Thursday, December 1, 2022

I'm Still Waiting For My Golden Era Banjo

Hey banjo enthusiast friends! I apologize for not spending much time on this blog. I have been really busy with stuff. My heart's desire is still excited about making a bunch of Dave Hum backing tracks, so please keep visiting my blog. I had originally ordered a Deering Sierra mahogany neck banjo on May 2nd, 2022. I didn't get it until the end of September. I think it was the 22nd of September. I didn't like the Sierra, so I called Barry Waldrep at Banjo.com and told him the the neck feels cheap, like it was made in Mexico. He understood. I like their return policy at banjo.com, which is that if you are not satisfied with your banjo, they will take it take for up to 30 days, no questions asked. That's peace of mind to someone buying a banjo.

It's not Barry's fault that Deering is backordered for 6 months. Anyway, I ordered a Deering Golden Era banjo instead, and paid the difference. Unfortunately, I probably won't receive my new banjo until spring 2023. Deering has a national waiting list for banjos. So if you do decide to order a new banjo, you might need to wait up to a year to get it!

Just 6 weeks ago my landlord told me that I could rent from him as long as I want. He's been charging me a low amount of rent, since the place I am renting is all dilapidated. I live in Pensacola. The house I have been living in for the past year was a fish cleaning house down at Pensacola Bay from the 19th century. The fishing industry was a major source of income centuries ago for seaside towns like Pensacola. This house was relocated from the bay to a residential area. My bathroom is no bigger than a closet. But to me it is a 5-star Hilton hotel, since my rent is cheaper.

Sadly, we lost our home after my beloved wife divorced me in 2006. We had been married for over 18 years, since 1987. There is nothing in this world as inexplicably painful as going through a divorce, especially if you are not the one who wanted it. Due to the unwanted divorce, I had to sell our home to pay the outrageous ungodly attorney fees. But God is always good. My wife leaving cost me $64,000. That's a lot of high end banjos!!! I am sure I'm not the only one who thinks of wealth in terms of banjos...lol. Banjo players think of value in terms of how many banjos could I have bought. I really detest and loathe lawyers, who take advantage of people in the darkest hours of their life. I wouldn't want to prey upon hurting people for a living. It's an ugly business! It doesn't help that our nation has literally millions of rules, codes and laws on the books. We are becoming a police state in America, just wait and see.

Our population in Pensacola in 2022 is about 54,000 people. I have lived here now for a little over a year, since 2021. I had lived on the tiny island of Guam, out by the Philippine islands, for 17 years. Guam is an okay place, but it's hard to get into banjo playing on a tropical island...lol. Playing my lap steel guitar was surreal and awesome on an island. I still love to play Hawaiian steel guitar (mostly C6th tuning, and some B11th) on my aluminum 8-string Jerry Byrd, short-scale, frypan guitar. It was made in Japan. It cost me about $1,700 with the case, fifteen years ago. Anyway, Florida is a much better place to get into playing the banjo, since this is the deep south. But there's not much banjo venues here. An elderly man in our Baptist church plays acoustic guitar in their local Bluegrass band. They are really good. I went down to Pensacola Beach in September to watch them perform a concert, which was great. I love the banjo so much! I thank God for such a beautiful musical instrument.

Since my landlord has told me to vacate the residence by March, I racked my brain out for weeks trying to figure out my best next move. Should I keep renting? Should I purchase a home in Pensacola? Should I move to another city? I seriously considered moving up north to Chattanooga, Tennessee. I've always liked the state of Tennessee. I also considered moving to Knoxville. I miss and love the fall season. I have an old neck injury for which I receive disability. So for a guy like me who suffers in constant pain, burning nerves and fatigue, Pensacola is a good place to live. It rarely ever snows here. The record annual snowfall for Pensacola was 2.5" in 1977. The streets rarely ice up. So life in general is easier in Florida. So I think I will stay here and purchase a home, God willing, for the foreseeable future.

The crime rate in Chattanooga is 3.5 times higher than the national average. In contrast, Pensacola has a low crime rate. I feel safe living here, and I'm in what's considered the rougher west side of Pensacola (along Mobile highway). I also looked at Aberdeen, South Dakota. I like tax-free states. There is no state tax on Guam. I considered moving to somewhere in Texas. But property taxes are about double in Texas compared to Florida. There is no state tax in Florida, nor estate or inheritance taxes. So far, I love governor Ron DeSantis. I think he is doing a great job. His campaign slogan is: “Keep Florida Free!” I like that.

Anyway, I am busy right now with my website ministry. Here is one of my websites. God willing, when things settle down I plan to continue working on making some quality backing tracks. I have stenosis and radiculitis damage in my spinal cord, which makes doing anything more difficult. Fortunately the weight of my banjo doesn't aggravate my neck, as long as I don't push it by playing for hours at a time. Sometimes I need to put the banjo down. I usually switch to my mandolin, which is featherlight. I really like the MD-315 Eastman mandolin. From all that I have read, the matte finish doesn't suppress the sound as other gloss finished model of mandolins do.

I tried to play along with some of the Dave Hum style backing tracks that I made, but realized that they are too fast. So I will be adding some slower backing tracks when I get time. At least that is my plan. Right now I need to get my housing situation settled, once and for all, so no one can throw me out like this. Besides, I'm tired of paying rent. One of the reasons why I moved to Pensacola is because there are always a couple dozen homes priced at $100,000 or under (even though the median house price in Pensacola is $319,000 in 2022).

I've been working lately on learning Dave Hum's arrangement of Tobin's Jig on Double C. Once you learn the basic melody, Dave repeats it dozens of times in the song (meaning that the song is fairly easy to learn). Dave is truly amazing on his banjo! ...

Tobin's Jig (by Dave Hum on 'Double C' tuning)

I was thinking this past week about his daughter River, who turned 16 years old this year. Dave died in 2012 of cancer, when their daughter River was just 6 years old. Life is not fair. It truly isn't. I keep Dave's family in my prayers. They have a beautiful musical legacy that Dave Hum left to them all. 

I will let you all know when the Golden Era banjo arrives, and if I remember, to take some photos of it. I want to make some banjo recordings sooner than later, with the backing tracks I am making. I know that I am not Dave Hum and never will be, but my goal is to learn things from him and then be myself. That is what Dave does, he plays by ear. He just follows the melody and sticks to the chord patterns.

I have humbly noticed that some of the banjo pickers who limit themselves, to say for example the Earl Scruggs's style of playing, quit the banjo after several years because they lose interest. Dave Hum is very creative, thinking outside the box. I think it is a mistake to limit one's self to a certain style of playing. Variety is what makes any musical instrument interesting and fun to play. One of my favorite songs by Dave Hum is Devil's Dream...

Dave Hum - Devils Dream / Blackberry Blossom (2)

One of the things that brings Dave Hum's music to life is his driving backing tracks, which have energy to them. He uses a tambourine in many songs, which drives the song. I asked Dave's family if they still had his backing tracks, but I guess all of Dave's computer stuff was disposed of. That is sad and tragic. I think the biggest encouragement to any banjo player is having quality backing tracks, which are hard to find. Most backing tracks have too much clutter which competes with the banjo. But if you listen to Dave Hum's backing tracks, he generally only uses a bass and some percussion (with some exceptions, depending on the particular song).

Thank you for visiting my Banjo Heaven blog. One day at a time.

Wednesday, November 9, 2022

Why Buying A More Expensive Musical Instument Is Worth The Money

If you are like me, you like playing a variety of different musical instruments. Dave Hum was well skilled at mandolin, bass, guitar, banjo, percussion, harmonica, keyboard, et cetera. I am focusing on buying a better banjo right now. But after that, God willing, I have wanted to buy a nice Dobro for a few years now. I have often considered buying a cheaper Gretsch Bobtail G9230, or the Regal RD-40, or the Recording King RR-60-VS. They all cost about $700 each. I've read that the Recording Kings are the best of the three, but I don't know.

Most of us don't have $20,000 to go out and buy the top name brands of our favorite instruments. Most Bluegrass players play a variety of stringed instruments, which I think is a good thing. So my humble opinion is to but a top name brand of your main instrument, which for me is pedal steel guitar. Ironically, my single neck Rittenberry cost me $3,000 and has over 100 parts to it. But a top end banjo will cost you roughly $5,000. Go figure. I am not sure the reason why, but I think instruments are way overpriced. I am absolutely amazed what luthiers in China are manufacturing. I've seen inexpensive banjos with Mother of Peral inlay for $500. So why do top end instruments cost so much? Since I am not the maker, I cannot say. Albeit, it is what it is and I think it is worth investing in a higher end instrument, IF you like how it sounds and feels. I played an $8,000 Martin guitar many years ago at Guitar Center. The strings were hard to press down and I hated the feel of it. So getting a great instrument has less to do with cost and more to do with the individual's preference, although as a general rule you get what you pay for. 

I almost purchased the Gold Tone PBS (Paul Beard Signature) solid body Dobro for $1,499 from Gold Tone (and that's without even a case), but then I saw this video and it turned me off completely. Listen to all that horrible metallic chirping! When I listen to Greg Booth's awesome Dobro videos from Alaska on YouTube, I don't here any of that awful chirping noise. I think it is the cheap materials that the builder's use. Remember, Gold Tone gets all their parts from China. ...

Listen to the Chirping of the Gold Tone PBS Dobro

It sounds like metal-to-metal chirping from the metal finger picks, but it is noticeably awful. I just can't help but feel that the Gold Tone dobro is still a cheap compromise from the more expensive ones. We get what we pay for! A Paul Beard Model E Dobro (really nice) will cost you about $4,500 (at least that does comes with a hard shell case). Then I read this, which confirmed my suspicions about cheap Dobros...
Well I had an education. I visited Ralph Luttrell who is one of the better Dobro builders I have ever met. He studied under some of the greatest builders such as Scheerhorn and owns his own operation in Atlanta. He's a really nice guy and spent some time with me last night on Dobro construction good, bad and different.

We first examined a commonly known brand mentioned here on the forums a lot that was in for repair.

First off he removed the cone and then placed it on a metal rod and held it up and tapped it with a metal object. It clanked like an old hubcap. Then he held up an IDENTICAL good cone from one of his Dobros which are hand spun Quarterman cone and tapped it. It rang like a bell and even sustained a little. I am talking night and day difference and they looked the same to the naked eye.

Next he showed me where the cone housing area was basically the only real support in the guitar and how they had taken shortcuts in the design and internal bracing that saves money, wood and labor. He showed me how the cone area was already starting to become oval shaped instead of round which will eventually render the entire guitar trash , he said sooner than later.

By the time he was done I realized exactly why buying a cheap Dobro was a total waste of money.

One thing to beware of. People and players know very little about these instruments and there are no shortcuts when building one that will last and have great tone.

Ralph showed me a handful of various ones he had in for repair that were ruined. It was interesting to see how some of them fail. All usually due to cheap construction. There is a lot of cruddy brands making models that look great but wont last or sound good. SOURCE
If I do get impatient because it is taking me forever to save enough money to buy an expensive Dobro, I am just going to buy a $500 Boxcar Dobro for now to learn on. I dare say about 80% of musicians cannot afford $6,000 for a professional mandolin, banjo, ukulele, dobro, et cetera. It seems that $6,000 is about the average price now for a professional American made musical instrument.

By the way, this is a really cool video on the Jerry Douglas Aura effect pedal for the Dobro. The pedal works with the Paul Beard Nashville Spider Pickup Kit. Great stuff!

The same can be said for buying more expensive banjos. I had ordered a $2,799 Deering Sierra (mahogany neck) banjo back in April 2022. I just received it in September. I hated that darn thing from the moment I played it! The neck is cheap. The intonation was way off! The 3rd G string was so sharp that I couldn't play an F chord in the first fretted position. The bridge was placed just right. The D note on strings 1 and 4 were in perfect tune, both open string, as well as at the 12th fret. But the chords were way off! If I tuned the banjo's open strings to be perfectly in tune, then I couldn't play a useable fretted chord, because the G string was so out of tune (too high).

Even using the slightest amount of finger pressure on the 3rd string (so that it didn't buzz), it still didn't help any. The 3rd G string being too high, was mostly noticeable below the 5th fret (which makes sense because the frets are spaced farther apart there). It had the same problem even if I put a Capo on the 2nd fret. But string 2 seemed okay. Go figure! Thankfully, Barry at Banjo.com took the banjo back, and I ordered a Deering Golden Era banjo for twice the price instead. So if you're thinking of buying a Sierra, you had better ask the seller about this issue, to make sure that you don't have the same problem.

Used ESS Gibson banjos sell for about $5,000. The Deering Golden Era is about as exact a replica to the ESS Gibson as can be made, according to Deering. It is a pre-war 1930's era banjo replica. Hopefully, it will play much better than the Sierra. I do not recommend that anyone but the Sierra banjo, because it feels cheap, like it was made in Mexico (I know they are made in California). The pot, tone ring and resonator are all excellent. But they are worthless because the Sierra's neck is so inferior, in my humble opinion. I am picky about my musical instruments. I never would have ordered the Sierra had I know that the neck is so cheap. I was under the wrong impression from Deering's website, that I was buying a professional banjo in every way, minus all the mother of pearl inlay, wood décor and looks.

In my humble opinion the Deering Sierra is an inferior banjo. It just doesn't feel like a professional instrument when I play it. The strings don't sound evenly when you pick them. It feels awkward at best. I spent 5 hours trying to get the intonation right, but then realized that it was useless, because something was wrong with the banjo. I do not know if the problem is confined to just the banjo that I received, or all of them. But the G string was way to high in pitch. It made playing the banjo annoying. I have a Recording King Elite-85 that I paid $1,750 for in 2018, that has never caused me the least bit of intonation issues. I love the RK, it just doesn't have that beautiful sound that the Deering 06 tone ring and pot has.

I took some photos of my Deering Sierra banjo before I returned it to Banjo.com, so you can take a look at what it looks like...

I Love the Deering 06 Tone Ring









I don't like the stain finish on the neck. I much prefer
ebony or other standard woods that are used for necks.

When considering purchasing a very expensive musical instrument, think of it this way—it is better to feel pain now by shelling out $5,500 for something truly professional, rather than feel the pain of regret every time you open the instrument's case for years and years to come. Just save the money, buy the darn thing when you can, and in a year you won't miss the money, but you will have something really quality that you will feel good about it when you play it.

I'm not trying to make any Deering Sierra owners mad, God forbid. Please pardon me if my opinion offends you, because that was not my intention. I am simply saying that I hated the Deering Sierra banjo! A banjo that won't play a chord in tune is totally worthless!!! The G string just couldn't be tuned to where it sounded right open, versus playing a fretted chord.

I am very curious about Arthur Hatfield's banjos. I have read nothing but positive reviews from THOUSANDS of Hatfield banjo owners, and their banjos look super nice (what great inlay work), at about $2000 less price than Deering for the same thing. In my humble opinion, the Deering banjos are overrated and way overpriced for what you get.

I have started to really appreciate the reasonable price and impressive quality of Recording Kings and Gold Tone banjos. I love my RK Elite-85 (maple neck with hearts and flowers inlay on the neck. It is a 27 3/8" scale, which I really like). The Elite-85 is a replica of a pre-war Gibson MASTERTONE 1930's banjo. You won't find a better bajo for $1,750. I have no regrets buying it. The banjo has a beautiful curly maple finish on the resonator.

Something that I liked better on the Deering Sierra, than my RK Elite-85, was the lower gear ratio tuners. The tuners are touchy on the RK, which causes them to wander out of tune more often. On the Sierra, you have to turn the tuning key a farther distance to adjust the string, which helps the banjo stay in tune better. So the Sierra wins as far as tuning keys go.

Dave Hum said that he puts some soft foam inside his banjo pots, to deaden the brightness a bit. I do the same thing on my RK. Since it has a maple neck, it is really bright (kind of empty sounding). So with the soft foam inside the head (I only fill half of the pot with foam. Foam window insulation from the hardware store works great), it gives the banjo a fuller sound that I like. Try it, you might like it too! Dave Hum said that he was always experimenting with how to get a better tone from his three banjos. I'd say that he succeeded!

I hope this blog has been interesting. I'll let you know when I get my Deering Golden Era banjo. At this point I am concerned, because the Sierra was a big disappointment. I hope Deering's higher end banjo necks are better than the Sierra's crappy neck.

Sunday, October 30, 2022

I Didn't Like The Deering Sierra And Sent It Back

I finally received my Deering Sierra with a mahogany neck, which I ordered back on May 2nd, 2022. I got it at the end of September, but I hated the Sierra within the first 5 minutes! Man I sure appreciate my Recording King Elite-75 after playing that junk! Forgive me if you play a Deering Sierra, I am just expressing my humble opinion, I hated that thing.

Why didn't I like the Sierra banjo? Well, mainly because the neck feels cheap, like it was made in Mexico (no offensive to Mexican people). Also, the intonation was way off! The 3rd G string was always too high, especially noticeable on frets 1 through 5. The banjo wasn't even playable. I also have some issue on my Recording King with the 3rd G string being too sharp, but I just ordered a Compensator Bridge. Mine is a 5/8" bridge. I ordered a Grover brand from Amazon.com, which works well.

Anyway, I ordered the banjo from Banjo.com. The owner Barry Waldrep has been great so far, willing to take the banjo back no questions asked. Barry gives banjo buyers 30 days to return the instrument. I like having that grace period, a window of security, to decide if the instrument is what you expected. Kindly said, I was misled by Deering's website, because they give the impression in their Sierra video that the Sierra has the same guts as the most expensive Deering banjos, but just lacks the pretty aesthetics. THAT IS NOT TRUE!!! In my humble opinion the neck on the Sierra is crap! After playing an Elite-75 Recording King for the past 5 years, I didn't like the neck on the Sierra from the first 5 minutes I played it. I paid $2,799 for the Sierra.

So I went ahead and did what I should have done in the first place, I spent the extra money and ordered a high-end banjo. Ouch! I ordered the Deering Golden Era for over $5,000. I have learned that you will either feel pain in your wallet upfront, by purchasing a quality instrument, or else you will feel pain in your soul for years to come as you play an inferior instrument. I like being honest with people, no bullcrap, to be helpful. I will let everyone know what I think about the Deering Golden Era, if I think it is really worth over $5,000 for it. I almost bought the Deering Calico, because it is more punchy and in your face, but I decided to go with what most players are getting, to be safe. I figure thousands of Golden Era players can't all be wrong!

I admit that I am not too familiar with the different brands of banjos, since I am a steel guitar player mainly, but thanks be to God, I do have a great ear for music. I know good tone when I hear it, and thin shabby tone too. I love playing Hawaiian steel guitar. Here is a video that I recorded back in 2017 when on lived on the island of Guam (I moved there in 2004 and decided to come back to the United States in 2021. I chose Pensacola, Florida initially. It is okay here. I do miss Guam, but the cost of living is MUCH cheaper in Florida than Guam. I think you will like this video...

Hawaiian Steel Guitar From My Front Door

If anybody is interested in learning to play Hawaiian steel guitar, or pedal steel, I encourage you to do it! There is a steep learning curve at the beginning, but once you surmount the first few months, you'll be home free because it gets a lot easier. It is a fact that many steel guitar players also play the banjo, because there is a common overlap since both instruments require playing with picks and picking patterns. In other words, if you already play the banjo, you've got a big head start on playing steel guitar (and vise versa). If you e-mail me, David (kingjamesbible77 @ gmail DOT com), I will gladly freely share resources and backing tracks for what I have.

Also, check out my SteelC6th.com music website. On my website you'll find a few hundred Hawaiian songs 9help yourself to download and share MP3's), which is the best way to learn any instrument, listen to lots of that particular instrument so you can get the sounds into your head. I love to help, teach and share with others, so please feel at home.

I am a pretty good banjo player and I LOVE Dave Hum's awesome free-spirited style. But I am still learning the actual songs. I bought a Hoffman bass last year so that I could start making Dave Hum style backing tracks. I haven't given up friends, I'm just busy with other stuff. One day at a time. Lord willing, I plan on making more Dave Hum backing tracks, and improving the ones that I have already made. I realized last week that most banjo players are still learning like me, so we cannot play fast at Dave Hum's professional speed. I plan soon to also provide two slower speed backing tracks (a slow and a medium tempo), for newbies to banjo like me. I also bought a Gretsch bass as Guitar Center, because the Hoffman bass wasn't giving me the punch sound that I wanted. I like the Gretsch better, which has a nice Motown kind of punch to it.

Here is a video I made of me playing my Sho-Bud Double-10 pedal steel guitar...

Me Playing 'Born To Lose' on Pedal Steel Guitar

I have been diligently trying to analyze Dave Hum's backing tracks. At first I thought he just used a bass along with some percussion from the Reason software that he used, but on some recordings he is indeed playing rhythm guitar, mandolin, keyboard and other instruments. I prefer to use MixCraft Pro to make my backing tracks, simply because it is what I am used to. I tried using FL Studio, Ableton and Pro Logic, but they were all difficult to get used to for me. FL Studio is aggravating to me. I am disappointed how complicated and backwards a lot of this Musical Production Software is to use (not user friendly at all). For example: In MixCraft when I right mouse-click on a track, I get a menu, which makes sense and is convenient. But in FL Studio right mouse-clicking on a track deletes it!!! Pardon my ignorance. I am a normal guy, who loves music and have been playing guitar since age 15 (40 years ago). I am age 55 now (where did all those years go...lol).

From what I have learned so far, most Musical Production Software is geared toward piecing together prerecorded sounds for nightclub type dance mixes, which is NOT what I am trying to accomplish. I want quality backing racks with real instruments. Dave Hum played his own musical instruments, making quality backing tracks. The problem with most available backing tracks is that they are CLUTTERED with too many instruments! One of the things that I love about Dave Hum's tracks is that they are simple, just some percussion and bass. But when I go to play along, I have difficulty following along because there's not enough music to follow along (with my limited skills). So I am going to experiment to see what works.

I just bought a 21-key autoharp from the autoharp store for $546. It sells for $642 on Amazon.com without a free gig bag or digital tuner. So it is a great deal at The Autoharp Store. The free gig bag is very nice and padded, and I really like the chromatic digital tuner. After I ordered the autoharp, it arrived in just 3-days. My autoharp is electric, with fine tuners (which I recommend because without them it is difficult to get the tuning accurate). The harp I purchased is something new from Oscar-Schmidt called the "Americana" tuning. This new tuning is especially for Bluegrass and folk players, which is why I bought it to learn and hopefully incorporate it into backing tracks.

I have an old neck injury (stenosis and radiculitis) going back decades, which causes me much bodily pain, burning nerve and discomfort 24/7, so most of the time I just don't feel like making music. But I love music so much that I am compelled to play even while in pain. I thank God that I can play any instrument at all, after having two major neck surgeries (in 2009 and again in 2010). Unfortunately the second surgery really messed me up worse). And to add insult to injury, because of the epidemic of drug overdoses across the United States, my doctor refuses to prescribe more than the minimal amount of Oxycontin (I need 80 mg per day, but am only allowed 40 mg). That is so ridiculous and wrong. I used to take 140 mg per day on Guam, but due to dehydration I requested lowering my dosage. Now I can't even get the 80 mg. per day, so I suffer all the time in unnecessary pain in my neck.

The weight of the banjo doesn't bother me too much for the first hour. I bought a thick padded shoulder strap, which really helps. In feel sharp radiating pain down my right arm at times, which prevents me from playing too fast on the pedal steel guitar. The longer I pick, the more pain I feel down my right arm. So anyway, if you are a praying Christ, I would humbly appreciate that you pray for me when you think of it. THANK YOU in advance!

I honestly don't like the way most people play the autoharp, but after watching Jo Ann Smith play her diatonic tunings, that sparked my interest in learning to play the autoharp. She plays soft and gentle much of the time, whereas most plays aggressively strum the autoharp. I did what Jo Ann recommends for all autoharp enthusiasts, I ordered The Autoharp Owner's Manual (I got mine from Amazon). This helpful book explains how to convert multi-key autoharps into diatonic tunings, and provides the possible chords you might choose from. I think autoharps are way cool! I bought the 21-chord autoharp learn to play it first, and then later on if I am still interested I plan to but a 15-chord autoharp and convert it into a diatonic tuning.

God willing, I want to purchase a dobro within a year. I cannot afford to pay $5,000 for a dobro. If you want a truly professional instrument, you're going to need to dig deep to pay for it!  A basic Northshore mandolin costs at least $3,500. Their F5 model sells for $8,000. Great fluffy biscuits in the morning!!! I wanted a truly professional banjo, so I spent $5,000 for a Deering Golden Era. Deering is backordered, so I have to wait the next production schedule. It will be a few months wait I'm sure. Barry Waldrep said he is still waiting to hear from Deering.

For now I am playing my Recording King Elite-75, which I paid $1975 for in 2018. I bought it from Ross Nickerson. The Elite-75 (it has a maple neck; the Elite-85 has a mahogany neck). My neck is maple, which is brighter. The Elite series have a 27 3/8" neck, which is longer than the standard neck length of 26 1/4". Personally, I like the longer length neck, because it gives the banjo more depth of tone. The aesthetics are amazing on the Elite-75, pretty curly maple. But the Recording King lacks that much sought after Gibson tone. A truly professional banjo should have a quality "boing boing" sound to it, not just sound like a thin tin can with strings on it. TONE IS EVERYTHING!!!

So, by God's grace, I am working on learning the mandolin, bass, autoharp, guitar, banjo and I still enjoy playing steel guitar. I love any musical instrument with strings! My ultimate goal is to record some banjo videos, once I make some quality backing tracks and feel comfortable enough in my banjo playing to record it. Practice, practice, practice! I like something that Eddie Van Halen (1955-2020) said when asked by a fan how many hours a week does he practice. Eddie replied, “I've never practiced a day in my life.” I like that. In other words, Eddie always gave it his best, he didn't have a lesser standard of playing at home while practicing than he did when performing live concerts. I also like what steel guitar legend Jerry Byrd (1920-2005) said: “When you are as good as you want to be, you're as good as you're going to get.”

I also enjoy playing the ukulele. I like my electric tenor sized Oscar-Schmidt ukulele from Indonesia. I recorded these 8 songs in 2015 on Guam. Music makes the world a better place!

Faith Is The Only Righteous Thing That I Can Do

I just wanted to share these things with you dear reader. No doubt you love music like I do, which is why we gravitate toward musical instruments. I think the steel guitar is the most beautiful music this side of Heaven, but the banjo is the happiest of all instruments in my humble opinion. It's hard to play a sad song on a banjo, even in minor chords. I THANK GOD FOR DAVE HUM!!! I pray for his family regularly (Mel, River and Perri). Perri is 16 years old this year in 2022. My heart goes out to her, not having her Dad as a teenager; but she has a very rich heritage to be proud of, from her Dad's profound influence upon so many tens of thousands of people around the world. I am amazed that Dave Hum, while dying, found the strength and ability to record so many precious videos for everyone to enjoy. Dave videos to me are worth more than gold, and I mean that!

Thankfully to God, I became a born-again Christian at age 13, in 1980. Dear friend, I want you to have the same unspeakable joy of knowing that you name is written in Heaven. My favorite book written by a man is titled: "I Never Knew You" by Michael P. Bowen. I encourage you to please take the time to read this free book (in .pdf format), which will clearly show you how to KNOW 100% for certain that you're going to Heaven someday. The book is written from a gentlemanly perspective, comparing the plan of salvation of 15 big name preachers, to what the Word of God teaches about salvation.

I never get tired of re-reading this helpful book by Michael Bowen. It is my humble desire that you too can KNOW your name is written in Heaven (Luke 10:20). I am an independent fundamental Baptist by religious affiliation, but that won't get me to Heaven. It is only by what Jesus Christ did for me through Calvary's cross, shedding His precious blood and dying for my sins, and resurrecting from the dead three days later, that anyone can be made righteousness through faith alone in Christ. Philippians 3:9, “And be found in him, not having mine own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith: Simply take God at His Word oh needy sinner, receiving Christ's sacrifice on the cross as full-payment for your sins; believing that Jesus was buried but is risen, and you will be immediately, irrevocably and forever saved (I Corinthians 15:1-4).

Remember, we cannot get into Heaven based upon OUR merit. We are sinners by nature and by choice. The only way that anyone can enter into God's Kingdom is that we must seek to enter God's Kingdom based upon the merit of JESUS CHRIST. Salvation is not a reward for the righteous, it is a gift for the guilty! Salvation is not doing your best, it is having Christ's best put to your account through receiving Him by faith. The true Gospel always points you to CHRIST; a false gospel always points to YOU. Jesus Christ is my only righteousness!

THANK YOU for your continued interest in my BanjoHeaven blog.

Monday, September 26, 2022

Gold Tone OB3 "Twanger" Does Not Sound Like Prewar Gibson Mastertone

I have nothing against Gold Tone instruments. I think it is great that many companies are producing more affordable high quality instruments, replicas of classic pre World War II musical instruments. For example: Kentucky brand mandolins, Eastman brand mandolins, Recording King banjos and Dobros, Epiphone (Gibson's China line of less expensive instruments), et cetera. Let's face it, most people just don't make enough money to shell out $5,500 for a Deering Golden Era or Deering Calico banjo. In my humble opinion, musical instruments are way overpriced. But if you want something really nice, you're going to have to feel the hurt...lol.

In the following video, if you listen carefully to Gabe Hirshfeld compare a Gold Tone OB3 “Twanger” versus a prewar 1931 Gibson PV3 9580-4 flathead (originally a plectrum banjo). If you listen carefully, you can hear the beautiful sustain and quality in the Gibson, that the Gold Tone simply does not have. That little big of difference is everything musically!

Let's compare a Gold Tone OB-3 Twanger to a Pre-War Flathead

In this helpful video, you can hear Kelly Emerson compare a Deering Calico to a Deering Golden Era banjo. They both sound excellent! Although in the video Kelly said he chose the Calico, down in the comments you'll read where Patrick C. Randall said Kelly told him he actually bought the Golden Era banjo instead.

The Deering Golden Era sells for about $5,000, which is the closest banjo that you will find. (Good night in the morning!) But it is worth every penny! You get what you pay for. There are many banjo builders in the United States, but ultimately what matters most is the quality of sound that the banjo produces. At least that is what most banjo pickers want. Some others may prioritize the banjo's beauty instead, or the price point. I look at it this way—you're going to spend thousands of hours playing this thing, so why settle for an inferior instrument? I know it is painful shelling out $6,000 for a Deering Golden Era banjo, or a Paul Beard Model-E Dobro, Northfield mandolin ($8,000), et cetera. But if you want that coveted authentic instrument sound, then you must pay the price.

I think every musician should pick the one instrument that they play the best, which they are passionate about, and buy an expensive instrument of that one. I love the banjo, so I don't mind paying $5,000 for a Deering Golden Era or a used Gibson ESS (Dave Hum played a 1992 ESS Gibson). Although I love the mandolin, I am not passionate about it like I am the banjo. So I plan to buy an Eastman or Kentucky model mandolin made in China, that is high quality. I like the MD-515 Eastman mandolin. I love the Dobro, but $4,500 is out of my reach financially for now. So I may have to settle for a Gretsch G9231 Bobtail Dobro for now, which is not bad. I like the Paul beard Legend cones, which you can buy from Paul Beard for $80 and put into a different dobro. Most of the sound is in the cone. Cheaper cones when tapped on sound like old hubcaps, but quality cones sound like bell brass.

Anyway, some people will no doubt disagree with me on the OB3 Twanger. If you like it, that is all that matters. But for me, it is an inferior (but still somewhat nice) imitation.

"Cheat-A-Keys" Tuners Are So Much Better Than "Keith D Tuners"

I paid $300 a few years ago for just TWO Keith D tuners (for my 2nd and 3rd banjo strings). I ordered them directly from the company that makes them in New York.

Honestly, I hate the Keith D Tuners and do not recommend them to anyone! The Keith D Tuners replace your original tuning keys, so you need to completely remove and replace the original tuners the Keith D Tuners. The reason why I hate them is because they don't stay in tune, and when you need to readjust them, it is is a big hassle! Each Keith D Tuner has two separate adjusting knobs on it (one for setting the raise limit for the string, and the other for setting the lower limit).

If you banjo wanders slightly out of tune, you have to mess with the Keith D Tuner every time to get it back into tune. Each Keith D Tuner has three things to turn! You have the low limit set knob, the high limit set knob, and then the tuning peg itself that raises and lowers the string. So if your banjo is a bit out of tune (which is about every 5 minutes on my Recording King Elite-85, because it has a higher tuner gear ratio which makes them quicker to adjust but more sensitive), you cannot just turn the tuning peg to correct the pitch. You have to mess with the set screws on the Keith D Tuner. Since the Keith D Tuner has a set screw that LOCKS your high limit, you must readjust your Keith D Tuner set screw for the high limit. 

Also, unless you use a pair of pliers to tighten the set screw so it won't move, the set screws can only be tightened so much with your fingers, but it is not enough pressure to prevent the tuning from wandering. But when I do use pliers, then I have to use pliers to loosen the set screws every time I need to readjust the tuning, which is quite often. If you have ever owned any Keith D Tuners, you know what I am talking about, and it is frustrating!

The Cheat-A-Keys tuners are so much better for various reasons. You can order some nice Cheat-A-Keys from Banjo.com, but right now they are out of stock. I think the ones they sell look nicer. I ordered mine from Gold Tone in Florida (they're all out of stock right now), which are more plain looking.
  • The first reason why Cheat-A-Keys tuners are much better is that they operate completely separate from your tuning keys. This means you CAN make adjustments to each string's pitch without messing with the Cheat-A-Keys device. Nice!
  • Secondly, once set properly, the Cheat-A-Keys stays in tune! It just makes everything so much more simple, by keeping the D Tuners a separate function from the open string tuners.
  • Thirdly, you don't need to remove your original banjo tuners to use the Cheat-A-Keys. I made the odd decision to buy gold plated Keith D Tuners, but my original tuning keys are chrome (so they look out of place). I just like the gold color and wanted some gold on my banjo...lol.
One of the disadvantages of the Cheat-A-Keys is having a weird looking device attached to your headstock. It is definitely a conversation piece if you like being asked questions. I like them myself.
A demo of CHEAT-A-KEYS Tuners

Here are some more varied opinions from banjo pickers about the Cheat-A-Keys device. I personally like the Cheat-A-Keys tuners much better than the annoying Keith D Tuners. To each their own. Here is a helpful video on how to install Cheat-A-Keys D tuners...

Installing Cheat-A-Keys Banjo D Tuners

Sunday, September 18, 2022

Learn Don Reno's Banjo Style Of Playing

I found something new and very helpful this week. His name is Jason Skinner and he is without question the most avid Don Reno fan in the world. I really love what Jason has done to help banjo players. He has recorded an 18-part superb set of banjo instruction lessons for banjo enthusiasts. The first video covers basic information, but in the following videos Jason gets into some excellent banjo stuff...

Beginning Don Reno Style Banjo with Jason Skinner - Part 1

I really appreciate when banjo artists share what they've learned with others. I give everything I learn away for free, and always will. I'm not putting down musicians who sell stuff, I get it, they need to eat. But there's just an excellent spirit (like Daniel had in the Bible), when musicians share what they've learned for the pure love of music. Daniel 6:3, “Then this Daniel was preferred above the presidents and princes, because an excellent spirit was in him; and the king thought to set him over the whole realm.

By the way, my favorite lesson in Jason Skinner's awesome banjo series is part 13, a song written by Don Reno called: “I'm Using My Bible For A Roadmap.” There's some really cool banjo fills and licks in here. Also, you can find free karaoke backing tracks on YouTube for this song...

I'm Using My Bible For A Roadmap” (written by Don Reno)

It is my desire to help other banjo enthusiast, sharing the things that I learn. I'm spending a lot of time in the woodshed workshop picking, getting better and learning my banjo. God willing, I plan to make some YouTube videos down the road. But for now, it is exciting to learn and share! If you haven't watched Jason Skinner's Don Reno YouTube lessons yet, I really think you'll enjoy them. God bless!

“When you practice slow, you learn fast.” 
Barry Hunn, Deering Banjo Company

Waiting For New Deering Sierra Mahogany Banjo

Thank you to all my BanjoHeaven fans for your continued interest in my blog. I haven't been posting many blogs, simply because I've been busy picking the 5-string banjo! When I lived on Guam I spent my time playing the Hawaiian lap steel guitar. My first love will always be the pedal steel guitar. But since I've moved to Pensacola (in the deep south) in July of 2021, my love for Bluegrass music has been rekindled. I've been working on my banjo picking mostly.

Dave Hum (1966-2012) started playing the banjo in 1996, when his father-in-law handed him an old banjo, and the rest is history! It is amazing how fast he progressed on the banjo. I love that man! I pray for his wife and daughters in Salisbury, England regularly. They have a rich heritage to be proud of in Dave's music. I humbly want to do what I can to help preserve Dave Hum's musical legacy. As a lifetime musician myself, I rarely find music that inspires me. I'm talking about music so special that even after hearing it hundreds of times, you never get tired of hearing it.

Anyway, let me share some interesting things with you friends. By God's goodness and grace, I ordered a new Deering mahogany Sierra banjo back on May 2nd from Banjo.com for $2,799. Deering's Sierra line is backordered. So I need to just be patient and wait. Even Guitar Center is only taking reservations for the Sierras, backordered as well. I figure it is worth the wait for a new banjo fresh off the assembly line! I ordered it from Banjo.com because I am trusting Barry Waldrep, that his workers will correctly install the 7th street railroad spike.

I've never played a Deering banjo, but I've read only good reviews. Like most everyone else, I dreaded spending $3,000 for a banjo, but after seeing Jens Hans Kruger's $15,999 banjo, I feel fortunate...lol. I love Hans' playing. By the way, Jens teaches a free masterclass on YouTube, which is definitely worth watching.

Deering Sierra Banjo

For now I am playing a Recording King Elite-85 (maple neck), which I bought from Ross Nickerson back in 2018 for $1,795. That is my only banjo. I really like my RK. It has a bone nut, longer than standard 27 3/8" scale, pretty curly maple resonator, and I love the mother of pearl heart and flower inlays. It is a replica of the prewar Gibson Mastertone. Yesterday evening I put new strings on it, tightened the head (it was fairly loose), tightened up a loose coordinating rod in the pot that was rattling at the nut, used mother's chrome polish that I bought from Auto Zone to polish the metal, and it sounds great! But I need to buy a compensator bridge, because my G string is sharp at the 12th fret (but the other strings are in tune). I am looking forward to comparing the mahogany neck 26 1/4" Deering Sierra, to my maple neck 27 3/8" Recording King. I think every banjo player should have at least 3 banjos!

I really wanted a banjo that wasn't made in China. Hence, Deering. I was sad to learn that Stelling banjo is closing their doors after 48 years. Gibson's banjo factory was completely destroyed in 2010, when the Cumberland River overflowed in Nashville. Gibson didn't think it was worth reinvesting in another factory. Dave Hum's main banjo was a 1992 ESS (Earl Scruggs's Standard) banjo. I am curious about Hatfield and Huber banjos. I've never played either. I love banjos!!!

I heard Jason Skinner make a great statement today in one of his videos: “Good tone is 90% the player and 10% the banjo.” I agree with that. If you watch Dave Hum play the banjo, he picks with authority, taking charge of the instrument. That makes a big difference in tone. He can do that because he knows exactly what he is going to play next. In sharp contrast, newer players tend to “wing it, just grabbing a handful of strings...lol.

I read a very helpful comment recently by Barry Hunn on Deering's website: “When you practice slow, you learn fast.” That is so true! I know because it works for me. When I play a new song very slowly, following the tablature exactly, to make sure that I get every note just right, then I KNOW what I am doing. So as I play those exact notes and slowly get faster, I know that I am doing it right. That is the only way to properly build accuracy with speed. Thanks for reading.

5 String Banjo Instruction [1967] - Earl Scruggs

  5 String Banjo Instruction Album [1967] - Earl Scruggs