Hi all,

Just thought I'd introduce myself. Sorry if this is not the appropriate place (am I correct that there are no sub-forums, just a single forum for everything?). I am new to classic banjo, but not the banjo. Some years ago, I started learning minstrel banjo on a fretless, low-tuned instrument. That segued into old-time clawhammer/2-finger picking, again focusing mostly on fretless banjo. Admittedly, I was never great at it and additionally had little interest in the old-time "festival" scene. Then I lived abroad for about 5 years (a whole 'nother story) and stopped playing the banjo entirely, focusing on other musical pursuits.

I don't know if it's due to changing tastes or what, but a few months back I "discovered" classic banjo through YouTube and just decided that's what I want to work on. It's a fascinating tradition of banjo playing that I was, until recently, totally unaware of. So I bought a cheap banjo (Gold Tone AC-1; I know, it's just to hold me over until I can invest in a higher tier instrument), put on a Morris-style bridge, LaBella 17's, and a cheap no-knot. It's not so bad, actually. I've started working through Grimshaw's book and am attempting some Joe Morley (Alpine Waltz and Mazurka).

Anyone have advice for a newbie regarding things like RH technique or repertoire? Things you wish you could go back and tell your beginner self? I am not getting a very clear/loud tone yet but I think that will come with time. Right now I'm struggling most with simply holding the instrument. From my years of clawhammer playing, I developed a very bad habit of hunching over the instrument with the neck parallel to the ground and a lot of squeezing with the RH forearm. I've noticed that many (most?) classic banjo players don't use a strap, but I think that might be necessary given how neck-heavy my banjo is. Anyway, glad to be a part of this. If anyone happens to be in the Connecticut/Massachusetts area, would love to meet up sometime.

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I have found that with a bit of setup Gold Tone banjos can sound pretty darn good. Even the cheapo AC-1 can work even if it is not inspiring to look at. But I'm puzzled about your banjo being neck-heavy or heavy anywhere. Is the pot so light that the pegs outweigh it?

Welcome to the site Ethan. It is a fantastic resource.

I don’t have many tips or tricks as I am also new this. But, I do have (and have had) a banjo that has the neck dive issue when I have it sitting on my leg. I found that holding it in a more upright (headstock pointing more upwards), and installing an armrest has helped. I also use my picking arm forearm to apply a little pressure to help keep the banjo in place. I found that the armrest provided some more surface area for my forearm to grip. You may also want to try setting the banjo on your lap. I found that this position can also help alleviate some of the neck dive as more of the banjo’s pot is in contact with your legs. 

Welcome Ethan, I am sure that you will enjoy the challenge of Classic Style.

We have a number of videos on the "Learn to Play" page that show RH technique and other tips for classic style. One of the most important things is to try to learn to use "Alternate fingering" so that you are not repeat picking with the same finger where possible.  I learned from "The banjo and how to play it" too and find it a good choice.   

Ask anyone how to play and you will get as many different answers as there are people, so look HOW it was played by the performers of the time. There are plenty of videos and photos of the greats on here.  The point about the banjo neck tipping down can be down to your technique!   I strongly recommend that the banjo hoop rests on the RH thigh (not in your lap). Also the neck should be held up high and the forearm pressed on the armrest or hoop top to stop the neck falling down. It does not require much pressure if the neck is held up high!

At 1.45 seconds I talk about how to hold the banjo for classic style. This is one of the videos on the "Learn to Play" page.

Good luck.

I second Ian about “alternate fingering”.  This is the key to playing, classic banjo.  There are a number of books that teach it.  I think Grimshaw goes a bit fast and presumes you have a teacher.  I am currently partial to “Mel Bay’s Banjo Method, Concert Style” by Frank Bradbury for learning.  Supplement with other C notation books.  There is also a folio of short pieces that is good for reading practice titled “Turner’s 101 Jigs and Reels” or something like that.

RE banjo, I have not held one of those, but I have held the old Resotone banjos that they emulate.  The new ones add a truss rod to the neck.  That makes for a very neck heavy banjo and there is really nothing that can be done about it.  It is just not balanced.  

Classic era banjo makers seem to have considered this and most are pretty well balanced to make them easier to hold.  Be careful as lighter early American banjos can become neck heavy with the addition of modern geared tuners (which is no improvement), and you might avoid banjos with this change unless you can hold them and try them out.

I’m in Southern New Hampshire and I work in Massachusetts, but I’m won’t be getting together with anyone until things change.  Once they do, we will restart our American Banjo Fraternity rallies again and I invite you to attend.  Unless the venue folds, we will have them in Newark, NY (near Rochester).

It's not so much the weight but rather the lack thereof. The AC-1 comes in at around 4 lbs, and I have to believe most of that is neck. I have an armrest and strap on order (the banjo came with neither), so perhaps that will help some.

Jody Stecher said:

I have found that with a bit of setup Gold Tone banjos can sound pretty darn good. Even the cheapo AC-1 can work even if it is not inspiring to look at. But I'm puzzled about your banjo being neck-heavy or heavy anywhere. Is the pot so light that the pegs outweigh it?

I wonder if the manner in which the strap is attached is part of the problem. I think a strap is  unneeded for playing seated.  Is the balance just as bad when you are not using the strap?

Ethan Schwartz said:

It's not so much the weight but rather the lack thereof. The AC-1 comes in at around 4 lbs, and I have to believe most of that is neck. I have an armrest and strap on order (the banjo came with neither), so perhaps that will help some.

Jody Stecher said:

I have found that with a bit of setup Gold Tone banjos can sound pretty darn good. Even the cheapo AC-1 can work even if it is not inspiring to look at. But I'm puzzled about your banjo being neck-heavy or heavy anywhere. Is the pot so light that the pegs outweigh it?

Hi Jody, what I meant to say is that I haven't tried playing classic banjo with a strap yet. I never used one when playing old-time. I will have to experiment with it once it arrives in the mail.

Jody Stecher said:

I wonder if the manner in which the strap is attached is part of the problem. I think a strap is  unneeded for playing seated.  Is the balance just as bad when you are not using the strap?

You *did* say that and clearly. I read it poorly!!

Ethan Schwartz said:

Hi Jody, what I meant to say is that I haven't tried playing classic banjo with a strap yet. I never used one when playing old-time. I will have to experiment with it once it arrives in the mail.

Jody Stecher said:

I wonder if the manner in which the strap is attached is part of the problem. I think a strap is  unneeded for playing seated.  Is the balance just as bad when you are not using the strap?

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