The Banjitar Blues

So for the last 18 months I have been gigging with Emma with one of these –  a Martinez 6 strong banjo guitar.

It is tuned just like a guitar, but has a sightly lighter, plinkier tone and sounds pretty good on some of the recordings.

I can’t actually remember how much it was – it was fair amount, but not the $849 price tag listed at the Melbourne Music centre site. The model I have might be a step down from this one I pictured, and the writing on the head is different. But it looks similar, otherwise.

Anyway I have just decided to get rid of get and get a regular guitar. The reasons:

  • At live shows through a PA or amp, it doesn’t actually sound like a banjo at all. It sounds like a guitar. So why not just play one?
  • The pick-up is wonky.
  • It goes out of tune easily.
  • It has intonation issues even when the open strings are perfectly in tune. There is some problem with the way the G string is set, so that if it is perfectly in tune open, it will be very sharp on the 2nd fret A.  That means you basically cannot get it so that open G and open A and D all sound good. You have to pick, or compromise. For a folk player, that is a pretty major issue because those are the main three chords!
  • Basically it just sucks.

So I am selling it. Not here though, because I just told you how wretched it was.

I am gonna buy a hollow body electric I think.


Mandolin Christmas Disco Fever

I just got me one of these:

Exactly the same, except mine has a pickup.The tuning is in fifths so the chords are a little different from geetar or banjo, but you get used to it after a while.

Up til now I have been playing on Emma’s old one, which she got given in Mexico, but decided I needed one with a pickup if we are going to take it on stage.

So we’ll be featuring some madolin tunes in our upcoming shows in April, and on further recordings.

Happy Christmas to me.

The Bodhran

I got myself a Walton’s bodharn a while back and Emma recently pained it. It’s going to form the basis of our new album cover.

Here’s some shots, gallery style.

In other news – giggled last night, went well.

I got AER

Our musical future got brighter on this weekend with the purchase of one of these babies.

As any acoustic player will know, normal guitar amplifiers work by a process of converting your own energy into back pain, and then transforming that pain into a sound quite unlike an acoustic guitar, and which feeds back as soon as you turn the gain knob above 2.

AER take a different approach. Inside each one of their amplifiers is an army of tiny German engineers with the ability to mimic any kind of acoustic instrument you care to name. Plus they are very strict dieters and hardly weight a thing.

The banjo sounds good through this, the banjitar better. Played twice with it so far and apparently is is still a touch tinny, but nothing the mixer can’t fix.


It’s Pronounced “Moron”

So one sunny day in April sees me walking down Jetty Road carrying an Irish drum made by Waltons for which I paid $7o. Since then it has been introduced into our sound and look.

My knowledge of Gaelic orthographic rules tells me that Bodhran is actually pronounced “I Don’t Know”, but a funny old Irish man with a beard and a severe head cold recently told me that it is pronounced “moron.” (Actually I’m not sure exactly what he said but he definitely used that word several times.)

Anyway its sound has been variously described as “cool”, “annoying”,” like someone playing a water tank”,” a big boomy droning sound” etc. In recording we use it as a bass note by tuning it electronically to the pitch of the song. Live, we use it advisedly, or not at all. In Ireland where the air is always moist, this type of drum apparently makes a slack wet bopping sound unless heated by the fire, but here the reverse is true and when it is dry, you have to get water on the skin otherwise it sounds like a tin can.

The before shot is what mine looked like before Emma painted it. The after shot is, well, you guessed it.

No, an Irish Banjo!

Me and Em did a gig at the Adelaide Central Market this weekend.

It was one of those morning shows where families of shoppers drift past and smile at you and then some of them give you two dollars.

Proceeds were immediately spent on coffee and buns.

A very drunk, angry-looking chap walked up to us at one point, and said “do you know blah blah blah (insert name of song)?”

No, we don’t.

“Well do you know blah blah blah (inset name of other song).”

No, we don’t.

“What’s fucking wrong with you then?”

(Storms off scowling as though we have totally ruined his day.)

Then, another chap from the UK was trying to talk to me about banjos.

Says he: “I’m thinking of getting an Irish banjo” (p.s. I have no social skills).

Oh, that’s interesting. Is that a five-string? (Here I am, showing my ignorance of Irish banjos).

“No, an Irish banjo” (p.s. I am borderline Asperger’s).

Oh. You mean a tenor banjo, then? (Once again with the ignorance).

“No, an Irish banjo.”

I later found that while nominally, there is such a thing as an Irish banjo, it is really more a style of tuning than a type of instrument. Basically any 4 string banjo could be an Irish banjo. So I suspect this is a little like saying you want a Russian piano to help you play Rachmaninov.

For the record, my own banjo is a bastardized affair, a 5-string with the drone taken off and the 4 remaining strings tuned like the first 4 strings of a guitar, with a capo on the second fret to keep the tension OK. It isn’t ideal but it sounds decent in most conditions. I am also learning 4 string tenor banjo, properly.

But I hope this guy got his “Irish” banjo, really.

Probably Ireland would be a good place to look.


A young man enters abruptly from the street.

Young man: “Excuse me, do you have an Irish banjo.”

Attendant: “I’ll check, sir.”

The attendant looks at the back label of his only tenor banjo, which says “Made in Indonesia.” He looks again at the young man and quickly reaches a decision.

Attendant: “Why, yes sir, we do! This one is as Irish as a fat old cow! And a top of the morning to ye!”

Young Man: “Finally! A proper Irish banjo! I’ll take it!”

Attendant: “That will be nine hundred pounds sir.”