Thursday, September 6, 2007

My Thirtieth Anniversary Deering

Several folks have asked to see pictures of my banjo, so I thought that while there’s a lull in the bluegrass world before we head south for the Fall season in the Carolinas, Georgia, and Virginia, I’d put up some pictures of my pride and joy. I bought my first banjo, a Deering Goodtime at Merlefest in 2003 and started learning to play at age 62. I’ve spent the past four years regretting having put down Pete Seeger’s “How to Play the Five String Banjo” nearly fifty years ago. If I’d been pickin’ all that time, I might be mediocre by now. On the other hand, anyone who was able to learn from that book and record has quite a bit to be proud of.

Two years later, I bought a Sullivan Festival (#167) again at Merlefest, and for a very attractive price. It was a vast improvement over the Goodtime, and I started to learn faster and to take lessons with Bruce Stockwell from Putney, VT. Bruce has saintly patience and I began to make even more progress. In 2006 I attended Pete Wernick’s Jam Camp and realized that I had much to learn and really want to get better.

This spring, we bought Irene a new mandolin, a Gibson Alan Bibey signature model, which he presented to her from the state at an event at Down Home in Johnson City Tennessee. You can read about that here. After getting her dream instrument, she began agitating me to get a better banjo. When her mando needed a slight repair, we had a chance to go to where I played a bunch of Deerings, and after a good deal of agonizing, settled on a Deering Thirtieth Anniversary Tennbrooks, number 20 of 30. I never believed an instrument could make such a difference! The instrument sounds like a dream, with a great sustain and lots of volume. Now that I’ve changed from light to medium strings, it stays in tune. I’ve never played a banjo that allows my right hand to move around the neck as easily as this one does nor one which is as easy to play pull-offs or hammer-ons. The bronze Jens Kruger tone ring, made in a 400 year old bell factory in Switzerland gives this masterful instrument a tone like no other banjo. Despite Irene’s deepest wishes, however, I still don’t sound like Jens.

Here are some pictures of my new Deering, which as of this writing, still doesn’t have a name, but she deserves one. Maybe you’ll help.

Since I bought her in April, a lot of fine musicians have played her. Little Roy Lewis, Tom Boyd, Chris Pandolfi, Dan Russell, and Doug Knight have all played and remarked on her tone and playability. I'm very happy and think I have a lifetime instrument