What was it that first got you interested in playing the guitar, mandolin or banjo?
My brother got me interested. We are both grandfathers and decided to push our old gray cells so we’d have fun when we were able to get together.
How long have you been playing and what’s your motivation to play?
I’ve been playing about a year and a half. I want to encourage my granddaughters to pursue music so I figured I’d better get going as a role model.
What’s your favorite lesson on Ben’s site and how has it helped you improve?
I really like the theory built into the intro and throughout the lessons. But when Ben posted Happy Birthday just 3 weeks before my mom’s 86th Birthday, that instantly became my favorite challenge. That lesson includes so much and I enjoy learning all of the chord shapes and ad libs.
What’s your goal when playing?
I like a warm woodsy sound, so my goal is to strike and fret accurately enough to create a welcome addition to a family fireside get together.
Are there any other instruments or genres of music that you enjoy playing?
I played alto sax in a jazz band as a teenager — was pretty good back then and still have my sax — someday I hope to have the time to resurrect that instrument as well. But the banjo works much better for family gatherings.
If you didn’t have to sleep, what would you do with the extra time?
Right now I’d have to devote that time to finishing a bathroom renovation project at home, but I’d likely sneak in a bit of banjo time as well. My wife loves to hear me play (no I’m not any good—I just have a great wife), but she’s getting tired of the construction zone.
How long have you been a Gold Pick member?
I’ve been a Gold Pick member since this past December. I took lessons at a local music store my first year, but I really prefer the self-paced and in-depth lessons as a Gold Pick member.
Do you have a favorite technique? What is it?
I’m not good enough to tout any techniques, but I was fortunate to upgrade last year to a Nechville Classic and recently switched the tone ring with his hardwood Timbre-Tronic ring. I really enjoy the sound and the lighter weight. Kept the metal ring, though, so I could go back to that sound when I wish.
What artist(s) most inspire you?
All the young talent that I see here and there provide the most inspiration I’m close to Nashville and attended the last two SPBGMA conventions — amazing talent just everywhere.
What do you do for a living?
I’m a rocket scientist — really I am. PhD from Penn State in Aerospace Engineering and I work systems analysis for NASA. I probably shouldn’t admit this, but frankly the banjo is more of a challenge than rocket science.
What would be the most amazing adventure to go on?
Take an entire summer visiting every national park — and playing banjo by the campfire at each one.
How did you find out about Banjo Ben?
YouTube videos would pop up now and then. They always were a great mix of information and fun.
Who are your favorite pickin’ heroes (bluegrass and country artists)?
The standard folks — Bela Fleck, Earl Scruggs, Noam Pikelny, Steve Martin, etc. But I’m also inspired by the Avett Brothers, Mumford & Sons, and others pushing the use of the banjo into multiple genres.
What question would you want us to ask future Gold Pickers of the Week?
Who’s your biggest fan? I would say my biggest fans are my folks — they want me to always bring my banjo when I visit and they think anything I play is great. My granddaughters are also great fans since they think I’m a superstar! Everyone needs fans like that.
Anything else you'd like to add?
Thanks for providing the Banjo Ben lessons. I truly feel blessed to be able to pursue pickin’ with such an enjoyable resource.