Tag Archives: mandolin

Red Henry

Red Henry


Folks, I just ran across a photo and wanted to share it with you. A few years ago, a member of the "Co-Mando" mandolin email list held a gathering at his house in Maryland, a couple of hours' drive from here. Our friend David McLaughlin rode over to the gathering with me, and we joined nine or ten other mandolin players for an afternoon of visiting and picking.

At one point, we lined up our mandolins on a soft couch so that everyone there could try all of them out (it's called a "mandolin tasting", and someone took a photo. Here it is:
Mandos104

Seen here at the party are 11 mandolins, my mandola, and my home-made mandocello conversion. Among the mandolins are the two I brought (Randy Wood #1 and #3), as well as the one David brought (a 1923 F-5). Others seen in the photo include two Rigel mandolins, one late-1950s Gibson, and a few other makes. The other pickers were especially excited to have the chance to play that 1923 F-5, after David generously put it on the couch for "tasting." They were also amused to play Randy Wood #3, the one formerly owned by Bill Monroe, and get themselves a few molecules of Bill as they played. (My four instruments in the picture are distinguished by their light-colored maple bridges.) See if you can pick out David's Loar in the photo!

As you can guess, a good time was had by all. And we've got the pictures to prove it!

Red

Red Henry

Red Henry

At the Florida Folk Festival, Chris, John, and I were picking at our campsite, warming up to play a set. Since John knows a great many of Bill Monroe's tunes and plays them on the banjo, we were exploring the Monroe "deep catalog." We did play 'Jerusalem Ridge', but we also played 'Old Ebeneezer Scrooge' and 'Come Hither to Go Yonder' and 'The Old Mountaineer' and 'Crossing the Cumberlands' and 'Right, Right On' and more.

A person who was new to this kind of music stood by one side and listened. When we finished one tune she asked, "Who wrote that music that you're playing?" I replied, "Bill Monroe." She asked, "Is it authentic?"

I pointed to John and said, "That man right there was playing banjo for Bill when he was writing and playing these tunes, and yes, it's authentic!"

Red Henry

Red Henry


Sunday was another long and musical day at White Springs. The morning dawned high and dry, with no sign of the deluge we'd had the previous evening. After begging some morning coffee (essential for survival), I tuned up my mandolin and guitar and contemplated the day. We had a set to play at the River Gazebo, specified to be primarily of Florida songs. We have quite a few of those in our band repertoire, so I started picking out a few. There were some I rejected. "Abraham Washington"? -- maybe too grim for Sunday. "Gospel Snakes"? -- Dale had performed that one on Saturday. But we had plenty more up our sleeves.

By "we" I mean Red and Chris Henry and our All-Star Band, which includes John Hedgecoth (banjo), Jenny Leigh (fiddle), and Barbara Johnson (bass), all three of whom are great pickers. In spite of only performing together a few times per year, we have plenty of material worked up and are always learning more-- we managed to play two hour-long sets at Gamblefest without repeating anything-- and we have a good time playing music together.

First thing on the day's program was to back up our friend Dale Crider for his set on the Old Marble Stage. We all traipsed over there at the appropriate time, and Dale launched into his set.

Now, Dale's mind works quickly and creatively. (I have already mentioned his "Mangrove Buccaneer" song posted by Ron Johnson at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=18-Kt4UKmII , in which Dale's cat-like powers of recovery are demonstrated.) But after Dale arrived a few minutes late for his own set on Friday, and was only prevented from singing one of his own songs which we'd already done by the kindness of a vocal audience member, he'd gotten skittish about repeating a song. Before singing one of his songs at the Old Marble Stage, he paused and asked the audience, "Have I already done this one?" -- it's a good thing he asked them instead of us. I leaned into my mike and said, "Dale KNOWS that if he'd already sung it, WE would stand right here and let him sing it AGAIN!" -- but correctly reassured by the audience that he hadn't done it yet, Dale sang "Mangrove Buccaneer" to end the set. Good job, Dale.

After a break back in the campground, it was time for us to go down to the River Gazebo and play. Before our set I chatted for a while with distinguished Florida folks Larry Mangum and Frank Thomas, and also met Nancy Crockford, an accomplished violinist who was interested in learning fiddle. I'll send you a couple of our Murphy Method fiddle-instruction DVDs, Nancy. Then it was time for us to play.

Since Christopher and I like playing double-harmony mandolins together so much, we started out with a fine Bill Monroe tune called "Tallahassee". Chris and Jenny contributed Florida songs of their own, and then John sang his "Florida Sunshine" tribute to White Springs in olden days. The crowd really liked all these but at that point we were running short on time, so we did a quick guitar-harmony rendition of Will McLean's "Osceola's Last Words" and finished out with an abbreviated double-mandolin version of "Rawhide" -- not exactly a Florida song, I suppose, but to get five out of six isn't bad.

Last on our day's schedule was a set by Dale at the Gazebo, alternating songs with Jeannie Fitchen. We had a good time playing, and listening to Jeannie, and playing, and listening, until it was time for Frank Thomas to take center stage and lead us all in "Old Folks at Home". What a good day, and what a great festival!

After the set John needed to get back to Nashville, but the rest of us loaded up our stuff and drove down to Dale's place at Windsor, on the shores of Lake Newnan. The thunderstorms were threatening as we set out, and let go some gully-washing rains as we drove. On Monday, we'd be recording with Dale!

Next time: Day 5!

Red Henry

Red Henry


When I last left you, we (Chris, Jenny, and I) had arrived late and tired at the Florida Folk Festival campground, and I collapsed to get some rest for the next day. Well, Friday dawned bright and promising, and I secured the morning essential (coffee) to start waking up. Pretty soon my mother Renee and her banjo-playing brother, my uncle John Hedgecoth, arrived from Tallahassee and we all picked for a while to warm up. By "we all" I mean myself, Chris, and Jenny, plus John and Barbara Johnson, our bass player.

We'd barely gotten started when someone noticed that our friend Dale was scheduled to play a set at noon on the Seminole Stage, which is at the other end of the festival-- probably about a half-mile-- from the campground. We wanted to back him up. So we loaded ourselves and our instruments into a variety of vehicles and set out for the Seminole Stage.

Now, when you deal with creative personalities you're talking about people who sometimes don't see the point of making sure you arrive everywhere exactly on schedule. This is the case with Dale, one of the most brilliantly creative people I know. So when we all arrived at the Seminole Stage, ready to back him up for his set, he was nowhere to be seen. What to do? Well, we've backed Dale up a lot. When the time came to start his set, we just got up in front of the crowd and started singing his songs! We kicked it off with Dale's original song "Mangrove Buccaneer." The crowd (full of people who knew Dale) loved it. And when we had played about half of the set, who should come running in, guitar in hand, but Dale himself! Christopher was in the middle of singing "Tate's Hell," a wonderful Florida song and one of Dale's favorites, and Dale just took over the lead vocal from him to finish out with the last verse.

Dale sang several more, and it was time to finish the show. He had decided to end the set with "Mangrove Buccaneer" when one audience member (unfortunately) told him that we'd already sung it! It would have been so much fun if he'd gone ahead and done it again, unknowingly. But instead he finished up with his song "Apalachicola Doin' Time" (freshly topical these days with the Gulf oil disaster on peoples' minds), and we we back to the campground to rest and pick.

Our own set was at the same Seminole Stage at 3:30, so we loaded up again and made the trek. We had an excellent crowd, and played and sang many of our favorites, starting off with Chubby Anthony's "Foothills of Home" and finishing out with the old gospel favorite "When the Roll is Called Up Yonder," which I'm glad to say that many people sang along with. Then it was back to the campground and picking until the small hours.

Do you wonder why we do this? Well, who'd want to be anywhere else?

Red

Red Henry

Red Henry


A friend of ours has left a mandolin with us, just for a visit. It's a very nice mandolin but he hasn't been playing it much, so he wanted me to "play it in" and bring it back to sounding its best. I play it most of the time for my daily practice, and its sound is indeed improving. This is something that happens with most instruments. If you play them regularly, they sound better than if you don't.

Some folks don't believe this happens, and say there's no such thing as an instrument's sound improving from being played. But I believe that they ought to say, "I haven't heard this happen myself." Maybe they've never heard an instrument improve, but it sure happens, and folks all over the stringed instrument world are aware of it.

It's well known in the violin world that instruments sound better if they're played. A friend of ours was in a group which played a concert in Cremona, Italy, where many of the old master violins were made, long ago. He and his friends visited a violin museum there. Among all the beautiful old violins there was a little old man whose job it was to play them, each of them, every day, in order to keep them sounding their best. What a job, to play millions of dollars worth of violins every day of the week. Life is hard! But it did keep the instruments sounding great.

So why am I telling you all this? Because it applies to the instrument you play, whether it's a mandolin, fiddle, guitar, or banjo. Play it every day, and keep it sounding good. You'll have your own million-dollar sound.

Red Henry

Red Henry

As many of you know, I make one-piece maple mandolin bridges, and we offer them on our website. A week or two ago I mentioned that for bluegrass mandolins, I was thinking of going back to an older model I used a few years ago, which featured "wings" on the ends of the bridge. This bridge-type might deliver a few percent less volume than my standard design, but is has advantages in the low end richness, sweetness, and sustain it produces:
WingedBridgeMar2010

Well, I have made the change. For bluegrass mandolins, I'll be offering this 6-hole winged bridge. For other bridges, to go on oval-hole and round-hole mandolins, my regular 11-hole and 6-hole designs will continue to sound great; the wings don't seem to matter as much on those kinds of mandolins.

Interested? If you have any questions, drop me a line at redhenry@visuallink.com .

Red Henry

Red Henry

Maple mandolin bridges are still catching on, though slowly. So far I've sold almost 700 of them myself. Over the last 7 or 8 years I've gone through a few different models of the bridges, and I'm considering making another change.

For the last four years or so, my standard bridge has been an 11-hole model, which seems to give the best overall response-- combination of tone and volume-- on the majority of mandolins. I decided on this maple-bridge type after trying 30 or so designs in about 25 different woods. Here's a pic:

But lately I've been thinking about the winged bridges I made at first, which often gave the richest and bassiest tone, deeply desired by many bluegrass mandolin pickers because quite a few bluegrass mandolins don't have much bass. The volume it gave, however, was a few percent less than with other bridge designs.

But I've found now that a slightly-modified version of those old winged bridges will give both (1) the rich tone most bluegrass players want and (2) almost as much volume as an 11-hole bridge. I have made several of these bridges, and really like the sound. This would be a mandolin bridge specifically for Bluegrass:

--so if there is some demand for it, I may produce this modified winged design for use on bluegrass mandolins. How about it, bluegrass mandolin players? Is enhancing your mandolin's low end as important for you as it is for others? I may put these bridges into production. Let me know.

Red

Red Henry

Red Henry

Now, this little blog isn't about banjo picks, so rest easy that there won't be any battles started about those. There are as many opinions about banjo picks as there are banjo players!

But today's story is about FLATPICKS. We sometimes take them for granted, but not everyone knows what they are. Once a lady had seen our ad for the "Flatpicking Guitar DVD", and called us to ask, "What does 'flat picking' mean?" Well, we did our best to explain, but if you don't know what a flatpick is, then this won't mean much to you.

I have a particular, favorite kind of flatpick. These were made of a particular kind of plastic by just a few companies (such as Gibson), and they're no longer made. Well, I had hoarded about a dozen of these picks, and I used or lost less than one a year, thinking they were a lifetime supply. Then, about a year ago, I put them in a safe place.

Well, you know what that means. I lost them. They were so safe that I couldn't remember where I'd put them. I looked in every great "safe place" I could think of. I only had two of the picks that I hadn't put away, and I thought maybe those two would have to be my lifetime supply...

That is, until two days ago. The picks were on a shelf in in plain sight, and fell off when I put something else on that shelf. There they were, my favorite plastic. Good grief.

The moral of all this (if one exists) applies not just to flatpicks but also to banjo thumbpicks, and is in three parts:

(1) Don't get attached to just one kind of plastic for your picks;

(2) Use lots of different kinds of picks, like Bill Monroe did, so that your fingers are used to variety and can adapt to other kinds of plastic; AND--

(3) When you put your picks in a safe place, Don't put them in too safe a place. Put them in a place you can find again!

Everybody pick purty--

Red

Red Henry

Red Henry

Folks, that might seem like a strange title for a post, but I just wanted to point out how musicians sometimes seem to evaluate instruments on the basis of what they look like, rather than what they sound like.

This really comes into play with banjos, and the musicians are well aware of it. They know that others will evaluate their music partly on the basis of what kind of instrument they play. For example, I recently saw a band photo session where the banjo player hadn't brought her banjo, and she was going to have to hold a banjo brought by one of the other band members. She was a bit alarmed by that, and said, "Is it a crummy banjo? I'm not having my picture taken holding a crummy banjo!" Fortunately, this banjo had 'Gibson' on the peghead and looked even older than the one she'd left at home. So she held it happily in the photo. That was a banjo she didn't mind being seen with.

I was reminded of this another time at a big picking party. A friend of ours owned one of the quite valuable Gibson F-5 mandolins from the early 1920s. He couldn't come to the party, but sent the mandolin there with another friend of ours, who handed it to me to play.

Now, the jam session had been going loud and long at this point. I had no problem with that, since my two mandolins (Randy Wood #1 and #3) will cut through any number of banjo and guitar players, and the pickers certainly weren't giving me any slack. But then I started playing that old F-5, and suddenly everything changed. The whole jam session quieted down to hear that $100,000 Gibson mandolin-- and they needed to. The instrument was not remarkable either for tone or for volume, and it couldn't have been heard otherwise. So the pickers were using their eyes, not their ears, to evaluate that mandolin, and they quieted down to let it be heard. They hadn't done that when I was playing my Randy Wood, which was frankly a much better instrument.

So, next time you're in a group of pickers, really pay attention to what the other people's instruments sound like. Don't listen with your eyes, listen with your EARS!

Red

Red Henry

Red Henry

Casey's description of learning a tune by ear reminded me of my own experience. When I was a brand-new mandolin player, just starting out, I acquired Bill Monroe's LP "Bluegrass Instrumentals". Now, you might think that that was pretty far advanced for a beginner (and it was) but I knew the kind of  music I wanted to learn, and that was it.

Bill played a lot of great tunes on that album, and quite a few of them were both fast and complicated. So, how does a newbie learn something like that? Well, I had the means right at hand: Bill's album, and a record player that slowed down to half speed, 16 2/3 rpm.

"What use was a piece of old junk like that", you may ask, "something my grandparents threw away in 1973?" Well, in this case, the 'old junk' slowed Bill Monroe down to exactly half-speed---just slow enough for me to hear his notes---while staying in tune with my mandolin. (Okay, the music was down an octave---it sounded pretty low---but that was no problem.)

I started learning all the tunes I could off that album. Bill's showpiece number "Rawhide" still comes to mind. I listened and listened, learning all three of his breaks the best I could, and played them for a while. Naturally I, as a beginner, didn't hear and play all of Bill's notes, but I'd made a good beginning, and anyway I was playing the SOUND. Weeks later, I went back to the record and learned the tune better. Later still, I went back and got my version even closer to his. Eventually, within the first couple of years, I knew what Bill had played and could play it myself. Since I'd learned it from the recording I had both the NOTES and the SOUND, and it was RIGHT.

The equipment available now (computer programs for low-speed playback) is more versatile in letting you listen to what you want to learn. You don't have to listen with the music an octave down any more. But the principle is the same---as Murphy says, "Listen, listen, listen, and play, play, play."

That's what you do when you learn by ear---you learn what you can, get that into your brain and fingers, then go back later and find that you can learn still more. And more. Yes, it takes time and effort. But did you think that something this great---playing bluegrass music---was going to be easy?

Red