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Scott Vestal

Scott Vestal wears many hats and enjoys every aspect of his life and career. He is a banjo player, a luthier, a songwriter, and a recording engineer. And that’s only his day job. He is also husband to jazz singer Alice Newman Vestal and father to a 20-year-old daughter in nursing school and a 14-year-old son who flies drones and works on RC cars. It’s a full and fulfilling life, and Scott is accomplished in many areas.

In his musical family in Meridian, Oklahoma, Scott learned to play the guitar from his grandfather, Famon Self, a country fiddler. It wasn’t long before Scott played and sang with his grandfather at bluegrass festivals, rodeos, and other area events.

He fell in love with the banjo and got his first five-string banjo when he was 13. “I sat in on a lot of jam sessions and watched people play. I never took lessons, but people helped me along the way.” At 15, he began playing with T. J. Rogers’ family band. By the time he was 18, he had moved to Richmond, IN, to tour and record with Larry Sparks. He moved back to Texas when he was 19 and formed Southern Connection with his brother Curtis, Russell Moore, and Marc Keller. The band toured the Midwest and East Coast for three years.

“We joined Doyle Lawson’s band in 1985, touring and making five albums before I moved to Atlanta, touring with my band Livewire and recording one album for Rounder Records, and then a year in Japan working with Dave Peters before connecting with David Parmley in Nashville to form Continental Divide.”

Clay Jones asked Scott to play on an album he was making for Pinecastle. That became a series of instrumental albums for Pinecastle Records that Scott not only played on but produced and engineered. The series was produced from 1995 to 2001, with the 1996 album winning the IBMA Recorded Event of the Year in 1996. That same year, Scott was awarded the Banjo Player of the Year by IBMA.

“I love engineering,” he says. “I have always been into recording -- I always had a couple of cassettes going. I think it goes hand-in-hand with the music. I’ve always been a ‘Mr. Gadget’ kind of guy, recording and capturing sounds.”

His engineering talents led him to his own recording studio, Digital Underground, where he engineers, produces, and performs on projects. The list of performers he has worked for is impressive: Bill Monroe, Ricky Skaggs, Tony Rice, Vassar Clements, Chris Thile, Hank Williams III, Kenny Chesney, Del McCoury, Dierks Bentley, Billy Ray Cyrus, Alan Jackson, Dolly Parton, Dwight Yoakum and even David Lee Roth. “I get to see a who’s who of musical greats without leaving my house,” he says. “I have a studio set up with seven isolated booths, a drum room, and a control room. It has a real homey feel to it.”

Not just a banjo player, Scott is also a builder of banjos. His company, Stealth Banjos, sells instruments he designed and developed.

“I had an idea in 1989 to come up with a design based on a banjo I got from England. It had a tunneled fifth string, like instruments in 1700s England. I had an idea for a wider neck and taller bridge. The shorter scale gives it a deeper sound. I had met Phil Davidson in Bristol, England, who built the first neck in 1989 while touring with my band Livewire. He finished it while I was there, and I played the last show of the tour with it. After returning home, people were asking where they could get one. Dave Perkins and Keith Medley, who worked for Gibson in Nashville, made the first few necks for me; then Robin Smith continued from there. It’s kind of a niche thing for me.”

Still going strong in the business, Scott was awarded the IBMA Banjo Player of the Year for 2020 and 2021, with nominations in 2022 and 2023. He was awarded the Duncan, Oklahoma Hall of Fame Award for 2023.

Scott says he is motivated by the music.

“I love playing it, and I love working with other people. I play on a lot of people’s records, which I really enjoy. I’m so grateful to God to have been blessed with a little bit of talent so I can do what I do. I am also grateful for my family and all who love music. I couldn’t be happier with the way my life has been.”

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