Hi, new member here! Thank you for letting me join!

I am trying to figure out how to classify myself as a banjoist. I play the 4-string tenor and plectrum, and grew up playing West Coast pizza parlor sing-along chord melody banjo (loud and obnoxious, of course! I even had a Vega Vox IV as a kid!). I grew up and got a Music Ed degree (on clarinet), and then started the search for a "legitimate" path forward as a banjoist. I discovered the music of Grimshaw, Cammayer, Bassett, Kirby, etc. 8 years ago when I went to work for Clifford Essex updating Grimshaw's plectrum compositions. I know these were all finger-style; he plectrumized a couple dozen of his own works, then I converted several more. 

Anyway, I have been given the opportunity to present this great music at the American Banjo Museum during their banjo fest this fall, and just want some advice on how to do it gracefully and accurately as a plectrum banjoist. I am aware that those of us in the four-string world do not have the greatest reputation among the overall banjo community, and I would like to have a hand in fixing that. 

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LOL. Like you need advice, Ron. [rolleyes] I've heard you play this stuff...beautifully.

Welcome to our little community on the 'net!

I wish I could come out and listen in!

I hope retirement is treating you right, Diane and I are planning on retiring in December.


Huntsville, AL

You know, Ron, 2 of the best clawhammer banjo players I have ever heard began their banjo life playing plectrum banjo.  Hank Bradley's first gig was in Monterey California in a Cannery Row tourist bar sitting atop an upright piano plinking the banjo as his legs dangled.  He still remembers how to play trad jazz and still has a plectrum banjo.   Walt Koken learned plectrum banjo in or near St Louis. Webster Springs maybe?   That's why he plays clawhammer 5 string banjo  in gCGBD more than other players.  The fingerboard was imprinted on his left hand early on.

Hi Ron, I think you might have us all wrong.

I have no problem with plectrum players as the plectrum banjo is a direct decedent from the 5 String.  I don't know anything about tenors as those are banjo bodied mandolin family instruments. 

Speaking about the American Banjo Fraternity, many of our founding members had turned to the plectrum to pay the bills, only returning to the 5 string when it was a hobby.

Of our current members, we still have many active (attending rallies) members who are quite proficient on plectrums, and you may know some of them.

That said, the focus of our rallies is on finger style 5 string playing with nylon or gut strings-  but we appreciate our plectrum friends.

While the Shakey's Pizza/ Your Father's Mustache was a weird and confused mix of nostalgia and fantasy, it sounds like it was a lot of fun and the sort of place I would have gone were I alive or of an appropriate age during that era. 


Thank you all for the welcome! Hi Marc! I have toyed with the idea of learning finger-style, simply so I could better understand the music. I got to play some Classic duets with Clarke Buehling a couple years ago; it was a blast. Back before I discovered Grimshaw, I tried to learn Bluegrass banjo, but couldn't get the hang of the finger picks.

Anyway, I guess my real question is how to classify myself. I've been calling what I do the "Classic plectrum"; I know some can be kind of sensitive about it, and just want to be sure nobody is offended. I've been told that I'm the only (or at least one of the very few) American banjoists playing this music (on the plectrum), and have dreams of converting others. To me, it is the natural blueprint for the plectrum, having been the popular style at it's inception.

Yes, pizza-parlor banjo is fun, but I've always wanted more (music that is!). 

What are your favorite plectrum banjos, Ron?  The best tenors I've heard are Epiphone Recording model and some Paramounts. The best plectrum banjo was a Clifford Essex I played in Ireland. It was so long ago I don't recall the model but the sound was fabulous.


Search for Frank Lawes....he was a well respected plectrum player in the classic community in the UK and was in many of the BMG magazines from the 40's (maybe even the 30's) to the '60's....I think he died in the 60's or 70's, I can't remember off hand....there is a thread on this forum somewhere that has info and pictures on him, and his obit.  I THINK he actually played finger style classic banjo tunes on the plectrum banjo...not sure if he strung with steel or gut.

Bert Bassett before WW1 was considered in the UK to be the TOP ragtime/classic repertoire  player (he played plectrum with a pick and steel strings I think) with Tarrant Bailey Jr and Sr, both among others, citing him as the best/their favorite plectrum player in this repertoire.  He recorded for the Jumbo label among others in UK before WW1.  

There are a few old 78's where Vess Ossman himself recorded plectrum arrangements solo with piano DURING his heyday and poplular recording career as a five string player.  I think the earliest plectrum record by Ossman I have is around 1905.  The Ossman plectrum recordings are few, but they do exist.

Eli Kaufman has said ( I have heard second hand, likely from Joel Hooks who posted above), as well as being documented in Jim Walsh's published "Hobbies Magazine" interview with one of the Dudley's from he Ossman-Dudley trio, that Ossman very frequently, if not the majority of the time, actually played plectrum, not five string, at many of his live ensemble gigs that were not concert hall solo 5 string shows.

I forget his name off hand, and he's not really a classic repertoire guy, but there was an early plectrum player who endorsed Vega banjos and steel strings...he was very well known...I think he even pioneered the five string plectrum and had a few Vega models made that way....He was pretty well known about 1905-1910 and in the Crescendo magazine frequently.....I bet Buddy Wachter would know all about him if you were in contact with Buddy.

I wish I could remember his name for you, but I can't off hand....when i remember it, I'll post it here.

If I think of anything else relevant to your mission, I'll return and share it.



PS-You are not only not offending anyone in the classic vein for this plectrum trek you are on, but well within the early BMG movement as well as one of the dignified few early players in the original era that did exactly what you are thinking of doing.  Kudos to you for the will to do it and to be different in today's world of constantly having people try to box you in who don't have the correct historical context, no matter how obscure it may be....and in actuality, your mission is not really that obscure, other than some digging around will have to be done 100 years hence...but we all like digging or Ian wouldn't have this forum going with others participating.  

What you are doing is admirable and has historical precedent....please do continue, and keep us posted as you learn things or have insights.

Ron-Also, as I was editing my above post and ran out of time...

Tarrant Bailey, Jr was one of the paternal greats of classic 5 string banjo, but recorded many arrangements on the Imperial and other labels of the time (Regal I think) on plectrum banjo, but not fingerstyle....some discs he played both 5 string and plectrum in the arrangement with the trumpet or band interlude giving him time to trade instruments in the arrangement before overdubbing was invented.

There are youtube videos of Tarrant Jr playing plectrum for Pathe newsreels in the 30's...just search Tarrant Bailey with and Pathe and banjo.....

I forgot about mentioning this about Tarrant JR above......


Ron-Here's 2 interesting 5 string plectrums I was able to find today...I've seen more of these in the past by both makers....





Chris, I think the guy you are thinking of is Brendt Hayes

That is exactly who I was thinking of, Joel, and was just about to add it as I remembered it/him last night.....thanks!

I've always been a Gibson man, though I love Bacon and Day also. Not a huge fan of the Vegavox sound, but it has it's place; I got to play one of Eddie Peabody's banjos for a while, and it's brightness brought out some interesting things in me. Right now I'm playing a Frankenstein banjo; Trujo neck with a Stew Mac Masterclone pot. It is the loudest, best sounding jazz banjo I have ever played! Most of the time though, I play a new Clifford Essex Weaver; I love the woody sound, especially for Classic. 

Jody Stecher said:

What are your favorite plectrum banjos, Ron?  The best tenors I've heard are Epiphone Recording model and some Paramounts. The best plectrum banjo was a Clifford Essex I played in Ireland. It was so long ago I don't recall the model but the sound was fabulous.

Yes, Brendt Hayes; Buddy says he has a recording of him. I would love to hear it; I understand he was phenomenal. 

Chris Cioffi said:

That is exactly who I was thinking of, Joel, and was just about to add it as I remembered it/him last night.....thanks!

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