For Shawn, the Restless Biologist, and Eric: The REAL Ultimate Classic Banjo...???

On this rainy Saturday, I've been mounting the neck back on a Gibson Bowtie after a lot of heel surgery while listening to Alex Magee's cut of "Jolly Darkies" which has been on repeat for about an hour and a half (I like Vess's playing a bit better on brown wax, but Alex's minor part is just great), and maybe it was all the mahogany dust and opining the fact that I can't make the ABF Rally (again) next week, but I realized this may be of interest to some.

Keep in mind, the guys and I were cussing and discussing this banjo under Gad Robinson's 2nd floor teaching studio (by the way Jody, Robinson's, though metallic don't sound metallic....they sound more like Fred Van Eps if he played a Gibson Mastertone flathead) on Boylston standing around beside the street car bench (we of course let the ladies sit on the bench while waiting...that' me in the bolar crossing the street early to meet the guys...some of the guys are still in the Tremont Spa) just over from Tremont and Court Streets (where some...ah...OTHER banjos were made), and the consensus was that Alex didn't really like this banjo very much, and when he did actually play it, he removed the resonator as in the 1927 Gibson catalog picture of him with it (don't ask me how the guys knew this 30 years earlier, but that's another story).

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Yes, I've played the horrible variety as well. They are shrill and biting without being loud enough. A useless combination. But the good ones……!

Chris Cioffi said:

On the ball bearings, Jody, I find them to be very varied...some of them are just horrible, and some are so sweet and wonderful it's amazing.

Yes, Jody....I concur.

Joel....THAT'S the pic!  Thanks for posting it!

And of course, THAT'S the banjo.......

The bridge's shadow can clearly be seen as a diminutive 2 foot classic bridge, so another reason I think it was not strung with steel strings by Alex.......

The tailpiece is interesting in the picture, too...is it an Elite?  No Knot?

The one on it now as it stands for sale looks like a cheesy 70's Gibson or import Grover bearclaw/clamshell re-issue.....

And un-characteristic of most Gibson banjos...with the fretboard extension and neck/body joint location as well as longer scale length, it puts the bridge in a more Gatcomb/F&C Imperial position closer to the tailpiece....counting frets to body, taking into account head diameter and scale length, maybe they just tried to emulate the WL parameters of the time which are almost identical.

I think Alex told them how to build a classic banjo....from Gibson parts on a Gibson workbench, and they did the best they could.

I seem to recall another pic of Alex...I THINK with this banjo....somewhere that I've seen in the past...with him reaching over with his left hand to tune the fifth string....seems like it looked like it was from the same photo session....I'll have to think about where I saw that.

Oh, and Joel, I found a 70's recording of Tarrant Bailey doing Jolly Darkies in a medley of tunes....

Chris


Well, that's kind of a comforting pair of statements.  Back in the distant mid-1960's (I think it was 1965), I found a 1926 TB3 ball-bearing in 100% original condition for (I think) £50. Fitted a five string replica neck to it while keeping the pot assy. totally original.....with all the springs, washers, ball bearings etc. installed. Try as I might, I never could get it to sound much good.  Tried everything in terms of strings/head/bridge/action/tailpiece angle combinations, and nothing worked.  It was a duff banjo......Converted it back to tenor .....and as a tenor, it wasn't bad.....but as a 5.....well it needed a better man than I to get a result.   Sold it 30 years back..........
Jody Stecher said:

Yes, I've played the horrible variety as well. They are shrill and biting without being loud enough. A useless combination. But the good ones……!

Chris Cioffi said:

On the ball bearings, Jody, I find them to be very varied...some of them are just horrible, and some are so sweet and wonderful it's amazing.

Hi John-Not too unusual of a story....some tenor players like the ball bearings, and it seems the most folks that like them on a more regular basis are plectrum players who are bent towards the Gibson moniker....that's just the consensus I've gathered over the years.

In theory, the ball bearings look like they might make a good classic banjo....but a bit expensive to try just to find out for me.

Hi Chris  This restless biologist ( also restless architect) didn't see your post until now.

The Magee Gibson is a gorgeous, unique instrument and likely a cannon with its 12 in rim. I can gaze at it  lustfully but don't think your suggested trade is in the works. The "old 'n pearly" open backs are really special to me and my "prewar powerhouse" for classic is already a 1920's B&D Silver Bell. It delivers a warm, mellow tone and plays great (at a fraction of the Gibson's price).

Saw your PW Gibson test drive video back in July and was amazed at your skills in releasing the "tone monster hidden within". If it's there, you find it.  Really fine picking on your part too.

Gibson's locating the Magee bridge closer to the tailpiece may be in imitation of earlier makers, or the Gibson shop may have discovered on their own that bigger rims tend to have a deeper base response and placing the bridge closer to the tpce helps dampen unwanted overtones.

Chris Cioffi said:

Shawn, I bet you could trade an Electric #5 and 2 WL #7's for this......

Dear Chris (and Joel, Shawn, Jody, et al,)

I think this is the photo you’re referring to, right? Looks like the same session, judging from the tie and tuxedo, etc. That Gad Robinson street photograph is amazing, incidentally; one can almost step into it. I guess this classic banjo stuff really happened after all.

Greatly enjoying your posts/videos. (We “met” a number of years ago via eBay when I bought an armrest and a few other thing from you and we wrote back and forth a bit about old recordings, etc. Your enthusiasm is infectious; and here I thought I was the only one on the planet listening to Alexander Magee over the past week.)

Warmest of wishes,

Chris W.

P.S. Hey, how does one get images to appear within a post rather than as links? (I'm of Generation "X"; I should know how to do this.)

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Hi Shawn-Thanks so much for your thoughts and compliments on the video stuff...I really appreciate it.

I REALLY enjoyed your article on the Pearly King in Fretboard Journal and bought a few issues...one to drool on and a few to keep in nice shape for the future....nice bit of effort and research and much appreciated.  The pictures are so beautifully done and it's so well researched and written... I love that article.

Robin Smith and I did a workshop at Berklee School of Music for the banjo students a couple years ago, and the campus building was right there at banjo mecca...I walked around Boylston, Tremont, and looked up old address of Fairbanks, Robinson, Gatcomb, etc...of course, the cityscape has all changed and nothing's left.....I tried really hard to find some double pointed shoes on the curb....but nothing.

It was so neat to be there professionally for banjo reasons 120 years later and have the thoughts I had walking around there thinking about some of my lutherie and banjo heros.....

But the clincher was we were a couple blocks from the Museum of Fine Arts, but we were workshopping all during Museum hours.

I told Robin I HAD to see the King banjo display, but he insisted we head home our first morning after...begging for 20 minutes in the museum did no good, so I didn't get to see it....in person.  Dang.

So your article did me good......

You said a lot in your post.....my next and last for a while classic banjos will be a Silver Bell and a CE Regal.  I played the Webb Silverbell at Gruhn's when it was for sale years ago and it was quite a revelation...it was my first resonator "modern" style classic banjo to play and it was set up so well...it just amazed me.  I have seen some of your videos with you playing your Silver Bell(s) and you and they sound great.

Jody sounds so good on his Regal I about can't stand it.

I was referring to another biologist by the way....the fellow with the new found Paramount....I figured his next banjo should be Alex's.......LOL.

Didn't know you were a biologist, too?

I have heard as I said earlier that Alex didn't really care for this Gibson, but I'd sure like to play it properly set up for classic as I just think it "should" be a great classic banjo.  With the tailpiece, bridge, and strings on it now, I suppose it's unlikely to get a chance to play it with a proper set up, but I still want to wander over and take a gander at it anyway if I get a chance.

I'm glad to "meet" you Shawn...I've followed some of your writings and posts here and on "that other banjo forum" for a while, and admire your scholarship and passion.   You have wonderful taste in banjos as well, I might ad....LOL.

My Best,

Chris

Chris...ah...you're too old to be Gen X.....LOL

YES I remember you!!!!  SO GOOD to be in contact again, and ......

YES YES YES THAT is the Alex pic I was thinking of!!!!! THANK YOU  for posting that!!!!!!

Your post made me pull out my/the copy of "The Ragtime Ephemeralist" you sent me years ago....

EVERYONE HERE needs copies of this....are you still offering these?

I only have No. 3, and I need every issue you published!

Chris, I have thought of you more than a few times since we lost touch...SO GOOD to post with you here again!

I had to pick up the Gad Robinson pic when I found it....I LOVE Gad Robinson banjos......

Normally, I'm afraid of the internet, but my joining here and having these interactions with you folks sure is pleasureable.....

Yes, Chris, this classic banjo stuff really happened, and hopefully with Ian's help we can keep it happening a while longer......

Chris

Chris Ware wrote:

P.S. Hey, how does one get images to appear within a post rather than as links? (I'm of Generation "X"; I should know how to do this.)

Yes, me too, please, Ian......when you have a moment.....

The other Chris


Hi Chris & Chris: When you click *reply* a menu appears above the window in which you will type your words. On the far left it says "Link". On the far right it says HTML. OK so that's the menu I mean. Over on the left again, immediately to the right of Link is a light blue rectangle. If you direct your curser (the arrow) directed by the mouse to hover over this rectangle, the word "IMAGE" appears. If you click there a box appears in which you are given the choice of places from which to upload an image. Choose a place and choose an image and click "OK" and the image itself will appear in the box in which you are typing a message. For instance:


F. Chris Ware said:

Dear Chris (and Joel, Shawn, Jody, et al,)

I think this is the photo you’re referring to, right? Looks like the same session, judging from the tie and tuxedo, etc. That Gad Robinson street photograph is amazing, incidentally; one can almost step into it. I guess this classic banjo stuff really happened after all.

Greatly enjoying your posts/videos. (We “met” a number of years ago via eBay when I bought an armrest and a few other thing from you and we wrote back and forth a bit about old recordings, etc. Your enthusiasm is infectious; and here I thought I was the only one on the planet listening to Alexander Magee over the past week.)

Warmest of wishes,

Chris W.

P.S. Hey, how does one get images to appear within a post rather than as links? (I'm of Generation "X"; I should know how to do this.)

Jody, you "da MAN"!

So I'll bite....with a question as I try.....

In the interest of the subject matter, does anyone know of or better yet have to offer other Alex Magee recordings than appear on this LP because this, "Jolly Darkies", and "Southern (Koontown) Kaffee Klatsch" from the 10" LP from the same label (which I don't have a picture of),  are the extent of my aural Alex collection and I'm found wanting:

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