A long time ago, my father and I were parked on the side of the road when another car struck us head-on. It was a nun, in a sedan, going around sixty miles per hour. I got hurt. We thought I got better. I developed epilepsy, but we thought that was it. Then the headaches started, and they never stopped.
In recent years, the seizures increased in frequency and intensity. Over the last nine months, things seem to be progressing. New symptoms are popping up. Some things that were simple for me are now harder to do. I have a lot more seizures than I used to, and falling is a problem. I can’t walk far because of neuropathy or drive because of epilepsy. Being in a moving car causes me to have a seizure. There are also some memory and cognitive issues arising.
It is hard on everybody in the house.
I do not know what comes next. My doctors are arranging for somebody to help me with scheduling appointments. There is more in the works. It takes time.
I may even be able to get a ride someplace to get my damaged BAHA (Bone Anchored Hearing Aid) abutment repaired. The downside is that would mean four hours of seizures to Baltimore. Another four hours on the road to get home. Ugh. That is going require some diligent planning to pull off. Dear Old Dad might have to dose me like Hannibal getting B. A. Baracus onboard an airplane.
The new site is almost ready to launch. Work is going a bit slow due to reasons stated above.
Patrickcostello.org will serve as a free and open archive of my work past, present, and future. It will also be an online community, and home to one of the craziest projects I have ever dreamed up (more on that in a bit).
I can still play as good as ever, if not better. I can’t organize anything. So, the archives are going to be cataloged and indexed by you, with space to add your thoughts, insights, and even polite disagreements.
Nearly all the video files from our YouTube channel have been moved to the new server. The files are hosted on JetPack, so we won’t have to deal with advertising or social media nonsense.
Access to view the video, audio, and text archives will be free. Membership will be required to take part in the forums and archiving. The $5.00 signup fee is a way to keep the servers and conversations from being flooded with SPAM, marketers, and Internet pests.
The Solid-Body Electric Five-String Banjo
Tim Sway is hard at work on my solid-body five-string electric banjo. I have pictures of the work in process, but I will hold off on details until the instrument gets revealed to Tim’s sponsors and fans.
The design is Tim’s. I approached him with the concept. His take on the idea was nothing like I had imagined. I Immediately loved it. The overall look is rooted in tradition while being futuristic, much like myself.
The build is sponsored. We will be posting the details on the reveal. I couldn’t have afforded something this custom on my own. To say that I am grateful, thankful, and excited is putting it mildly.
Without giving too much away, my banjo is being made from reclaimed or locally harvested sustainable material. The electronics and even the strings are custom for the instrument.
What About The Amp? Effects?
I have a Spark practice amp to get started, and I have been talking to several American manufacturers about an amplifier that will work well with the banjo’s odd range.
I like the Spark, by the way. For a practice amp, it packs many cool bells and whistles. My acoustic-electric banjo sounds wild through the built-in effects.
Pat Quilter of Quilter Amplification is also a banjo player. Nice guy, too! He suggested the Quilter MicroPro HD for a woodier tone. Quilter amplifiers are solid state, and the MicroPro HD has some mind-boggling features for a combo amp. It even has a mic input!
Talking to Milkman Sound, I came away with recommendations for a pedal steel model. He said that banjo players have gotten good tone when they use an equalizer pedal to dial in the tonal range. These are tube amplifiers, and they sound amazing.
Then there is the amp I have been lusting after since 1992: A 1959 Fender Bassman clone.
I know. I know. It seems like an odd choice for banjo, and I usually rail against hyped or legendary gear. Thing is, I have spent quality time with the real thing.
Old Buster here in Crisfield had a 1959 Fender Bassman 4×10 with tone sweet enough even for me to hear. It had massive volume, but he could control it so well that it never seemed obnoxious, even in his little modular home. Buster never used pedals, opting instead to control his Les Paul with technique and the controls on the guitar/amp. For Travis style guitar, it was perfectly responsive to how you attacked the strings. I would jam with Buster through long summer afternoons with my cheek on the side of his amp. Practically bathing in the sounds coming through its sticky tweed cabinet. A banjo could sing like a bird with an amp like that. Marsh makes a nice hand-wired reproduction for a reasonable price.
As for effects, I want to keep it simple. I’ll need the best compression pedal I can find. I will probably also pick up a JHS Colour Box V2 to serve multiple roles.
What About Us?
I plan to begin posting a workshop series on adapting frailing to an electric banjo as soon as I get comfortable with the new instrument. I sincerely hope that you will plug in and explore with me.
You do not need the same gear as I will be using. There are a few electric banjos being sold by different companies. None of them rang my chimes, but you may find something that works for you. For something closer to what I’ll be playing, contact Tim Sway.
Frailing Banjo: In The Words and Music of its Practitioners
Years ago, I organized The Ukulele Project, where an international group of ukulele players joined me in creating a video lesson series for children living on a remote First Nations reserve in Canada.
Thinking back on that got my creative gears turning, and I came up with the idea to create a nonlinear lesson plan and invite as many players as I can to cover each topic. Each specific technique, concept, and even songs will be taught verbally. Nothing will be in writing other than the index.
The idea of possibly fifty entries on how to make a D7 chord may seem overkill to some, but I disagree. We all communicate differently, so having as many perspectives as possible not only ensures that future students will find a voice that speaks to them, but also to provide insight into the wide spectrum of people and ideas that make the entirety of frailing banjo.
Now, this is a huge concept and impossible for even a healthy person to pull off. I will need your help to make it happen.
I will be posting more on the project shortly after patrickcostello.org is online.
So, that’s the skinny on happenings here in Crisfield. Things are not easy, but I have my cats for company and an excellent acupuncturist helping me with headaches, neuropathy pain, and my jacked-up left hand. My pecan tree is overloaded with a bumper crop of nuts, but Meatball is eating any squirrel foolish enough to enter the backyard.
By the way, Meatball got HUGE. At over 20 lbs, he is the largest house cat I have ever encountered, but he is always gentle with me. When my neuropathy is bad, Meatball drapes himself and his three-layer coat over my hurting feet. I love him more than chocolate.
The sap from the nuts in the pecan tree attracts insects, so every day the window is filled with songbirds and raptors. Late in the summer, deer and foxes started visiting in the early morning hours. So much life in such a small yard.
Rocky the kitten is sweet but hyperactive. He wakes me up every morning at three AM by stuffing a paw up my nose – much like an ancient Egyptian embalmer clearing out brain matter from a skull. Everybody is the house has been scratched and some barfed upon. Unsurprisingly, we all love him. Even Daisy and Pooka play with him.
I’ll see you all soon at patrickcostello.org.