Banjos are Like a '64 Valiant

Someone I read recently said banjos are the hot-rods of the musical world, and I agree. What other instrument can you laterally take apart and put back together again yourself?

I remember my neighbor on Green Mountain brought his ’64 Valiant over for us to see one day. This was maybe in the late 1980s, when a Valiant was an interesting thing to see. He popped the hood. My first reaction was:

 “Where’s the engine?…”
“Oh, there it is, over in the back left corner!”

Back then you see, cars were a lot simpler than today. You didn’t need all the room that was under the hood. And you could work on the car yourself; add freon, check belts and filters with ease, etc.

So it is with the banjo. You can do-it-yourself: change the drum head, try out a new tone ring, put on a more massive tailpiece… so many options to get so many different sound tweaks!

One tweak I have made to my Stelling Red Fox is to change the bridge. I have a moon bridge from Elderly and it works great. After I first put it on, I must admit it sounded dreadful and I though I would have to replace it, but I gave it just a day or two and it sounds fine once again.

The reason I went with a moon bridge in the first place was because, being curved, it compensates for a not-so-minor annoyance I find in several (most?) banjos; that of not being able to get the second string to be in tune with all other strings, whether open or in a chord. The moon bridge has solved this problem admirably, and I would recommend it if you’re constantly tweaking that second string.

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About Phill Gibson

I'm from Huntsville, Alabama where I work as a Systems Engineer and part-time banjo and mandolin instructor. I've been playing various instruments since my teen years. I started mandolin at about age 17 and banjo at 20. I love just about all kinds of music. In terms of banjo styles, I play Scruggs and melodic and am working on becoming more advanced with single string. I'm also working on 4-finger banjo, which is way off the beaten path. I would like to see more jazz techniques integrated into bluegrass situations; counterpoint, especially. So long-term, that's what I'm doing. I'm also very keen on astronomy, ATM (amateur telescope making), birding, christian homeschooling, martial arts, organic gardening and about 30 other distracting hobbies to a (mercifully) lesser extent.
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