By C. Skinner. Played on a Fred Van Eps banjo with LaBella nylon strings.

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Comment by Jody Stecher on September 18, 2016 at 0:50

Bravo! Played with conviction and Oomph.  I hope this setup is reasonably easy to play because every string and every note sounds fantastic on this Van Eps Oomph-o-matic.  What is the scale (nut to bridge) on this banjo?

Comment by Joel Hooks on September 18, 2016 at 2:03

Thanks Jody!

28 1/2" scale.  If I am not mistaken that was what most of them were.  This one is from the late 1930s but could be early 1940s.  I'm using the equivalent of the old LaBella 17s.  LaBella went thicker and should actually be called 19s now.

.017, .019, .022, .024 (wound), .017.  I get LaBella singles sold as lute strings from Strings By Mail.

Comment by Jody Stecher on September 18, 2016 at 5:26

 I get most of my strings from Strings By Mail as well.  I'm not sure about this but I think LaBella lute strings are possibly a higher quality than the usual LaBella nylon.  They have some silver plated copper wound strings that are supposed to be pretty good.

Comment by Joel Hooks on September 18, 2016 at 13:47

Perhaps, I don't know.  They look and feel exactly like what comes in the No 17 package (same color, texture/rectified, stiffness, etc.) only thinner.

The 17s had changed about 3 or 4 years back.  First to a different nylon (the buyer at Elderly told me it comes from Dupont) then to thicker strings by default (to appeal to the country/old timey banjoists-- the only market as we are so few, not to mention the trend with thicker strings in classic banjo).

I bought the lute singles on the advice of John Cohen and used the original LaBella sizes.  These were established by the ABF and published in the 5-Stringer in the 1950s.

I think the thinness is the key.  I get a crisper attack with little effort (think clicking the edge of a piece of paper).  With thicker strings they would slightly roll and energy was lost as torsion.  I could not get the crispness from them that I hear on the FVE 50s recordings or other tape recordings done at ABF rallies. Clarity in the upper register was not there either.

Going to the thinner strings made all the difference.  I get that same clarity though three octaves on my Eastman too.

FVE was actually using thinner strings then these. .016, .018, .021, .024w, .016 were his sizes.

The banjo is as I got it.  I have not changed the head tension, just the strings.  I made a ebony bridge to the exact specifications of a FVE original. Otherwise it is as shipped.

Comment by Trapdoor2 on September 19, 2016 at 13:49

Well done, Joel!

Ladbroke is a favorite tune of mine...and you just made it yours. Very solid performance, very lively. Great bass runs...just like they should be.

Geez, I hate thin strings. But you make them sound perfect.

Comment by thereallyniceman on September 19, 2016 at 17:22

ALERT ALERT  Joel is carrying a dangerous weapon... that bass ... gosh !!!!!!

Sorry Joel but under the rules of this website I have to confiscate all dangerous items, so please send me the FVE immediately, for safe keeping.  ;-)

That is some banjo and the sound is amazing. You say you have made an ebony bridge. I was always told that ebony bridges resulted in a lousy tone on CB banjos... how wrong was that?

There are only two things I can say:  Brilliant playing, and SELL IT TO ME NOW !!!!!

Comment by Joel Hooks on September 19, 2016 at 17:43

Thanks everyone!  I was getting jealous watching people post their videos of great playing and I had not hacked my way through one it a while.

I got a iPhone 6s last weekend and wanted to try it out.  I am surprised at the video and sound quality.  It is quite an amazing gizmo.

Yep Ian, this FVE is something special. I got lucky with it.  I'll have it at the rally if anyone wants to play it. 

Comment by Joel Hooks on September 19, 2016 at 17:46

Oh, the bridge-- it is tiny and thin with very narrow spacing.  I'll see about getting photos up sometime this week.  John got an original that I copied.  I tried the same pattern on my Eastman WL and it sounded very metallic. 

Comment by thereallyniceman on September 19, 2016 at 17:50

Can we see a close up of the bridge please? I want to try one!

Comment by F. Chris Ware on September 19, 2016 at 23:25

Allow me to join the chorus and concur; your playing (if I may opine based entirely on impersonal digital evidence) seems to have reached the “focus all the power in the fingers” approach that only a few classic banjoists seem ever to manage (i.e. not me.) Inspiring and intimidating, all in one. But, best of all, just getting the music out and making the listener happy. I’m very sorry that your wife has banished you to the garage, though. You need some FedExed dried food and potable water?

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