Forum - Banjo Ben Clark

I'm new this is great!

Here is my story. I grew up playing through the schools from about 2nd grade through high school. I always wanted to play guitar. When I was small dad said start on violin until your hands get bigger. Well I did violin tell half way through 7th grade. I switched to string bass. My heart was never in it. As kids are I did not realize the value of the opportunity. My heart was always with guitar. Well dad never thought my hands were big enough (they are, it’s more of a dad thing) but I decided at 14 I was going to learn and teach myself. I used a lot of what I knew about music from my classical violin/bass. I could read a little and that type stuff. I taught myself.

I played and practiced for hours a day every day. You couldn’t get me to practice the violin/bass but guitar I loved. Hours a day every day. I spent a couple years just on dads nylon string. I finally got myself an electric. I played some classical stuff I could get my hands on the sheet music. But I mostly did popular music, hard rock. I thought Jimmy Page was the “cats meow” and in some ways he does have a little bit of variety in his playing. I picked and chose many songs from many artists that seemed too demonstrate a very high level of skill and talent and most important, sounded pleasing. I was practicing as much as 5 hours a day up until about 22 years old. But sadly remember I was teaching myself. So while practicing is never really bad other than maybe you get in a rut and not always as productive as it could be. Also I have heard said you can practice so much you perfect playing badly. Well I guess I did tech myself lots of bad habits.

I had no great musical gift. What I had was love and determination. Well I did get pretty far with that. I still do not have any great gift, like for example pitch/hearing and I am no rhythm master. I still have determination. While I wish I had great gifts I must say determination can really go a very long way.

So back to the story. With no great support from my family. I do not mean to say they did not support me but not knowing music. At 22 I needed to be a self supporting productive member of the world. I did it but I left guitar behind. Not all at first but as time went and the job demanded guitar was lost. For what ever it is worth even in those years of working and improving and advancing I still knew I was a guitar player.

So now go from 22 to today. About a year and three months ago a friend asks me to help him pick out a bass for his son. Well I do that but I see a very inexpensive Ibanez. $250. When I was a kid this would of cost $800 maybe $2000? So I get and buy a Line 6 amp for $100. Once again back when I was a kid an amp like that (fuzz) would of been far beyond my reach. I know have 10 guitars and a bass. 1 year and maybe 3 months later.

I have built a home recording studio. By that I mean I have the DAW the Near Field Monitors several mic’s, mic stands and all. It really is still just a room. Oh I also have a few more amps than that first one. I am so fortunate that I can buy quality instruments at great prices. Not greater than any of you can. Just much better cost than when I was that poor kid with no money and dreams. It is nice to now have money and the ability to live this now.

Do I regret having stopped playing for 20+ years? I guess of course I do in some ways. I think what if I stuck with it. But the real in my heart answer is no I don’t. I had to do what I did. Funny thing is I really lost very little as far as ability to play. Maybe all those years of playing/practicing 5 hours a day paid off. There are many times where I find I let my fingers lead. Songs I knew 20 years ago come out.

I have 4 acoustics, 2, 6 strings,1 12 string and a classical. I am so enjoying them. We did not have You Tube. We had teachers that knew less than we did. Like I said I am not overly gifted I am hard working. I do not dwell on if I had back then what we have now what could I have done. I am trying to enjoy the now. And I am so very thankful I have the recording ability and many instruments I now have.

I don’t know why but I play my acoustics mostly. I have 2 Les Pauls a Fender Standard Telicaster a PRS 24 Custum and more. But I keep playing the acoustics I don’t know why. That said I wanted to learn “real” acoustic not just taking my “rock” songs and playing them on acoustic. Make no mistake I have some very cool acoustic versions of many but…

So I knew “Bluegrass” is the “premier” or at least one of the. So I searched and found “Banjo Ben” (not so sure about that name Ben) and his lessons. I was looking for instruction even more so in bluegrass which I really know little about. Well tie me up and tickle my nose with a pickle. Banjo Ben had John Hardy. My dad used to play version of that. Then there were so many others. I am not sure how to say but I am so advanced in some ways and so weak in others. I credit that to having taught myself. I am having such fun learning this stuff. It makes my acoustic come alive. I have really done well and having fun with the rhythm guitar. I am actually playing and doing my own chords. The leads? OK well I am self taught so I have so many bad habits. One of my worst is “sweep” picking even just with two strings. That really makes the up/down hard. But I am working very hard on it. It really is a joy for me to play these tunes. They are wonderful and acoustic, I really had never explored this. I guess I like this Hill Billie music. Before anyone gets offended about “Hill Billie” I was born in North Carolina and raised in Michigan. If that is not enough I am also of Irish heritage so I mean no disrespect.

Thanks BanjoBen (change that name brother) You have got me sounding all new and having fun doing things I never did. Not to make talking about dads to make you feel bad but my dad will be so happy hearing me play some of these songs. Like me I think he stopped playing to raise a family he just never got the chance to go back.

To all thanks for reading if you did if you did not sorry it was so long.

Take care and love for all of us.

Welcome to the site Frank and thanks for your post.

You’re story is probably similar to alot of our own here on the site. Playing electric guitar for hours a day to classic rock songs and then getting away from it for years once “real life” begins. I remember trying to learn McGuffey Lane songs (a southern rock band based here in Ohio) by wearing out the needle on my record player moving it back to that same spot over and over trying to figure out a lead break. I wouldn’t trade those days for anything. I think when you learn like that, it stays with you forever and I think it’s a higher achievement. It’s the best way to get true ear training. I get a little cocky after I change my guitar strings. I take all of them off at the same time and I never turn on the tuner or listen to another note from an already tuned instrument before I tighten the low E. I do it by ear and when I think it’s right, then I’ll turn on the tuner and check it. Almost every time I nail it right in the green. There’s probably alot of people who can do that and it doesn’t mean I can play good, but I think ear training is a must, especially in bluegrass.

Keep in mind, there’s no right or wrong in what Ben teaches. What he teaches is simply proven techniques that are agreed upon from many influential players that work best and make it easier to play this style of music. The up downs is one of the biggest examples of this. Once you get this, it will make a world of difference and will sound right. There are times when you will use a sweep, Tony Rice along with many others do it, but for the most part, the down, up, downs is a must.

We’ve all learned and practiced things the wrong way at times, but if we were able to learn them the “wrong” way as you said, we can learn them the “right” as well. Sounds like you have the determination to do that.

Good Luck. By the way for anyone interested, Mcguffey Lane got their name from the street one of the band members lived on growing up in Athens, Oh. and I still have those records I “tried” to learn on.


Welcome to the forum Frank,
I have many similarities in my story to yours. I started on violin, played rock, got away from music then came back to it. Like you, I am shocked by what one can buy for a relatively small amount of money (what would the capabilities of a DAW cost 25 years ago?). I did have one guitar lesson growing up. My dad took me to the local music store for a lesson with the local teacher. My Dad was a gentleman and not prone to argument. I don’t remember what happened as we were discussing the lessons and getting started, but Dad and the teacher got into an argument. We left and I never went back. I wish I could remember what the argument was about, but I just remember the teacher seemed abrasive and arrogant. Anyway, that was the end of my formal guitar instruction until I had the great fortune to come across Banjo Ben’s site.

JW, interesting that you tune by ear when changing strings. I am pretty sure I would be off badly if I did it. A low E is about the lowest note I can “sing” (produce is probably a better term), so I have a general reference, but I think whatever version of perfect pitch I may have had is long gone. I used to play in a cover band, so we listened and learned alot of songs from radio, tape and album. I didn’t think it anything special, but at the time, I could generally recognize most commons keys without hunting around. I could often sing a song in pitch without any reference for example, “You’ve lost that loving feeling” starts with vocals, and I could start singing it without a pitch reference and be in the right key when the instruments joined. I think I pretty well lost that ability. Now I have a hard enough singing in pitch with accompaniment :laughing:

Frank, thanks for posting your story. It was an interesting read. I look forward to seeing you around the forums.

Have a good one,

Since you’re already familiar with home recording you should check out the Netgrass section of the forum. We collaborate on long distance recording projects from time to time.

Welcome, this is a great place to be! :slight_smile: Jerry

Frank : I think you have about nailed every aspiring player, we all tried by ourselves and sometimes we were ridiculed but we kept at it , I remember once I had my instrument at the base when I was 17 years old and a officers candidate stole my out put tube "6LB6’ and I found it in his empty wall locker when he left. I did not play when there were many people around I could do the old rock and roll beat with the noted open E and a B a c# and a d and so on but yes we or most of us could not afford lessons . my first guitar lesson was a Ventures book with walk don’t run, and I can still pretty much wail it on out. I was influenced by the Ventures , Lonnie Mack and Chuck Berry . Welcome to Banjo Ben and the forum . :smiley:

Thanks guys for the response. I am still having fun picking up so much stuff. I will post questions and thoughts in other areas but since I am here I do have the same and face the same as everyone else. That applies to everything but…

The what guitar question is not a problem for me I already have mine. My Seagulls are fine instrument’s. Of course I would love a D-28 but mine are just fine now. I want any thoughts on the woods. I have read much so I do kind of know the thoughts/general consensus. Well Spruce top is a given and while there are choices I have Sitka and no options at this time. So I am happy with that. OK the tone woods. I have both. I like the sound of Rosewood over Mahogany in and of itself for all the reasons I see posted. “More complex” but some of the sound of my Mahogany does seem to fit this style very well. And I can only imagine in a get together it might stand out very well.

We can use positive and negative words to describe the same things. Example when just strumming/picking I am liking my Rosewood better I might think my Mahogany is “thin”? But it could also maybe be more “focused”. My guitars are the same almost as much as two can be. Yea one is gloss the other is semi-gloss. One is “fancier” the other more "plain. But the factory and dimensions are the same. Oh the Rosewood is Ebony fretboard the Mahogany is Rosewood.

I have both and play both and it is always nice to use different guitars on the same track. Do you guys have strong opinions? I guess by that I would say the Mahogany has a little “more” traditional sound. Since this fancy guitar bluegrass “pickin” is only mid 60’s and after not sure I should even worry about that.

What you guys think on Tone Woods?

I like all kinds of wood. Different guitars have different voices, and that’s a good thing. I find mahogany to be the easiest to record. Like you said, it is generally less complex than rosewood. That said, I like rosewood quite a bit. I find it a better strumming sound for vocal accompaniment. I guess “the” traditional BG guitar is a D-28, but I see a bunch of guys using mahogany too, so that perception might well be off. Indian rosewood is very warm sounding, madagascar is less warm (kind of between indian and mahogany), but it has some high frequency overtones that are sweet sounding. Koa is like a warmer mahogany. Brazillian has a warm, fat bottom. Sitka is a bit smoother than adirondack (not necessarily better or worse, just different). I really can’t say I have absolute preferences as it depends on the application and my mood. I guess I’m a wishy-washy person when it comes to guitars.

BTW, I like Seagulls. They are nice guitars. I don’t know if they still do, but they used to come consistently nicely set up. You can’t say that for many brands.

On Seagull MrEisz just to let you know. While I like the setup and like you think very nice. They do make an effort. Some find the string height a little high. While I might like to customize mine a little I hardly find issue if 7/64/5/64 are followed which I think they do. Or even better/lower. What I find many having issues with is “nut” width.

On the subject of nut width and even with as little experience as I have. You have two basic nut widths. 11/16 and 3/4. My Seagulls are 1.8". What does that mean? Well a lot is the “Metric” conversion and yes because they build on metric their necks could be a “tad” wider. But mine are for all purpose 1 3/4. I could strum 11/16 but I really like the 1 3/4/1.8. I like space. They are short of 7/8. I think my only point is some people dwell on things. You know like, I can only play 11/16 because 3/4 is too wide. Really?

Make no mistake I would love a Martin. But what I have is not the shortcoming’s in my playing. That is all on me.

For whatever it is worth my two guitars demonstrate the exact same “tonal” characteristics as all and anyone has for their tone woods.

My Seagull’s will never be a D-28 or D18 but I am very happy with them. I do have a budget. but I do like them.

I tend to enjoy the wider necks. 1 3/4" seems to be a good fit for me. I can play smaller ones with a little time for adjustment. What really throws me off is different spacing at the saddle if I am playing fingerstyle. With a pick I can adjust, but fingerstyle seems to have a pretty rigid muscle memory.

I played for a long time before I got a Martin, and I learned more on less expensive guitars than I have learned since getting a Martin. At a group lesson where a bunch of people have bought guitars, one of my best friends (who is in that group) got Seagulls for him and his wife, and frankly, they are great guitars. They could have dropped some serious money into guitars if they wanted to, but the seagulls suit them just great. Here’s the big thing (and you nailed it)… 99 percent of the music you make comes from you, not from the instrument. Ben could out play me if he was on a $25 Silvertone with 40 year old strings and terrible action.

With that said, give that Silvertone beater to someone who is trying to learn to play and you are setting them up for failure. Unfortunately, the people who most need a great setup are generally playing guitars that aren’t set up well. I have set up $99 yamahas that play like butter, and I have seen brand new Martins that need a neck set (or a twisted neck). Generally, more expensive guitars are better setup, but that’s not always the case. I don’t think I have ever played a new Seagull or Taylor that didn’t at least have a decent setup.

Is there a story behind the boat pic?

My guess was dredging for tone woods that have laid at the bottom of Erie and the other great lakes ,you can actually buy a Martin with certification it is reclaimed form the lakes .or maybe not the lakes? I get ahead of myself but reclaimed . I almost opted for one of those . not that much difference in price .