Friday, September 28, 2007

A Special "Musical" Gift

Well, it's almost musical! Denny had a birthday a couple of weeks ago and I couldn't resist making this windchime for him. Terry provided me with a few empty beer cans, and the rest I got from stuff around the shop. I used a fiddle bow to hang everything from. I used dental floss to connect the cans to the bow, and then I also put some banjo fingerpicks on there in between the cans. Denny "supposedly" plays banjo (he's playing bass in the beginner's jam), but I did overhear the comment that the best sound from banjo fingerpicks at Denny's house was going to be coming from the windchime... Here is a picture:

Beautiful Watercolor of The Bluegrass Shack

Bob is a student of mine who plays 4-string banjo. He is retired and somewhere in his mid 70's. He took a picture of our building right after we got our banjo sign installed and painted this beautiful watercolor for us. When he came for his lesson yesterday, he presented me with the painting. THANK YOU, BOB! If you click on the photo, it will enlarge.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Playing with Confidence

We had a discussion about this last night after our beginner's jam. It is also something that I was thinking about today as I drove here, listening to a CD of some good bluegrass music. Playing with confidence is one of the most important aspects of a person's music. I think it intertwines with playing with feeling. They may even be inseparable.

You can be a technical genious, never missing a note or rhythm, but still not make beautiful music. My flute teacher used to tell me that I had played every note on the page, but that it was just a bunch of notes. Until I played my flute with a piano player who could play with feeling, I was unable to master this. Now that I have this ability, I have also noticed that when I play my fiddle or banjo (or whatever else) with someone else who has this ability, I play even better. It is contagious. You can even feel it in the air. Haven't you ever heard someone say they like a band better "LIVE" than the band's CD? Showmanship is almost everything. I don't like to listen to "bad" music, but I know that I can withstand many more bad notes & rhythm if the people performing are entertaining.

Now, why am I bringing this up? It is because this is something that every beginner can do right away that will improve the way they sound. It doesn't take practice in the same way as playing correct notes and rhythm. It just means going through the motions of "putting on confidence." Hold your head up; play the notes like you mean business; give it all you've got! If you are going to sound bad, what have you got to lose? You can play all the right notes and not sound good, too. Your instrument and your physical playing become one, and it is apparent to all who watch. It is also apparent even if you can only listen.

Which brings me to the CD I was listening to in the car this morning. The fiddle playing was technically quite good, but sounded as if the person was holding back. I wanted to feel the music, and I actually wondered if the person playing even liked to play.

Remember -- everyone currently playing had to start at the beginning, too. We understand that you will make mistakes. We understand that you can't play everything. Put your heart into what you're doing and you will sound better! Instantly! It's free and it's something you can use forever!

Monday, September 24, 2007

Pictures from Previous October Contest

I thought it might be fun to post a few pictures from several of our past October fiddle & banjo contests.

The Chris Talley Trio in Nebraska

The Chris Talley Trio will be playing in Lincoln, Nebraska on Sunday, September 30, 2007, at the PlainSong Folk Festival. You can get more information on the festival and the other performers at

A "Must Have" Magazine

This quarter's edition of The Fretboard Journal is a must-have for all banjo players. There is an absolutely fantastic article about Earl Scruggs. It is an informative interview with Earl Scruggs and several other people (including Marty Stewart) about Earl. There are some wonderful pictures as well.

In addition to the Scruggs article, there is also an article about Sullivan banjo rims that is pretty interesting. I would think any banjo player would enjoy this article.

The Journal is a little bit pricey for a magazine, but I think these two articles alone make it well worth the price. You can go online to Fretboard Journal at, or you might be able to get a copy from Borders. That is where we got our issue.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

October Fiddle & Banjo Contest!

We will be having a fiddle and banjo contest the last Saturday of October. That is Saturday, October 27, 2007, at Noon. Registration starts at 11:00 a.m. It will be held at L&B's Eastend, 1215 Spotsylvania, New Athens, IL. This is just 1/4 mile from our shop.

Five Fiddle Divisions & Three Banjo Divisions. All Junior Contestants receive a medal regardless of placement. The Fiddle Divisions are: Junior III (12 & Under), Junior II (13-15 Years Old), Junior I (16-18 Years Old), Open (19 & Over), and Senior (60 & Over). The Banjo Divisions are Junior (15 & Under), Open (16 & Over), Senior (60 & Over). Prize money varies in each division, but a total of over $1000 in prizes & trophies will be awarded. The top Fiddle-Open winner receives $150, and the top Banjo-Open winer receives $100. Prizes will be awarded at the completion of each division.

This will be a blind panel judged event. This means that the judges will not see who is performing. Contestants will be called by their number only, and neither contestants or backup musicians may speak on stage in a way that can be heard through the microphone.

General Admission is $7.00. Seniors are $4.00. Children 12 & Under are Free with a parent. Contestants & Backup Musicians are admitted free; however, all contestants regardless of age must pay a nominal $2.00 Entry Fee. This is a not-for-profit event -- so your donations are gladly accepted. L&B's has given us the use of their spacious hall for FREE! There is plenty of parking, it is easily accessible (and handicap accessible), and there will be food & drinks available.

This is our annual October Fiddle & Banjo Contest, and one of the things that makes this event so much more fun is that it is a costume affair. Everyone is invited to dress Western, Hillbilly, or Grand Ol' Opry style. Not required, but it's sure a lot of fun!

General Rules:
1. Registration closes at the start of each division.
2. Fiddle contestants will play a waltz and a hoedown. Total time limit is 4 minutes from the start of the first song. No "trick" tunes, such as Orange Blossom Special or Mockingbird, are permitted.
3. Banjo contestants will play two tunes of choice. No D tuner songs are allowed. Alternate tunings are allowed, but your total time limit is still 4 minutes.
4. Up to two backup musicians allowed. Backup may not play lead, and may not play the same instrument as contestant.
5. Contestants are judged on rhythm & timing, apropriateness & difficulty of tune, true rendition & variations, smoothness, pitch & tuning, and overall performance. Audience reaction does not affect placement or score.
6. Decisions of the judges are final.

Directions: From St. Louis, take 255 across the Jefferson Barracks bridge to Hwy 15 E (Belleville exit). Stay on 15/13 through the town of Freeburg. When you get to the Motomart in Freeburg, stay straight on Hwy. 13 to the next town -- New Athens. Go straight through the traffic light to the next intersection. Make a left onto Baldwin Road. Drive about 1/4 mile to L&Bs, which will be straight in front of you.

For more information, feel free to e-mail me or call us at The Bluegrass Shack at 618-475-3678.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Fun at Perk's with Denny & Terry!!!

A week ago Friday, the Chris Talley Trio played at Perk's in Freeburg. We had an awesome crowd and so much fun! The best part of the night was when we had a Duelin' Banjos contest. Denny was nominated from the crowd, and of course then I had to pick his long-time rival, Terry, to compete against him. Denny got the inflatable guitar and Terry got the inflatable banjo.

This is how the contest works. Each person stands with their inflatable instrument next to the instrument they are representing. This meant that Denny stood in front of Bill, and Terry stood in front of me. Then we play the song Duelin' Banjos while the contestants pretend they are the ones playing. The audience does all the judging. You cannot believe how hysterically funny this was! Each one was trying to outdo the other, and since this was completely non-scripted, we (the band) had as much fun as everyone else watching to see what would unfold. Here are some pictures:

It was a fierce competition, but Terry won! Congratulations!

Tuesday's Jam

This last Tuesday was another very good jam session. We had a total of 22 pickers, including myself. Once again, we had some new folks join us. We had the four new pickers from Frederickstown (mother and friends of Terry L.), Terry L., Terry H., Mike, Chelsea, Jim, Elsie, Warren, Cindy, Anna, Denny, Kelsey, Dan, Verlan, Rodney, John, Lil and Lil's friend all came to pick. We played a few more country tunes than we usually do, as we had several more country pickers. There was plenty of bluegrass to go around, too! Some of my favorites that we played included Life is Like a Mountain Railway, Amazing Grace, Member of the Blues, Tear my Steel House Down, and several of the gospel tunes that Terry's mother sang.

Recent Repairs

Just thought I'd make mention of a few recent repairs. Nothing spectacular, but we certainly have been busy around here.

Currently, I am working on a banjo neck for an Ibanez banjo for Denny. It is almost complete. I removed the peghead overlay from the old neck and reglued it to the new peghead. Then I had to shape the new peghead to match the old overlay. I also removed the last inlay on the Ibanez neck and re-inlayed it into the new neck so that the new neck will have all of the old Ibanez markers. I filled and re-drilled the holes in the new peghead so that they would line up with the old peghead overlay. The peghead has been stained, but I haven't completed the staining on the neck yet. The peghead is black, and the neck will sunburst to dark brown to match the rest of the banjo. I installed all the frets on the new neck, and then filed and sanded them. Yesterday, I worked on the heel profile. It is amost complete. Maybe today I'll get a chance to finish the profile so that I can stain the rest of the neck. Then I'll have to polyurethane the entire neck, install the nut, truss rod cover and tuners. That should complete the job other than restringing!

I also worked on a dulcimer this week for Amy. This was a rather light repair job. I had to reglue the end of the fingerboard, make a new bone saddle, tighten all the tuners, and restring the instrument. This was an instrument that has been in the family for some time. It's a nice, handmade instrument that will be great for playing.

Gary brought in a Flatiron mandolin yesterday for some work. This was a "campfire" style mandolin with a solid top. The strings were too high off the fingerboard towards the bridge end. I sighted down the neck and everything looked real good, so this was an easy fix. It had a bridge that was not adjustable, so I had to remove the strings and bridge, calculate the new bridge height, then lower the bridge to that height and fit it to the top of the mandolin again. Not hard to do, but it took about an hour in all to refit the bridge and put some new strings on it. This was a VERY GOOD sounding instrument! Pretty amazing for a smaller than normal size mandolin.

Today, I am hoping to start work on an Armstrong Emeritus flute. It is an open hole model with a B foot, solid silver mouthpiece. This flute is for Ashley. The flute needs new pads. I think the corks are good, but I will have to check them as I go. I will also be polishing the entire flute. Repadding is the perfect time to polish because all the keys have to come off the flute, and this makes it easy to get in between all the keys, springs, and posts.

Band Instrument Reminder

This is just a reminder to let you know that The Bluegrass Shack buys, sells and repairs almost every type of band instrument. We do not rent band instruments, but with the deals we offer, you are MUCH better off buying and not renting.

For example, you can purchase a Gemeinhardt silver plated flute for $150-$175 from us. It is guaranteed for 60 days, and it is ready to play. If your band director doesn't approve it (this has never happened), then you may return it to us for repair or refund. If your child quits band, you can resell the instrument for what you have in it and you haven't lost any money! If you rented the instrument, you must return it and you won't get any of your money back.

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Cool Homemade Banjo

Last Friday, a fellow by the name of Keith came in with a really neat repair request. He brought with him a banjo that his son had made as a 4-H project when his son was only 16 years old. I believe his son is in his 20's now, but the banjo had been made as an ornamental-only project and was therefore in beautiful condition. Keith's request was to make the banjo playable.

The main issues with the banjo were: 1) The nut was too low, so the strings were actually resting on the fingerboard; 2) The frets had not been filed properly along the side of the neck and were very sharp; 3) The 5th string was resting in a groove in the 5th fret and was buzzing; 4) The neck angle is too low.

I removed the old plastic nut and replaced it with a bone nut. I spent about an hour filing down the edges of the frets, securing loose frets, and then leveling the frets. I decided to install a small brass screw for the 5th string so that the string would be high enough to clear the fret and not buzz. This led to another problem in that the 5th string tuner was at the wrong angle and the string did not want to stay in the groove on the screw. I then had to put in a spike to put the 5th string under so that the string would then stay in the screw groove. The banjo has a slightly short neck. It is two frets shorter than a normal 5-string banjo neck. In order the make the banjo play in tune, I had to move the bridge all the way to the back edge of the banjo head. The string height was still high, so I had to lower the bridge, since there is no truss rod or coordinator rod. (You can see from the pictures that the neck is made of one piece and attaches to the pot of the banjo in such a way that there is no neck adjustment available.)

Since the banjo does not have a regular banjo head, it is very quiet. This would make a great practice banjo for someone in an apartment or any place where the loudness of a banjo would be impractical or a nuisance. A pickup would make this banjo loud enough to be heard in a group. The head is actually a beautiful piece of walnut. The rest of the banjo is oak. The overall tone of the banjo is more like a harpsichord, I think. It has a very unique sound to it.

For anyone, especially a 16-year old, this is a quality piece of work -- even if it is somewhat non-standard. I have included some pictures and a sound clip for your enjoyment! If you click on the pictures, they will enlarge.

Click here for soundclip.

The Chris Talley Trio at Perk's Friday!

I just wanted to let everyone know that The Chris Talley Trio will be playing at Perk's Coffeehouse in Freeburg, IL this Friday, September 6, 2007. There will be a $3.00 cover (the band does not receive this). Please come out and have a fun evening with us! We will be playing from 8:00 - 10:00 p.m.