Comment by Rob MacKillop on April 3, 2023 at 18:04

This is an album I recorded in 2011, twelve years ago. I'm very proud of it. It contains a lot of Cammeyer, Grimshaw, Morley, and lesser-known luminaries worthy of attention. The Big Crime as far as this forum goes, is that I play most items with a plectrum, AND on a 5-string Deering Eagle II steel-strung banjo!

And here's the confession: I love this sound more than any classic-banjo sound or zither-banjo sound I've heard. So sue me! 

Recently I bought a CE XX Special, which arrived with medium gauge steel strings on it. It sounded great, but I dutifully replaced them with nylguts with a suitable two-footed CE maple bridge. And after a couple of weeks I've reverted to steel strings. The instrument is strong in the neck, and I'm sure it can take them. Besides, steel strings were around from what, the 1880s? 

Playing with a plectrum: I don't like to use my soft finger pads for every piece when playing with steel strings, so I experimented with a Gibson EH (Extra Heavy) plectrum, and I love the sound. I play some pieces fingerstyle, but mostly with a plectrum. 

So, I've been down the "correct" route for instrument, strings and techniques, but have to admit I've never got a better sound than I did on this recording. Of course, better is subjective, but I'm happy doing what I do. I'll be selling my Vibrante Royal soon, but can happily keep the XX Special, 

Comment by carrie horgan on April 4, 2023 at 7:24

It's a great recording and, as you know, inspired me to learn A.J Weidt tunes on tenor banjo.  I do enjoy the sound of steel-strung banjo - it can be more resonant for mellow, slower tunes - and like the playing of Jean-Marc Andres, Tony Ellis and, more recently, Max Allard.....

Comment by Rob MacKillop on April 4, 2023 at 7:45

Thanks for commenting, Carrie. I just looked up those guys you mention, and they are all bluegrass players but of a more mellow kind. I confess bluegrass depresses me, as does most groove music. They just sit in the groove, and nothing else happens for five minutes! I'm just kidding...a bit ;-) I got well away from that with this recording, as most of us do on this website. But your general point is that steel strings can be quite mellow, which I agree with, mellow with definition, which is a crucial difference to just mellow. I'm blethering. I'm just very happy that this album influenced your direction a little. Appreciated. 

Comment by carrie horgan on April 4, 2023 at 9:35

I am not really into bluegrass per se but I do like to listen to music specifically composed for the banjo - it makes a change from endless repetition of fiddle tunes on banjo!  Actually, Jean Marc-Andres did a great album called 'Classics' (which is all classic banjo) and one which is all Joplin - used to be available on CD baby.  I have hard copies but it's hard to find cd's these days (unless you want to spend a fortune) and I have gravitated towards to go with the times.

Comment by Jody Stecher on April 4, 2023 at 14:14

Historically Bluegrass music is 90% vocal music. 80% of the  function of the banjo in a bluegrass band is to support the singer and the other instruments when they solo. Fiddle tunes comprise about 3% of the repertoire.  This is all fact.

Most of the first generation bluegrass musicians described their music as an emotionally charged tuneful way of being truthful, an endeavor that allowed them to make a better living than in a southern textile mill or coal mine, This worked for about 10 years. By 1960 being a bluegrass musician was not a viable profession. Efforts to make it viable involved changing the music for the worse. By 1970 most self-described bluegrass music was unrecognizable. From 1980 until the present most bluegrass bands were barely distinguishable from each other. This is biased opinion mixed with fact.  

95% of bluegrass music of the past 30 years is boring.  The other 5% is glorious.  This is opinion.

At least 50% of what has been labeled bluegrass music is not bluegrass and is not intended to be. This is mixed fact, opinion, and hyperbole.

Comment by Rob MacKillop on April 4, 2023 at 14:20

Yeah, okay, I guess I invited this, and I do have more respect for what I've heard of th early stuff. But, Jody, do you have any thoughts or thought at all about the album? I don't expect you to say you like it when you don't - we're both too-experienced for that - but would like to know what you think of it. 

Comment by Trapdoor2 on April 4, 2023 at 14:28

...and 95% of statistics are made up on the spot. ;-)

I haven't listened to this album since it came out...and it is still a delight. It should be on the required list for any aspiring musician. Getting such expression out of a nominally racous instrument is a master class treat.

Thank you, Rob, for reintroduceing it!

Comment by Rob MacKillop on April 4, 2023 at 14:36

And to you, Marc, for introducing an e into reintroduceing! :-) 

Comment by Trapdoor2 on April 4, 2023 at 14:58

E's are overproduced to such a height that my phone nearly gushes with them. Obviously, I need to install an e filter!

Comment by Rob MacKillop on April 4, 2023 at 16:28


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