The Story Behind The 5th String Thumb Check Choke
In 1975, Paul Morrissey and myself, owners of the Liberty Banjo Company of Bridgeport Connecticut, were selling banjos and parts under our tent at Bill Monroe’s weeklong bluegrass festival in Bean Blossom, Indiana. One day an old, tall, gray haired fellow wearing bib-overalls walked up to our table and said, “You fellers got any of them there 5th String Thumb Check Chokes?” We both said, “What is that?” He said, “You know, one of them 5th String Thumb Check Chokes with the bar on the side of your neck by the 5th string. “Paul said, “Oh, you mean a sliding 5th string capo.” He said, ‘No, I want a 5th String Thumb Check Choke!’ So Paul pulled a sliding 5th string capo out of the box and showed it to him and said, “Is that what your looking for?” “Yep, that’s the one.” He said. So we sold him a genuine “5th String Thumb Check Choke.” He said, “Thanks boys, I knew you fellers would have it!” and walked away happy.
A year later when we were putting together our new Liberty Banjo parts catalog, I thought up some new products, which might add a few chuckles. We took some slick photos of them and listed them in the catalog as though they were serious banjo parts. They were not listed in the price sheet so you could not order them, just in case someone didn’t get the joke. We took seven ball bearings and listed them as “Tone Balls”, “Guaranteed to make any banjo increase in tone and volume”. We also took a brown bottle and filled it with milk, made a label and listed it in the catalog as “Hide Head Bump Remover”, “made to remove those annoying bumps encountered when using hide heads made from a female cat belly.”
Our third spoof was the “5th String Thumb Check Choke.” It was such a neat name, I had to make a product that would look like the name sounded. I looked around the junk drawers in our shop and came up with a bunch of parts, springs and screws. Then I fastened it all together and created the first and the last “5th String Thumb Check Choke.” Paul and I got a lot of laughs from people seriously inquiring about what the products actually did. You know banjo pickers, they’ll try any gadget if they think it will make their banjo sound better.
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