Monday, September 16, 2013

So what’s up in the Bass Monkey Workshop...back to the Stelling Banjo!

When we left off Lonnie was working on his 1976 Stelling banjo…and he is STILL working on his 1976 Stelling banjo (his first banjo).  We have had lots of musical interruptions and distractions but it has been GOOD musical interruptions and distractions.

The Stelling banjo, so far Lonnie has tried the frosted Weather King Head purchased directly from Stelling.  That was okay but he wanted to hear more tone and volume.  So he purchased another lighter weight, thinner frosted banjo head (no name brand).  That experiment did not go well as he pushed the tension too far and fractured the banjo head…It did not blow up the head…but put a slight crack in it at the rim that caused the tone of the banjo to sound like “boing-boing”.  He thought he would try a Five Star banjo head as he really likes the one on his Stanleytone banjo.  While he was waiting for the Five Star head to arrive (idle time is a bad thing, too much time to think) from Stu-Mac he put the new banjo head from Stelling back on to give it another try.  For some unknown reason the second time was a charm.  This time the banjo sounded awesome with the Stelling head AND a new Bart Veerman bridge made it come to life.

The order information that came with the banjo bridge

Installed and ready to go...signed by Bart... just like a piece of artwork

Ready for a test drive

More about the Veerman bridges:  First, Bart Veerman is a wonderful and nice person who is great to communicate and work with.  Lonnie has had great success with his previous purchase of a Veerman Archie red dot bridge for a Stanleytone he set up for a friend.  That Stanleytone #25 banjo loved the Veerman Archie Bridge.   Based on that success Lonnie once again purchased a recommended bridge for his Stelling, the Enigma topped Veerman Bridge.  And once again the bridge arrives and looks like a little piece of artwork.  It is beautifully carved, numbered and signed by Bart.  The new bridge and the new head (installed for the second time) really brought the banjo to life.

Here is a link to the Bart Veerman website:

Lonnie was working on the Stelling most of the afternoon Saturday, when he got it assembled and new strings installed…WOW!  Right from the very first note he had found the combination.  The banjo is bright, loud and rings clear as a bell.  I think he surprised himself.  We had plans for the evening so the banjo head settled in overnight.  In the morning the head tension was holding at 93 on the drum dial…sweet!

Lonnie says the neck stays true the whole way up the neck, does not go sharp

We had an afternoon jam to attend on Sunday at the Gatchellville Store in New Park, PA.   Since Lonnie was pleased with the tone of the Stelling there was no reason to wait for its re-d├ębut.  A couple of quick banjo case changes, a double check for the tuner, picks and capo and out the door we went.  A fresh set up on an old banjo that felt like a new banjo once again. 

Lonnie played his Stelling softly the entire afternoon just to make sure all was okay.  Sure enough the banjo felt and sounded great.  He is very pleased with the tone, the new Bart Veerman Bridge and the over all familiar feel of this old friend, his first banjo.  The neck is true and plays clean the whole way up the neck, no sharp notes.  

As fate would have it…and things just keep coming full circle for us…who shows up at the jam?  None other then Chris Warner the owner of the string shop (closed his shop many years ago) in Hanover, PA where the Stelling Bellflower was first purchased in 1977.  Now Lonnie being the modest person that he is did not say anything to Chris but took great delight in playing his Stelling banjo in Chris’s presence knowing it was another “full circle” moment.  Pretty darn cool.

The jam was great; the Stelling banjo sounded great and has met all Lonnie’s expectations.  And I can now say I have had the opportunity to play bass (my 1941 Epiphone B5 named Ruben) with another great banjo player…Chris Warner.  I tell ya... I have had a run on picking with some great players here of late.  Hope that streak continues.

The smile...priceless!

New Holland Labor Day 2013

You know it’s a really good bluegrass kind of day when
…you fall into that perfect jam. 

Starts at 0:52

Billy Lee Cox – Remington Ryde
Danny & Ryan Paisley – Danny Paisley Band
Mike Munford – Frank Solivan & Dirty Kitchen
Harold Tipton – Harold Tipton Band

...and me on my 1941 Epiphone B5 bass

Every Labor Day there is a one day Fiddlers picnic in New Holland, PA.  It has been going on for many years.  The jam is well known for its high quality pickers and attracts some very prominent professional musicians.  On this very hot and humid Labor Day under the threat of rain Lonnie and I stumble upon a jam just beginning to form.  It included Billy Lee Cox on banjo from Remington Ryde band.  Mike Munford on banjo from the Frank Solivan & Dirty Kitchen.  Harold Tipton of the Harold Tipton Band.  When Lonnie and I strolled up and Harold saw my bass he said, “Jump on in here girl!”  Well I did not need much encouragement as I have played with Billy Lee and Harold before in open jams and always have a blast.  Mike Munford, yeah…there is a really great banjo player!  So good that he is nominated for the 2013 IBMA banjo player of the year.  That had my hands and knees a shaking at first.  I have been around Mike at festivals but never played bass for him.  Oh well…go for it, life is short.  If I screw up its not like anybody gets hurt, the jam just won’t last very long if I suck.

So I jumped in, first song; Sled’s Ride, banjo tune…okay, okay…I know this song.  Played it a dozen times.  Yep, I missed a few chords…nobody stopped playing, no dirty looks, WHEW I am safe.  Next song, Remington Ride, another banjo tune…okay got this, play it every Friday night.  Yep…brain freeze.  Played the A part three times…DAH…A part twice, B part twice.  Okay, by the third song if I don’t improve I am going to get fired.  Concentrate, play it like my life depends on it!  Finally I found my groove.  The jam was great and then it got even better.  Strolling in is Danny and Ryan Paisley to add to the circle of music.  By now my jitters were going away and the jam was hitting “the zone”.  And then the rain came pouring down.  Much to my surprise everyone move to the covered pavilion and kept an open space for me and my bass.  The jam continued another two hours and it was awesome.  Song after song, non-stop.  Great singers, great instrumental breaks and everyone hung tight as the crowd of listeners swelled.  It was the hottest jam in the park (or so I have heard other pickers talk about THAT “Super jam” up in the far corner of the park) and I was holding down the low-end grinning like a fool with my 1941 Epiphone B-5 named Ruben.  At one point Billy Lee looked over and said to me “pickers live for a jam like this”…I am lucky girl!

Luck and the right place, at the right time.  This maybe the best jam I get to play in for a very long time.  Being an amateur bass player with no band or stage experience I am very fortunate these folks invited me to play with them.  There were plenty of other, more experienced bass players in the crowd licking their chops just ready to jump in and replace me.  I played so hard in the hot humid weather that I wore a whole in my skin that is just now beginning to heal.  I would not change that moment for anything. 

I am so proud of Lonnie for restoring my old Epiphone bass back to top playing condition.  When I play this bass out among musicians of this caliber and bring joy to folks, it confirms we are doing good work and need to do more of it.

It was a really good day for bluegrass.