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Archive for 'Inspiration'

Having played a lot of banjos in my day, when I have an instrument like this, I have to write about it.  Well actually, there are no other banjos like this. Let me explain.
The Nashville flood of 2010 marked the end of the Gibson banjo era. Not only did Gibson lose their banjo shop, but countless instruments were caught underwater and lost. One such casualty was a nice Greg Rich replica of a pre-war RB3. When received as a down payment on a new banjo, I thought it was a total loss. But after scraping off the mud and wiping it down I found that the pot was salvageable. The neck connection was degraded badly by water damage and the neck angle was unsuitable.

 Flux Capacitor comes to the rescue. It is possible to re-cut an existing banjo neck to accommodate the patented Flux connection. That’s what we did. Within a few hours with a bit of fret dressing and cleaning up, the banjo was back in playing shape again with perfect action.  The swelling and subsequent drying of the rim did not hurt the tone. In fact I was surprised from the outset how nice it sounded. Besides the addition of the Flux Capacitor, I decided to keep all the original parts including the bridge that came with it, until recently.  I expected the RB 3 to sell quickly in a consignment shop but after a year or two of not selling, I got it back and brought it to Rockygrass this year.
What a great festival to meet with and jam with top level pros. The Nechville demo session display is a natural gathering place for the festival’s finest pickers. That is where a banjo that looks and sounds like a pre-war Gibson gets plenty of attention. I admit it was fun on two occasions telling the player that it was an original flathead, to which both players responded, “Yup, you can tell, it has that special pop when you hit it.”
I eventually told the truth and offered the banjo at my quick sale price, only to pop the bubble they were floating in.
With all the attention that banjo was getting, I began wondering how good it might sound with a compensated Enterprise Bridge. Let me tell you, no matter how good you think your banjo sounds, you owe it to yourself to try a well crafted compensated bridge like this on your banjo. Before the Gibson sounded traditionally great with that slight gnarly sound typical of Gibson Banjos. No one would complain but I much prefer the purity of sound offered by the Helical mount banjos.
The bridge changed everything.  With a tad more mass and slightly higher third and fourth strings and perfect compensation on each fret, the tone seemed to clarify instantly. All the twang and snarly sound disappeared. It sounded pure like a Heli-Mount with a slight sparkle and lots of depth.
This got me thinking about what I really had in my hands. I realized that this is a banjo with a story that you could write a book or movie about. Once belonging to Nashville Picker Billy Robertson, you can only imagine the pre-flood scenes that banjo has experienced. The resurrected version of this banjo came back as a pre-war clone. The perfect finish aging marks on the peghead, the finish cracks and missing lacquer on the rim, the perfectly shaped comfy neck, the rosewood fingerboard and antique style pearl inlay all spoke from antiquity of its desire to play again. And the voice of this banjo is the real convincing element. Of the numerous Flux conversions we have done at Nechville, this one ranks as the most dramatic and I think my favorite as to sound.
As a side note for those unfamiliar with the Flux system, this modification gives the neck a much more stable anchor point, increases the surface area of the connection and provides an easy way to adjust the angle of the neck for successful use of any height bridge or any string action preference without causing undue stress to the pot. This stabilizes the pot and allows a fuller tone. Another big advantage is that the Flux makes the neck instantly removable for travel or easy transport.
The only banjo of its kind to have been resurrected from the 1000 year flood of 2010 symbolizes a historic convergence of Nechville technology (Nechtology) with the tine honored role of the traditional banjo.
Inquiries about ownership of this collector piece can be directed to me tom@nechville.com or call 612-275-6602. The banjo comes in an antique case and written certification as an official historic Nechville re-creation.

Nechville has coined the term Banjo Revolution as a slogan to bring attention to our revolutionary designs. It is now time to think of the Banjo Revolution as a recent historical accomplishment.

The term “revolution” implies a conflict of some sort, but the Banjo Revolution has taken place without bloodshed or conflict whatsoever. In fact it has taken place without adversely affecting the former regime at all. Now the traditional banjo players are playing right alongside the happy rebels who have taken the “Nech” step. While their ranks are growing, no one is finding fault with their pure tone that works like musical glue in any jam setting.

The Nechville Heli-Mount

As a thirty year effort we can now pronounce victory, but no one is the loser. The music world now has another voice with the Helically mounted sound of the new banjo. It is a subtle change sonically but immediately noticed by experienced players. The new banjo tone is pure and even with as much brilliance and volume as you would like and vastly more controllable than its predecessor. For a traveling entertainer like Steve Martin, it is a road warrior that is always stable under the demands of the tour.

 

I believe humankind is entering a new era of truth-seeking, and I predict we will find it. We will understand and practice the secret of pure thought in creating our own futures. Time, money and resources will become more universally available as we wisely employ our technology and know-how. This means improved quality of life and the opportunity for more music to be played by everyone.

This takes me to the title of this essay. The Banjo Renaissance has arrived as a result of the Banjo Revolution. You may still go through a Revolution of sorts in your mind as you go about understanding and digesting the new paradigm of Nechville, but our ship has come in. Nechville technology has made it to the Olympics, Country Music Awards, Hollywood Movies and into the hands of worldwide celebrities. It is time we all celebrate the new era of the Banjo Renaissance.

For more information on Nechville call us or visit nechville.com
747-222-6567 (Sales Office)
952-888-9710 (Shop)

Viva La Banjo Revolution

The past few years, although I have not been a regular band member, I have been playing a little more often on my own. The benefits of a regular set aside practice time are potentially great. If you are like me though, it’s tough to stick to such a schedule for long. Regardless of how regular your playing time is, I’ll just repeat my most common bit of advice; Play until you are well warmed up and then go a little longer. The extra time you commit is when you’ll actually improve. The next time you play, do it again and you’ll start noticing new things appearing in your playing.

Beyond the obvious benefit of impressing your picking pals, Your quest for improvement will certainly train your ear to be a better judge of sound. As you continue to play you will continually fine tune your sense of pitch so that tuning becomes easier. You may however find that as your ear develops pitch sensitivity, you are tuning more often or requesting that others recheck their tuning more frequently.

As a player of almost 50 years and a builder of more than 30, I still need to spend some serious time playing my creations, so that every nuance of the sound and feel becomes noticed, and ideas form about ways to improve it. I wonder how builders that don’t play are able to decipher the level of professionalism that it takes in today’s banjo world. I am impressed with the playing of banjo building buddies Rob Bishline, Jaroslav Prucha and Glenn Nelson. Geoff Stelling and Steve Huber have also long been been known as good pickers. Deep down I consider myself a player ahead of being a builder, but the building pays the bills for me in this universe. My obvious point is that the best players tend to build the best instruments due to their years of study of the sound of the instrument through playing in various settings. My intention is not to question anyone’s talents as player, listener or critic, but rather to stimulate awareness during your own playing that can refine your ears in the quest for sound perfection, and the perfect playing experience.

In an effort to make sense of this, let’s talk about the concept of satisfaction. Musical satisfaction is first and foremost dependent on the concept of perfect pitch. Each note of your instrument, both fretted and open must be aligned perfectly with the corresponding notes played and sung by the other musicians in the group. It takes considerable effort and time to achieve harmonious tuning in just one instrument, let alone a whole band. The instrument must be built with particular attention to its ability to come in tune with its own harmonics. In other words, the fret scale must be accurate, the bridge and nut must be placed precisely and compensated for discrepancies, the string heights and gauges must be taken into consideration, and the general construction of the instrument must be stable. You likely have experienced the satisfaction of a well- tuned instrument, and you know the amazing potentials that can be reached when 2 or more great instruments achieve matching pitches and are held by great players.

If satisfaction were only as simple as reaching perfect tuning, I think we would hear a lot more great music than we do now. It also requires a great deal of skill from the player to maintain cohesive tuning throughout a performance. Even slight variations or finger position or holding pressure can throw an instrument out of tune. Therefore we buy the best instruments we can afford, and practice until we have mastered the art and skill of perfect pitch, (also sometimes called tonality).

To complicate the picture a bit more I now introduce the concept of tone. Being completely different from tonality, our ears are so amazing that we can hear extremely minute changes not only on the pitch of notes but in the character of sound (tone) produced by an instrument. Yes, satisfaction first depends on great pitch tonality, but assuming we have fulfilled that challenge, we now must look toward our aesthetic sense to discover just what we imagine our perfect tone to be.

I think it is safe to say that most Bluegrass players, for example have developed their sense of tone by listening to their role models. The masters who inspired us to play are quite normally dictating to us what our tone should be like. With the vast popularity of Scruggs, his iconic banjo sound still echoes as the tone many of us want coming from our banjos. Likewise, you may have noticed that the general tone of much of Bela Fleck’s playing has a different and perhaps darker tone that his followers may wish to emulate.

If the total purpose of the banjo were to preserve and protect a pure form of music such as bluegrass, we would need nothing but old Mastertone copies set-up to sound just like Earl. We all know however, that is not the banjo’s purpose. It is a modern musical instrument known for its distinctive voice and suitability for playing complex fingerstyle melodies and patterns. Its sound is highly evocative and creatively inspiring for musicians in widely diverse forms of music. Happily for us creative types, the banjo exhibits a unique ability to produce an infinite number of subtle changes in tone. This touches on the greatest benefit of my own Nechville instruments. With just a small amount of training, you can learn to alter and transform your Heli-Mount sound to fit whatever artistic visions you carry in your head. It might be Scruggs, Fleck or Kruger. But more importantly, it might be you!

Please continue your exploration into the world of personalized banjo tone by exploring the Nechville website. Our site is undergoing some major changes, so you will want to check back often. There is always something new and interesting to discover and we invite you to subscribe to our free banjo info hotline with insider deals and special opportunities.

The banjo has a captivating sound and is fun to strum even without knowing the first thing about music. That is partly because it is normally tuned to an open chord. Plucking or strumming the strings makes a harmonious chiming sound that makes us happy. Just a few minutes of experimenting will often lead to a real experience of making music. It is not hard to play banjo. The strings are light and easy on the fingers. The chord positions are relatively easy, with only 4 strings to worry about.
I encourage beginning students to start with a focus on learning the basic chord shapes and first get comfortable with playing the changes in time to some favorite or familiar songs. You don’t need to worry about picking at first. That comes gradually and naturally when you are ready to add interest to your rhythmic playing to the chord structure. I think you can have fun with simple strumming until you just cannot resist the urge to put on the picks and incorporate those roll patterns.
I won’t say that the banjo is better than any other instrument, but I will say that there is is room in this world for a whole lot more banjo players. The sounds produced by banjos can be low and growly, bright and cheerful, deep and resonant, slow and mournful, or quick and lively. I believe there are techniques still to be discovered in playing and that the banjo is an excellent vehicle to express oneself.
What about the downside of banjo? People joke about the banjo, giving it the reputation of being hard to tune. Banjos can be very heavy; banjos are expensive; banjos can only play bluegrass. Lucky for the banjo, there are innovators of current times solving the problems that have been voiced about the instrument for decades.
Modern banjo construction, especially from Nechville minimizes tuning problems through innovations like the in-line tailpiece, finer tuners, compensated bridges, built in capos, and the teaching of techniques for proper string installation. Nechville also has openback and bluegrass banjos starting under five pounds in weight. While the Nechville brand is a premium, professional level instrument, you can still contact us for the very best deal on lesser expensive options like used instruments, and import models sold by some of our suppliers. We want to help you get started, and even help you acquire an affordable alternate brand starter instrument. After almost three decades in the business, the Nechville brand has become so established that there are always options available with used Nechvilles as well. This is great news for the majority of aspirants who recognize the advantages of high quality and easy playability on their progress.
If you have been thinking about becoming part of the fun of being a player, I encourage you to pick up the phone and call us at either 747-222-6567 or 952-888-9710. We are ready to be your personal banjo consultant in taking the “Nech” step into the world of banjo fun!
Nechville booth at SPBGMA.

James McKinney and I…

Being in-person at these shows gives us a chance to show off the versatility of our product line. Our booth always displays something that raises questions from the curious pickers looming about. This year we had a tempered fret scale neck mounted on an open back Moonshine EX. We got constant questions about the weird crooked frets on that banjo.

Another curiosity was another Excelsior Heli-mount pot with a nice traditional looking neck and a wild Cocobolo Turbo module installed. That monster was tuned a full fifth low to open C tuning and vibrated the entire room when turned on. Sometimes we get tire kickers who sneak a pick on a Nechville and escape before learning how to tailor the tone to their liking. It is just as common however to have someone return a year or two later, pick up a similar banjo and be completely blown away because they never suspected the tone they were looking for could be hidden in there.

We congratulate our Friend Barry Waldrep as the new banjo guru at Banjo.com for picking up Nechville’s Vintage line. Congratulations also to Capo’s Music’s Gill Braswell and Emory Carty for adopting the Saturn line. We are excited to see the Banjo Revolution gaining ground.
We were happy to have spent the evening with Sonny Smith, super picker from Pigeon Forge. We outfitted Sonny with his latest “Diamond Joe” model now with fancier outlined binding, visible Turquoise side dots and nickel hardware.
SPBGMA weekend also gives us a chance to yuck it up with our friendly banjo rivals. Since it is all in good fun, we like to go visit each other’s displays and play each other’s banjos. Huber had a neighboring suite to our room and was a handy place to go for borrowing screw drivers. Ha ha. A trip to Arthur Hatfield’s Room is almost like a trip to his living room. You always feel welcome and a great jam is always imminent. Arthur played lots of guitar for all the drooling banjo players. I was one of them. We drool when we play because his ‘joes sound so sweet!

The best part of any festival is the good times with friends. Of course it is awesome to see my old friends Ian Perry, Jack Hatfield, and Tim Carter. It is also a treat to get better acquainted with friends and associates like John Lawless and Sean Dysinger from Bluegrass Today. We love having the entire banjo spectrum covered between the Nechville booth, the fine selection from Paul and David Hopkins and the forest of banjos displayed by Mitch Meadors and Dan Garrett.

Congratulations also to Katie Keller from the Bluegrass Museum in Owensboro KY. She took on the challenge of learning the banjo with her new Moonshine and help from Todd Fink of the Giving Tree Band.
Well it is time to go home and pack up for Wintergrass where we will be participating with Al Price for the 22nd time. We will again be a sponsor at Merlefest and we are participating in Banjo camp North in May. In June I will be traveling and doing workshops with monster picker from Toulouse France, Fred Simon. We have a demo June 11th at Down Home Guitars in Frankfort Illinois, an informal presence during the first weekend of Bean Blossom, A demo/jam at Brewskis in St Charles MO on June 15th, the same at Tejon Street Music on June 16th before we spend the weekend at Telluride Bluegrass Fest.

I was in a conversation with Sonny Smith the other day. He said the bluegrass banjo sound is changing and that the Nechville banjo fit that change perfectly. I thought that was interesting. I don’t know if I would say it the same way however. There is a complicated web of factors that influence what sound you might consider to be best. Let me say this at the risk of raising an argument. My view is that with the development of more varied styles and genres, it benefited the music to make modifications to the traditional set up in order to smooth and refine the sound. I think people are finding that the influence of jazz and other music on the banjo has indeed resulted in the banjo becoming a little more musical. Evidence of this long term trend can be heard during any bluegrass radio show that spans the 30’s to today. Players of traditional Bluegrass today are mostly aware that the “old banjo” is not the only sound that works. In fact, our obligation to honor the essence of Bluegrass does not mean we should use 1940’s technology to produce music that will thrive into the future.

I have succeeded for 30 years as a builder only because I have found customers with discerning ears. They have taken time to figure out why helical-mounting leads to enhanced tonal purity. I didn’t invent the modern banjo sound, but I initiated several sound design enhancements when I wasn’t getting what I needed from my old Mastertone. I realized in the early 80’s that for Bluegrass and acoustic to grow as it has, the banjo needed some refinement and variety, so that is what I dedicated my life to. (I sometimes wonder about myself)

Sonny is right. Banjo makers and set up specialists have learned to improve traditionally made banjos, with better tone and balance, which indeed has helped the Bluegrass sound evolve. Lucky for me, the even, pure tone inherent to all helical mounted designs fits in all musical situations and is adaptable as musical needs change. . . I’d simply say, Bluegrass continues to get better as musicians discover banjos that enhance but don’t distract, and blend but can still stand out when you want them to. What is holding you back from learning more about Nechville?

tb11cBeing a banjo player you are like me in certain respects, especially concerning the banjo. We can’t tolerate anything being out of sorts for the most enjoyable and  confident playing. Even the look and feel of the instrument needs to be right for the experience to be its best. It’s my job to fulfill banjo dreams.  Whether that means fixing those irritating problems through a professional tune-up or providing a whole new banjo, we can agree that it’s more fun to play with the right equipment.

When I dream, the banjo often recreates itself in my mind. Nothing about the instrument need be held as sacred in the fantasy world of recreational invention. But assuming we are bluegrass musicians, let’s start dreaming on the iconic image of “banjo” that for many of us may be a 1934 Gibson flathead five string. The old flat heads that have withstood the test of time, still sing with a timeless voice that defines the classic sound of the instrument.

In your dream let’s say you pick up this imaginary instrument a garage sale for $100 tb11band you are thrilled. After playing it for a little while you notice that its weight begins to drag you down. Your dream instantly provides you with a lighter weight flat head of the same vintage with the similar character of sound. Your playing commences only to be interrupted by the thought that the neck was profoundly narrow for your style and hand shape.  Poof! The neck widens into a shape that makes chokes and slides effortless.

The shape of the fingerboard raises up slightly down the center of the fingerboard almost to meet the strings. Your left hand is now more comfortable than ever, but you notice that the old bridge is saggy and certain notes don’t ring with the same pure sound.  Poof! The bridge grows taller, especially in the middle and you find clarity of every note until you find the third string going sharp. Poof! The bridge reshapes to provide correct compensation and all is well again.

tb11ASuddenly one of the strings pops out of the bridge slot because the tailpiece is was apparently originally designed for a narrower 4 string banjo.  Poof! The tailpiece widens so that each string has the ideal straight line break angle over the bridge, and your dream goes on until dark when the dew appears on the wildflowers.

In the moist air the fingerboard swells causing low action and string buzz, the one way truss rod suddenly becomes a dual action rod solving yet one more problem. Your dream calls you to fly to a foreign land to play. Poof! With one twist of a tool, the neck pops off and you carry your banjo through customs nestled safely in your suitcase. Upon reassembly you find that the neck has a range of adjustment adaptable to any height bridge or string height and you quickly find the perfect neck angle for buttery action, and the party begins.

Your dream is interrupted by a smart phone alarm. It is Al Price with some great news from Nechville. An all-original 1934 TB-11 one- piece flange pot was recently decked out with a matching new Nechville neck. This is a Pre-war flathead without all the weight of a full tone ring. The brass top on the 11’s old 3 ply maple rim is about 3 pounds lighter than other banjos in the Mastertone family. The wide radiused frets and compensated bridge remind you of your dream. You realize that your dream has come true when you hear about the flux-mounted neck and comfort bevel armrest provided on this dreamy hybrid of a banjo.

It’s here, It’s real, It’s a dream come true for one lucky picker. Now available from tb11dNechville for the honest value price of $4999.99. Let’s add one penny for shipping to make a round figure.

Please note that the same banjo with lesser necks have been sold for 3 to five times the price with the simple modification of adding a pre-war style tone ring. Nechville builds authentic pre-war spec tone rings and professionally installs them in our custom shop. Personally, I think it is better to keep this pot original but we have the know-how and the best tone rings to take it to that next level if you want.

If this banjo or one that pops into YOUR dreams tickles your fancy, please contact me or Al.

 

This story brought to you by the Banjo Revolution.

Contact Tom@nechville.com

or Call 612-275-6602

See and hear and learn more at www.nechville.com

The general impression of what I have seen in my travels the past few years is that Acoustic music is flourishing in many parts of the world. While recorded music sales have undergone a huge change with the advent of digital music, handmade acoustic music has grown through presentation at live festival events, along with a widening of participation as “jammers” and hobby musicians.

Music has proven to be a fulfilling and fun social event for all ages and such acoustic music including folk and traditional continues to spread at the Grass roots level. While mainstream media does not highlight this music much, increasing awareness of folk and acoustic alternatives has a positive effect upon acoustic instrument sales. In particular, the banjo has been on an upswing, and sales of Nechville banjos have been strong through the slow economy of the last few years. Sales statistics show all fretted string instruments on the rise.

The vast majority of banjos are relatively low quality imports from the far east, and many players that stick with banjo are now in the market for a better banjo. Nechville is becoming a clearer choice due to their unique and sensible high quality designs. I see plenty evidence that participatory social music of Bluegrass, Folk and Oldtime is here to stay. As more and more people discover the enjoyment and challenge of learning to play, our jamming circle will soon extend around the world.

Making music is a great hobby. It’s a fun and creative outlet, It can be expensive if you collect expensive instruments. But compared to Cable TV, Golf, Boating, skiing, and driving, hunting, raising pets, or sky diving, it’s cheap. Especially if you are wise and purchase good instruments with high resale value.

One of the best things you can do for yourself is to buy the best instrument you can afford. I know many people who have wasted money on banjos that looked good, and even sounded pretty good for a while. Then the instrument starts needing continual adjustment, and unfortunately never delivers top-tier performance. Then people lose money on a trade for a slightly better instrument which still doesn’t measure up over time. Even after a player has lost money several times over on inferior banjos and settled on one he thought would be his last, invariably a picky player’s ear begins to seek alternate sounds.

Please don’t just go out and buy a banjo just because somebody said it was the best. Make your best choice by learning what really makes a banjo great. Here’s a practical checklist for those of you looking.

The following is a list ofthings that I find important as a player and a builder. You’ll have your own priorities however, like how it sounds and looks, but the following are banjo luthiers’ details that may not be obvious to you but are worth considering when looking for a banjo.

* Smooth dressed frets (wider frets wear slower)

* Ergonomically contoured playing surface (compound radius retains neck integrity while improving playability)

* No excessive weight (professional banjos can be 7 pounds or less)

* Neck angle adjustability (don’t expect coordinator rods to give you much if any adjustment)

* Evenly tensioned head (Helical mounting guarantees even-ness)

* Low enough string height with high enough bridge (taller bridges increase power and sustain)

* Beveled non-metal armrest (metal armrests cut down circulation in your arm)

* Bridge properly compensated for intonation and optimal action on each string (bridge should be custom fitted to each banjo)

* Easy head changing (Save time for more practice)

* Wide and generous Neck to body interface (for tuning stability and solid sound)

* Dual point anchoring for tail piece (tailpiece shouldn’t move from side to side)

* Easy string changes (avoid tailpieces with covers for quickest changes)

* Straight-line tailpiece design (keeps string energy directed straight into head)

* Flexibility of options (does it have adaptability for alternative tone components or necks?)