05 November 2021

Get a neck like Béla's! (and other banjo stuff)

The BIB doesn't really regard the tenor as a banjo; but this is Ireland after all, and the player above is Tristan Scroggins, who last played in Ireland as mandolinist with Chris Jones & the Night Drivers two years ago, after several previous tours with his father's band Jeff Scroggins & Colorado. Since then he has devoted himself to instruction, to writing (receiving the 2021 IBMA Writer of the Year award), and to playing the tenor banjo, a vintage Paramount.

The results can be heard on his new eight-track solo album One-ring circus, which the BIB warmly recommends - don't miss reading the notes on Bandcamp. The only fault in this recording is that Tristan's 'Angeline the baker' ends after just under two minutes, and there really is no good reason to stop playing 'Angeline', especially when it sounds as good as this. The album (and much more) is discussed on a Fretboard Journal podcast.
Speaking of vintage tenors, John Lawless reported two days ago on Bluegrass Today on an auction coming next week in Germany of fine tenor banjos from the 1930s, with illustrations which, in his words, are 'pure banjo porn'.
As a by-product of their meticulous development of the Mastertone™ 'Bluegrass Heart' Béla Fleck signature model 5-string banjo (see the BIB for 10 Sept. and 17 Oct.), which is scheduled for release early next year, the Gold Tone Music Group announce that mahogany banjo necks identical with those on the new model are now available. Among the features are a wider, radiused ebony fingerboard, ZeroGlide nut, jumbo frets, and Béla's custom inlay pattern. Prospective buyers should note that no hole has been drilled in the neck for a fifth-string tuner, and the heel needs to be cut to fit the pot of the buyer's banjo, which can be done at the factory for an extra charge.

The price of the new neck is $749.99. Gold Tone state: 'This neck will enhance the low and midrange frequencies of any Mastertone-style pot and can help you achieve a fuller and more expressive tonal palette.' A heart-shaped clip-on tuner is also available, designed (like the banjo) to meet Béla Fleck's requirements.
The next two Zoom lessons in the new season of banjo 'clinics' by Ken Perlman, godfather of 'melodic clawhammer banjo', are on melodic fingering shapes in open G-tuning, up to the ninth fret (15 Nov.), and 'Techniques of the great 20th century roots clawhammer banjoists' (6 Dec.). The latter ties in with the talk Ken will be giving tomorrow (6 Nov.) at the 24th Annual Banjo Gathering in Williamsburg, VA. The talk is entitled 'Banjo rappers: comparing & contrasting styles of some well-known pre-"revival" 20th-century downpickers', a category that includes Tom Ashley, Fred Cockerham, Kyle Creed, Rufus Crisp, Hobart Smith, and Wade Ward. All Ken's previous lessons are available as videos at $25 each from his Encore Collection.
The 52nd weekly newsletter from Bluegrass Unlimited magazine includes (among other good things) a focus on the late Bill Emerson, with a 37-track Spotify playlist selected from recordings over his long career. There is also the first in a special series of web-based articles on Bill Emerson; BU judged that 'With a career in bluegrass that lasted over sixty years, we feel that a single article in the print magazine would not be sufficient to address all of Bill’s influence and accomplishments.' The first article consists of tributes and memories from many prominent banjo-players who knew him, and is immensely informative.

© Richard Hawkins

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