This is a picture of me with my banjo, “Tuneslayer.”. There are many like it, but this one is mine.
It is a model CC-100 “Cripple Creek” made by the GoldTone company. (The banjo in the graphic to the left isn't Tuneslayer; I just chose it because it looked nice and was sufficiently vertical.)
Let me tell you how Tuneslayer and I met:
In the winter of 2002-2003 the tech bust was hitting its stride and jobs were difficult to come by, at least for me. Thankfully my wife was working and I was collecting unemployment insurance, so we were getting by, but I was looking for something to do.
Some twenty years before I had bought a banjo, more or less on impulse, after seeing it on the wall of a Musicland store in the mall where I worked. Steve Martin was the hottest thing in entertainment at the time, and he played the banjo as part of his act. Armed with a couple of instruction books and the banjo, I set out to conquer the music world. Didn't happen, Marriage, kids, career and family happened instead.
Fast forward to 2003. I decided that learning to play the banjo would be a good use of my time when I wasn't job hunting. Toward the end of February we got our tax refund, which was substantial because I had had so much time off work. I decided it was time to do a little investigation. First (and as it turned out, only) stop: my favorite acoustic music store, Dusty Strings in Seattle's Fremont neighborhood. A very nice clerk came over and asked if there was anything in particular I was looking for.
“A banjo,” I told him. “One that wouldn't embarrass either of us if someone found out I bought it from you.”
A couple of questions later (“Clawhammer or bluegrass?”) he directed me to a music stand at the center of the room, and there, gleaming in the showroom lights, was a five-string Cripple Creek banjo. It was blonde and beautiful. It had shortcomings (no planetary tuners), but I didn't care. I picked it up, gave it a couple of investigatory strums almost as if I knew what I was doing, and bought it on the spot, along with some extra strings, a gig bag and a copy of Pete Seeger's “How To Play The Five-String Banjo.” The whole package set me back about $350, which is $100 or so less than it would cost today.
My wife soon discovered that I had bought the banjo. I think she knew it was coming, and it's not like you can hide a banjo, at least not for very long, and even more so if you actually play it. I think at first she was skeptical that I would stay with this particular manifestation of the Hobby Of The Month Club, but it's been 11 years now since I first picked up Tuneslayer and while I can't say that I've played every single day, or week or even month since I bought it, I've stayed with it and enjoyed it. More importantly, I've been told my playing brings pleasure to other people. And that's the part I really like.