Adapting, Overcoming, and Growing

A few of you have stated with abundant clarity your feelings about electric banjos.

This is fine. Some people like cilantro, and I think it tastes exactly like the second or third time I accidentally drank Mr. Clean. Our individual preferences are what makes us unique.

While the electric banjo may seem like a break from tradition, they have been in production for a hundred years or so. Gibson, Vega, and others were making electric banjos long before Leo Fender and Les Paul perfected their designs.

The only difference is that mine works. It took a few years and input from multiple perspectives (not to mention some expensive prototypes), but this electric banjo plays better than any acoustic I have ever picked up, including my Somerset S1P (and that is saying something).

Forget that this is, in fact, perfectly in line with tradition. The main advantage of the electric is that my hands are at a point where it hurts to play the acoustic banjo. I had to give up the guitar. Hell, it hurts to get dressed or brush my hair. I had to choose between giving up stringed instruments entirely, or accept my current reality and find a way to keep on going.

The electric not only allows me to play with minimal pain, I can also take advantage of the entire fretboard with crystal clarity.

To anybody worried about the tone of my instrument, please understand that with modern modeling amps, I can get pretty much any tone you can imagine. Some lovely and others weird enough to summon Cthulhu. No matter how much I tweak the amplifier, I am still using the same frailing technique. The notes may not share the same tonal qualities as an acoustic, but a G is still a G. The music doesn’t change.

Until we can find some solution to get some strength and movement in my hands, I will be playing the electric banjo almost exclusively in upcoming workshops. You will still be able to play along with an acoustic.

The banjo started out as something put together from nothing. From those early lutes, the instrument has grown and changed countess times. The tradition is not tunes or the design of the instrument. It is the quest for self-expression, even if you have to invent new tools for the task.