Ask Sonny Anything… was there ever a banjo that got away?

Banjo NewsLetter was mentioned, and I did a column for them in the ’70s. It had the ingenious, and thoughtful, title of Keep on the Sonny Side (very original).

I want to thank Terry Herd and John Lawless for allowing me, an old broke-down ex-banjo player to vent my views and sometimes sick thoughts. They don’t ‘ride herd’ on me and try to influence what I say or don’t say…almost like it is a ‘lawless territory’ from the 1840s, with each of us carrying a Hawken or a Sharps buffalo rifle.  “Them wuz dang’rous days in them air Rocky Mountains.”

Thank you for making this what it is.



Hi Sonny. Thank you for providing a portal into the music I love. I read everything you wrote in Banjo NewsLetter and now on this forum. I was glad to know you viewed Al Munde the same way I do. I am left wondering where you stand on most things. I guess my brain isn’t up to the task of de-coding much of what you say. What do you think of the Recording King banjos? I have a Steve Ryan banjo and a ’92 Rich Era Scruggs model, but I like the Chinese import most of all. It is the ’85 model, hearts and flowers, maple, 3 ply maple rim. I don’t like the Chinese aspect but it is a great banjo.

Ben H.

Hey Ben. Thank you for joining us. Banjo NewsLetter was a very long time ago. You mentioned Alan Munde, and he’s a close friend, although I don’t see him often, and a great banjo player by today’s standards. I have no idea what today’s standards consist of, but whatever, Alan Munde is a great banjo player.

You asked me what my thoughts are on the Recording King banjos. Lincoln Hensley, of KRAKO 1, has played the Recording King and seems to like it pretty well, although Dana Cupp had one and I personally didn’t think it sounded really good. I had a 1992 Earl Scruggs model that I couldn’t get much tone out of, although Earl told me that if anything were to happen to his Gibson banjo, he could live with one of those. I found that hard to believe. I have yet to see a Steve Ryan banjo, although in the early days, Steve’s tone rings were highly sought after. The Chinese import banjo is something I won’t discuss, although it might be pretty good. The thing that’s most important here is that you like it.


Thank you for answering questions each week. Here’s mine: What recollections do you have of George D. Hay, The Solemn Old Judge? Was he still with the Opry when The Osborne Brothers became members?

Thank you,

Dan K.

Hey Dan. Glad you could make it.

If my memory serves me correctly, George D. Hay better known as The Solemn Old Judge, was still at the Opry when I went there in 1952 as a Blue Grass Boy. The old judge was gone by the time we got there in 1964.


Hey Sonny,

Was there ever a banjo that you played, loved, but couldn’t obtain? And what do you think of banjos being made today by makers like Huber, Deering, Gold Tone, and others. Thanks for all the music you provided for us.

Nathan G.

Hey Nathan. Thank you for your time.

The two banjos that I played and loved, one which I purchased in 1978 and it is still safely at home. The other banjo, I bought in 1956, the Rocky Top banjo, an RB3 flathead 5-string. I really wanted to like this banjo, but we just kinda never connected. Aaron McDaris has it now, and genuinely loves it and it is performing well for him.
Those are the only 2 banjos that I ever played that I really wanted, and I bought both of them. I am so engrossed with the KRAKO line of banjos, that it doesn’t leave much wiggle-room for really liking anything else. That is, if I still played, which I don’t, but Derek Vaden, Lincoln Hensley, Lizzie Long, Wes Vanderpool, and Doug Greenleaf all own these banjos and rave about them. Most have posted on the KRAKO website, with the exception of Mickey Flatt KRAKO #2 and Doug Greenleaf KRAKO #5.


Hello Sonny. Did you ever work with or cross paths with Cousin Jody? I always found his musicianship very interesting when he was doing all of those Gannaway colorized Opry shows with Lonzo & Oscar. I read where he was Roy Acuff’s first dobro player so it seems there was much more to him than just being a comedy act, kind of like Stringbean.

Thanks for your time.

Cory S

Howdy howdy, Cory. Glad you could join us, thank you for your time.

Cousin Jody, whose real name is Clell Summey. He was born in 1919 and died in 1975. I have no knowledge of him playing the dobro with Roy Acuff, although he might have, but among dozens of other things it is out of my range of knowledge. We worked some dates with Lonzo & Oscar that he was on also. He was a very, very funny man onstage. He had no teeth, and his chin and nose met. A funny man indeed. I never heard him play serious music, it was always comedy, so I can’t vouch for his musicianship beyond comedy.

If you have something you would like to ask Sonny, be sure to post it in the comments below, or send it to us directly.

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About the Author

Sonny Osborne

Surely among the most influential banjo players of all time, Sonny Osborne has dedicated his life to bluegrass music, and the five string banjo. For 50 years he toured with his brother, Bobby, as The Osborne Brothers and were one of the top acts in bluegrass and country music in the 1960s and '70s. He retired in 2005 but remains active in the banjo world with the manufacture and distribution of his Chief banjos.