New Creative Opportunities with the Cello Banjo
by Cathy Moore
The cello banjo has helped me develop as a musician by giving me new creative opportunities.
Its low voice and long sustain inspire me to try slower, darker tunes than I usually play on a regular banjo. The cello also asks me to slow down some of my regular repertoire, drop extraneous notes, and syncopate the core melody. This often reveals a surprising depth and complexity within a tune that I had been playing on autopilot for years.
My right hand adjusted to the wider spacing of the original cello bridge, but it wasn’t happy switching between the cello and regular banjos. So I’m now using a bridge made by Mike Keyes that has normal string spacing, and my right hand feels at home everywhere.
The new all-wound strings are a great improvement over the original ones. Melody notes on the first string are clear and bell-like, and the equal amount of sustain from all strings makes a strum sound full and round.
The long sustain persuades me to simplify melodies a bit, especially in tunes that use a lot of low notes. I play near the middle of the head or, for more clarity, closer to the bridge.
I love how easy it is to tune the cello banjo–there’s so much resonance, you can easily hear what you’re doing. Also, the neck is so stable that when I retune one string, I don’t have to tweak all the others.
As the days get shorter, I find myself going to the cello more often to expand my repertoire of dark, introspective pieces. But the cello also holds its own in a rollicking old-time jam, filling out the bottom of the sound and inspiring me to explore bass runs. It’s a great way for any clawhammer player to develop their creativity and grow as a musician.”
Used by permission
I play a short tune and discuss how I approach playing clawhammer on the Gold Tone CEB-5 cello banjo. Things I forgot to mention in the video: In addition to playing closer to the bridge, I don’t use brushes or, basically, play more than 2 strings at once. I take notes out of notey tunes and just generally add more space so the tones don’t glom together.
If you liked Jump at the Sun, the tune I played, you’ll like John Kirkpatrick’s many other works. Check out his online store: