Forum - Banjo Ben Clark

Bob Cavalcante from Manassas, VA

What’s your favorite lesson on Ben’s site?
Well, I’m still in the Beginner Learning Track but my favorite to date is the Hop, Skip & Jump – Pull-Offs. Just really liking the sound! I’m loving all the lessons and Ben’s teaching style is fantastic.

What’s your instrument of choice and what was your inspiration to learn how to play?
My Banjo Ben special Recording King RK-R36 Madison! Not long after I joined, Ben gave me a great price on a package deal. Inspiration? I’ve always loved the sound of a banjo, it’s always upbeat and you just can’t play it when you’re down. The past few years I’ve really taken a liking to Bluegrass and last August a friend mentioned he was selling an old banjo for $100 and I bought it sight unseen. It was an old Harmony Marquis and needed a good cleaning and new strings and I still have it. I looked all over the internet for any instruction I could find and one name kept popping up as the best – Banjo Ben!

What’s your goal when playing?
To learn something new and improve every single time. Before practicing, I like to warm up with my Forward and Reverse Rolls to limber up my digits on Boil Dem Cabbage Down, then a little Worried Man Blues and on to Cripple Creek. I’ve found that by steadily practicing those few very basic songs and techniques first, I’ve gotten progressively better and faster not only with what I’m currently learning, but with those songs as well and without even realizing it! Of course my wife keeps asking “When are you going to learn something new?” LOL. I wish I had a couple hours a day to dedicate, but between work and home, that’s just not a reality and I end up missing a day or two here and there. The difficult thing is to force myself to slow down and play accurate, not fast. When I make errors, I intentionally slow down even in mid song until I get it right. I also find myself improvising a little and have to remember to play only what’s taught for now, improvise later. I don’t want to develop any bad habits.

How long have you been playing?
I’ve only been playing banjo since September 2017. As for other instruments, I’ve been playing piano since I was about 11 off and on. I began with some basic piano lessons and practiced on my grandmother’s piano since we didn’t own one. When we moved further from her I stopped taking lessons and started playing by ear and by chords whenever I could practice. I’ve always loved musical instruments and have quite a few, though I’m admittedly a master of none. I’ve always leaned more toward linear instruments like piano, whistles, etc. and though I have one, I just never really sat down to focus on guitar. So it makes COMPLETE SENSE that I would want to learn banjo, right? I currently own my grandmother’s old console piano that was passed on to me, about 8 Irish Whistles (I really like the tone and clarity of the poly Susato whistles), my Aunt’s old Autoharp, my grandfather’s old 1950’s Wendell Hall Teeviola Tenor Ukelele that needs restoration, a polypenco practice bagpipe chanter and an Ibanez 6-string guitar that my mother bought on a whim to learn and recently gave to me. I’ve always liked Irish Whistles and playing with both Irish tunes or nautical sea shanties.

What’s your favorite hobby?
Annoying my wife. HAH! Well according to her, I have way too many and none of them are cheap. I’m the family genealogist with over 1000 people in our family tree, have a great Jeep Wrangler that I love to take on trail rides. We love the outdoors, hiking, canoeing, fishing, though we don’t get to do it enough. I’m a NRA Life Benefactor and Recruiter, a licensed FFL-03 Firearms Collector of Curios and Relics, Love to travel, Love early American history and I’m also an Amateur Radio Operator (Amateur Extra - Callsign WE3M). It’s pretty cool to talk to people around the world on a radio. And yes, I hear it all the time…who needs that when you have the internet? Well I do it using the power of a 100w light bulb on a homemade wire antenna in my attic, bouncing signals of the ionosphere and I can do it without a computer and even when the power goes out. I have solar and batteries for emergency comms and have a radio in my Jeep. I also have handhelds that I use for emergencies and to bounce signals off satellites and the International Space Station. My goal is to one day speak to an astronaut in orbit!

How long have you been a Gold Pick member?
I signed up on the site for a trial membership on 9/26/2017 and became a Lifetime Gold Pick member the very next day! Before that, I scoured the internet for about a month, read all the reviews and banjo sites and blogs and I kept seeing the same thing over and over…Banjo Ben is the best instructor hands down! That was it, I was convinced!

What do you do for a living?
I’m a retired US Navy Senior Chief Gas Turbine Technician (84-04) and I currently work for the U.S. Navy as a civilian as the Test, Trials & Maintenance Manager for the Littoral Combat Ship Program. I ensure all contractual testing requirements are met for all the Hull, Mechanical and Electrical (HM&E) components and systems onboard each of the new Independence Variant Littoral Combat Ships. To date, I’ve delivered 8 ships to our fleet and I’m working on 5 more in various stages of construction!

What’s the greatest place you’ve ever visited and why?
Wow, that’s an easy answer but a long one. After 20 years in the Navy and having lived in Egypt for 14 months as a DOD contractor, I’ve seen quite a bit of the of the world. I’ve been blessed to visit; Jamaica, Guantanamo Bay, Cuba; St. Croix, USVI, Nassau and Grand Bahama Island, Bahamas; Quebec and Halifax, Nova Scotia in Canada; Keflavik and Rekyavik in Iceland; London and Kingston Upon Hull England; Toulon, Marseilles, St. Tropez and St. Raphael in France; Rota and Valencia Spain; Palma, Mallorca; Rome, Naples, Gaeta, Pompeii, Sorrento, Brindisi, and Cagliari in Italy, Thessaloniki (Thessalonians) and Corfu in Greece; Souda Bay and Chania in Crete; Izmir (Smyrna) and Ephesus (Ephesians) in Turkey; Varna and Burgas in Bulgaria, Yalta in the Ukraine; Haifa, Nazareth, Acre, Jordan River, Sea of Galilee and Jerusalem in Israel; Dubai, UAE and maybe a few others I’ve forgotten. I’ve sailed north of the Arctic Circle, in the Atlantic, North Sea, Mediterranean, Black Sea, Adriatic Sea, through the Straits of Gibraltar, Bosporus Straits, through the Suez Canal, Straits of Hormuz, Indian Ocean and deep into the Persian Gulf off the coast if Kuwait, Iraq and Iran. I lived in Alexandria, Egypt for 14 months, visited El Alamein and saw some ancient ruins and touched history in both Alexandria and in Cairo before we were evacuated as their revolution began. We even visited El Alamein while there and were evacuated when the revolution began. That could be a book in itself!

I’ve been to some of the most sacred sites to most of the world in Jerusalem, saw many historic and ancient wonders that have stood the test of time and I’ve even climbed one of the smaller pyramids in Cairo. Each place I’ve been has its own beauty, its own unique charm and wonder and something that makes it great in it’s own right. My point in all this is simply this. Of all the places I’ve been, seen, touched and experienced around the world, the greatest place of all is HOME….RIGHT HERE IN AMERICA! We are a nation of such natural beauty from our incredible coastal beaches, soaring mountains, plains, deserts, we have it all! But the greatest thing, our greatest treasure that none of those places have, is our citizens and our freedom!


Congrats Bob


Hey Bob…congratulations. So cool that you’ve been able to travel and live in so many places.


Welcome to Banjo Ben, Bob… Good to learn to know you a bit… Good luck on your banjo journey!


Thanks Archie!

Thanks Jack! It’s been an experience, that’s for sure! I could probably write a book. But as you know, Navy port visits aren’t that long so you get a little of everything, not enough of anything. The fun will be after retirement going back to some of those great places with my wife!


Much appreciated, Wendell! And thanks, I’ll need it! lol…

Congratulations Bob and welcome!

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You have a very interesting life story. The radio stuff was very intriguing. I myself am a very technical person that loves to know how stuff works. I can diagnose most plumbing HVAC and Electrical problems on very large commercial and industrial buildings, but for the life of me I just can’t understand how the radio works. :joy:

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Good old Bull Run. Nice.

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Thanks Brandon! Interesting is a good word for it. I usually call it a complete mess! :joy:

Radio is actually simple and if you know basic electricity, you’ll understand this. First thing first, how antennas work: Here’s a very simple video explanation of how a simple dipole antenna works. Basically, all antennas are a derivative of this basic design and theory.

Since the two wires don’t touch, there’s no path for direct current flow. But at the high frequency that we transmit in radio, the electrons in the wire itself will still oscillate back and forth at the frequency we selected, creating the current and voltage we need to send a radio wave! This oscillation creates an oscillating magnetic field, which in turn creates an oscillating electric field and thus an electromagnetic field is created and is radiated through the air!

A transmitter is simply a device that turns low power audio voice waves into high powered radio waves. There’s a section of circuits in every radio that takes our voice waves from the microphone and use it to modulate either the amplitude (Amplitude Modulation - AM) or the frequency (Frequency Modulation) of a high powered carrier signal at our selected frequency that is then sent to the antenna.

A receiver is a device that basically electrically tunes the antenna to receive only one frequency (resonance). When a receiving antenna is tuned to the same radio frequency as a transmitting antenna, it detects the signals of that same frequency that are then sent to a smaller audio amplifier circuit creating an exactly duplicated smaller version of the transmitted signal. That’s then converted to an audio frequency that your ears are capable of hearing and sent to the speaker.

Very basic… That help?

Well that’s more than anyone has ever tried to explain to me! Thanks for the crash course. It seems to me that the voltage source would have to be AC instead of DC to have the “oscillating” current at a given frequency. Is this the case or just “fuzzy logic”?

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Yes sir! I cross the Occoquan River twice a day to and from work in DC. Not many people know that “Bull Run” is actually the name of the stream that feeds into the Occoquan River further up river. Beautiful place!manassas_ts11

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Glad to help! Love sharing this hobby. Nope. All electronics use DC as to all radios. My radio and most ham radios use a large separate DC power supply. We have our own highly controlled and very accurate oscillator circuits that are super accurate and controlled. Otherwise every time the power grid frequency fluctuated, so would our transmitter!

Couple pics I found that will help explain:


No so Gary many military radios work on DC, Your mobile phone has it’s roots in military radio technology

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Very cool. Great area to live in if you like American history.

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That it is and I Love it! Mount Vernon, Monticello, Appomattox Courthouse, Fredricksburg, Antietam, Williamsburg, Yorktown, not to mention all the free museums in D.C.!

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hey Bob,
Love the radio talk. I only got as far as a crystal set and Allied Radio walkie talkie kits, but fascinating stuff! And nice to see another 03 C&R here. :wink:

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Hey Dan! Glad you enjoyed it! I enjoy the radio, though I need to put up another antenna now that I lost the one in the yard and now have solar panels covering my roof and screwing up my stealth attic antenna!

Yes, another Cruffler. Not a big collection here, but a few keepers!

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Hiya Bob! Great write up.

We’re neighbors - I’m just out in Gainesville and pass the Stone Bridge every day…twice.

We should get a local Banjo Ben Get Together lined up - I think there are a few of us from northern VA on here…