Gretsch Releasing a New Line of Folk Instruments

Exciting news! It looks like Gretsch is starting a folk/bluegrass line of instruments. There are a few dobros out, and there is a line of open back and resonator banjos. I can’t seem to find them anywhere but it looks like they are coming soon. I tried calling a few store and it seems like they can order them but most don’t have them in stock. I am hoping that I can play one of them in the next few months.

In case you don’t know who Gretsch is they make some of best guitars in the world. Chet Atkins, George Harrison, Brian Setzer and Duane Eddy are just a few of the many Gretsch player and there seems to be a big upswing in not only Gretsches, but also rockabilly music. It makes me very happy. They all look very retro and very cool.

Here is a link for the roots collection

http://www.gretschguitars.com/products/rootscollection   It’s even made to look Old Timey

Following this, two my next posts will be

Finally Egnater rebel half stack

My newest guitar a used SG Special, and the upgrades I made to it.

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Against the Blue Wall

I recently upgraded my banjo from my Epiphone MB 200 to a Gold Tone CB-100. I have to say I like the gold tone a lot better. It is so much nicer than the MB 200. I also realized for a bluegrass banjo the MB 200 is really light. I went to my favourite music store (Chuck Levin’s) and tried out a few bluegrass style Deering and Gibson banjos. They are way heavier. So that made my decision to get an open back a lot easier. I also play mostly clawhammer so an open back made a lot more sense. This banjo is a lot more sold and it has a scooped fret board so you can get that clucking holler sound. I know Gold Tone is a great brand for beginner and intermediate players. The parts come from China and are assembled in Florida. I also have played some of the Goodtime open backs and I like the Gold Tone a lot better.

It has a good action which was a big selling point for me. The tuners and hardware are also significantly better than the MB 200. It has a frosted head which I like and the color is kind of a deep greenish brown. The few cons are that the headstock looks a little bit off center from the neck and the neck is a little bit weightier because there isn’t a resonator to balance it out. I would definitely recommend this as a step up from a beginner banjo but for someone who isn’t ready to spend the money for a really good one.

A quick overview of Open Back vs. Resonator

Open back

– A lot lighter

– No resonator

– Used mainly for Clawhammer/frailing and old time music

– Cheaper

– mellower sound, not used for cutting through a bluegrass band

Resonator

–  A hell of a lot heavier and you can usually judge how good a blue grass banjo is by how heavy it is

– Sharper ringing sound, has a metal tone ring to influence tone ( open backs also have tone rings, but lower end ones probably won’t)

– Used for bluegrass/Earl Scruggs style, that’s three finger picking. It’s harder to learn than clawhammer.

– Wooden Resonator used to project the sound. The one I had was mahogany but the good ones use violin quality 3-ply maple.

-More expensive

-More popular

Also when it comes to tone rings, try to get a brass one.

Some more photos

Back side

Back side

Fretboard Journal

Issue 23 of Fretboard Journal- Gillian Welch on the cover from Fretboardjournal.com

Issue 23 of Fretboard Journal- Gillian Welch on the cover from Fretboardjournal.com

If you are interested in all things guitar (both electric and acoustic), bass, banjo and/or mandolin, I would recommend Fretboard Journal. It is a great magazine and I think the articles and photos are far superior to many other boutique guitar magazines.  They have been publishing for about 6 years now and it’s a quarterly journal. It’s also the only magazine I don’t throw issues away. I’m not a photographer but there is something very down to earth and real about the photos they take. It makes these incredible guitars seem very accessible and tangible. Unlike other magazines that but there rare beauties on a pedestal never to b touched or played and any worthwhile musician knows that instruments were made to played not collected and kept in a display case. That is why Stradivarius violins are still played and rented out to violinists. Sure its Yitzhak Pearlman and Hilary Hahn but still they are being used.

They recently released their fall issue with Gillian Welch on the cover. She is one of the most important women in Folk and Americana music today, and I love it. When I found out about his magazine about a year ago, it really started to motivate me to read about different tone woods and try experimenting with guitar building and modifying. I guess you could say along with Old Crow, Fretboard Journal helped make me the man I am today. It also has opened me up to the wide world of independent luthiers and builders. That may also mean I’ll make my next guitar a small business one rather than a corporate one.

The issues range from $8 to $18 depending on how you buy it, at the stand vs. subscription. This is the only magazine so far that I bought a subscription to the day I saw it. If that isn’t enough to convince you I don’t know what is.

Wonderful magazine, great topics.

Americana Music Festival

This is America

Although, the Americana Music Festival was over a month ago the concert broadcasted by the Austin City Limits series. What a concert! There were some many guitars and banjos. If you were looking at the guitars like I was you could see almost everyone there had a L style Gibson blues guitar. Emmylou didn’t have a guitar but if she did she would be packing a J-200.

My favourite performances of the night were Justin Townes Earle singing his gospel single ‘Harlem River Blues’ and ‘I’ll Fly Away’ with Alison Krauss, Emmylou Harris and Buddy Miller. I really dig the gospel and soul style in “Harlem River Blues’. The organ makes for a strong, driving melody. ‘I’ll Fly Away’ is another gospel song that has a simple powerful message and the banjo really makes this song. It gives an old time feel that is the embodiment of Americana.

I also liked The Civil Wars performance ‘Barton Hollow’ is a great song and it reminds me of  ‘Copperhead Road’ by Steve Earle. It has that haunting quality to it that really makes a powerful impact. I personally, I would throw a banjo is there but that’s my bias.

Joy Williams and John Paul White of The Civil Wars perform at the Americana Music Association awards show in Nashville

These were the performers and later on I will probably put some more info about them.

Emmylou Harris

Greg Allman

Buddy Miller

The Civil Wars

Jessica Lea Mayfield

Robert Plant

Justin Townes Earle

Alison Krauss

Amos Lee

Jim Lauderdale

The Avett Brothers

Elizabeth Cook

The Secret Sisters

There are a lot of You Tube clips you can see the individual performances  and below I have a link for the Americana Music Association homepage.

http://americanamusic.org/acl-presents-americana-music-festival-november-19-pbs

Old Crow Medicine Show – My Gateway Band

Old Crow Medicine Show

I have to hand it to Old Crow. They made me the Americana fan I am today. When I was in college I first heard wagon wheel and it instantly led me to search for more. I had been listening to a little Johnny Cash and Hank Williams, but I did not have the appreciation for them that I do now. Old Crow although should be given their own credit because of their contribution to Americana and old time music.

Old Crow Medicine Show with Ed Helms taken by Melanie Maxwell | AnnArbor.com

Old Crow Medicine Show with Ed Helms taken by Melanie Maxwell | AnnArbor.com

 

They started put playing as a 5 piece band on the streets of Nashville, and just got bigger from there.  One things they have done amazingly is make old time music very accessible. They have brought back old country and folk songs like Union Maid and Fall on my Knees, and continue to keep their honest old time pickin’ and fiddlin’. To be honest a high school version of me would have walked away at the first sound of twang, and now I’d rather listen to it than anything else.

A few songs to get you started if you haven’t heard them

1. Wagon Wheel – Start off with this one, it’s probably their most popular song and it gets covered regularly. This song was actually taken from a Bob Dylan song that he recorded for Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid. OCMS and Bob Dylan are both cited as song writers.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1gX1EP6mG-E&ob=av2e

2. Fall on My Knees – I didn’t know about this one until my girlfriend showed it to me but it is now one of my favourites. It is an old song but if you search it Old Crow’s version always comes up.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Xjb0buprxqY

3.  Tell it to Me – This is from their first album and it’s just one of my favourites.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8Mhi3vW7H50&feature=relmfu

Have a favourite OCMS song? Any band that changed the way you think about music? Leave a comment.

You can learn more about them at http://www.crowmedicine.com/

 

 

 

Against the Blue Wall – Epiphone MB200 Banjo

Now, I love guitar, but I also love banjos, violins, basses and other stringed instruments. My Banjo is an Epiphone MB200 which is just a step up from the other entry level banjos. It has a mahogany resonator and neck and a rosewood finger board, nothing out of the ordinary. I personally am a maple fan but you really can’t beat it for the price. It is a lightweight instrument mainly because of the aluminum tone ring, which makes the sound more tinny sounding.  This unfortunately makes it top heavy and a little awkward to play because it has a tendency to dip down. However next time I will probably get a Deering. I have done a few minor upgrades like changing the bridge which have definitely made a difference in tone.

Banjo Head Stock

Banjo Head Stock

I’m still an beginning player, but there are a few things I can say about it. First replace that bridge. I used to get this buzzing sound on the 5th string because I play clawhammer. The first thing I noticed about the tone was that a banjo is loud and twangy. This was one of the reasons that Jass (old time spelling of jazz) bands of the 1920s used banjos a lot and significantly more than guitars, which couldn’t hold their own that well.

Now one thing you have to understand is that I am a guitar player, who went to banjo, and I’m trying to get more into the banjo style but it takes time. I have to say if you like Irish, bluegrass, country or Old time music, the banjo is a worthwhile investment. I am hella glad I bought one.

Significant differences between 5 string banjo and guitar

-open tuning, I use G. If you are a guitarist try playing in open tuning a bit to get the feel of it. I am very                 surprised at how many musicians and guitarist have little to no idea of what open tuning is. If                              you don’t know go google it, or maybe one day I’ll make a post about it.

-high string (drone string) is at the bottom

– all about pickin’

-2 main styles scruggs/bluegrass and clawhammer

-strings vibrate on a taut head

Now the banjo came over from Africa during the 18th and 19th centuries. There is a good Bela Fleck documentary where he goes to try to find the origin of the banjo and the way that is it played in different tribes. For a long time it was much more popular than the guitar because bending those guitar sides is hard and costly. Now it is a lot easier but guitars really didn’t catch on until after WW2. Anyway banjos were also cheap to make and you could make one on your own so you didn’t have to buy one. It became the instrument of the poor and of folk music. The banjo is currently experiencing a revival in indie and Americana music. Pretty much my favourite styles.

Epiphone Banjo

Epiphone Banjo- I don't think you can see it on this photo but I do have some wear on the head. Makes me Proud.

Unlike my guitars this is the first banjo I have ever owned and I like playing but there are some things that I would like to see in my next banjo.

1. Maple Neck

2. better tuners and hardware

3. wooden or brass tone ring

4.  Probably no resonator or if it does have a resonator it should because easily removable and not full of sharp unfinished edges like mine right now

What is your dream banjo? if you are a guitarist would you start playing banjo?