Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Dave and Doug Unplugged

Dave and Doug Unplugged consists of Doug Hullinger and Dave Hicks. They started playing together when their daughters were in 2H Horse and Pony Club. We like the same kind of music and with Dave’s unbelievable ability to harmonize so easily they started singing folk music, Americana, and soft rock.

Dave played a classic guitar, and a 12 string. Doug was a Pete Seeger fan, and admires Pete's "folks songs are to be shared and enjoyed" philosophy, and has had no lessons except for Seeger's "How to play the Five String Banjo".

Doug bought a Chuck Lee Chautauqua with the Silver Bell tone ring (shown above) so he could be heard. They play a couple times a month at coffee houses and small festivals or other simple gigs, and enjoy sharing music with others.

As for the second banjo, Dave tells us:

"I saved enough money to get another Chuck Lee banjo. This one I wanted to be more traditional, no tone ring.

I did want something special so I contacted Chuck and we came to the conclusion that a custom banjo with a figure sitting fishing would be what I wanted. I live on a small lake, and play outside a lot during the summer.

I had no idea what a tremendous instrument would come to my house. It has a great true sound, the artistic work is completely unique, and it is always something people in the audience ask about every time we play. The sound is incredible. "

Monday, July 4, 2011

American Craftsman, American Dream, American Banjo, Happy 4th of July

Well, it's been over a week since the banjo arrived and I've had a chance to play it, and hear it played, enough to form an overall impression. In case you're short on time, here's the short version: This is a fine, fine banjo.

Here's the longer version:

First, I had to resist (as much as is possible, anyway) forming opinions influenced by how the banjo looks. It is absolutely flat-out beautiful. I really can't get over how pleasing it is to the eye and to the touch. I love the subtle, understated beauty of the unadorned headstock and fingerboard as much as I admire the artistry that produced the fit and finish of the components. I find myself now wishing that all of my banjos - including the bluegrass banjos - could be similarly bling-free.

The first thing I noticed in running through a few tunes was the instrument's overall tonal balance. I frequently play up the neck and was pleased to discover no loss in the strength or character of the notes in the banjo's upper register. As important, the volume remains constant as one progresses from the lower to the higher positions on the neck. These characteristics do not change when you step on the gas; the more forceful the attack, the louder the banjo gets. Very nice.

After playing it daily for the past week, I believe that I've found the sweet spot(s), become familiar with its idiosyncrasies, and have a handle on how to elicit the banjo's optimum response. (And respond it does. We had a jam session last Wednesday evening - banjo, fiddle, mandolin, guitar, and bass. In a group setting, just as when playing it by myself, the banjo sounds sublime - full, round notes, beautiful separation, excellent volume. Golly.)

The day before the jam, Ori came over and brought his Chuck Lee banjo. We spent several hours playing, passing the instruments back and forth. The sound from my new banjo, listening from the 'business side', was every bit as impressive, and perhaps even more, than when I play it (of course, Ori's fine playing may have helped a bit). I also noticed that the banjo has a really broad sweet spot - no matter where you place your right hand, it maintains its strength and tonal character. Simply put, it sounds great.

So in summary, Chuck, I am very pleased with this terrific banjo. And I'm more grateful than I can say to have chosen you to build it. I have no doubt that, as long as I'm able to play, my satisfaction with it will remain undiminished.

All the best,

Jim Evans