Bob Carlin Talks About Gold Tone Cello Banjos with Paul Roberts
Bob, you’re quoted as saying, “Gold Tone Cello Banjos are both something old and something new. They reference the banjo's past, back to the late 19th/early 20th century banjo groups, yet at the same time provide today's banjoists with an interesting and flexible banjo family instrument to fill up the bottom end of their ensembles. The CEB-4 and CEB-5 can shadow the melody played by fiddlers and regular pitched banjos, or play bass lines and counterpoint, making complete any acoustic music ensemble."
Could you tell me why you think the cello banjo is reemerging after so many years of obscurity?
Its reemergence is in the hands of Marcy Marxer. I mean she’s the one. Even though the American Banjo Fraternity has had cello banjos in their orchestras for sixty years, Marcy has re-introduced it to a larger audience, in a whole new way, just within the last two years.
Cello banjos have been around since the 1880’s but in recent times, it’s sort of been lurking below the radar. Groups like The Old 78’s have always used the cello banjo in they’re performances, but Marcy has a lot more visibility. She’s the one driving the excitement.
Weren’t you there for the unveiling of the new Gold Tone cello banjos at the NAMM Show last January?
Yes, I was at the Gold Tone booth when we got the samples. I was the one who unpacked them.
What was your first impression?
The minute I played the 5-string, I went, ‘this is it! This is great!’ I think it’s been a surprising hit.
Have you been playing one?
Oh yes, I’ve been using it a lot. I’ve actually got the prototype in my possession and I’ve been taking it around whenever I perform and teach. I use it to play melody, bass lines and a little bit of chording. I think it works great; I really like it. It fills in a frequency range between a string bass and the melody instruments and it doesn’t seem to get in the way of the guitar. I find the 5-string CEB-5 to be really exciting. I play it a lot.
What’s been the response to the cello banjo at your workshops?
A lot of clawhammer players have an immediate affinity to it, which doesn’t surprise me. What’s been very interesting is the three-finger bluegrass players who have said, ‘Wow, this is cool!’ I wasn’t sure it would work for what they did.
I’ve heard that several high-profile musicians have recently gotten cello banjos.
Yeah, I can’t wait to see Béla Fleck and Victor Wooten both playing their Gold Tone 5-string cello banjos on stage. That’s going to be pretty exciting. And it’ll be interesting to hear what Tony Trischka does with his. Tony has written a very complimentary review of the CEB-5, which should be published soon.
Neither the 4 nor 5-string cello is a ‘banjo’ in the way people are used to hearing it. It seems like one can go places, musically, with a cello banjo where people might not even recognize it’s a banjo.
Right, and I think it’s fine to make sounds on banjo family instruments that aren’t the stereotype of what people think banjos sound like. My West African buddy who plays West African lutes (that are similar to a banjo) has been playing all of his pieces on one of my Gold Tone BC-350 models. He tunes it like his lute and just plays everything that he could play on the African instrument. He has a low tuned lute, called the ngoni-bau, which sort of parallels the cello banjo. Once he hears a cello banjo, I think he’s going to want one. He’ll just tune it like the ngoni-bau and play it like that.
I think you’re right they’re pretty versatile. I think it actually takes somebody like you, who’s in the folk and international music world, to kind of break it out of that world where it would traditionally fall. I think it’s going to be an exciting addendum to what’s going on in the banjo world. We’re going to be seeing a lot of people using them.
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|Bob Carlin - Banjo Missionary|
|Bob Carlin - Cello Banjo History|
|Bob Carlin Talks About Cello Banjos|
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