Thursday, June 26, 2008 @9:38:51 AM
Never blogged on the BHO – and probably will not again because I'm not much of a blogger, but I have to say thanks to a couple of people.
I have never been a “gear-head” (I use that term fondly because I wish I was) who made it a point to learn the ins and outs of everything that makes up the banjo. I was always only a player and nothing else about the instrument interested me besides playing -- other than one that played well and sounded good. That all changed in January as far as my own personal instrument and there are a few folks here that are responsible for that.
Beginning at the beginning, in 1973 after playing for a few months I knew I had to have a Mastertone – period. I walked into Rual Yarbrough’s (former Bluegrass Boy and longtime friend) music store in Muscle Shoals, AL. Rual always had at least 40 banjos lined up in the floor rack and I played all of his Gibson’s – twice. On the end he had an ODE – prettiest banjo I had personally seen. It had a Brazilian Rosewood neck, engraved pearl, carved heel and was on a nickel plated pot. That’s all I knew except for the fact it sounded great and the neck was what I was looking for – bought it on the spot for $700. It has been my working instrument since then and I have never thought any more about it for 35 years until a couple of folks on Banjo Hangout opened my eyes.
I have a student who has small hands and she loved the neck of my ODE. In January of this year, she posted a simple request on BHO that she was looking for an ODE “like her instructor has”. The next thing that happened is I start getting email from folks from both east and west coast asking details about my banjo. Dan Varadi, from Seattle, hit me first with a list of questions I could not answer – “…is that an E?...will you sell it?....I will trade you my Baldwin D and ……” (Sorry Dan but I’m sure you know now why I will hang onto it)
Then Ed Britt surfaces and starts to educate me about what I may or may not have and turns out to be one of the most knowledgeable banjo experts I have met and also knew “everything ODE” so to speak. In addition he is a designer by trade and one of the designers for OME banjos as well. (My top friend here on BHO). After many emails and conversations (and run down cell phone batteries) with Ed I figured I needed to check into exactly what I might have here and I'm glad I did.
Rual is 78 now (just getting over heart surgery) and he told me that the pot assembly on my neck was NOT the original one that came with the banjo. The original one was an engraved, nickel plated pot. He sold the original pot to a man from Birmingham AL in 1971 who talked Rual into separating it from the 5 string neck. The man had a high quality plectrum copy of the ODE five string neck made and gold plated over the original nickel and went home. Then, Rual put the five string neck on a 69 Baldwin pot so the fit was there. That’s the one I have owned since 73.
After finding out it was not the original pot, I decided to see if I could find that needle in a haystack. Rual could not remember the man who bought it – only that he was from Birmingham. My buddy Herb Trotman (great banjo player and owner of Fretted Instruments in Birmingham) was instrumental in helping me figure out who the man might have been. After finding the name and making about 10 calls, a lady said to me “I wish you had called us sooner…Uncle Stafford died several months back and two days ago we sold his banjo collection and the ODE was one of them”. TWO DAYS!!!
I found out who had purchased it – Ken Cagle, who (besides a great guy) is a long time sales rep for Martin Guitars and a plectrum player himself. Herb being a Martin dealer, contacted Ken and then the rest happened fairly quickly after that.
The long story short from here is:
· Turns out my banjo was originally a rare Style E ODE – nickel plated and engraved - Serial # 198, c1966, sold to a man from Chattanooga direct from the ODE shop in Boulder. After that the banjo changes hands.
· I have been able to trace its complete "line of ownership" since then and the banjo has a very interesting past -- which includes involvement with number of well-known people in the Bluegrass world and all are still around.
· I now have the original pot back with the original neck after being separated for over 38 years and under different ownership. (The only difference is that the pot was gold plated in 1971 hence calling it a style E/F). And also, this pot could have been anywhere in the world after all this time but it was always two hours away.
· Ed Britt is preparing an illustrated article about the banjo, its history, and the personalities involved. But there are a couple of things in the works before its finished – one in particular is to replace the pot on the plectrum neck the owner allowed me to have – mainly a replica Style F Plectrum made from my Baldwin pot to be completed, to bring the story full-circle.
So, my gratitude and thanks to Ed Britt, Dan Varadi, Herb Trotman, Ken Cagle, Chuck Ogsbury, Tommy George, Rual Yarbrough, Mike Stanger and of course my student Amanda Gooch (also one of my top BHO friends) for jump starting this quest by her initial posting on BHO.
Lastly and most important, if it were not for the Banjo Hangout, none of this would have ever happened.
Thanks for a great website!
If anyone is interested, you can see the restored ODE #198 in my photos.
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