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Stelling Banjo Anthology

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 1, 2010

    A great banjo-centric conversation among friends

    Playing Time – 61:54 -- I still remember the first time I heard a Stelling banjo in the mid-1970s, and I recall thinking that the instrument sure projected with both volume and tone. The very first issue of Frets magazine in 1979 featured the Stelling Bellflower. At that time, Stelling Banjo Works was based in Spring Valley, CA. The company now operates out of a former one room schoolhouse on Heards Mountain in Va. Founded in 1974, Stelling Banjo Works has always tried to innovatively improve on banjo construction with such patented creations as the wedge-fitted pot assembly, pivot-pin tailpiece, Stelling maple bridge, and compensated nut. With over thirty years in the business, Geoff Stelling has become known as one of the best banjo builders today. And that may explain why some of the world’s finest banjo players play these instruments. Geoff’s impetus for making this album was to present an array of banjos on one recording played by various well-known pickers. Potential Stelling owners can hear how the different banjos sound when played by different people. Geoff also wanted to showcase some of his favorite pickers and friends who play Stellings. He had many musicians in mind but had to narrow the group to who was available and willing to participate under the terms he offered. This CD’s collection of 21 instrumentals played on Stellings by nine well-known banjo players is a celebration of three decades of success. During that period, about 6,000 banjos have been built. Photos in the CD booklet include nice instruments such as # 91 (a 1976 Golden Cross built for Don Reno) and The Scrimshaw (of which only 15 were made). About half of the banjos used on this recording were constructed since 2002, many with Tony Pass rims made of mature timber that has been underwater for over 100 years, recovered and kiln dried. The tunes, a variety of the common and uncommon, were recorded from February-April, 2005 in various studios, with each banjo-player assembling their own competent back up musicians. The majority of the tunes are the players’ own original compositions. However, there are also some Bill Monroe, Don Reno, Earl Scruggs, Gary/Randy Scruggs, Roland/Clarence White, and traditional covers. The featured artists include Bill Emerson, Alan Munde, Keith Arneson, Casey and Murphy Henry, Alvin Breeden, Ned Luberecki, Chris Warner, and Geoff Stelling. It might’ve been nice to include a paragraph about each artist and their styles. The leanest arrangement is Luberecki’s “Nedscape Navigator” with just banjo and Ron Pennington’s mandolin. Keith Arneson played banjo, guitar and bass on his one cover and two original compositions. The other pickers organized full ensembles for their contributions, but I was surprised that not one of the 21 cuts includes any resophonic guitar. According to Geoff, “None of the banjo players apparently felt the need for Dobro given that the CD is supposed to feature the banjo. We had a limited amount of time and no need for an instrument that usually competes with the banjo in a way that is unique to that instrument.” All in all, this hour-long set is a great banjo-centric conversation among friends. Assuming the success of this album, Geoff Stelling will do another with other prominent pickers of banjos he’s built. (Joe Ross, staff writer, Bluegrass Now)

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