The why of it all...

Of course the essence of a banjo is its sound, but first it must be played, and I want any banjo I make to offer an invitation to the player -- to look as if you'll hurt its feelings by not playing it. And then I want it not to disappoint. I want its voice to be responsive and subtle, but with the capacity -- when needed -- to wake up the fellow in the back row...

I learned an expression years ago that has stayed with me. I heard a designer talking about a piece of furniture and referring to a particular feature as an "elegant solution". The solution, in that particular case, had to do with opening a drawer. As time has passed I've begun to feel that truly elegant solutions are also typically clean and relatively simple. That doesn't mean -- necessarily -- that there is no decoration. It does mean that what decoration there is tends to spring from the piece almost organically, as opposed to the appearance of being applied. There are two other banjo makers whose work -- I think -- reflect this philosophy exceptionally well; Will Fielding from Vermont and Johannes Bonefaas of Denmark. As I approached making my own instruments, I came to realize that the workmanship required by this philosophy is well beyond the norm. Decoration can cover a host of imperfections (sunburst stain patterns are one case in point). Looking carefully at a banjo -- beyond the initial glance -- will reveal a lot. At first -- for example -- I thought that an unbound neck would be somewhat less work, but I was only partly correct. An unbound neck must display near-perfect fretwork and finishing if it is to work well tactilely and visually, and the wood selected must be of the best grade. Elegant solutions, it turns out, often have the appearance of simplicity along with the reality of demanding workmanship. I hope always to rise to the challenge.

You need to know that no banjo I make is ever finished. I will have set it up to obtain a sound that I am proud of, but the rest is up to you. You will be the one to "play it in", to bring out its voice over time. You may tinker with it, change a few parts over the years, experiment with different heads and more. It's a process, this banjo thing, and as such it ought never to be finished. To that end I do my level best to build them to last, to hand down and to be, perhaps, a container for a family legend or two.


Back Home or Continue Tour