Who Stuck To Just ONE Instrument?


Who Stuck to Just ONE Instrument?

The bluegrass music masters generally have been very talented MULTI-instrumentalists. As a teenager, Sam Bush was an award-winning fiddler as well as a stunning mandolinist. In fact, he just put out an album dedicated to the memory of John Hartford, on which Sam played ALL the instruments. (He recorded it when he had lots of time on his hands during the worst of the COVID pandemic.) For that matter, John Hartford himself played fiddle, banjo, and guitar, all very very well.

So, take a shot of which one of these bluegrass masters stuck to just ONE instrument his whole career in bluegrass!

A. Guitarist Lester Flatt with Earl Scruggs & the Foggy Mountain Boys

B. Mandolinist Bill Monroe with the Blue Grass Boys

C. Banjoist Earl Scruggs with Lester Flatt & the Foggy Mountain Boys

D. Mandolinist Curly Seckler with Flatt & Scruggs & the Foggy Mountain Boys

E. Dobroist Uncle Josh Graves with Flatt & Scruggs & the Foggy Mountain Boys

F. Banjoist Ralph Stanley with the Stanley Brothers

G. Guitarist Hylo Brown with Flatt & Scruggs & the Foggy Mountain Boys

H. Mandolinist Curley Lambert with the Stanley Brothers

I. Bassist Cousin Jake Tullock with Flatt & Scruggs & the Foggy Mountain Boys

J. Fiddler Paul Warren with Flatt & Scruggs & the Foggy Mountain Boys

K. Bassist George Shuffler with the Stanley Brothers

L. Banjoist Don Reno with Reno & Smiley & the Tennessee Cut Ups, and also the Blue Grass Boys

M. Fiddler Bobby Hicks with the Blue Grass Boys

N. Mandolinist Bobby Osborne with the Osborne Brothers


Answers due by noon on Thursday preceding the publication of the HVBA newsletter. The answer and winner(s) will appear here after contest is closed.


  • Trivia Contest ends at noon on the Thursday before publication of newsletter.
  • Answers will appear in the Comment Section when contest is closed on Thursday.
  • A new question will be posted on our website on the Friday morning of the newsletter’s publication.
  • Certificates will be awarded to everyone with the correct answer.
  • Participants are allowed to post their own questions to Dick Bowden with the hope of stumping him. Maybe that would deserve another prize.

Ed. Note: Check back to read any added details that have been posted by Dick Bowden. Well worth your time.

The answer is A, Lester Flatt. In his bluegrass career, he played ONLY his guitar. Or snapped his fingers or lightly clapped his hands. True, when he worked for Charlie Monroe in 1944 he sometimes played mandolin cause it paid an extra $5. As Del McCoury would say “That’s right! He did!” But that wasn’t bluegrass.

Bill Monroe played guitar on two of his very first records as leader of the Blue Grass Boys. Guitarist Clyde Moody strummed Bill’s mandolin. On Bill’s 55th anniversary on the Grand Ole Opry, he donned a guitar to reprise his first record “Muleskinner Blues”.

Earl Scruggs played lead guitar on many recordings, and on just about every live show he ever did, including radio and tv. His guitar styles were either like Mother Maybelle Carter, or “sort of” like Merle Travis.

Curly Seckler played guitar, usually when he would sing a solo or take over the rhythm guitar role while Lester Flatt went backstage to have a smoke. When Curly rejoined Flatt’s Nashville Grass Band in the 1970s, he played guitar just about all of the time. David Grisman now owns Curly’s Gibson F2 mandolin.

Uncle Josh Graves was hired into Flatt & Scruggs’ Foggy Mt. Boys to play bass fiddle. Josh was in fact pretty hot on the bass!
They knew he played Dobro too, but they’d never used Dobro before. They would usually let Josh play one Dobro number in each show, and he was so impressive they moved him to full time on the Dobro. He also played rhythm guitar, and in fact performed the guitarist role on their recording and live shows of The Beverly Hillbillies theme. Flatt would hold the mike stand with two hands like Frank Sinatra or Elvis, and at the end of the song he would demonstrate the “daince” he used to do with Granny Clampett.

Ralph Stanley had ONE song he would perform on mandolin, on record and on lives shows — East Virginia Blues. Even more, he would play the mandolin wearing his 3 banjo picks, instead of a typical flat pick like all mandolinists use. Basically he just played the mandolin like a banjo.

Hylo Brown also played bass fiddle with the Foggy Mt. Boys, when a bass player was needed. Otherwise he played rhythm guitar.

Curley Lambert with the Stanley Brothers’ Clinch Mt. Boys also played and recorded both lead and rhythm guitar.

Cousin Jake Tullock with the Foggy Mt. Boys often performed solo comic numbers playing guitar. At Carnegie Hall in 1962 he sang a novelty version of Old MacDonald Had a Farm, with sound effects (and guitar).

Foggy Mt. Boys fiddler Paul Warren played clawhammer banjo, like Stringbean and Grandpa Jones. Earl let him play his banjo on one of their Martha White shows, and Lester teased Paul about stealing Grandpa Jones’ act.

George Shuffler with the Stanley Brothers (and with Ralph Stanley after Carter died) played about equal amounts of bass fiddle and EXCELLENT lead guitar in both flat pick cross-picking style, and Merle Travis style. George is often credited with developing the cross picking guitar style in bluegrass music.

Don Reno played ALL the bluegrass instruments, and in fact cut one 45 rpm record in the 1950s completely on his own, overdubbing all the instruments one by one. That said, his main “other” instrument was HOT lead flat-pick guitar. Don is considered the first lead flat-pick guitar man in bluegrass. Between Don’s banjo stints with Bill Monroe and his partnership with Red Smiley, Don made his living playing lead electric guitar. Don’s prize pupil was Hank Garland, one of the most famous country-western lead electric guitarists.

Fiddler Bobby Hicks joined Bill Monroe’s Blue Grass Boys as a bass player, but he was considered a musical wunderkind. Soon he was fiddling with the band, and on some records he also played banjo. You can see him on fiddle and banjo in some of the old Gannaway “Grand Ole Opry Stars” tv videos. Bobby also played both fiddle and banjo with Ricky Skaggs’ country band.

Bobby Osborne of the Osborne Brothers originally played guitar and sang Ernest Tubb songs, in a low voice! Before he ever heard bluegrass, he wanted to pick for Ernest Tubb. When his voice changed (up!) he switched to early bluegrass with The Lonesome Pine Fiddlers mostly on mandolin. Additionally he is a wonderful fiddler, and has performed and recorded some nice old time fiddle pieces.

Oh! Regarding Bobby Osborne, his most famous “other” instrument in his bluegrass career is banjo! He played twin banjos with his brother Sonny on a few early recordings. He never planned to; but when they went to record a song where their guitar player normally had picked up the second banjo, the guitar playr hadn’t showed up for the recording session. Another guitar player was easy to get. A second banjo player not so easy. So Bobby just picked up Sonny’s second banjo, and learned how to do it, on the spot! To put it mildly, his twin banjo playing was outstanding!

PS. Mandolinist Jesse McReynolds of Jim & Jesse, is also a FINE old time fiddler. In fact his grandfather fiddled in the original 1927 Bristol Sessions for Ralph Peer (these sessions were considered the “Big Bang” of commercial hillbilly music, “discovering” Jimmy Rodgers and the Carter Family, among others).

PPS Del McCoury originally played banjo for Bill Monroe (and others). Monroe reassigned Del to guitar to make room for Bill Keith to play banjo.


One Response

  • Some of these pickers I know played more than one instrument over their long careers, including both Flatt & Scruggs, Monroe, Uncle Josh, Shuffler, Reno, and Osborne; others I am not sure about. But I have never heard that Ralph Stanley played anything other than banjo professionally, so I will guess F. Ralph Stanley.

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