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Fortress of Banjitude

Welcome to the Inner Sanctum.

What? Lots of people play in the bog. The acoustics are excellent, and we have this a little loo at the back of the house where I can bang away unheard. Bonus: built in seat!

Left to right, that’s a little practice banjo Uncle B bought me for my birthday one year, when I was stuck over here banjoless and my banjo finger began to itch. It’s made of particle-board or something similar, but it’s great fun. Short neck, low action, soft sound, light and tote-able, will take a bit of rough trade.

Next over is a Hayne’s Bay State banjo, circa 1890. Sweet little instrument from the era of parlor banjo (from Boston, would you believe!). It would have been played in the classical finger style, or possibly minstrel style. I replaced the calfskin head and put new strings on it yesterday. Nylgut is a new material that is supposed to mimic the sound of gut strings better than plain old nylon. This banjo would have been strung with gut initially. How does it sound? Like thumping a bag of wet mice with a tiny rubber hammer.

Next over is a British zither banjo, also circa 1890. Well, of course I bought one. Took me forever to take it apart, clean it and put it back together again. All those fiddly bits. I splashed out and bought a set of historically accurate strings for this one: steel, steel, real gut, wound on polymer, steel.

This one would definitely have been played classical style. It has a lovely mellow sound and is a treat to play. The head could use tightening, but I don’t fancy messing around with the brackets again any time soon. I’ve had to replace a few bits already, and some of these wouldn’t be easily replaceable.

And finally, my proper bluegrass banjo. A 1980s Epiphone. It’s a decent banjo pretending to be a fantastic one — solidly built, highly playable, but all gussied up with fake abalone inlay and shit. It was my first banjo and I knew it was a tart when I bought it, but I was desperate for a decent instrument to learn on. I’d driven all over Nashville looking for something suitable and, last stop out of town, I found this ugly pig at 70% off.

How does it sound? Uncle B describes it as two dustbin lids banging together. Yeah, it’s loud. And tinny. And it’s developing a bit of fret buzz. And the sound in a tiled bathroom is indescribable. I love this nasty boy.

Sooo….am I any good? No. No, I’m not. When I reached my teens and a serious musical plateau (on guitar), I realized I was never going to be Joni Mitchell. At that point, I stopped taking any of this shit seriously. Eh. I’m a happy noodler.

But you don’t have to be a serious musician to get the instrument bug.

July 19, 2011 — 10:27 pm
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