Dating vegaphone banjo

This is the second in a multi part series of old-time musical instrument autobiographies—the first was about guitars and this one is about banjos.

Thus, even today, with ever greater ease of travel and with daily connection with other like-minded folks through electronic mail, banjo regions still seem to break down along certain lines: urban versus rural, East versus West and North versus South.

A banjo, with all its replaceable metal gewgaws holding together various strips and shreds of wood and animal skin is therefore as much an assemblage as it is a single entity. It would seem that the things most people want to know about a banjo could be expressed mathematically or diagrammatically. Is there a bracket band or does it have a shoes and plate configuration? Is the head a high, medium, or low-crown, how many inches does it project above the stretcher band? Recently, Ed wrote a post to Internet list serve group Banjo-L that parodies the banjo players’ powerful fascination with improving the tone of a banjo through tinkering.

When some banjos can be composites of parts from several other banjos or even made from parts of other machines, it is hard to think of a banjo as a single discrete item much less a warm, fuzzy object of our affection in the same way as a guitar. After all, the late Jenes Cottrell, of West Virginia made banjo tone rings from automobile torque converters. What is the height of the strings above the juncture of the neck and rim? The owner of a large-headed banjo had complained that it sounded too much like a "moose fart," and Ed gave the following helpful suggestions: "Have you thought about replacing the bridge with one made of mystically enlightened pachysandra wood?

It was through such a line of thought that I was, in the end, able to get people talking about their banjos.

The question became, "What kind of banjo is it that gives you that particular, elusive sound you want, and how has that changed or not changed over the years?

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