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 ARCHIVED TOPIC: Banjo Builder Interviews - My 60th Birthday Present.

Please note this is an archived topic, so it is locked and unable to be replied to. You may, however, start a new topic and refer to this topic with a link:

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mrphysics55 - Posted - 02/17/2013:  14:42:25


frailin - Posted - 02/21/2013:  09:43:37


I'm afraid I made my "next project"  announcement too soon.  

Been thinking on this some.  I believe most would agree, the Performer Project I've outlined here is interesting, fun and worthy.  And, as a "planner", I know it's do-able... but for a younger person than me.  I have to admit I DID bite off more than I could initially chew with the Banjo Builder Project, but I made it work (in an interesting, chaotic, manic sort of way).  I finished it and it didn't kill me. So, I'm happy.  However, at 60, I'm not sure I really want to do that again. And the Project I've laid out here?  It's as manic, er aggressive as the Banjo Builders (sigh).  

After some long chats with my wonderful wife, I've come to the conclusion that in order to do this right (the way it's laid out), I'd need some help.  So, I'll put it out there:  If there's someone interested in either taking on this Project or assisting with it, I'm glad to help you... but it's more than this old-timer wants to take on right now.  I guess I spoke too soon... and I'm sorry about that.  The mind is willing but the body is, well, smarter than that.  

Now! There are some things I DO want to document and CAN manage on my own: A Performer or two, here and there are definitely in the mix (recorded at a house concert)... as are interviews with a few of today's "fiddle makers."  And while I'm at it, I'd love to talk to Chris Thile's mandolin builder (wow!).  


For more idears, I'll also be having some conversations with banjo performer, artist and fellow documentarian Art Rosenbaum (see/here Backroads and Banjos).   I'm certain there are some fine stories out there we might be able to collaborate on.  And I'd love that!  Heck!  I want to do a show on Art!  HE's amazing!  approve

I've also got some folks writing me about old-timers that were once important to a community (around the country), but through work, declining health, they have since fallen from public view.  I might be able to capture a few of those stories while they're still around.  

For those of you that have so generously offered your homes for house concerts, I'd really like to do a couple of those.  So even if the Performer Project doesn't get picked up, we still might be doing something together (thank you again for your willingness and hospitality).


Ok.  So that's it for the bad news.  Sorry I pulled the trigger and announced the work before I'd really assessed whether or not I was up for it.  The Good News is, I've got a new focus and cause.  I really want to uncover and capture people and community stories that have contributed to our marvelous OT music genre.  So if you know of someone, something or someplace with a story that now obscure or forgotten - but worth capturing - please post it here for consideration.  Hopefully, this will be interesting, educational and (above all), FUN!  I'll will be packing up my camera and standing by.  In other words, I'm now going to be working on:  

"Old-time Conversations" - Volume 1  big

No deadlines, no goals.  Just another (more leisurely) amazing adventure.  Hope you can come along for the ride.  

Brooklynbanjoboy - Posted - 02/21/2013:  12:34:00

Hey Craig,

I'm going to stick around and see what happens.

Again, if you're ever in the Shenandoah Valley, we have a guest room with your name  it.

Think of this as an evolving effort, not a curtailed project.

Play hard,


frailin - Posted - 03/06/2013:  17:09:09

Back in a bit big

Good fortune smiled on yet another worthy project.  

Jessica Kingsley Publishing (out of England) has asked to publish the "Aspie Mentor" book I'm preparing with Dr. Tony Attwood (world's leading authority on Asperger's/HFA) and autism author Anita Lesko.  This book of real, life-earned wisdom is a series of "Been there, done that, try this!" essays (600 words each) from older successful Aspies imparting their learnings, insight/wisdom to the next generation of people with Asperger's/HFA... so they can avoid some of the stress the older folks had to endure.  Amazing. approve


I'm really excited about this book.  Aside from their perseverance in overcoming obstacles and constraints and their gifted natures (art, music, science, computers, you name it), for the first time, the rest of the world can now witness the compassion of autism.  And the Aspie Mentors finally give people with Asperger's/HFA a long overdue voice.  

By Aspies, for Aspies - Been There. Done That. Try This!  Coming later this year.  Thank you, Jessica Kingsley.  

Back soon.  approve

Edited by - frailin on 03/06/2013 17:11:29

Brooklynbanjoboy - Posted - 03/07/2013:  02:45:42

Good on you, Craig.



frailin - Posted - 03/13/2013:  12:02:49

Hey banjo lovers... Eric has now added Volume 3 - "Conversations with Banjo Historians" to the Banjo Hangout store!  



AND, in addition to the DVDs (in the Series), for only $4, you can purchase and immediate watch any single show for a week!  

Remember, for every sale, a portion goes back to Banjo Hangout to help keep the lights on.  

Thanks, everyone!


frailin - Posted - 04/10/2013:  10:42:31

There's another wonderful banjo film about to be introduced:  The Librarian and the Banjo.  It's the story of Dena Epstein, author of "Sinful Tunes and Spirituals."  If you've not yet read the book, you're denying yourself an amazingly romantic opportunity to learn more of the history of our favorite instrument.  

If you don't have time to read the book, my friend and fellow banjo player Jim Carrier had the foresight to capture some of Dena's story on film for posterity.  And now that its finished, this movie is his contribution to the archives.  I've seen snippets... and know it's required viewing.

Here's more on the film.  Maybe Jim will stop by sometime soon and give us a preview.  I know I'm first in line for the DVD.  big 

Edited by - frailin on 04/10/2013 10:44:09

Brooklynbanjoboy - Posted - 04/10/2013:  14:41:33

It was a great book.  I hope the DVD becomes accessible.  Looking forward to hearing more about it.

Is it true you're gift wrapping Banjo Builder Series caps for all of us who have read every entry in this"60th Birthday Present" BHO forum thread?

Take care,


frailin - Posted - 04/10/2013:  15:58:05

The hat is free if score 100% on the 1,057 question quiz.  :)

Marc Nerenberg - Posted - 04/10/2013:  16:13:11

The answer to ALL of the questions is "Yes", or possibly "B", or maybe "None of the above".

Is that close enough for a hat?

cmox - Posted - 04/15/2013:  16:38:45

Hey Banjo People:
I just returned from the Julian Family Fiddle Camp in southern California where I had the pleasure of taking Round Peak instruction from Adam Hurt. What a talented and delightful young man he is....and an excellent instructor.
Craig, your interviews brought him to my attention.


frailin - Posted - 05/05/2013:  08:25:31

I'm giving a "Banjo Builder" presentation at our local library here in Rosemount, MN this coming Tuesday (5/7/13 from 7-9P).  If'n yer in the area, come on in (it's free).  big

Here's an article on it in today's StarTribune.


Edited by - frailin on 05/05/2013 08:26:41

jimcarrier - Posted - 05/05/2013:  09:57:54

Nice piece Craig.

BNJOMAKR - Posted - 05/05/2013:  11:27:10

Thanks for the link, Craig. Nice article! smiley yes yes

Brooklynbanjoboy - Posted - 05/08/2013:  15:52:01

frailin - Posted - 05/08/2013:  16:12:20

Ok. I'm impressed. Considering where you live, how did you score a Dakota County section of last Sunday's Minneapolis Star Tribune?  

Brooklynbanjoboy - Posted - 05/08/2013:  16:19:43

Special training.

frailin - Posted - 06/21/2013:  07:38:57

Banjo Builders Volume 4


Have to admit, I REALLY miss meeting these incredible people.  Had a taste of it earlier this week while staying with the in-laws in Georgia.  DeAnne and I took a day trip to Asheville, NC and toured the Pisgah Banjo Company with builders Patrick Heavner and "Topher" (short for Christopher).  Wow!  Here's a startup that needs to have its story captured. 

Patrick was kind enough to indulge short notice (we texted/emailed him on our way over to Asheville).  He graciously gave us the full cooks tour, even though I didn't have my recording equipment with me.  


Among its many "claims to fame", Pisgah Banjo Company is completely solar powered.  Patrick's day job is for a solar energy farm that sells/distributes to the Asheville area.  His house and shop (currently a garage) are completely powered by the sun.  

Pisgah uses all local woods - maple, walnut, cherry and persimmon for fingerboards (and tone rings).  Both Patrick and Topher took local banjo-building instruction from the fine regional teaching schools in the area.  And both have a deep appreciation for the instrument and the art form. 

Currently they're making 100 banjos a year (goal), but based on demand - they're in an EXCELLENT price range starting at $1,150 - they'll be ramping up for more.  

Clearly these guys understand the mystical mechanics of wood, mass and the importance of tolerances/attention to detail.  The half-dozen or so banjos I looked at and played were consistently well-build and sounded mighty-fine (aka: loud).  

Inlay is also from local woods.  Fretted and fretless are options as are choices of tone rings.  

There's whole lot more to the Pisgah story, but I'll have to return with my cameras to capture it all.  Actually, I'm excited to do that.  While I'm at it, there are also some other builders I had to leave out the first time around that I'd like to put back in.  We'll see what might transpire next spring.  

The boys sent me away with hats and stickers and an inspiring story of quality banjos.  I'm delighted we got a chance to meet and tour the shop.  

Have to admit, it was really fun having DeAnne along with me to take pics.  Here she is with Patrick and Topher.  Looking forward to coming back again.  

Ho C Ying - Posted - 06/21/2013:  07:58:35

Craig, you are GREAT!
Please keep going.
Just ordered Volume 3 from Elderly.

Hoytt - Posted - 06/21/2013:  13:40:05


Nice photos.

I'm waiting for delivery of a new Pisgah banjo -- perhaps as early as tomorrow -- and this just got me more excited.  

My lady friend keeps asking why I'm smiling.  This will be her first introduction to my getting a new instrument.

frailin - Posted - 06/24/2013:  08:13:28

Hiawassee, GA Banjo Builders... sorta


The "Banjo Inn" birdhouses. I love coming down here.  You just don't run into this stuff up around Minnesota.  

Here's something else we found a-pee-ling

Got mugged here... 


frailin - Posted - 06/26/2013:  09:24:26

Announcing:  "Conversations with Banjo Builders" - Volume 4


Ok.  I tried staying away.  I really did.  I lasted maybe 6 months.  But I love the banjo and what these guys are doing so much, I have to get back into the game again.  At least for a little while.  big

So here are the Banjo Builder folks I've invited to be a part of Volume 4.  

David Ball

Riley Baugus

Noel Booth

Glenn Carson

Randy Cordle

Jeff Delfield

Wyatt Fawley

Patrick Heavner

Dan Knowles

Jeff Kramer

Ken LeVan

Luke Mercier

Mac Traynham

This list has been shortened from the (close to 40) names submitted by the Banjo Builder "Brain Trust" of friends, builders and players that have supported this project from day one.  I also included suggested builders whose names were posted on this thread early on, while filming Volumes 1 - 3.  

The group contains some "specialists" in certain skills (ie. Glenn Carson's metal engraving is extraordinary.  And for many years Wyatt Fawley has successfully retrofitted and re-employed many, many precious pieces).  There are also several more player performers (i.e. Dan Knowles, Riley Baugus).  I'm so excited to meet them all!  I'm also apologizing right now (again) that I'm unable to include even more builders, but time, $$ and my age are all a consideration.  

For extras, grammy-nominee, player, historian, author and playwright (amongst other things) Stephen Wade has agreed to sit down and chat with me!  Thank you Peter (pjxndvm) for reminding me of just how important Stephen is to our community! 

And I think John Bernunzio's insights and experiences with banjos new and vintage will broaden all our horizons on historic instruments.  My what an interesting guy! 

I'll be recording Volume 4 over the fall and into next year with an anticipated delivery date of March 15th.  Hope to begin with the first field recording swing in September.  

So there you have it.  Volume 4.  If you're interested in pre-ordering to reserve a copy (and help fund the effort), leave me a note here on the thread.  I'll put a Buy-It-Now button up at shortly. 

Thanks, all.  

Yippee!  Not quite dead yet!  

Shawn Hoover - Posted - 06/26/2013:  09:31:42

Yeah, everybody wins! This is going to be fun.

DEmery - Posted - 06/26/2013:  12:12:08

Craig I was fortunate to see your earlier work and actually had two banjos built by builders in the first series. I looked over your thorough list of builders for Volume 4 and am pleased to see you are including Dan Knowles. I've had Dan build several banjos over the years and his approach to design is different from any other builder I've worked with...and it is a fun process of creation. It is always a surprise to open a case from Dan. You will also be amused and entertained on your visit to Paris. I am including a few photos of work he has done for me. David E.

1922 Vega S

New 1850 Jacobs by Dan Knowles, Luthier

Goshen By Dan Knowles

1975 F5 Gibson Master Model rebuilt by Dan Knowles

Ole' Abe built by Dan Knowles

Ebony banjo Sherry Lynne built by Dan Knowles

bricklifter1 - Posted - 06/27/2013:  16:41:01

Are these folks in any particular region, or all over?

Any anticipated changes to the format, style, or content?


Good investment so far--I'm sure I'll be going for #4!!!!!!!!!!!!   Can't wait


Chris Pinney

frailin - Posted - 06/28/2013:  05:53:55

Here's a tentative map for Volume 4 interviews.  It's a 4,000 mile trek... most likely, 10-11 days on the road to film.  

The programming format for the interviews and the DVDs will stay the same as the first 3 volumes to keep the Series consistent.  I've made minor enhancements/improvements all the way through (when I discover better ways of doing things).  But there are no major shifts/changes planned for this installment.  

Besides, as my dad always said "if it ain't broke, don't fix it."  big

Brooklynbanjoboy - Posted - 06/28/2013:  06:20:41


Wise Dad.

In a version of this, I used to tell my kids "If it ain't broke, don't break it."

I see your map, but if you add an escape and evasion route through Staunton, VA, there's a guest room with your name on it.


bricklifter1 - Posted - 06/28/2013:  13:39:49


 In reading your map, you show somebody just south of Harrisburg Pa.-- who is it?

I' m in'll be driving down 81 right next to my house!


Cant wait!!!!!

Chris Pinney

bricklifter1 - Posted - 06/28/2013:  13:40:09


 In reading your map, you show somebody just south of Harrisburg Pa.-- who is it?

I' m in'll be driving down 81 right next to my house!


Cant wait!!!!!

Chris Pinney

bricklifter1 - Posted - 06/28/2013:  13:46:27

oh wait.....


the letters on the map are probably waypoints rather than people





GSCarson - Posted - 06/28/2013:  14:34:53

Chris,  I live in Mechanicsburg, Ken LeVan lives in Sullivan County north of Williamsport.... Glenn C

bricklifter1 - Posted - 06/28/2013:  15:32:21

I have admired the LeVan banjos for a while--never put 2&2 together.



Winged Words - Posted - 06/29/2013:  00:25:26

Good news Craig. I'll be scraping up the pension pennies to order as soon as the buy button appears on the website.

cmox - Posted - 06/29/2013:  16:55:06

Count me in. If you film, I'll buy it.


clawhammermike - Posted - 07/03/2013:  00:18:53

I call shotgun!

frailin - Posted - 07/09/2013:  11:25:43

September's travel (recording) itinerary for Volume 4 is starting to shape up!  Only 3,675 miles this time.  Oh, and a followup plane trip.  


olpete - Posted - 07/09/2013:  13:22:54

You're skipping my house Craig? :). Who's the other stop you're making around Greensboro other than Riley? Make sure you get in touch if you have time to stop when you pass through Winston-Salem. We can grab a bite to eat or something.

frailin - Posted - 07/15/2013:  16:45:11



I love old school video tape.  big

frailin - Posted - 08/14/2013:  11:36:27

Volume 4 of "Conversations with North American Banjo Builders" is now underway!  


I got a jump on the next series of interviews.  Early last week I drove down to Burlington, WI and met with Jeff Kramer of Cloverlick Banjos.  

As in all these conversations, I learned a lot about Jeff's influences and personal history.  His family of blacksmiths, wagon builders and share-croppers has been in the area since 1850.  Jeff has a deep reverence for history and heritage.  

This reverence is captured in his banjos.  'Course, Dwight Diller's influence along the way is clearly evident in the design, testing even naming of his models (and business).  

Jeff's style of clawhammer play is one more indication of Dwight's tutelage.  

He left me with a couple of original compositions as impressive as his banjos.  Oh, in addition to CH, Jeff also plays 4-string/plectrum and bluegrass.  He builds these models, too.  The guy has some talent!  It's easy to see why folks like his work.  

Ok.  One in the can, 14-15 more interviews to go beginning 9/13.  Yee-ha!  big


Edited by - frailin on 08/14/2013 11:37:33

banjo bill-e - Posted - 08/14/2013:  15:34:33

Jeff plays one of the best versions of Cluck Ol' Hen that I've ever heard. I had a link to it once upon a time----

westsideryan - Posted - 08/15/2013:  14:23:44

Very cool!  I was unaware that we had great banjo builder in Wisconsin!

Brooklynbanjoboy - Posted - 08/15/2013:  14:28:40

Here’s my BHO review of my CloverLick Pineywoods Eklyte

submitted 7/17/2007.

Scroll down to the end.


Brooklynbanjoboy - Posted - 08/16/2013:  12:27:56

Some picks of my Cloverlick.

And a sound byte.

Edited by - Brooklynbanjoboy on 08/16/2013 12:30:01

Brooklynbanjoboy - Posted - 08/19/2013:  03:53:11

Well, it's official.

The Banjo Builder's DVDs have entered the marketplace as seconds.

That means they are part of the currency keeping the banjo economy afloat, meaning further that they now register on what Ken Perlman calls the Banjo Index -- which is just like the Dow Jones index, but different.

frailin - Posted - 08/25/2013:  14:54:30

Birthday #61 is next week and I'm just about to set out to film Volume 4.  


Wow... I get to go meet 14 more of these incredible folks!  The birthday gift that just keeps on giving.  Life is good!! big

Every year I recognize more of the blessings life has thrown my way... many of which I just stumble across.  One of my best gifts in life was an incredible set of parents.  Mom and Dad were ALWAYS loving, supportive/encouraging and HAPPY!  This pic was from about 1983.  

The smiling faces you see are what I experienced for the 45 years I had Dad and the 60 years I had Mom.  Mom passed away earlier this year after a hard-fought battle with Alzheimer's (she was ready to go).  I know for a fact, that on my birthday this year (and every year), they'll continue to tell me to keep on having fun.  

Mom and Dad, I do believe you'll both be with me on this filming adventure.  How 'bout I just dedicate this Volume to you?  It's only a token, but it's one way I can say thanks for all you did for me.  Like the banjo builders, I now recognize another way you've made the world a better, happier place.  How fortunate I was to grow up surrounded by an attitude of "look for the good in people and things and you'll find it."  And boy-howdy have I.  smiley

Thanks, Mom and Dad.   

Edited by - frailin on 08/25/2013 15:00:36

Yanni - Posted - 08/27/2013:  11:48:16

I have been following this thread with huge interest. These guys are awesome. I have to ask. Have you any plans to make these films available as downloads? Maybe through iTunes or however. I would love to have these but have little interest in the DVD the media. The only optical drive I have is a portable one for when I have no choice. I would love to pay for a downloaded version.


schlange - Posted - 08/27/2013:  13:39:21

Hi Yanni,

We don't have plans to make them downloadable yet.... your only options at this point are to 1) purchase the DVD or 2) "rent" the streaming version of a particular interview (we call it pay-per-view). Cost to rent is $4 per interview video, and you get access to it for a week. You can do that here >

bricklifter1 - Posted - 08/27/2013:  15:53:31

you are a lucky man.....sounds like you had a great family: it shows in your generous approach to this project.


cant wait--i just go finished (re)watching vol 1-3



frailin - Posted - 09/08/2013:  14:19:15

3... 2... 1...


pjxndvm - Posted - 09/08/2013:  14:31:46

I have a starters pistol....

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