by Dick Bowden
The winner is Todd Evans
2. bass fiddle
3. dobro/resonator guitar/steel guitar
Additional Bowden Comments
Keerect and good job Todd.
Vega of Boston was probably the nation’s pre-eminent maker of 5 string banjos in the early part of the 20th century. Although they were not “bluegrass”, Stringbean and Grandpa Jones played Vega banjos on the Opry. In 1959 Earl Scruggs inked a deal with Vega for an Earl Scruggs model, to cash in on the folk boom. Earl posed for a lot of photos with his Earl Scruggs Vega banjo. However he didn’t play it much, he liked his Gibson MUCH better. In the northeast, Vega Earl Scruggs banjos were much easier to find in music stores than Gibson Mastertones. A few of Bill Monroe’s Blue Grass Boys performed on Vega banjos: Bobby Hicks and Bob Black were two that come to mind. Sonny Osborne worked with Vega quite a bit in the 1960s to develop a model that he endorsed with his name. It was a VERY good banjo. There were no other brands played by bluegrass banjoists that I’m aware of, until about 1970 when Fender and Ode/Baldwin banjos gained fairly widespread acceptance. Nowadays Gibson doesn’t even make banjos, so there are a dozen or so excellent makers using the Gibson design: Huber, Neat, Hatfield, Deering, Prucha, etc.
In addition to being a brand of plumbing suppliers, American Standard made bass fiddles — BIG bass fiddles. Many of the top Nashville bass players liked American Standards — if they weren’t playing super-expensive European “carved” basses. Kays and American Standards (and a few other US brands) were made of PLYWOOD. They were relatively cheap and STOUT, and good for musicians traveling in touring cars with basses strapped to the roof rack. A famous user of American Standard basses was Jerry McCoury, Del’s brother. Two other lesser known brands of basses were King and Epiphone. American Standards are generally regarded as the best sounding of the plywood basses.
Regal was an instrument company in Chicago that made “cheaper” brands of musical instruments. They never intended to compete with the “best”. When Dobro developed the Dobro model that became part of bluegrass, they did it for the Hawaiian and blues music crazes. Demand was so great that they couldn’t make enough of the instruments at their Los Angeles plant. So they SUB-CONTRACTED Dobros to Regal in Chicago. Amazingly, the deal also permitted to offer the identical instrument with a “Regal” logo brand on the headstock instead of Dobro! Dobro experts are able to recognize on sight a “Regal made” instrument with a Dobro headstock logo, based on tiny issues like the placement of screws or type of tailpiece. Regal branded instruments never got quite the same level of respect as branded Dobros, but they’re the same instrument! In fact, I stumbled on one for sale in New Jersey 10 years ago and snapped it up, cheap. Identical to a Dobro branded instrument. Nowadays there are several makers of excellent “resophonic” guitars: Beard, Scheerhorn, National, etc.
In addition to making the #1 bluegrass mandolin and #1 bluegrass banjo, Gibson also made the #2 guitar, at least in the old days. There are plenty of photos of Charlie Monroe (OK, pre-bluegrass), Lester Flatt, Carter Stanley, Mac Wiseman and others playing their Gibson guitars. Jimmy Martin came to Nashville to try out for Bill Monroe with a Gibson guitar. In fact, Monroe himself bought a Gibson guitar in 1939 to play “Muleskinner Blues” on the Opry. But once they all hit the “big time”, it was clear that the Martin “D” model guitars beat the Gibsons hands down. The only performer to stick with a Gibson guitar was Earl Scruggs, who often played guitar on records and live shows. At first he played Mac Wiseman’s Gibson. After Mac was replaced by Curly Seckler, Earl played Curly Seckler’s Gibson until it got run over by the bus around 1956-57! Then Earl switched to his own Martin D-18 (gotten in a swap with country musician Don Gibson of “Oh Lonesome Me” fame.) A couple of performers in current bluegrass bands still play Gibson guitars; Jeremy Stephens of High Fidelity uses 2 different Gibson guitars, and Charlie Cushman plays a Gibson guitar for gospel songs with The Earls of Leicester. Nowadays there are a dozen or so excellent guitar brands that generally follow Martin designs: Collings, Bourgeois, Henderson, Gallagher, Santa Cruz, Preston Thompson, PreWar, Circa, etc.