My first (real) banjo

Image I’ve always been amused by the banjo. It’s a staple in traditional american music, yet it isn’t taken seriously by the masses. Nonetheless, I was determined to have a banjo. I saved up my dollars (about a hundred of them) and bought myself a banjo.

It’s a Bean Blossom-Rocky Top and one of the cheapest out there. I bought it at the local music store where I took trumpet lessons as a child. I grabbed a soft case for it and some Edward Scissorhands-looking finger picks. I was ready to check out when a black book on the counter caught my eye: “Earl Scruggs” printed at the top. “Hey I know who that is! I’ll take it!”.

So I took my shiny new banjo home and started going through the Scruggs book. After a month or so I could plunk out Foggy Mountain Breakdown, but I wasn’t exactly happy with my progress- bluegrass banjo was hard!

I’ll get back to my difficulties with 3-finger picking in a moment, but the main focus of this story is that Earl Scruggs book. “Chapter 12: How to build a banjo.” Now that interested me! Maybe more than playing. This section is written by Burt Brent, not sure how it wound up in Ol’ Earl’s book, but oh well…It is still very interesting and insightful. It has measurements and tips, all kinds of great information to get you started on building.

I ran out into the garage and grabbed my dad’s jigsaw and a 2×4 and got to work. I eventually ended up with something that slightly looked and sounded like a banjo. I was hooked.

Now, back to the picking. As you can see, I am a clawhammer player, and I build instruments that are suited for that style. Why do I religiously play a bluegrass banjo then? I don’t know. I guess because I love this banjo and have never needed anything else. After trying to play Scruggs style (RIP) for some time, I discovered frailing. Bum-ditty, bum-ditty. It was easy and came naturally to me. I was pleased with my progress; I realized frailing is for me. I just frail on a bluegrass banjo, that’s all. I like this banjo, it plays clear and loud and after some adjustments it plays better than some fancy-smancy high-end models.


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