This unusual banjo boasts numerous interesting features. Its peghead is based on an 1890's English zither banjo made by William Temlett, which had an all aluminum neck and rim (see last photo). We kept the peghead shape and raised exterior scrolls surrounding the peghead, but eliminated the heavy scrollwork on the interior. In keeping with the large amount of metal on the original we added a brass peghead plate, scoop plate, and heel plate, and also used all brass inlays including a vampire bat silhouette at the 5th. Additionally, it has a tunneled 5th string, bloodwood veneers under all the ebony, antiqued brass hardware and a stained John Balch hide head. Soundwise, this banjo is a monster, and features a big, rich, meaty, but nicely balanced tone due to the deep rim, skin head and Tubaphone tone ring.
This was a special commission for an art show (yep, amazingly, they consider a banjo to be art!) called From These Woods, which focuses on regional Appalachian woodworkers and sustainability. I used the opportunity to make a banjo entirely from local hardwoods, using no tropical hardwoods, especially ebony. Instead of ebony, all the trim wood is red maple burl, and it's fingerboard is made of Richlite, a recycled paper product. Additionally it's wood tone ring is made of cherry instead of my usual Rosewood. Specs: 12" slightly figured walnut with a deep (3 1/4") and thin rim, cherry tone ring, walnut husk stained hide head and antiqued brass hardware. I'm extremely happy with the way this banjo turned out and love the way it looks and sounds!
This interesting banjo is a product of the first neck from Banjo #153, which I inadvertently made with a Fairbanks heel instead of a Dobson Heel, and a new rim. It is a 12" curly maple, with a thin rim, rosewood tone ring, only 14 hooks, blued hardware, tiny dot position markers, German Silver scoop plate, and a super deep (3 1/2") rim. It is also interesting because it has a 25" scale and its neck is 1/2" shorter than normal, which make it very easy to play, and also pushes the bridge toward the tailpiece giving the tone a little more sharpness than normal. This combines nicely with the deep low end provided by the extra large pot.
This 11" walnut banjo has a Whyte Laydie tone ring and a skin head which give it a wonderful sound, but its major feature is its inlay and binding. The peghead inlay, "The Queen of Hearts", is based on a vintage French playing card and is my first foray into "Grit Laskin" style inlay. The fretboard and peghead are bound in bloodwood and rosewood which surround both in a delicate red line which matches the red heart and tiny fretboard dots which are done in reconstituted stone. Additionally, the card background and heel cap are done in mammoth ivory.
12" curly maple, rolled brass tone ring, Renaissance head, classic moon and star inlays.
Please note, all banjos pictured were custom builds which are already with their new owners and not for sale...sorry.
Click thumbnails to enlarge images.
This is my main banjo, and after 6 years of abuse it was looking pretty rough. I vowed not to make myself any more banjos until my custom list was completed, but I decided it was OK to do a major restoration. The biggest change was an entirely new rim - this one is much deeper and slightly thinner. It also features the new cast Butterfly L-shoes and tailpiece and all the hardware is antiqued. The other big change was to add a Jamaican goat hide head that my buddy Jeff Menzies sent me recently - it still has a tiny bit of hair on it and it is much darker than the heads I normally use. I'm really enjoying the added bass that the deeper rim provides and the head is fun to pet in between tunes.
This 12" walnut banjo features a Whyte Laydie tone ring, figured maple binding, blued hardware, and a Renaissance head. It has minimal ornamentation which emphasizes it's one touch of inlay, an engraved swallow in flight. Nature inlays are one of my favorites to do, and I love the way this swallow turned out!
This 12" walnut banjo features a tunneled fifth string, a super deep (3 3/4"), thin rim, aged brass hardware, wood tone ring and a skin head. It is adorned with two symbols of the Sami people, a sun in the scoop and a reindeer on the heel - the new owner has spent years researching the music of the Sami. This banjo is really fun to play and has a beautiful tone - its is warm, but not muddy, and it has great note clarity and tons of punch.
This 11" maple banjo has a rolled brass tone ring and a Fiberskyn head so has plenty of punch. It has a few unusual features based on the eccentricities and great sense of humor of the owner, a good buddy of mine. The peghead features a vintage LA Ram's logo, the fretboard position markers are tiny rams horns, the heel is inlayed with a Van Halen inspired set of the owners initials, and EXPERT is engraved at the 12th in honor of the owners trademark humility.
This 11" curly maple banjo has a Whyte Laydie tone ring and a skin head which give it a crisp, clear but warm, tone. The inlay is a classic Cole "Man-in-the-Moon" pattern, which is one of my favorites. Additionally, it features a German Silver scoop plate and a boat heel.
11" black walnut with resonator, modified flathead tone ring, skin head, 25 1/2" scale, streaked ebony, blued hardware.
This hybrid open-back/resonator banjo was designed with Scott Avett as a test for an upcoming highly ornamented version he has commissioned. This banjo has the feel, playability and warmth of an open-back banjo but with the power, and projection of a resonator banjo.
12" curly maple, rolled brass tone ring, fiberskyn head, classic engraved Bacon star in the peghead and engraved dots on fretboard.
This 11", thin rim, cherry banjo has a short scale, a Renaissance head and a cherry tone ring, which combine to give it a well balanced tone which is crisp and clear, but also warm. It features a perched robin on the peghead and a dragonfly cruising over a cluster of jewelweed flowers on the fretboard. I love nature inspired inlay and engraving and really loved doing this one!
This 11" walnut banjo has a Dobson tone ring, skin head, slotted peghead and a really cool piece of streaked ebony on the fretboard.
This 11" cherry banjo features a Celtic Knot in the peghead, an intricate Celtic tree on the fretboard, and a deer skull, which is based on an actual deer, in the heel. It's unusual in that it has a 24" scale - this was the first time that I tried this scale length, and I really liked the way it felt and played.
This 12" curly Claro walnut banjo has a rolled brass tone ring, skin head, long backstrap, bloodwood veneers and was commissioned by a client in England who also commissioned a companion instrument with similar specs from Jason and Pharis Romero. One request was to use a piece of artwork from his late friend Keir Smith, and the other was to include a beetle. I used a piece of mild steel for the cloud and created the patina by brushing and splattering various aging solutions. The beetle, modeled on a Two Banded Longhorn beetle, was pieced together out of 28 tiny pieces of copper, brass and German Silver. In a horrible turn of events the companion banjo was completed and ready for shipment when the Romero's shop burned to the ground.
This 11" curly maple banjo has a rolled brass tone ring, and a Renaissance head which give it a nice crisp tone. It also features a slot head and blued hardware, including one of the new cast tailpieces, and an engraved anvil and cross of nails.
This 12" walnut banjo is beautifully simple with a square peghead, brass scoop plate and skin head - its only ornamentation being a small engraved fish at the 12th. A fun fact about this instrument is that was my first order from New Zealand!
This 12" curly maple banjo has a rolled brass tone ring, skin head, and brass scoop plate and features all brass inlay including a lovely Celtic knot in the peghead.
This elegant 11" cherry banjo features antiqued brass hardware, a Dobson tone ring and a beautiful wild rose inlay which is pieced together with 32 pieces of white mother-of-pearl, gold mother-of-pearl and sea snail. This was a very special banjo for me - it was commissioned by a friend, in honor of her mother who recently passed away after a fight with cancer. What made the process so poignant was that I was also good friends with her mother, who was a great old time and cajun musician, and throughout the building of this instrument my mother has also been battling cancer.
This 11" walnut features a slotted peghead, scoop plate, a star at the 5th with red engraving, a vintage 1841 dime in the peghead, and my first stained head...which I've been wanting to try for some time now, and hope to do more of in the future.
This 12" curly maple banjo has a Whyte Laydie tone ring and Fiberskyn head which give it a wonderful sound and ease of playability, but its most prominent feature is its inlay which is based on the work of William Blake. The peghead inlay is based on his painting The Ancient of Days and the fretboard inlay is based on his watercolor Behemoth and Leviathon. These were both a lot of fun to engrave!
Banjo # 154
This 12" walnut banjo features a 25" scale, skin head, rolled brass tone ring and a slotted peghead along with a brass scoop plate and streaked ebony fretboard and peghead overlay. This is another simple, elegant banjo with no ornamentation.
This 12" banjo features a figured cherry neck, a Whyte Laydie tone ring, a Dobson heel and classic engraved inlays. It also has a cool, Fairbanks inspired, heel cutout, a custom peghead shape, and Buckeye Banjos spelled out in tiny pearl letters in the scoop...which actually weren't as hard to cut and inlay as I had anticipated.
This 12" walnut banjo features a Bay State peghead, cherry tone ring, antiqued brass hardware, a long backstrap, a rich, reddish-brown stained hide head, and just the right amount of elegant inlay. For the inlay we started with small diamond fret markers and then designed most of the other ornaments around this theme. For the head, instead of soaking the head in stain before stretching, I stretched the head and then applied the stain in multiple layers in order to achieve a slight gradient from the edges to the center - I really love how this turned out and hope to stain more heads like this in the future.
I was honored to take part in the 2017-8 Virginia Folklife Apprenticeship Program with Peter Keller. I taught Peter how to create a banjo based on the way I was originally taught by Mac Traynham...I showed Peter each step of the banjo making process while making my own banjo. This is the banjo I made during the year long process.
It is a 12" maple with a deep, thin rim, a rolled brass tone ring and a hide head. It is minimally ornamented except for a small engraved flower on the heel and a brass scoop plate, but boasts some of the most highly figured maple I have ever seen. Additionally, all the black trim is Richlite.
This 12" curly maple banjo has a Dobson tone ring and a skin head which combine to give this banjo a beautiful, balanced tone. It features an engraved dogwood flower on the peghead in addition to a few other classic engraved ornaments.
This 11" cherry banjo features a wonderful inlay design telling the story of a barred owl and a mouse. The barred owl in the peghead was based on a drawing by my buddy Scott Nelson.
This Dobson inspired banjo is made of darkly stained curly maple and has a 12" rim, blued hardware, lightly stained maple fretboard binding, tiny dot position markers, an extended scoop plate, a Dobson heel and an extra wide fretboard. It is setup with nylon strings which combined with its skin head give it a super deep plunky tone.
This six string 12" curly Claro walnut banjo has a Whyte Laydie tone ring and a skin head and is easily the most ornate banjo that I have ever made. It features numerous Cole inspired engraved ornaments, a long backstrap, maple veneers, and a carved boat heel ...this was my first heel carving and I really loved doing it!
This 12" walnut banjo has a 25 1/2" scale, skin head and a rolled brass tone ring and a Fielding tailpiece - it also has a Dobson heel and brass scoop plate and is a great example of how beautiful a simple banjo with no ornamentation can be.
This 12" cherry banjo has a Dobson tone ring and a hide head which give it a beautifully balanced tone. It is one of a trio of banjos I've made for this client each with different Greek god or goddess themes. The first ones were based on Apollo and Dionysus, and this one is based on Athena, the goddess of wisdom, craft and war.
This 12" walnut banjo has a hide head, a rolled brass tone and a thin, deep (3 1/4") rim which gives it a nice warm tone. It features all Richlite trim, a brass fretboard plate up to the fifth, antiqued brass hardware, an increased peghead angle of 22 1/2 degrees, and a narrow scoop under just the fifth string. Additionally it has a heel inlay of the Clifftop water tower!
This 12" walnut banjo has a cherry tone ring and a hide head which give it a deep woody tone. It is simple and elegant with just a touch of ornamentation - a classic engraved ornament on the heel, tiny engraved dots on the fretboard and a stamped brass scoop plate.