Jens Kruger is a banjo player’s banjo player, needless to say. In fact, he is everybody’s banjo player, since even people who don’t like the banjo like it when Jens plays it. You don’t get bored when you listen to Jens, and also your ears don’t bleed the way they do listening to some of the rest of us hammering away. All Kruger Brothers CD’s are great and I would recommend buying them all, as I have done over the years.
On this one, Up 18 North, the 8th cut is Dusty Trail. This is a banjo tune in classic “D” tuning (“D” tuning is a must learn tuning for banjo players - more on that in a future post), and you’ll hear Earl doing Reuben and John Henry, among others, in this tuning. Jens also uses the Keith tuners in this tune. You’ll hear Earl using these (well, Scruggs tuners) in Flint Hill Special and Earl’s Breakdown. But what makes this tune a breath of fresh air is that it is actually musical, i.e., it doesn’t fall into the “Q: How do you tell one banjo tune from another? A: By its name” category. The MIDI posted here is just reading the tab, and it doesn’t sound as nice as the tune really sounds (the tuners come up a little flat in the MIDI, among other limitations - they’ll come up flat in real life too, btw, if you don’t keep your nut and bridge lubed with a little graphite or Nut Lube ... wait, that can’t be the name of it ... no, it’s GraphitALL), but you get the idea. Listen to it on the CD and you will find it impossible to resist learning and playing this beautiful banjo tune. With just a banjo in hand, people will mistake you for a musician when you play this thing.
So, just a few notes on performance. First, you have to get the banjo into “D” tuning, so drop the “B” string to “A” and the “G” string to “F#” and then drop the high “G” to “F#” as well. This takes considerable tension off the head, so you may need to tweak everything again to fine tune. Now, admire this wonderful tuning. Note the low rumble it gives you, as you are now playing down in “D” - one of music’s finest keys anyway, IMHO. Also, note that the lowest note on the instrument is also the root of the key - that is, the low “D” - that is crucial to this sound and many other possibilities I’ll address in a future post. Another interesting fact is that the 1st and 2nd strings are now tuned to a fourth, just like the guitar. This has huge implications for this tuning, but again, we’ll save that for another time. For now, just admire this tuning, and learn the Scruggs tunes in it too. Okay, but for Dusty Trail, you now need to set the tuners. On the third string tuner, you will be setting the low stop down a whole step to an “E” and the high stop at the “F#.” Most of the time, in playing, you will crank the tuner down before plucking the string, and then raise it to the “F#” pitch. On the second string tuner, the low stop is at the “A” and high stop is up a whole step to “B.” The trick here is that when you are in “D” tuning, the tuners are set so that the 3rd string can be dropped a whole step, and the second string can be raised a whole step - a little departure from the usual.
Jens plays the tuner part both straight and also in false harmonics - in fact, the tune starts with the tuner lick in false harmonics, so you have to deal with that right off. It’s not as hard as it sounds though. Since I usually play this tune using fingerpicks, I end up using the third finger of my right hand to touch the harmonic at the 12th fret while my right thumb plays the string with the thumbpick. My left hand is free to crank the tuners. This requires a little stretch of the right thumb, but with a very little practice, you can get the false harmonics with the tuners ringing loud and clear, and it sounds awesome. One final note on how you notate tuners in TablEdit: You use pitch shifting, so in the notation, you will see some up or down arrows where the tuners are used. There will be the starting note and the ending note, next to each other, and they will look the same, but the pitch is shifted in the direction of the arrows. You don’t play both notes - just the first one, and then the tuner brings you to the second one. It’s a little funny looking in the notation, but it’s really pretty easy to figure out. Also, if you’re going to play the third string and it says to shift the pitch up, then you will realize you have to crank the tuner down first, before you play the note, and then crank it up after you pluck the string. Listening to the tab played back, or better still, the CD will make all of this obvious.
One other note: This tab is a labor of love. I have sat down and figured out these tunes on the banjo, and would like to share my work with other players, small in number that we are. While I confine most of my work to public domain tunes, this one is one of Jens’s compositions and is copyrighted material. I profit in no material way from tab at this site, and I do not post tabs that musicians sell themselves or otherwise want unpublished. I have no reason to believe that the Kruger Brothers do not wish others to learn their music freely, but will remove this tab if requested. In the meantime, it is a great tune, and you do yourselves and the Kruger Brothers a disservice if you do not also buy the CD.
I have included an exported MIDI of the tab below. It sounds better than when the tab is played directly in TablEdit, but again, it is still nowhere near the actual sound of acoustic instruments played by humans.
Play MIDI of the tab
Download: Dusty Trail tab here (Note: If you have not downloaded this tab since 12/15/09, you do not have the latest version)
(in TablEdit Format, which you can download a free viewer for)