A post I’ve been hanging onto; a bit off-topic, personal, and possibly without any point.
I am an unlikely banjoist. I got a very cheap banjo when I was 14 years old but didn’t find a teacher. I took a couple lessons from uninspired twenty-somethings but didn’t get much from them. Fortunately, this didn’t stop me. There was even a old neighborhood guy who offered some help but it turned out he only strummed a tenor-jazz-banjo. He may as well have played a ukelele for all that it mattered to me. So I learned by listening and from the few books I could find that suited my interest.
I don’t even know why I picked banjo particularly, but I did. I was fortunate to be a latch-key kid from and early age, so when it wasn’t sports season, I cherished my solitary time after school. I would often sit in the kitchen or on the back porch and plink around, playing old folk tunes. I discovered Cecil Sharp and Francis Child and learned what I could about folksong of Western Europe and the British Isles. I found this very old and diverse instrument adaptable to lots of styles of playing having found it’s way from 18th century plantation shacks to Victorian concert halls.
Coming from a classical music background helped. My dark secret is the I spent three years in college as a music major. I could read music and understood a little about musical structure so I spent time in the library digging through old folk music books and journals. I never became great but good enough to not be ashamed to play in front of people and had about an hour-long proficient set of Irish, Scottish, Appalachian, and Ozark tunes in my repertoire. Then life happened. I gave it up (mostly) for over a decade while traveling and working like a dog and trying to be a good father but without playing an instrument, I think I lost a little of my identity.
So the short story is that I’m back. Making time to do something I love has helped my mind immensely. I’ll never be Tony Trischka, Earl Scruggs, or Bela Fleck, but at least I have some music back in my life.
For those few who may be interested in the technical details of this machine. My most recent instrument is roughly a Vega design with a White-Lady tone ring. The tension hoop and arm rest are plain brass and the head is genuine calfskin. The neck sports a Mastertone-style peghead taken from the diagram in Earl Scruggs’ classic banjo book. The fingerboard and peghead cover are cocobolo. The tuners are scavenged off my first banjo and are Keith planetary-type except one. The D string tuner is a replacement as someone actually stepped on my old neck and broke one! The replacement is a 5-Star from Stewart-MacDonald’s lutherie shop. These days I could get online and order one instantly, but back in the mythical pre-internet era this actually took some phone sleuthing.
One thought on “The Unlikely Banjoist”
Thanks for sharing.