit cake. No jokes please…

Last Sunday was ‘stir-up Sunday’ here in ye olde countrie, where the goodwives of the parish would make the Christmas puddings. The wisest among them would make them a year ahead,of course – Christmas puddings maturing wonderfully well with age. Whisper it not, but I have several in a secret stash that are several years old – and all the better for it!

The ‘stir up’ bit relates both to the process of mixing in all those ingredients that so terrify Americans and, also, the following verse from the Book of Common Prayer- it being the last Sunday before Advent, when it was always read: “Stir up, we beseech thee, O Lord, the wills of thy faithful people; that they, plenteously bringing forth the fruit of good works, may of thee be plenteously rewarded; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.”

Stir up? Stir up? Geddit?

Look, they didn’t have television, OK?

Anyway, if you lot think Christmas cake is the work of the devil, you should try a Christmas pudding!

Meanwhile, I am being educated in the ways of Thanksgiving which, as it seems I don’t have to give anyone a present, seems like a damned fine idea to me. Even if it does mean turkey twice in one month!

Comment from Redd
Time: November 23, 2011, 5:45 pm

What’s up with “Black Pudding”? It looks like tar heroin. I can’t believe the stuff Brits eat. It’s either weird or stinky. πŸ™‚

Comment from Redd
Time: November 23, 2011, 5:46 pm

Even if it does mean turkey twice in one month!

The day after you can make Turkey Enchiladas. Delish!

Comment from SCOTTtheBADGER
Time: November 24, 2011, 6:26 am

I like to put down a layer of mashed potatoes, some stuffing, corn, a layer of chopped leftover turkey, smother in gravy, and nuke it til it glows. That is how you make Turkey Lurkey Hoo Hah, a dish fit for a King!

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