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The banjo is truly and American instrument, that evolved through southern slaves who adapted instruments from their native land. Today, banjos are produced in a wide variety of styles. Four string banjos are popular in jazz and Dixie land groups, 5- string banjos are the main stay of bluegrass and old time players and come in open-back and resonator banjos. 6-string banjos are tuned just like a guitar and are popular with guitar players. A wide variety of specialty banjos are also on the market and the instrument is as popular as ever.
Mandolins play a very important role in a bluegrass band, both as a lead and a rhythm instrument. As, traditionally, there are no drums in bluegrass music, the mandolin provides the very important "chunk" on the 2nd and 4th beat as a compliment to the bass line on the 1st and 3rd beat, much as a snare drum would provide. The mandolin is played with a flatpick and the lead parts are very melodic. Other common mandolin techniques are trilling and crosspicking.
The banjo and fiddle were the primary dance band instruments for years, but the guitar did not appear as a thythm instrument until the 1920's. Bill Monroe, the Father of Bluegrass, of course played mandolin, but he always had a guitar in the band to provide the backup and rhythm. Lester Flatt made his trademark G-run famous and its one of the first licks any bluegrass guitar player learns. George Shuffler of the Stanley brothers was one of the first to turn the bluegrass guitar into a lead instrument. Today, the guitar functions well as both a lead and rhythm instrument in bluegrass bands.
A Fiddle is basically the same as a violin with the main differences being how the instrument is played and how it is set up. Fiddle music generally refers to bluegrass, country and other folk styles of music. Fiddlers tend to fit their instrument with a flatter bridge than a violinist. The flatter bridge allows the fiddler to reduce the amount of arm motion needed to play double stops and triple stops. The fiddle in bluegrass music is predominately a lead or melodic instrument, and provides much of the "fill" between melodic phrases.
Dobro Resonator Guitars
Dobro is a trade name, owned by the Gibson company, for a particular brand of resonator guitar. The name originated in 1928 when the Dopyera brothers formed the Dobro Manufacturing Company. "Dobro" is both a contraction of "Dopyera brothers" and a word meaning "good" in their native language. We carry several moderately priced resonator guitars including models from Regal, Morgan Monroe and Gold Tone Paul Beard.
Bass Fiddles (Bass Violins) have been the standard instrument to carry the bass line in bluegrass bands since Bill Monroe and his Bluegrass Boys. While some bands use electric or acoustic bass guitars, the bass fiddle remains, by far, the instrument of choice. And to be precise, it is actually the three-quarter size bass violin that is the standard of the bluegrass band. A full size bass is just too large to be practical for most bands. While the legendary Kay bass is the Holy Grail of bass fiddles, they are no longer made. We offer some great import basses that are great sounding and playing instruments are an affordable price.
The Appalachian dulcimer is widely used in the American folk and old time music. It is a simple instrument both in construction and playability, and can be an excellent choice for a first instrument. Most Appalachian dulicmers have 4 strings with 2 of the strings closely spaced and tuned in using. The most common tuning for an Appalachian dulcimer is DAD, with the two double strings tuned to the high D and used to play the melody, with the unfretted drone strings providing a simple harmony, giving the instrument its distinctive traditional haunting sound.
The Autoharp is a very sweet sounding instrument and one of the easiest to learn how to play. The Autoharp is not actually a harp at all, but is a form of zither, and the appropriate generic name for it would be the chorded zither. The Autoharp, as it is commonly known, was invented by Oscar Schmidt and actually owns a registered trademark on the name. Autoharps typically come in 15 chord or 21 chord models. It is possible to modify the chord bars and customize the instrument to what suits your playing style.
Lap steels are also often called Hawaiin Guitars. Certainly not a bluegrass instrument, but we find much interest in lap steels among fans of bluegrass and traditional country music. The lap steel is played much like a dobro - the strings are raised at the nut and the bridge. The instrument is balance on the lap and picked with fingerpicks while using a steel slide to change the pitch of the strings. They are a fun instrument and were one of the first popular solid body electric instruments.
Harmonicas are not really in the mainstream of bluegrass instruments, but have been featured by many bluegrass bands, most famously, Flatt and Scruggs. Harmonicas make sound by blowing air into or drawing air out of the reed chamber. Each reed is a different length, with the longer reeds providing the lower tones and the shorter reeds providing the higher tones. Hohner harmonicas are the most famous brand and we carry a great section here. Please call us should you have any special order Hohner harmonicas. We also carry the highly-acclaimed Lee Oskar harmonicas.
Acoustic Bass Guitar
An acoustic bass guitar can solve the problem of storing and travelling with a large bass fiddle. They are tuned the same as a bass fiddle and an electric bass guitar, and have frets as a regular guitar. The biggest disadvantage of an acoustic bass guitar is that they do not develop very much volume since the low frequencies produced by the strings do have have a large enough space in which to develop and amplify as in a bass violin. For that reason, nearly all acoustic bass guitars are equipped with a built in pickup for easy amplification.
Accordions come in many different configurations and types. There is no such thing as a standard accordion. Some accordions are bisonoric, which means they produce different pitches depending on if the bellows are being squeezed together or pulled apart, similar to how a harmonica will produce a different pitch depnding on if you are blowing or sucking. Others accordions are unisonoric and produce the same pitch regardless of the direction of bellows movement.
Ukuleles and Banjoleles
The ukulele originated as a Hawaiin instrument, generally strung with 4 nylon strings. The ukulele, also known as a uke, comes in various body sizes including the soprano, concert, tenor and baritone. The Banjolele is basically a ukulele on a small banjo pot. The ukulele and banjolele are certainly not a bluegrass instruments, but they are fun instruments that are easy to play and transport. You can buy yours with confidence at Lakes Music and PlayBetterBluegrass.com