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Archive for 'Inspiration'

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?)