Me & My New Banjo

As I explained in my previous essay, I, a veritable musical ignoramus, have bought myself a banjo. What’s more, I intend to learn to play said banjo.

There was a time when I wanted to play the bagpipes. When I hear bagpipes, something deep within me stirs. When I hear bagpipes, I feel reflective and melancholy, or I just want to march into battle wearing a kilt and brandishing a very large sword.

Then I had it in my head that I wanted a shofar. There is something about the shofar that appeals to me. Maybe it is the simplicity of it. Surely, anyone can play a shofar. I went to YouTube and watched This Clip of hundreds of men (maybe thousands) blowing shofars at some gathering in Tennessee. It shows Ricky Skaggs blowing a shofar on stage. I watched that movie and it was fascinating, but I came to the conclusion I’m just not Pentecostal enough to play the shofar.

But the there’s an instrument that really appeals to me. It seems very “down to earth.” And, unlike bagpipes or a shofar, the banjo requires no lung activity; it leaves the player free to talk or sing. Most of all, though, I like the banjo because banjo music just makes me happy.

How I came to actually buy a banjo is kind of interesting. It happened like this....I awoke early one morning in mid December, last. I had it in my mind that I was going to learn to play the banjo. I went directly to my computer and to YouTube where I did a search of “banjo lesson.” The first page of results came up and I was attracted to Frailing Banjo Lesson One.

That was my introduction to Patrick Costello. I liked him and what he was saying and I was intrigued. I thought to myself that he was a good teacher and that I could learn what he was showing.

In another YouTube banjo movie with Patrick Costello, he introduces his father, who he affectionately refers to as “Dear Ol’ Dad.” It turns out that Dear Ol’ Dad’s name is Pat and he and Patrick have a home business selling banjo lesson books and DVD’s. They utilize YouTube pretty well. You can see Patrick and Dear Ol’ Dad together in this “weekly lesson” on YouTube.

But teaching is only part of the father & son business. It so happens they sell banjos too. I looked the banjos over and decided that I could afford an S5 Minuteman.

That’s when I went and told Marlene of my hankering to buy a banjo and learn to play it. This was the first she had heard of my desire to do this and she was surprised. But she gave her approval.

I thought about buying that banjo for a few hours and even went to several internet sites looking at various banjos for sale. Then, that afternoon, I ordered an S5 Minuteman and paid a down payment.

I could have bought a cheaper banjo and I could have bought a more expensive banjo. But the S5 appealed to me because it is handcrafted in America (Virginia) by a fellow named Chris Via. Here’s a link to Chris Via’s web site with pictures of his shop. I’d much rather have an instrument made by a goat-farmin’, family man homesteader from Virginia than I would an unknown Chinaman. And I’d much rather buy a banjo from a father and son business than I would an anonymous internet storefront. That’s the way I look at it.

Well, I had to wait for more than two months for my S5 Minuteman (Oh, and I do like that name) but it was worth the wait. As it happens, the Minuteman banjo is a brand new creation and a collaborative effort between Patrick, Dear Ol’ Dad, Chris Via, and Neil Turner. Dear Ol’ Dad told me on the phone that they have something akin to a banjo-making guild going on down there, and it appears that business is good.

Dear Ol’ Dad also told me that he once managed a pharmaceutical company and then a bubble gum company. Now retired, he is very busy with the home music business. His management and organizational skills are coming in handy.

My Minuteman banjo arrived a couple weeks ago. It is signed by Chris Via and is numbered “003.” I’m a happy customer. The batteries in my digital camera are dead so I can’t show you a picture of me and my new banjo right now. But here is a YouTube video of Patrick Costello telling all about my new banjo and showing how it sounds:

You can learn more about the S5 Minuteman, and the other banjos that the Costellos sell, as well as their teaching materials and blog, and so on at This Link.

A progress report: I can tell you that I have figured out how to tune my banjo (I bought a neat little electronic tuner) and I am practicing about 1/2 hour a day with the very basic beginning lessons. I’m getting a little more comfortable and better every day. I have a LOT to learn but I really am enjoying this whole new adventure. Better yet, my son, James, is interested and practicing a bit too.


Marci said...

I often think the drive to learn an instrument is more than half the battle. I wish you many happy hours of playing!!!

mark said...

A new banjo! Now of course it's time to compose your theme song. Something like "The Ballad of the Deliberate Agrarian". Or, maybe "those Deliberate Agrarian Blues" Maybe a country song" "Country rows, I have to hoe,from the days i was Born....." those Wizbang Clucker Plucker Blues.... "Carry me back to Old Virginny, on my Whizbang Garden Cart..... Any Ideas?

Bobby Mosteller said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
StefRobrts said...

Good luck on your new adventure. I had a banjo for a short time, but I have played guitar since I was a kid. It turns out going from a 6 string guitar to a 5 string banjo is probably harder than just picking up a banjo and learning it without having any guitar background to confuse you!

Kansas Milkmaid said...

Incredibly exciting Herrick. May God bless you as you take on this new challenge. I am sure there will be much more excitement to report on this endeavor.


truewonder said...

Good for you, being deliberate and all...isn't that just the best way to be?! Good luck here sir, and the banjo and the whimsy behind it is indeed a beaut. Take care-

Anonymous said...

Dear Herrick,

I had a similar experience as yours. I did the google search and came up with Patricks video. At the time he wasn't selling banjos so I bought a beater off of e-bay. Patrick has been a wealth of information and is enjoyable to watch. In December I ordered an S-1 Somerset and also am anxiously awaiting its arrival. I am sure Patrick and Dear old Dad have increased the banjo population by many times over and have made ourselves much happier as a result.


trapper said...

Herrick, I too had the same mid life crisis. I went out in August 08 and bought an Epiphone banjo. Started taking lessons from a kid who could play guitar... taught me the basics, but I have been following Patrick and DOD every day for a month. I too am contimplating buying the S-5 Minuteman banjo, I think I may have outgrown the cheaper banjo. I can now stumble through Cripple Creek and run some chords. I sure would like to find somone else to jam with and learn the traditional music of our early country and its beginnings. Keep frailing!!!