Earl Scruggs with his 1955 Martin D-18 (Clemson University, 1964) - image courtesyCollections
Lincoln Hensley, banjoist zTennessee Bluegrass bandis a young man with an old soul. Having been so few for years, he has accumulated extensive knowledge of the history of bluegrass music and the instruments played by its masters. We spoke to Lincoln recently about his fondness for Earl Scruggs' coveted 1955 Martin D-18 and how hard he went to recreate that sound.
“When I first started playing the banjo, a good friend gave me a set of 10 discs of Martha White TV Show by Flatt & Scruggs. I've almost used them up if you can do that with a DVD!"
Primarily a banjoist, Hensley was also fascinated by the style of flat guitar playing.
“I heard Earl and then Merle Travis. This is another of my great heroes. He's playing with that thumb. Earl's playing was somewhat of a hybrid between Merle and banjo playing. I called Edison (Wallin). I was about 14 and I said, "I want to learn to play guitar like Merle Travis." He asked me what I wanted to learn and I said:Cannonball rag. That night he showed me this tune over a landline.
Wallin, 83, recalled, “He asked me to teach him how to play the guitar. I play Merle Travis style. I said it's like stroking your head and stroking your belly. You play the melody with your index finger and the rhythm (rhythm) with your thumb. Lincoln wanted to studyCannonball rag. He learned it over the phone in 30 minutes."
Lincoln was preoccupied with wanting to master the fingering of a six-string guitar.
“I sat on that thumb forever, playing the bass and the offbeat beat like a mandolin, and then you have to play the melody with your fingers. I sat in my room for about a month just working on the thumb part, until finally I didn't have to think about it anymore so I could play the melody (with my fingers). I tried to take off and learn from everyone I met.
After mastering the finger-picking style of guitar playing, Hensley turned his attention to the instrument that Scruggs played on DVDs. North Carolina musician and collector Larry Perkins worked on the original Scruggs guitar and had it for several years after trading with Earl.
"I've long lost count of how many times I've been asked about this guitar. Quite a few people have seen me with this guitar when it was in my possession. Earl traded it in for a D-18 very similar to it."
When I first played it (in the late 70's) I couldn't believe my ears that Earl Scruggs - who could have almost any guitar he wanted - picked this guitar and chased Don Gibson all these years.
I know his guitar, literally inside out. While visiting the Scruggs, Earl noticed I had a car full of instruments and wanted to see the Martins I had. We took them all out. There were some old Herringbones, some D-18s from the '30s, some D-28s from the '50s and '60s, I think D-21s and D-18s from '52 or '53. After playing all the guitars a bit, he kept coming back to this early 1950s D-18 and finally wanted to know how much I would sell it to him. He needed one because his old D-18 was in bad, unplayable condition. He was getting ready to work on an album with Tom T. Hall and needed a good D-18. I suggested he take out his guitar and let's look at it, maybe it's something we could adjust and improve.
It was one of those dizzying moments. I recognized it immediately. This is the guitar you see on most Flatt & Scruggs DVDs, with an oversized pickguard and a Gibson style truss rod cover on the peghead. Don Gibson bought a new guitar and had Shot Jackson trim the neck to the point (where) Shot felt it better to put a truss rod in it.
Earl played guitar at the Opry one night and enjoyed it very much. Earl needed a guitar at the time because the guitar he was playing was destroyed in an accident (they backed the car). So Don sold him D-18. This was Earl's main guitar for years until the end of the Flatt & Scruggs partnership. He kept trying to fix it, without much success.
It was the worst, worst sounding Martin I've ever heard or played. It was heavy and rattled even when you tightened the strings. A few years later I found out why.
It had the largest bridge plate ever and some extra pieces of stiffening stock glued in alongside the original braces. The dovetail was really loose, and the Gibson truss rod that Shot Jackson had installed for Don when he had his neck trimmed "to play like a Fender" was loose and made an awful rattle. The treble was bent almost like the back in Ovation. The grilles that used to be on it were of the "peel and glue" type, so when they started to fall off, they left no trace.
I was amazed at the shape of his guitar that day (Earl wanted a trade): the neck was curved almost like a rocking chair. The bridge, which was pinned, was pulled up so much that you could see the threads on the bolts. The mountain was pulled up so that it looked more like an arched mountain than flat. Of course, there was no adjustment I could make to help it at all.
I was surprised when he asked how many shoes I would need to trade guitars with him. I told him his guitar was worth a lot more than mine, even in this condition, so if anyone is going to pay for anything, it should be me. We even finished trading. I found out later that he was working on an album with Tom. T Hall, which turned out to be Ton Storytellers in Banjoman. He played guitar on a few tracks, so he needed a good guitar.
I took old D-18 Earl to my old friend, (now deceased) Harold Chriscoe, right after landing in North Carolina, knowing that if anyone could fix it, it would be Harold. We had to completely disassemble the guitar. I removed the fretboard and truss rod, inserted the neck into the device Harold had made, and began to slowly extract the outer arc from it, then pulled the neck back to insert the bow in the opposite direction. It took a few months, then he put in a new tension rod and glued a new ebony fingerboard to it.
Chriscoe's eldest child, Garrett, recalled seeing a classical guitar in his dad's shop in Seagrove, North Carolina. “Dad steamed it over water but was careful not to damage the finish. It lay in his shop for a long time and did not let anyone touch it because it belonged to Earl.
Perkins described all the required repairs.
“The top required similar treatment. It had to come off, and all the buckles and tone bars (a few were broken anyway) and the bridge plate had to come out. My stencil maker dad made a jig that we used to slowly push the outer bow out of it, steamed it just a little, then glued on a new X-brace, tone bars and bridge plate so that the string tension at the top would be almost flat. About six months later the guitar was put back together and played and sounded great - a very pleasant surprise. I finally heard what prompted Earl to knock it over when it was new. It sounded like a great, above-average old D-18 and played like a Strat.
Just a few days after I got my guitar back, Earl called and asked if I still had his D-18… of course I did. I told him I wouldn't take a million dollars for that guitar. He said, "Well, I sure hate to ask, but I need to get it back if at all possible." The fact that I exchange them causes a problem in my family.
A problem I brought on myself. A few weeks earlier, on another visit to Louise and Earl's, she had been looking through an old photo album and had come across an old picture of Earl with this guitar. My genius self said, "Oh, this is the guitar I have."
Of course, we couldn't have family problems, so I took it back. Earl ended up with both guitars but told me he would make sure I got his D-18 back one day. (He kept his word, but some changes were made outside of his control that canceled it all.)
The good thing is, he ended up using my D-18 for his Tom T recordings and got years of trouble-free service from his D-18. Harold's work held up well, and Earl played it right to the end.
That he's stuck together since the day I left Harold with him is a testament to his ingenuity, craftsmanship, dedication and love of Earl's music. It would have been something if YouTube had filmed Harold disassembling this guitar back then and documented everything he did to make it a guitar again.
Recently, a young Lincoln Hensley began to pursue Earl's trademark Martin.
“When I first saw Earl playing that old double pickguard Martin, I started looking around and finding out what kind of guitar it was. It had such a sweet sound. Earl would jump past the fifth fret to make all these tunesJimmy Brown, paperboy.
I could never figure out what the serial number was. I heard it was '54 or '55. I wasn't entirely sure, but I knew he got it from Don Gibson sometime in the late '50s. He bought it backstage at the Grand Ole Opry. Don just picked it up from Shot Jackson who had been working on it for a while. Earl couldn't live without it, so he bought it.
Fast forward ten years. Earl's guitar was recently put up for sale at Gruhn Guitars and they want $100,000 for it. For this size of history, bluegrass is nothing. This guitar has recorded some of the most iconic gospel and sacred numbers bluegrass music has to offer.
I have to go and play. I couldn't wait to find out what the serial number was. There I took a photo of this serial number.
Approved by the Recording King, Hensley attempted to recreate Earl's famous six-string instrument. He got help from a vintage instrument collector whom he had befriended through Facebook in the past and formally met at Banjothon.
This friend, Tom Isenhour of Salisbury, North Carolina, explained, "I noticed that Lincoln wanted one like Earl's famous '55 D-18. He got a new Recording King RD-318 style guitar and put a large dark brown pickguard on it and a white truss rod cover on the headstock just like Earl. I thought that was pretty cool because I've always wanted one that looked like Earl too, but I never thought of doing it."
Hensley bragged about his friend's bluegrass collection.
“Tom has some really good photos of Earl he took in the '60s. He has some great photos of him with this D-18 in its heyday.
When I got this Recording King, I told him I would make a tribute guitar out of it. Tom started helping me. He started sending me some never seen pictures that he took and never posted. I used that and got Recording King where I wanted it."
Isenhour was intrigued by Hensley's guitar envy.
“We discussed the details of Earl's guitar after Lincoln went to Gruhn's Guitars in Nashville to see and play the guitar. It had undergone a major overhaul by Larry Perkins and Harold Chriscoe a few years ago, and the Scruggs family were ready to sell it. The look of the guitar today is nothing like what I saw Earl play in the 1960s.
Lincoln got the serial number while he was there. I knew I had three 1955 D-18s in my collection and told him he could pick his own like the 1955 Earl. Lincoln asked for the serial numbers I had. He chose one that was three numbers down from Earl's famous D-18 or was from the same lot when it was produced at Martin's factory.
Lincoln got some wise advice from a vintage collector.
"Tom said, 'If you're going to do this, you need a real '55 D-18.' I told him I just didn't have the money to buy something like that right now. He said, "I have three from 1955 and I'll make a deal with you that I can't refuse." He did it! He made a deal with me that I couldn't refuse. He said I could have any of these three if you would pull it out and play it.
I asked for serial numbers. Earl's number is 141467. The first one he sent was 141470, which is three digits from Earl's guitar. I said, "I want it here." He didn't send me photos. He said, "You're going to want to come and play all three first and pick which one." I said, "Tom, I don't care if this one has two soundholes, it's the one I want." He wanted to know if he was close enough to Earl, and I said close enough!
Isenhour gladly agreed. "It was as if Earl was smiling at Lincoln to pick this one."
To be sure, Hensley sought historical information on the guitar from a professional.
“I called Greig Hutton who just released a book on Martin Guitars and has all the serial numbers from the factory. It can tell you when they were started and finished. Mine and Earl's guitars started on January 7, 1955. This was the first batch of D-18 guitars starting in '55. There were about 20 or 25 pieces in this batch. Mine was the penultimate in the batch. It was finished on April 6. They built the whole thing in one day or three months. In 1955, it cost $130.
Tom met me in Asheville at a guitar concert. I was deathly afraid that he was going to back out of me. He opened the trunk of his car and sat there. It was in the original B style soft case from Martin which I don't know how it has survived. I've never seen anything so pretty in my life. I was shaking. He pulled it out and struck a G chord. It seemed to ring for about a minute. I said "I want this" and we traded.
Isenhour chimed in, “He had my '55 D-18 within a week. It had that classic look with just the right amount of original scars, cracks and scrapes. It required very little setup to bring it up to professional standards. I'm glad to see this guitar in the hands of a young musician who can appreciate what Earl Scruggs felt when he chose the 1955 Martin D-18."
The first song Hensley played on his new old guitar wasJimmy Brown, paperboyas he has seen and heard Earl countless times on DVDs.
"It's a treasure. It's taken care of. It has the original pickguard and still has the original bridge. Never had a neck reset, original tuners, no restoration.
I took it to John Arnold. I made him go through it. He worked on it a bit and glued the grille back on. It started showing up a bit. It took him to a place where playing is just a dream.
I figured out very quickly why Earl puts these guitars in his ears. If you put this thing to your ear, it's the best sound you'll ever hear from a guitar. I was lucky to get it.
I managed to get a really good shot of Mount Earl. At Martin's factory, they stacked matching wooden books, one on top of the other. The wood undoubtedly comes from the same board. The top is Sitka spruce, the back and sides are mahogany, the neck is mahogany. According to John Arnold, the waves at the top, the little curls running from left to right, appear in Sitka wood only when it is perfectly sawn. They look really good especially in the sun. Earl is identical.
“Since I got this guitar, I play guitar at home and almost never play banjo at home. I'm careful not to strain my hands, as I often play banjo with the Tennessee Bluegrass Band in Gatlingburg and Pigeon Forge, substituting or working in the studio. I play guitar and can still be creative. It also relieves the back and shoulders.
As soon as I get up in the morning, I take it and play a chord on it. It's really responsive. It's not the loudest guitar. Chainsaws are loud, but that doesn't mean they're fun to listen to. The thing about those old 18's, especially this part, you go up to your neck and that's where they sound the sweetest. This one has that sparkle on the high strings. I haven't put it down since I got it.
Who is Lincoln Hensley? ›
Lincoln Hensley is a devout enthusiast of the Earl Scruggs and Sonny Osborne style of banjo playing and is honored to visit and study under the mentorship of Sonny on a regular basis. He also is in a partnership with Sonny in their own banjo company, KRAKO banjos.What happened to Flatt and Scruggs? ›
A disagreement between Flatt and Scruggs led to the breakup of the band – Flatt wanted to remain close to traditional bluegrass while Scruggs wanted to broaden their musical horizons. The split was not harmonious and the pair did not speak for a decade, until Flatt was critically ill.Where is Earl Scruggs banjo? ›
The Earl Scruggs Center in Shelby, NC has acquired a custom banjo made for Earl Scruggs by Jim Faulkner for their newest exhibit on the Earl Scruggs Revue.Who were Flatt and Scruggs? › Where is Lincoln Hensley from? ›
Lincoln Hensley of Johnson City, TN, sat down with me during the Hall of Fame ceremonies at the American Banjo Museum, and we chatted about Sonny's legacy and his love for the five string. At the age of 14, Lincoln chose the banjo as his point of interest.Who was the lead singer of Lincoln? ›
Lincoln was an American alternative rock band consisting of four members: Chris Temple (lead vocals, guitar, keyboards), Gonzalo Martinez de la Cotera (drums), Danny Weinkauf (bass), and Dan Miller (guitar).What happened to Earl Scruggs son? ›
Randy Scruggs, a Grammy-winning musician, songwriter, producer and the son of banjo innovator Earl Scruggs, died Tuesday after an illness. He was 64 years old. "Randy was a quiet man with an encyclopedia of music as his guide," said friend and collaborator Jerry Douglas.Who was the dobro player for Flatt & Scruggs? ›
Amy is married with six children and now resides in San Diego, California. where she continues to perform and speak at events honoring our veterans and the non-profit community.Who is the most famous banjo player? ›
Béla Fleck is a banjo virtuoso who was born in 1958 and is world-renowned and arguably the greatest of all time.
What does Scruggs stand for? ›
The name Scruggs is usually of English descent and is most likely of nickname origin, describing a person of somewhat stunted growth or a person of short stature.Is Earl Scruggs still living? › Who came first in the history of bluegrass? ›
Unlike country, bluegrass singing is usually high-pitched in the style of Bill Monroe, "The Father of Bluegrass" who originated and perfected what is known as that "high, lonesome sound."What did Randy Scruggs died of? › How long were Flatt and Scruggs together? ›
|Flatt and Scruggs|
|Labels||Mercury, Columbia, Harmony|
|Past members||Lester Flatt Earl Scruggs|
Book details. Brief content visible, double tap to read full content. Full content visible, double tap to read brief content. In soaring words and stunning illustrations, Margarita Engle and Rafael López tell the story of Teresa Carreño, a child prodigy who played piano for Abraham Lincoln.Does Lincoln Park have a new singer? ›
The band's current lineup comprises vocalist/rhythm guitarist/keyboardist Mike Shinoda, lead guitarist Brad Delson, bassist Dave Farrell, DJ/turntablist Joe Hahn and drummer Rob Bourdon, all of whom are founding members. Vocalists Mark Wakefield and Chester Bennington are former members of the band.Who played Lincoln on Broadway? ›
Abraham Lincoln (play)
Unfortunately, Flatt and Scruggs had differing opinions about the future of their music: Flatt wanted to remain true to their bluegrass roots, while Scruggs wanted to follow more mainstream sounds. Because of these differences, they parted ways in 1969.Was Earl Scruggs married? ›
Tired of the grueling tour schedule, Scruggs quit the Blue Grass Boys in 1948 and formed a band, The Foggy Mountain Boys, with his fellow bandmate, Lester Flatt. On April 18, 1948, Earl Scruggs married bookkeeper Louise Certain, who became the group's manager and agent in 1956.
Who was Earl Scruggs wife? ›
In the world of bluegrass Dobro guitar playing, three names stand above the rest—Josh Graves, Mike Auldridge, and Jerry Douglas. All of them were innovators; each took the acoustic steel guitar to music and places it had not been before.Who played fiddle for Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs? ›
Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs started their own band, The Foggy Mountain Boys, with Cedric Rainwater and Jim Eanes. Soon after, Jim Shumate joined them and played the fiddle on their first recording session.Who played mandolin for Flatt and Scruggs? ›
Founded in 1919 by Henry Guhleman and Clifford Scruggs, the company is now run by Clifford's great granddaughter, Stephanie, and still has several family members working in various departments.Is Chris Scruggs Earl Scruggs son? ›
He is the youngest son of songwriter Gary Scruggs and singer/songwriter and producer Gail Davies. His paternal grandfather is bluegrass banjo wizard Earl Scruggs and his maternal grandfather is the late country singer Tex Dickerson.What happened to Joe Scruggs? ›
He has released nine albums, and outside of songwriting, has devoted his time to performing live alongside his partner, Pete Markham.Who is the best bluegrass banjo player ever? ›
Earl Scruggs is most famous banjo player of all-time, some argue, the best banjo player ever. He is one of the founding father's of Bluegrass Music. He, of course, played banjo in Bill Monroe's Bluegrass Boys, and later on formed the duo Flatt & Scruggs.Could Paul Newman play the banjo? ›
Newman learned to play the banjo.
But Newman was hesitant because he didn't sing and didn't play the banjo. The director decided to film the scene last, so Newman would have time to learn the chords.
For many banjo players, the gold standard of picks are vintage National fingerpicks, particularly ones like those from the 1940s and '50s that Earl Scruggs and others used to make bluegrass music history.
What nationality is the surname Scruggs from? ›
Scruggs is a surname, typically of Americans, but also documented in the United Kingdom, several of its other former colonies British descent is especially common, Germany, and (the country of) Georgia.What hand did Buster Scruggs have? ›
Trivia (42) The poker hand Buster Scruggs refuses to play in the saloon is a two-pair of black aces and eights, known as "the dead man's hand." According to legend, that was the hand 'Wild Bill' Hickok had when he was shot in the back of the head and killed by Jack McCall.Did Earl Scruggs have children? › What guitar did Earl Scruggs play? ›
I'm happy to see this guitar in the hands of a young musician that can appreciate what Earl Scruggs felt when he made a 1955 Martin D-18 his guitar of choice.” The first song Hensley played on his new old guitar was Jimmy Brown, the Newsboy, just like he'd seen and heard Earl do countless times on the DVDs.How old was Earl Scruggs when he died? ›
In December 1945, after the Miller group disbanded, Mr. Scruggs quit high school and joined the Blue Grass Boys for $50 a week. His career was on its way. Earl Scruggs, the virtuoso banjo player, died on March 28 at the age of 88.Who is the most famous bluegrass player? ›
1. Bill Monroe. Bill Monroe, known as the father of Bluegrass, was and still is the most famous and prolific mandolin player.Why does bluegrass sound Irish? ›
Bluegrass music heard across the southern United States finds its roots in Ireland and Scotland. The people who migrated to America in the 1600s from Ireland, Scotland, and England brought with them the basic styles of music that are generally considered to be the roots of bluegrass music as it is known today.Who is considered the king of bluegrass? ›
James Henry Martin (August 10, 1927 – May 14, 2005) was an American bluegrass singer and musician, known as the "King of Bluegrass".Who are Earl Scruggs children? › Is Randy Scruggs related to Earl Scruggs? ›
|Scruggs performing in 2009|
|Birth name||Randy Lynn Scruggs|
|Born||August 3, 1953 Nashville, Tennessee, U.S.|
How old is Randy Scruggs? ›What happened to Flatt Lonesome? ›
After an incredibly successful career of touring and recording that has resulted in becoming one of bluegrass music's most talked about bands of the last decade, Flatt Lonesome has decided to take an indefinite hiatus from professional touring to focus on the wonderful life changes happening for them personally.Did Lester Flatt have children? ›
Mr. Flatt's survivors include a daughter, Brenda Green of Hendersonville, Tenn., three brothers, three sisters and two grandchildren. CAPTION: Picture, Lester Flatt, in recent photo, had been a Grand Ole Opry star since 1944.Is Lester Flatt still living? › Why is Flatt Lonesome breaking up? ›
Changes in family relationships have been cited for the band taking a break from performing. That includes the marriage of mandolin player Kelsi Robertson to the group's banjo player Paul Harrigill with their son, Carter, being born in 2017.What was cause of death for Lester Flatt? ›
Flatt died of heart failure in Nashville, Tennessee, at the age of 64. He was posthumously inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1985 along with Scruggs.Is Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs dead? ›
Following the breakup, Lester Flatt founded the Nashville Grass and Scruggs led the Earl Scruggs Revue. Flatt died in 1979, at the age of 64. Flatt and Scruggs were elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1985.Where is Lester Flatt buried at? ›
Flatt was also a member of the Grand Ole Opry, and star of radio, television, and movies. He performed at Carnegie Hall and entertained audiences around the world as the "Baron of Bluegrass Music." He is buried in the Sparta Oaklawn Memorial Cemetery. Erected by Tennessee Historical Commission.Who is the lead singer for Flatt Lonesome? ›
Flatt Lonesome is an American bluegrass band featuring Kelsi Robertson Harrigill (Mandolin, Vocals), Buddy Robertson (Guitar, Vocals), Charli Robertson (Fiddle, Vocals), Paul Harrigill (Banjo), Michael Stockton (Resophonic Guitar) and Dominic Illingworth (Acoustic Bass).Who are the members of Flatt Lonesome? ›
Was Lester Flatt ever married? ›
Lester played with a thumb and finger pick, as did most country guitarists in the 1930s and 1940s. He left school at 12, married singer Gladys Stacey at 17, and alternated between textile millwork and music for a decade before committing to a professional music career after a bout with rheumatoid arthritis.Was Lester Flatt a good guitar player? ›
A legend of bluegrass music, Lester Raymond Flatt of Overton County, Tennessee was a guitarist and mandolin player widely considered to be one of the best to ever pluck either instrument in American music history.Is Chris Scruggs Earl Scruggs grandson? ›
He is the youngest son of songwriter Gary Scruggs and singer/songwriter and producer Gail Davies. His paternal grandfather is bluegrass banjo wizard Earl Scruggs and his maternal grandfather is the late country singer Tex Dickerson.Who invented the G run? ›
Bluegrass hero Lester Flatt had a lot to be proud of. One of his most lasting achievements was the G run that bears his name. You can hear this distinctive guitar run in practically every traditional bluegrass song that can be played on the guitar using a G shape chord.What kind of hats did Flatt and Scruggs wear? ›
Flatt & Scruggs wore them with brims bent on the sides, cowboy hat style, but others snapped the brim, and others preferred the flat brim.