well everybody, I must confess to what some may consider a sin hereabouts. I got interested in this style of banjo back in June this year when I saw Clarke Buehling perform at Walthamstow folk club in East London, within a few short weeks I had stashed my old bluegrass jo in the case, found a new home for my go to Vega tubaphone banjos (under the bed, refuse to change the setup of either of them ) and bought a Weaver to begin my new banjourney ! All was going reasonably well as I have always been a fingerpicking kind of guy both on guitar and, banjo , I had Whistling Rufus and, the Sunflower Dance off to a reasonable level and have latterly got The Smiler Rag to a standard where I can perform it in public without inducing too much pain, here though is the rub ! I felt hampered by the high action and huge clubby neck of the Weaver at the higher frets, I felt this banjo was fighting me back all the time since, all my aforementioned jos were easier to play, this week I gave up the fight and bought a sweet mid 1930s Whyte Laydie with a newer repro neck by Clancy Mullins, put on my Colby Van Eps tailpiece, 1/2" Morley bridge and a set of nylgut strings. this banjo not only plays perfectly intonated all over the neck but sounds far fuller and more musical to me and others who have tolerated my fumbling around on unfamiliar tunes ! In short my understanding was that the CE Weaver should have delivered everything for the aspiring "classic" player and, this whole experience has left me somewhat unsettled. Am I odd in my choice of instrument ? will it pass ? should I spend some time in the stocks or, is it OK to favour a Vega over a pucker 1890s Essex & Cammeyer Weaver ? shall I for all time be a social pariah at banjo events as I wander sadly around in a hair shirt lugging my Vega jo with me ?

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I'm not very "in the scene" as a classic banjo player, and I'm also rather uninformed. But... People played classic banjo in the 30ies (1900, that is...) too. Probably some of them even on a Vega. I wouldn't worry about it. Just play what sounds best to you. Even got me curious to try out a lower action on my Clifford Essex :-)

I selflessly and with a heavy heart offer to take care of the "Weaver problem" for you as well. Just send it to me and I'll take care of it for you. I'll even pay the shipping! :-)

You could also try and lower the action on the Weaver? Then you have two banjos to play classic on.

I prefer Weaver Banjos!.. BUT setup is important. My Maple Weaver has a fairly low action, with few buzzes, and my infrequent trip to the higher altitudes of the neck are not too daunting :-)  Lower the action until the buzzing sets in. Weavers are lovely banjos and have been favoured by UK players for Classic Style for many many years. I guess that as Morley played one the rest of us had to!

BUT..The Vega Banjo is fine of Classic style. Have you seen my old friend, the now late Mike Redpath playing his Vega?

It sounds great but the neck is a little too narrow for me and is better with heavier gauge strings as they don't drift sideways of the narrow fingerboard when I play with my heavy picking.  After Mike's death I bought his Vega Tubaphone as shown in this video.

So if you have a Vega and prefer it..play it and we promise not to burn you at the stake ;-)

Fairbanks, and later Vega, WL model banjos swept the professionals as a favorite banjo from the moment they were introduced.

Many top pros played them (including Vess Ossman).  The scramble to use them was quite sudden.  A. J. Weidt even had a banjo club where all the banjos were WLs.

Clifford Essex liked them enough to knock them off.

Even Shirley Spaulding recorded with hers (that is what you hear on her records).

The WL was designed for what we call "classic banjo" by a "classic banjoist."

I believe that serious players should have a "library" of banjos. Most days I feel like playing my flush fret Gariepy-Van Eps.  But other days I feel like playing other banjos.

I've played many original WLs and found them to be fine banjos. I owned an Eastman for several years that was a daily player (until I got that flush fret-- I stopped playing it and it needed to find a new home).

It is all good.

So Shirley Spaulding didn't record with that fancy Orpheum banjo with the fingerboard extension? That came later maybe?

Joel Hooks said:

Fairbanks, and later Vega, WL model banjos swept the professionals as a favorite banjo from the moment they were introduced.

Many top pros played them (including Vess Ossman).  The scramble to use them was quite sudden.  A. J. Weidt even had a banjo club where all the banjos were WLs.

Clifford Essex liked them enough to knock them off.

Even Shirley Spaulding recorded with hers (that is what you hear on her records).

The WL was designed for what we call "classic banjo" by a "classic banjoist."

I believe that serious players should have a "library" of banjos. Most days I feel like playing my flush fret Gariepy-Van Eps.  But other days I feel like playing other banjos.

I've played many original WLs and found them to be fine banjos. I owned an Eastman for several years that was a daily player (until I got that flush fret-- I stopped playing it and it needed to find a new home).

It is all good.

well, that is good then ! I kinda thought that I was somewhat odd in my choice since most players wax lyrical about those old Weavers, a very pleasant little player but, to me it feels somewhat cumbersome almost like an agricultural implement with the rather unwieldly neck and high action, I guess that being a long time player of banjos and guitars with more user friendly necks it is just not really my cup of sausages ! I tried though honestly I did. what am I bid for this immaculate instrument folks ?

Nope-- see what people miss by not going to ABF rallies!

I found ads from Vega where she claims to have used a WL to record with.

We also got to read letters from both Bill Nelson at Vega (who was not very nice and kinda demanding) and William Lange (who was super cool). Bill Nelson confirms that she used a Vega WL for "quite a while".  The subject of one letter from Lange was about gold plating her Orpheum banjos at no charge in time for the Guild convention. 

Her scrapbook is fantastic!  She did a HUGE amount of radio work.  I'm talking multiple times a week for many years-- that must have been the boring music that Ken Burns said people were tolerating until country music came along.

Both of her Orpheum banjos were on display during her Grandson's lecture at the rally.

Jody Stecher said:

So Shirley Spaulding didn't record with that fancy Orpheum banjo with the fingerboard extension? That came later maybe?

Joel Hooks said:

Fairbanks, and later Vega, WL model banjos swept the professionals as a favorite banjo from the moment they were introduced.

Many top pros played them (including Vess Ossman).  The scramble to use them was quite sudden.  A. J. Weidt even had a banjo club where all the banjos were WLs.

Clifford Essex liked them enough to knock them off.

Even Shirley Spaulding recorded with hers (that is what you hear on her records).

The WL was designed for what we call "classic banjo" by a "classic banjoist."

I believe that serious players should have a "library" of banjos. Most days I feel like playing my flush fret Gariepy-Van Eps.  But other days I feel like playing other banjos.

I've played many original WLs and found them to be fine banjos. I owned an Eastman for several years that was a daily player (until I got that flush fret-- I stopped playing it and it needed to find a new home).

It is all good.

By all accounts she was a fantastic person. Do you know why she stopped playing?  I  can easily understand retiring from performing and recording. No more pressure.  But stopping playing banjo means no more pleasure (of a particular banjological kind).

Joel Hooks said:

Nope-- see what people miss by not going to ABF rallies!

I found ads from Vega where she claims to have used a WL to record with.

We also got to read letters from both Bill Nelson at Vega (who was not very nice and kinda demanding) and William Lange (who was super cool). Bill Nelson confirms that she used a Vega WL for "quite a while".  The subject of one letter from Lange was about gold plating her Orpheum banjos at no charge in time for the Guild convention. 

Her scrapbook is fantastic!  She did a HUGE amount of radio work.  I'm talking multiple times a week for many years-- that must have been the boring music that Ken Burns said people were tolerating until country music came along.

Both of her Orpheum banjos were on display during her Grandson's lecture at the rally.

Jody Stecher said:

So Shirley Spaulding didn't record with that fancy Orpheum banjo with the fingerboard extension? That came later maybe?

Joel Hooks said:

Fairbanks, and later Vega, WL model banjos swept the professionals as a favorite banjo from the moment they were introduced.

Many top pros played them (including Vess Ossman).  The scramble to use them was quite sudden.  A. J. Weidt even had a banjo club where all the banjos were WLs.

Clifford Essex liked them enough to knock them off.

Even Shirley Spaulding recorded with hers (that is what you hear on her records).

The WL was designed for what we call "classic banjo" by a "classic banjoist."

I believe that serious players should have a "library" of banjos. Most days I feel like playing my flush fret Gariepy-Van Eps.  But other days I feel like playing other banjos.

I've played many original WLs and found them to be fine banjos. I owned an Eastman for several years that was a daily player (until I got that flush fret-- I stopped playing it and it needed to find a new home).

It is all good.

Hi Jody,

She was devoted to her brother Cliff (who basically raised her) and banjo playing was his thing.  She stopped playing after she got married.  Her husband was going deaf and they avoided any noise in their house-- that includes banjo.

Her real love was early American tinware a subject that she became the expert in. She wrote regular articles for several newspapers and magazines on various subjects including history.  No articles on banjo as far as I can tell.

There are people alive who were close with them (Cliff and Shirley).  They attend ABF rallies and are happy to tell stories.


Jody Stecher said:

By all accounts she was a fantastic person. Do you know why she stopped playing?  I  can easily understand retiring from performing and recording. No more pressure.  But stopping playing banjo means no more pleasure (of a particular banjological kind).

Joel Hooks said:

Nope-- see what people miss by not going to ABF rallies!

I found ads from Vega where she claims to have used a WL to record with.

We also got to read letters from both Bill Nelson at Vega (who was not very nice and kinda demanding) and William Lange (who was super cool). Bill Nelson confirms that she used a Vega WL for "quite a while".  The subject of one letter from Lange was about gold plating her Orpheum banjos at no charge in time for the Guild convention. 

Her scrapbook is fantastic!  She did a HUGE amount of radio work.  I'm talking multiple times a week for many years-- that must have been the boring music that Ken Burns said people were tolerating until country music came along.

Both of her Orpheum banjos were on display during her Grandson's lecture at the rally.

Jody Stecher said:

So Shirley Spaulding didn't record with that fancy Orpheum banjo with the fingerboard extension? That came later maybe?

Joel Hooks said:

Fairbanks, and later Vega, WL model banjos swept the professionals as a favorite banjo from the moment they were introduced.

Many top pros played them (including Vess Ossman).  The scramble to use them was quite sudden.  A. J. Weidt even had a banjo club where all the banjos were WLs.

Clifford Essex liked them enough to knock them off.

Even Shirley Spaulding recorded with hers (that is what you hear on her records).

The WL was designed for what we call "classic banjo" by a "classic banjoist."

I believe that serious players should have a "library" of banjos. Most days I feel like playing my flush fret Gariepy-Van Eps.  But other days I feel like playing other banjos.

I've played many original WLs and found them to be fine banjos. I owned an Eastman for several years that was a daily player (until I got that flush fret-- I stopped playing it and it needed to find a new home).

It is all good.

I know about her career as an expert and historian. There must be more to the husband story. If he was going deaf he would notice the sound of the banjo being played less and less. Maybe the developing deafness was accompanied by tinitus, which can be aggravated by external noise.  This reminds me of a student of mine who came back to the states from a holiday in Scotland. This was over 30 years ago. She and her husband bought a souvenir cassette of highland bagpipe music. But when she tried to play it her sound system delivered nothing. She pushed the Noise Reduction button changing it from On to Off. There was the bagpipe music.  Her interpretation was that the entire musical content of tape was rejected by her machine as "noise".   That wouldn't have actually happened, there has to be more to the story, but its a great yarn all the same and they got a lot of laughs from it.

Joel Hooks said:

Hi Jody,

She was devoted to her brother Cliff (who basically raised her) and banjo playing was his thing.  She stopped playing after she got married.  Her husband was going deaf and they avoided any noise in their house-- that includes banjo.

Her real love was early American tinware a subject that she became the expert in. She wrote regular articles for several newspapers and magazines on various subjects including history.  No articles on banjo as far as I can tell.

There are people alive who were close with them (Cliff and Shirley).  They attend ABF rallies and are happy to tell stories.


Jody Stecher said:

By all accounts she was a fantastic person. Do you know why she stopped playing?  I  can easily understand retiring from performing and recording. No more pressure.  But stopping playing banjo means no more pleasure (of a particular banjological kind).

Joel Hooks said:

Nope-- see what people miss by not going to ABF rallies!

I found ads from Vega where she claims to have used a WL to record with.

We also got to read letters from both Bill Nelson at Vega (who was not very nice and kinda demanding) and William Lange (who was super cool). Bill Nelson confirms that she used a Vega WL for "quite a while".  The subject of one letter from Lange was about gold plating her Orpheum banjos at no charge in time for the Guild convention. 

Her scrapbook is fantastic!  She did a HUGE amount of radio work.  I'm talking multiple times a week for many years-- that must have been the boring music that Ken Burns said people were tolerating until country music came along.

Both of her Orpheum banjos were on display during her Grandson's lecture at the rally.

Jody Stecher said:

So Shirley Spaulding didn't record with that fancy Orpheum banjo with the fingerboard extension? That came later maybe?

Joel Hooks said:

Fairbanks, and later Vega, WL model banjos swept the professionals as a favorite banjo from the moment they were introduced.

Many top pros played them (including Vess Ossman).  The scramble to use them was quite sudden.  A. J. Weidt even had a banjo club where all the banjos were WLs.

Clifford Essex liked them enough to knock them off.

Even Shirley Spaulding recorded with hers (that is what you hear on her records).

The WL was designed for what we call "classic banjo" by a "classic banjoist."

I believe that serious players should have a "library" of banjos. Most days I feel like playing my flush fret Gariepy-Van Eps.  But other days I feel like playing other banjos.

I've played many original WLs and found them to be fine banjos. I owned an Eastman for several years that was a daily player (until I got that flush fret-- I stopped playing it and it needed to find a new home).

It is all good.

We had a friend of the family who suffered from perfect pitch. She hated my banjo (naturally) but also most music. She was a concert grade pianist. Oddly, she had a stroke, late in life, and she told me that it made her pitch sensitivity go away.

well, I dont know how perfect pitch is determined but I am often able to say what key a piece of music is in upon hearing it for the first time without reference to any instrument and, when I hear an instrument, any instrument played out of tune even slightly it actually makes me feel slightly ill, sick even ! before the advent of digital tuners I could not tolerate listening to local amateur bands as they nearly always were somewhat off with regard tuning together.

Trapdoor2 said:

We had a friend of the family who suffered from perfect pitch. She hated my banjo (naturally) but also most music. She was a concert grade pianist. Oddly, she had a stroke, late in life, and she told me that it made her pitch sensitivity go away.

I think the truth was that she was compelled or felt obligated to play banjo for her brother whom she adored. 

Perhaps after she married she felt free from that obligation. 

Though she was a amazing banjoist, it is possible that she did not "like" playing.  But I don't know about that.  It would not be the first time a skilled musician did not enjoy playing music.

The story that I relayed above came from her Grandson.  He was very open with sharing information about her.  Perhaps there is "more to it".  It is possible that he will make another rally in the future.  If he does I'll let you know so that you can show up and ask him in person.  I got the impression that he would be happy to tell you any details.

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