Bluegrass master Earl Scruggs’ favorite banjo is going to the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum, on a two-year loan from the Scruggs family.
The 1930 Gibson RB-Granada Masterpiece is one of only 20 of its model ever made. Scruggs got it in in the late 40’s in a trade with fellow banjo player Don Reno. It was in poor condition at the time, but still worth enough that he had to give up two instruments in exchange. Over the years, Scruggs had it restored and upgraded several times, but always considered the Granada his primary instrument.
One of the first recordings Scruggs made with the banjo was also one of his most legendary: the 1949 version of Foggy Mountain Breakdown with his partner Lester Flatt and the Foggy Mountain Boys.
[box]Just over a decade after recording the song, Flatt and Scruggs played it at the Ryman in this televised Opry performance. [/box]
On July 12, the banjo will join Flatt’s guitar in the museum’s “Precious Jewels” exhibit of iconic instruments. Others already on display include Bill Monroe’s mandolin and guitars belonging to Mother Maybelle Carter, Jimmie Rodgers and Hank Williams.
Earl Scruggs is credited with inventing a syncopated, three-finger banjo technique that brought the banjo to the forefront of bluegrass bands; prior to him it had been primarily considered a background instrument. He was a member of Bill Monroe’s Bluegrass Boys before forming a new group with Lester Flatt. Flatt and Scruggs went on to become two of the most famous musicians of their genre, with performances ranging from the first Newport Folk Festival and the Grand Ole Opry to the theme song for–and appearances on–The Beverly Hillbillies. After the pair broke up, Scruggs experimented with rock and folk musicians outside of the bluegrass world, and formed a band of his family members that lasted for the remainder of his career. Scruggs died last year at the age of 88.
His father’s banjo, the instrument on which Scruggs learned to play, will be displayed at the Earl Scruggs Center when it opens later this year in his hometown of Shelby, North Carolina.