This tuning goes back a long way and was probably Clarence Ashley or Tom Ashley from Mountain City Tennessee who first came up with the term “Sawmill.” Sawmill tuning on the banjo has other names; some people call it Mountain Minor or G-modal. It’s basically a G tuning.
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The clawhammer lick is your basic rhythmic stroke. It’s just three parts…
This is a ballad localized to North Carolina, also called the graveyard blues.
One of the reasons I like this tuning so well is that the melody is frequently on the first string which is easier to play in clawhammer style.
Wayne Erbsen at Warren Wilson College October 4, 2009 demonstrating a minstrel banjo. Wayne plays the pre-Civil War tune Pattyroller in the clawhammer style.