Sorry, for neglecting the website, but I cut back on my banjo work for a good part of the year in order to take advantage of warmer weather and focus on building an addition on our house. We are finally adding an office for Cindy (woo!), so she can stop working in the corner of the living room, and a sewing room. Most of the outside work is done on the addition, so I'm excited to be moving back into the banjo shop and getting back to work on my custom orders. Thanks for your patience!
The new cast bronze L-shoes, which I've decided to call Butterfly L-shoes, are finally in and starting to be used on banjos! When I first received the shoes, I kind of questioned my design, but as soon as I actually saw them on a banjo, I realized that the design worked wonderfully and that I loved the new shoes!
Tailpiece update: I just put in an order for a big batch of tailpieces, both in raw bronze and nickel plated. I don't know how long it will take to cast them, but as soon as they are ready I'll add a page to the website where you can order them...unfortunately, I still don't know how much they are going to cost.
The new cast bronze tailpieces are finally starting to show up on banjos! I think they look really cool and seem to add a little extra punch, or projection, to the banjos I've used them on, compared to a no-knot.
I've built banjos in small batches for 20 years, but I am about to try building one banjo at a time. Building multiple banjos is probably more efficient if they are all of a similar design, but now that my banjos are so customized, I think that it might be better to simply focus on one banjo at a time. Initially, Tyler Burke, of Renan Banjos, got me thinking about this, during a conversation at the 2016 Banjo Gathering, and the more I think about it, the more sense it makes. I'm hoping this new approach will speed up my production which has become incredibly slow because of how highly customized and sometimes how highly ornamented my banjos have become. Additionally, I think it will be much less stressful for me - keeping track of all the different specs on three or four custom banjos can be tricky.
Update (1/18 ): As much as I enjoyed the pace and simplicity of making one banjo at a time, I don't believe it is as efficient and am switching back to 3 banjos at a time...it was worth a shot!
I'm proud to announce that Peter Keller and I were accepted to take part in the 2017-18 class of the Virginia Folklife Program! Peter and I have been working together since last summer and hope to finish our respective banjos in time for the Folklife Apprenticeship Showcase, which will be held in Charlottesville in May. It has been incredibly rewarding passing along some of the banjo making skills that I learned from my initial teacher Mac Traynham, in addition to what I have learned in my 22 years of making banjos. Peter has extensive experience working on large sailing ships, and is even more meticulous than I am, so is picking up banjo making rather quickly!
"The Virginia Folklife Apprenticeship Program pairs experienced Master Artists with gifted apprentices for one-on-one, nine-month learning experiences, ensuring that art forms are passed on in ways that are conscious of history and faithful to tradition. More than workshops or lessons, apprenticeship learning takes place in the art forms’ traditional contexts, calling upon the complete engagement of the senses and contextualizing the practices within the larger cultural landscape. For more information, visit VirginiaFolklife.org".
After putting it off for about two years, I finally got around to making a new rim strip soaking box. It's made out of a scrap piece of copper gutter that I flattened out and then reformed into a 4" X 4" box with a lid and small thermometer for checking the temperature. My procedure for bending rim strips has been to soak them in hot water for a couple of hours to warm them up and then put them in a steam box to actually get them up to the proper temperature for bending, which is around 210F. I can put the rim strips in this new box, fill the box with water, and put it on the wood stove for a couple of hours and get the temperature to stabilize at over 220F...so I don't even need to use the steam box anymore!
I finally finished the new sticker design that I've been dreaming about. A friend is currently helping me with a few digital tweaks and the addition of some different colors - hopefully the new stickers, and maybe some hats, will be available soon!
My buddy Nancy did an amazing job cleaning up my original rough sticker design and came up with some fantastic color combos! Because they're all so cool, and I can't narrow it down to just one, I think I'm going to print a small batch of each. Hopefully they will be available soon!
Check out the fantastic article the Roanoke Times recently did on Buckeye Banjos! I was honored that they thought my work was worthy of a write up, and excited that the reporter, Robby Korth, really did some great reporting, getting the views of other banjo makers, full time musicians, and banjo historians. And what makes it even more exciting is that the story was picked up by the AP and run in over a dozen papers around the country...including the Washington Post!
Due to environmental concerns I've always felt guilty about using tropical hardwoods. I've eliminated my use of all other tropical hardwoods except ebony, but due to a lack of good alternatives, I've continued to use ebony. After some experimenting (see banjo #173) I've decided that the recycled paper product Richlite, as well as various North American hardwoods, offer viable substitutes for ebony and I am now ready to start offering them to customers. Richlite offers all the advantages of ebony, like being incredibly dense and jet black, and has the added benefit of being completely sustainable.
I've also decided to start offering Richlite on my bridge tips. Unlike ebony, which is incredibly brittle, Richlite does not chip out when used as a bridge tip!