Well hello all! My name is Dow. I am 32 years old and work for the railroad as a switchman in Seattle. I joined this site in 2012, but dont think I introduced myself, and I havent been around much, I hope to change that though. A little bit about me....I started playing 5 string banjo at age 15 when I got one for Christmas, a low quality Japanese beginner. I stuck with it over the years...before mobile phones were the craze...and have progressed significantly...but will not give up my day job! My biggest banjo influences are of course Earl Scruggs, Don Reno, Don Stover, Raymond Fairchild...all bluegrass greats! But I also have a deep appreciation for earlier fingerpicking artists...especially Vess L. Ossman and Fred Van Eps. Ossman was probably the first artist I ever became interested in as a young boy, and his banjo playing, style, and sound will always be a great memory for me....listening to my mother's victrola playing TURKEY IN THE STRAW MEDLEY....over and over, trying to figure out how he was playing it, I still have the old 78...but its well loved and worn.

As I've grown older, I am sorry to say that my interests changed. I put my beloved banjo aside to learn how to fingerpick the guitar...I'm a HUGE Jerry Reed fan above all else! His style of guitar was/is so different from anything else anybody had ever done on a guitar in that era. His style of playing incorporates many banjo style rolls and picking patterns but on 6 strings. He played banjo aswell. Anyways...I've set the guitar aside to rekindle my love for my old 5 string. I've worked out a pretty spot on rendition of MAPLE LEAF rag...Ossman style, but its off a little from his, I just cant imitate his version 100%, I'm missing something. I have 6 or 7 banjos, mid 60s Scruggs model Vegas and Gibsons, and a no name archtop that I have gut strings on, I use it for the Ossman stuff. I think this old classic and ragtime style is so intricate and complex. Not that bluegrass is easy and simple, but it has so many of the same style rolls and licks and endings and intros and outros and picking patterns...the classic style sounds like there is much more individual picking and style, and chords that just amaze my ears.

I hope to make some friends here and learn a lot about the real fingerpicking pioneers of the 5 string banjo! Something about those gut strings that catches my attention, moreso than steel strings. Can anybody tell me what type of banjo Ossman played primarily? I'm in the market for an old school classic style banjo.





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Welcome home!

As far as I can tell, Ossman played a variety of banjos. He was basically a rock-star, so all he had to do was ask and some manufacturer would build whatever he wanted.

You'll find a wide variety of banjos in use by classic players. As this site is very international in nature, you'll see a lot of people playing banjos from England. Lots of Essex banjos, a few Weavers, etc.

Stewarts are quite popular as are Vegas..but you'll see just about anything (even the occasional Gibson). No different than any other banjo, everybody has their favorite. My favorite axe is an Essex "CE Special"...even though I'm an Alabama boy.

So, jump in, ask all the questions you like...somebody here will have the answers you need.

Photos of Ossman show him with different makes of banjo at different times, but they are usually, if not always,  large rimmed and long scaled, typically 12" nominal pot, 28" scale, 19 or 20 fret fingerboard. If you choose to follow in his footsteps, these are very powerful instruments, but the scale length makes them more difficult to master. 

Identifiable brands in his hands include SS Stewart, AC Fairbanks Whyte Laydie No 2, Whyte Laydie No 7 and perhaps a Morrison. In 1906 he wrote a testimonial for  Bacon's new Professional banjo  and custom ordered a 12" Bacon Professional FF No 3, known today as a Chubby Dragon. For pics of the only known 12" Chubby  Dragon, which may well have been Ossman's,  type    Bacon FF Custom   into the site search window and you should find them.

Hi Dow,

Welcome to our world! You have good taste liking Vess Ossman and Fred Van Eps, both maestros of the style. My favourite is Van Eps and I am constantly striving to play like he did... unfortunately I seem to be running out of years, but a young whipper-snapper, like yourself, should have no trouble ;-)

We always like comments, suggestions, questions and of course videos... so please do get involved!

Here is a little something for you.  A rare recording of Vess Ossman playing in a bucket (forgive the echo!!!)


Enjoy your time on here, there is a load of good stuff hidden away... enough to keep you busy for several years!

Thanks for the welcome everybody, and the information about Vess and his banjos, those little tid-bits are GOLD to me. Niceman...thanks for the music...thats the tune I listened to over and over again when I was younger...I can play it, but not like Vess....I'm missing something. I'll try to get a video up of me attempting MAPLE LEAF RAG this weekend. Keep on pickin'!



Dow, it is so good to hear about another classic banjo lover in the West. I live in Spokane, 365 miles away. If you ever get over here I expect to have you drop in. I have had the same musical upbringing as you, and felt the same about bluegrass around 1990. Luckily I found classic banjo in my old Banjo Newsletters and started learning the TABS. I have never looked back. I have a trio called the New Criterion Banjo Orchestra and we have been playing since 1998. I would love to offer you any help I can. Fortunately, most of my resources are on my website, The Classic Banjo Resource. Recently, I added a 24/7 Internet Radio Station, Classic Banjo Radio where you can hear Van Eps and Ossman plus many more to your heart's content. (If you are married, get a good lawyer now)

When I was looking for my first classic banjo, I listened to a Rally tape from the ABF made by Bill Morris. He suggested I note which songs I like the sound of the banjo on and then get back to him. I sent him a list of the songs and he said they were all played by Vega Whyte Laydies. So that is what I bought. Got if from Bernunzios in trade for an old guitar I wasn't playing. You might try doing something like that.

Get to me offline and we can pursue a dialog. halallert@gmail.com

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