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

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frailin - Posted - 09/11/2013:  08:48:57



Volume 4 Banjo Builders, here I come!  big

Brooklynbanjoboy - Posted - 09/11/2013:  09:15:35

Wait a minute.  You mean you're traveling around in a little car instead of a Ralph Stanley-sized bus?  I thought the BBI would have prompted you to upgrade to an apartment house-sized mobile video vehicle with your own screening center, developing capabilities, and perhaps a small section on board for jamming, as well as lavish sleeping quarters.  After all, as I've said, we can make tens of dollars a year at this banjo stuff.

frailin - Posted - 09/11/2013:  09:32:29

8 years old and 105k miles.  But she still delivers 35 MPG.  And right now she's all tuned-up and ready to roll.  

The Frailin-mobile delivers.  big  

Both pictures courtesy of Glenn Carson, who if I'd done a better job of interviewing the first time around (these were taken on the Eastern Swing for Volume 1 way back when - He kindly put me up for the night), I wouldn't be needing to film him again for Volume 4.  No matter, THIS time I'll be recording him in his REAL work shop (a surprise for later).  smiley

Yes, we'd all go hundreds of miles for 10's of dollars.  The OT-mindset makes us proud of frugality.  

But heck, I'm even bringing extra socks this time!  Woo-hoo!  

Brooklynbanjoboy - Posted - 09/11/2013:  09:55:54

Travel safely.

Take care,


frailin - Posted - 09/11/2013:  12:29:17

Here's a sampling of what I'm listening to this trip.  

BTW - Greg Adam's new CD "Home Front - Unpacking the Past" ROCKS!  Gotta watch my speed while listening.  big

bricklifter1 - Posted - 09/11/2013:  17:41:04


will there be a vol 5?  (probably too early to tell.....;-)   )

My wife was wondering, is  the Minn. State Arts Board contributing to vol. 4  (hope so!!!)

I just watched the first 3 volumes again over 4 evenings--I see something interesting every time!

Be safe....keep up the great work.  



frailin - Posted - 09/11/2013:  18:55:07

If I see you somewhere along the way, please introduce yourself to me so I can take your picture. Got an idea for Banjo Hangout "Show'd ups."  :)

Nels - Posted - 09/12/2013:  04:26:50

Love the first 3 vol. waiting on vol. 4....yes pacing...pacing...watchin 1 again...pacing....pacing...watchin 2. 3,   pacing...pacing....big

frailin - Posted - 09/13/2013:  15:42:06

On the road again!  Day 1...


Life on the road definitely has its ups and downs.  I'm happy to report the first days of travel have treated me well... as have the fine banjo builder folks I've recently met.  

If you don't yet know Banjo Hangout's Rudy (Randy Cordle), you're in for a treat.  It's hard to tell from the picture but this guy smiles even less (for pics) than Donald Zepp.  Other than that, he's smiling all the time (but it's a good thing I got backup batteries).  

My treat started when Randy and his lovely Ms. LeeAnn fed me a BBQ dinner with cornbread (REAL cornbread with lotsa butter, NO sugar) and apple pie for dessert (lotsa butter in the crust, too).  And the pie had different varieties of apples so each bite was either sweet or tart.  Mmmmm.  Oh, that's right.  I'm here for banjos.  big

Early this morning, Randy and I sat out on the porch over looking beautiful central Illinois farm land while he told me his story.  If you've frequented the Builder's forum on the hangout (the most popular topic here), you'll see his name popup regularly... usually to help someone stuck on a part of the building process.  Based on his years of experience (building many instruments), he's a veritable warehouse of info.  But his contribution to banjo building goes far beyond just fix-up advice.  Randy has documented how to build a banjo IN SPADES.  Once you take a look at his CAD renderings, photos, insights and instructions (on CDs), I'm pretty sure you'll understand why he's now in the Series.  If there are over 80k members here, and most come for advice in the builders section, Randy has probably influenced more banjo building in the last 5+ years that anyone else alive today.   I'm delighted he shared some time to be part of the Banjo Builder Series.  big

Oh!  And there were a coupla BHO Show'd ups!  Fortunately for me, earlier this week BHO bud Lyle Konigsberg clued me on last nights Urbana jam.  Wow, was that fun!  And besides Lyle, Tom Bassett also showed.  So here they are with Randy.  

Wow. I just noticed.  Randy smiled big for all 3 pics here.  Must be the company.  smiley

Ok.  Gotta go run out now and get something to eat.  I'm meeting up later tonight with one of this city's favorite sons to talk about tomorrow's first interview (of two).  



Edited by - frailin on 09/13/2013 15:48:38

Shawn Hoover - Posted - 09/13/2013:  16:01:31

It's only Day 1 and you are already well on your way to another excellent series, sir. I am really looking forward to this one.

We enjoy a lot of these guys' insights week in and week out in their own words and photos over on the building forum. It's a real treat to see a different side in your films. I can't wait.

Pine Cone - Posted - 09/13/2013:  18:50:08

 Glad you got to visit with Randy/Rudy.  Can't hardly wait to see this next set of videos.

While you're visiting with Dan Knowles tomorrow buy a copy of his "Looking Back" CD to add to your travel music.  

I'm glad you're back on the road interviewing again.  I've really enjoyed the series so far!

banjo bill-e - Posted - 09/14/2013:  09:02:52

Well so Craig's coming to Nashville today and I'm stuck at work. So, I can't come say howdy, but at least you picked a day of near perfect weather. The new Gruhn's is pretty cool (but so was the old one). George doesn't smile much, either, but Craig can make anybody smile.

Happy Trails!


frailin - Posted - 09/14/2013:  18:15:42

"Just when you think it can't get any better then it does..."


OMG!  Today was too much!!  I actually got to see not one but TWO of John Hartford's banjos upfront and personal!  They were amaz...!  Wait.  I'm getting ahead of myself.  I should start at the top. 


After staying up to 10 jawin' with my another incredible player/performer/teacher/builder artist-type (Dan Knowles), I was served a delightful meal of pancakes and serious coffee at 7A... a full hour ahead of filming!  Talk about southern hospitality. smiley  A great start to any morning.  

Once at the shop (look for me), we quickly settled in to a long chat about all his music and banjo-making influences, likes, dislikes even some stuff he didn't want to talk about (but you'll love hearing).  Dan is one interesting Dude!  Oh, "CH" (pictured here with Dan) also makes a cameo.  

Dan is yet another delightfully creative, original and playful human being that delights in all aspects of the banjo.  His story is huge and ongoing.  I'm delighted I got to capture a part of it.  Talk about "full of life!"  Yee-ha!  

Then, just when you think it can't get any better...

A coupla hours later I was at Gruhn Guitars, seated in front of one of the world's foremost authorities on all instruments vintage.  And trust me, he's got the inventory to back it up!  

Here you see George holding Uncle Dave Macon's Gibson... the one Dave sold to Stringbean.  And checkout the original Unca Dave photos and drawings behind George.  Whoa!  George gave me the whole 9-yards behind his company, how he got into classifying instruments from studying snakes (yup... got quite a few in his office, too).  He then gave me a tour of his personal collection of guitars and banjos on the wall outside his office.  Fascinating.  

And here is a nice little dust collector/shelf talker... it's one of John Hartford's Grammys.   

But just when you think it can't get any better... it does.  

These are the two Hartford AA Farlands.

Guess who's having a good day?! big


Tomorrow is early church here in Knoxville with BHO's own Rev. Samuel Roberts, a good supportive friend of the Banjo Builder Project.  I'm intending to at least buy him brunch.  And then I'm off to see David Ball.  I'm hoping to get David to play Green Willis on an internal resonator of his hand.  NOBODY plays it better and the sound is amazing.  Hear for yourself!  

PS - You missed a good'un today, Banjo Bill-e (sorry).  approve

DEmery - Posted - 09/14/2013:  18:46:32

Craig that ole' Dan Knowles is something isn't he? I have had the good fortune to know him for several years and have a few of his banjos along the way. I hope he let you play the ebony Sherry Lynne. That was a three year discussion between us and this past year she made it back to Paris so Dan can take her on boat tours. Glad you enjoyed the visit and I am sure Dan did too. I look forward to seeing the video. By the way below is Knowles eye candy he did for me over the years.  David E. 

Dan Knowles Applies French Polish to Ebony Rim

1922 Vega S

1850 Jacobs copy by Dan Knowles

Ole' Abe built by Dan Knowles

Ebony banjo Sherry Lynne built by Dan Knowles

Goshen by Dan Knowles

1975 F5 Gibson Master Model rebuilt by Dan Knowles

Dan Knowles - Posted - 09/15/2013:  06:41:09

I'd say "guess who came by my place the other day?" Except that y'all already know.

Over the years I have been interviewed by many but seldom have I had a more thoughtful or in depth one.

Craig you are a delight to have spent time with. Thank you for coming all this way. Come back anytime!

Dan Knowles

BTW That is my Granddaughter Amber Knowles with us in the photo.

Todd Treadway - Posted - 09/15/2013:  08:50:49

So glad you've done interviews with both Randy and Dan! Their contributions here are immense!

> "Randy has probably influenced more banjo building in the last 5+ years that anyone else alive today." Certainly true in my case;  long before I joined the BHO, I'd google my banjo-building questions and invariably be directed to either the builders forum here, or more likely to Randy's Bluestem Strings website to get the answers I was looking for.

Really looking forward to getting the finished video!

Edited by - Todd Treadway on 09/15/2013 08:52:17

Paul Meredith - Posted - 09/15/2013:  11:55:09


Originally posted by Todd Treadway


So glad you've done interviews with both Randy and Dan! Their contributions here are immense!

> "Randy has probably influenced more banjo building in the last 5+ years that anyone else alive today." Certainly true in my case;  long before I joined the BHO, I'd google my banjo-building questions and invariably be directed to either the builders forum here, or more likely to Randy's Bluestem Strings website to get the answers I was looking for.

Really looking forward to getting the finished video!


frailin - Posted - 09/15/2013:  16:31:03

Praise the Lord and pass the ammunition. 


Had another stellar day in the promised land of banjos and hominy.smiley

Started off Sunday in good order with a contemporary service at Concord United Methodist Church in Knoxville with Banjo Hangout buddy and true Banjo Builder "friend" Sam Roberts and his wonderful wife Stella.  Delightful music and a strong message were quickly followed with a delicious breakfast, meaningful conversation and lots of equally warm (and motivating) coffee.  Woo-hoo, let's ride!  Thanks Sam and Stella!

For the ammunition part, let's say you as a banjo player wanna compete with a loud screechy fiddle.  Why just MEET the challenge when COMPLETE AND TOTAL DOMINATION IS POSSIBLE?  big  

Whoa!  Part engineer, part audiophile and part mad (but happy!) scientist, David Ball has concocted a formula for banjos that sound full and strong whether they're played delicately or powerfully.  

If you've never had the pleasure of REALLY playing on onea David's internal resonator banjos, figger a tubaphone-like howitzer and you'd be close.   They DO meet your demands.  

And then there's the inlay work!  Well, you'll just have to see the show for the rest.  But David, like every other builder I've met on this wonderful adventure is an amazingly talented, inspirational delight.  approve

Ok.  Tonight in Bryson City.  Tomorrow's a two-fer starting with Jeff Delfield and then on to Noah Booth. 

Dang this is fun.  big

Edited by - frailin on 09/15/2013 16:33:46

frailin - Posted - 09/15/2013:  17:05:49

NOEL Booth (duh!).

Sorry Noel.  clown

Noah Cline - Posted - 09/15/2013:  17:57:38

Shoot! and I was getting excited about a builder being named Noah...oh well. (I have made a mountain banjo. Maybe I'm the builder) big

rudy - Posted - 09/15/2013:  19:11:51

There's not a Banjo Hangout sticker on that North Carolina sign now, is there?smiley

BNJOMAKR - Posted - 09/16/2013:  02:25:49

You've just entered God's country! big  WELCOME!!!!


Delfield - Posted - 09/16/2013:  08:03:53

I hope Craig has as much fun as I did.

Here's a side that you don't get to see as often:  Craig the well oiled machine.   Man, he get's his equipment set up and tore down fast.  You might think he's a professional, or something!

Here he is setting up in my front yard this morning at about 8AM.  Now he's on his way to see good friend Noel Booth.

Can't wait to see all the segments in Vol. 4.



Edited by - Delfield on 09/16/2013 08:23:09

frailin - Posted - 09/16/2013:  14:42:03

Double Your Pleasure... Double Your Fun!  


Today was my first two-fer for Volume 4.  Lucky for me, it was with a coupla guys who's energy makes caffeine feel like a sedative.  big

It started at 7:50A with Deep Creek Strings builder, Jeff Delfield.  

This guy has got the lifestyle thing down pat:  An interesting day job in Bryson City, NC that pays the bills, a bunch of healthy hobbies that fit the terrain and a pastime (banjo building) that makes him happy.  Play a coupla of his banjos and you'll quickly discover the joy is built in (how'd he do that)?!

Here's Jeff with his librarian/potter wife Elise.  Like I said.  Happy.  And clearly, Jeff has good taste (as evidence by his Frank Lee shirt, too!).   big

Speaking of good taste, as I'm assembling "set 1" for the interview, check out the excellent cup of strong, hot joe in the spiffy mug off to my left.  Thank heavens most of the builders are coffee-snobs. That and the fresh zucchini bread (with chocolate chips - also in good taste) was courtesy of Elise.  This job does have some perks.


The second two-fer was a nooner with Noel.   A short 30 miles down the road (in Waynesville) lives fellow banjo builder and paddle-man Noel Booth (also a wonderful coffee-snob). big

Here's another example of just how diverse the population of artists and crafts-people building banjos really are!  Noel comes from a family of engineers.  He majored in German, found he liked life outdoors, moved to the country and started building instruments.  Oh, along the way he picked up an appreciation for OT music (thanks Frank Lee... who also influenced Jeff).  Noel also taught himself carpentry.  Did I mention he used to build these high-end paddles too?  No wonder Lo Gordon hired him as an apprentice.  He built a hundred or so banjos over there before the 100 he's since built at his company, Old Fiddle Road Banjo Works.  

Ok.  So check out the lines on this guy's banjos.  No, he DOESN'T have a CNC router, he does that his'self!  Amazing. 

Forgot to ask if he's Catholic or something, but Noel's the only builder so far with an alter in his shop.  You should see the heavenly things this setup allows him to do (have to see the show for that - Hint: it has something to do with the inset... or what you could put IN the inset).  Clever.  


Oh, and what's with the NC banjo builders having the same (upper half) of a bumper sticker?!  


And Noel...

Maybe I'll find out tomorrow when I revisit these talented guys at Pisgah Banjo Company in Asheville.  After all, they're the reason Volume 4 even got off the ground (thanks for the nudge, fellers).  big


frailin - Posted - 09/17/2013:  13:46:59

Southern comfort


As I sit and type this entry at the Village Tavern in Winston-Salem, I'm reminded of just how much I enjoy North Carolina... beautiful scenery, friendly folks and (like Asheville), great eating and drinking.  smiley

Today started off comfortable enough.  Pisgah Banjo Company founder Patrick Heavner and I sat next to a babbling brook behind his shop while we talked about his aspirations for the banjo's future.  So exciting!  

I first met Patrick and his crew (Topher on the right and Adam on the left) earlier this summer.  THEY are the reason I decided to film Volume 4 of the Banjo Builders.  The enthusiasm this crew brings to the party (not to mention energy and optimism of youth) assure me even more, this instrument's future is in GREAT hands!  Yee-ha!

Pisgah's focus is not only to build great banjos, but to do that in an environmentally-friendly manner.  Beginning with solar panels that power the shop 24x7, Pisgah uses local, renewable woods (walnut, cherry, persimmon, maple).  You wouldn't call their banjos fancy, but the engineering is solid, well-thought out and beautiful in its simplicity.  Besides that, they play and sound great!  

My day was already made!  That's good, because the next builder on my list was, unfortunately, out of town.  


Yep, Riley had to bag my interview to go make some money performing for adoring fans somewhere.  Jeez.  I suppose I coulda probably brought some coffee or doughnuts or somethin'.  Fur sure I'da asked for his autograph.  No matter.  Riley is out there doin' good for all of us that love this genre of music... and instrument... and community.  Maybe another time.  

Safe travels, friend.  approve


Tomorrow I meet Glenn Carson at his office at 8A.  Glenn lives in Mechanicsburg, PA.  I'm in Winston-Salem, NC.  Hmmmm.  

Then on to Mac Traynham. 

Got more fun to look forward to.  big

Edited by - frailin on 09/17/2013 13:59:26

J-Walk - Posted - 09/17/2013:  18:34:50

Craig, if you look up "living your dream" in the dictionary, it should show a picture of you.

Glad you're having a good time. Wish I were there.

pjxndvm - Posted - 09/18/2013:  01:35:57

I'll second J-Walk's comment... 

frailin - Posted - 09/18/2013:  18:09:42



Covered quite a bit of ground today, and ALL of it, GORGEOUS!  

Started off at 7:45A at Salem Lake in Salem, NC.   I'd scoped out the terrain the day before and the hike to where we were going to film Glenn Carson's shop-on-the-road was a 1/2 mile in.  

Glenn arrived first.  He was taking time off from his family vacation on the East coast just to tell us his story.  And a good story it is!  Lucky for us both, Ole Pete (Thad Bateman who lives in the area) also show'd up to help tote.  Good thing.   Seems carrying banjos around festivals kept us all in shape for the task.  

It was beautiful back by the stream... places out next to water are where Glenn does most of his work while on the road.  And he's a master at it.  He played us some original tunes, too.  This guy is good!  

And thanks for the help, Thad!


Almost got lost on my way to Mac Traynham's.  My GPS was goin' to hell in the mountains. 

Now here's another banjo building and banjo playing treasure.  Mac Traynham. 

I can see where Greg Galbreath picked up some of his love for banjo building (Mac was his teacher).  Mac gave me his story then took me on a tour of the shop and his farm.  

This guy builds some serious work!

And his banjos not only sound great, they're gorgeous.  


Tomorrow I see Wyatt Fawley, then head up to Shunk, PA for Ken LeVan. 

Onward!  big

Edited by - frailin on 09/18/2013 18:22:41

frailin - Posted - 09/18/2013:  18:19:45

Oh, and seeing this (Pilot Mountain), NEVER gets old.  Gorgeous!  

olpete - Posted - 09/18/2013:  20:46:34

Had a great time seeing you again, Craig, and meeting Glenn for the first time! Glenn's work is amazing and I'm glad I got a sneak peek before everyone else. They're in for a treat! Safe travels to ya and I'm off to hunt down some Oregon Myrtle!!

frailin - Posted - 09/19/2013:  13:48:38

The man.  The mystique!  


Only one interview today... but it was a Duesie!  

Meet Wyatt Fawley.  I wasn't sure if he was real or just a legend (not really).  big  But I'm happy to tell you the legend exists!  What amazed me most is just how much more there is to the legend.  

Wyatt lives quietly in historic Greensboro, PA (Est. 1781).  It's on the map, but you gotta go look for it.  Don't think too many folks come by these days.  Pretty sure I scared the lady out walking her dog in the background of this picture.  She quickly faded into the woods once I stopped my car (sorry, lady).  

Took me a while to locate Wyatt, too.  GPS only got me so far.  So I knocked on a few doors (no one answered) and stopped by a local machine shop where no one knew of Wyatt, but two old boys 'fessed up to liking banjos.  They jumped online and brought up Google Earth so we could look for the actual house.  It pointed to a patch of woods with no house.  question  The mystery deepened.  

I decided to ditch all the high tech stuff and sought out the local USPO... and was rewarded.  Fortunately for me, they were willing to help out (they're far better than Google or Mapquest anyway).  

Once I found the place, Wyatt quickly - as within 20 seconds of the "hi, how are ya?" - gave me a sample of what I was in for... before my cameras were even out of the car. 

No sooner were we through the front door to the shop than Wyatt was telling me about banjos past and present... then on to his interest in amazing violins, mandolins and firearms.  Then on to coins, then to coins found locally while metal-detecting (a favorite pastime), then to some of the actual found coins, 17th century spoons, pocket watches and more.  Whoa! My cameras are still in the case!  Ok.  Came up for air and quickly set up.  Showtime!

Let me put it this way:  Wyatt is freakin' brilliant.  Like so many of the banjo builders, he just happens to find the banjo intriguing.  Lucky for us!!  But he finds many things intriguing.  And that deep, compelling curiosity drives him to seek answers.  Where answers don't exist, he speculates.  That "trial and error" method to find solutions more often that not results in an answer that - later on, when Wyatt finally DOES locate the information he's looking for (it's clear he doesn't give up easy) - proves to be the actual solution.  Whoa.  

Ok, so Wyatt makes amazing BG and OT replica necks (for prized pots) based on just about all the information available today.  For any brand (not just the majors), he can also tell you in detail about the minor year-to-year production nuances/differences.  You want a repo that's right and accurate?  He knows the drill.  Then he takes another drill and produces wood work that's actually better than new (if you could get the real-deal 90 years earlier).  And they're stunning.  

This show will take me a while to edit.  It was quite the roller coaster ride.  I mighta actually tossed my cookies from all the twists and turns had it not been so dang much fun!  There are a coupla surprises here, too.  Not sure I'll include them all.  But it's no surprise to me now that Wyatt is a mystery to most folks.  But then again, so was Einstein, Mozart and Stradivarius.  Wyatt's kind all them rolled up into one.  

Oh, on lots of caffeine, of course... that's important, too.  big


Tomorrow is Ken LeVan and John Bernunzio.  Then on to Ontario and Luke Mercier.  


Edited by - frailin on 09/19/2013 14:07:55

pjxndvm - Posted - 09/19/2013:  15:25:32

I have one of Wyatts necks, a Fairbanks #2 on a 1924 Vega Tubaphone... smooth and beautiful neck. I like it so much I asked him to make me a #7, HIs work is beautiful. I cant wait to see this interview Craig.

clawhammermike - Posted - 09/21/2013:  09:18:34

I have now understood why this leg is so important.  Dozens of small banjo makers have to finally clean their shops.

Dan Knowles - Posted - 09/21/2013:  11:42:14

Daw Gone,

The truth is finally out!

ballbanjos - Posted - 09/21/2013:  12:16:42

Uh-Oh.  You mean I was supposed to clean up the shop??surprise

rudy - Posted - 09/21/2013:  13:18:57

Darn! Now I wish I'd spent a little more time cleaning up, too!

(Just joking... it's amazing what an open garage door and my leaf blower can accomplish...)smiley

ronwalker49 - Posted - 09/21/2013:  14:30:32


Originally posted by rudy


Darn! Now I wish I'd spent a little more time cleaning up, too!

(Just joking... it's amazing what an open garage door and my leaf blower can accomplish...)smiley

That's how I clean my garage, works great..

rudy - Posted - 09/21/2013:  15:48:36


Originally posted by ronwalker49


Originally posted by rudy


Darn! Now I wish I'd spent a little more time cleaning up, too!

(Just joking... it's amazing what an open garage door and my leaf blower can accomplish...)smiley

That's how I clean my garage, works great..

Is there another way?smiley

frailin - Posted - 09/22/2013:  07:29:25

Sail Away Ladies



I'm sitting in the lunch room on the Badger, a large (4 story?) car ferry about to leave port here in Luddington, MI en route to Manitowoc, WI.  This picture is of the boat next to mine.  It's headed to Milwaukee.  Drove 12 hours yesterday (arrived at 11:30P in Muskegon) to make this ferry. For $149 I can teleport from here to Wisconsin, then a short 300 mile (6 hour) drive to home.  Why is that so cool?  Because I can COMPLETELY miss Chicago traffic.  :)


Today is Sunday, September 22.  And I'm celebrating the fact that the footage for Volume 4 of the Banjo Builders is now in the can.   With any luck, I'll be done editing the 12 -14 shows by Christmas. Can't believe how fast these Banjo Builder filming "swings" actually go.  It's amazing what you can accomplish on bad food, no sleep and Starbucks.  Wonderful people at every stop keeps my energy high.  And what amazing stories!  Yesterday and the day before were perfect examples. Let's see… I left off with my visit to Wyatt.  Oh yea!  On to Ken LeVan in Shunk, PA!



I stayed the night before (after Wyatt) in Altoona, PA.  Awoke to heavy fog and rain.  Nothing like driving roads you don't know, in conditions where you can't see when it's slick.  Besides… no Starbucks within range.  By the time I got close to the mountains (2 white-knuckle hours later), the sun was peaking through.  Headed up toward Shunk with about a hour travel time to go.  I could see the changing trees were going to be a colorful show.  And I wasn't disappointed.  Pennsylvania is beautiful in the fall.  



All was going well until about 3/4 up the mountain my engine maintenance light popped on.  It's not like there's going to be a mechanic nearby.  Not that I'm mechanically inept or anything, but I have trouble fixing coffee (got the scars to prove it).  I winced forward, fingers crossed.  Glenn Carson's CD in the player keep things positive.  



Twenty minutes later I pulled into the Shunk General Store in hopes that a quick topping off of oil and water would fix the issue.  It didn't.  And I'd left cell and GPS service at the bottom of the mountain.  By now I was operating on nervous faith.  Didn't even have a Starbucks to fall back on.  I pulled out my hard copies of maps to Ken's and bravely started down some gravel roads.  At least it was still pretty.  The maps were good.  I spotted a friendly sign.  



Ken met me in the drive way.  This guy wins the prize for "farthest off the grid."  Like Greg Galbreath, Ken designed and built the buildings I was about to see.  They were nothing short of amazing, especially the grand hall (you'll see).  Being a multi-talented (designer, builder, artist) with a musician/artist wife helps.  I never cease to be amazed at how incredibly unique these builders always seem to be.   :)




I covered Ken's house, story and shop in about two hours.  Also, the power had been shut off but he'd fired up a generator before I arrived and run lights throughout the shop.  Went off without a hitch.  With that level of preparation and forethough, I knew he'd had to be a boy scout.  Hugo the dog accompanied his banjo performance.  Not sure how much of that I can use.  



Ken and Hope (his wife) fed me an amazing lentil soup (they also once ran a restaurant) and I was on my way down the mountain.  Oh, Ken had also graciously called his mechanic for me and described the situation.  As it turns out, everything was fine.  I was good to go.  So I did.  I've ignored the warning light for the remainder of the trip.  



Three hours later I was in the presence of greatness - John Bernunzio.  His store is a toy land of vintage instruments.  It's hard to concentrate when you're constantly distracted by eye candy.  I persevered.  



John told a great story about his business, the joys and challenges of finding/recommissioning instrument gems and then shared a coupla war stories.  Highly entertaining.  John being a great story teller had a lot to do with that.  What fun!  Even scored a banjo man t-shirt on my my way out! Thanks, John. 




Next was pure joy.  



Banjo Hangout bud Rob Jones had offered to put me up for the night.  Normally I stay in hotels since I learned (the hard way) if I stay with wonderful folks along the way, I routinely stay up too late, eat and drink too much and am normally late getting off in the AM.  Not good over 12 days.  So I stick with a routine and find a hotel nearby where I settle in quickly, recharge both my and my camera's batteries and get plenty of sleep.  However, in this case, Pulaski, NY was in the midst of a fishing contest and the hotels were all booked. So I took Rob up on his offer of bed and breakfast in nearby Mexico, NY.  What a treat for me!  



I was introduced to a beautiful home and family.  Rob's wife Tiffany fed me an amazing family meal and the kids shared the excitement of a visitor from a land far away (Minnesota).  Rob showed me his prize banjos and we played and yacked into the evening.  Rob is a fine human being.  No surprise there… another kind, hospitable banjo player.  :)  Breakfast was served early the next AM (along with great coffee) and I was on my way to Luke Mercier's in Ontario.  


Thanks, Rob!




No trouble at the border crossing into Canada, but by now the rain had picked up.  Took me 3 hours to arrive at Springbrook.  




Luke was ready when I arrived so we re-caffeineated (ahhhh… French press, no less) and jumped in.  Luke is yet another unique, creative, joyful human being.  Jeff Menzies had filled me in on his background as a classically-trained performance pianist (yup) that just happened to be apprenticed (for violin repair) out of HS at one of the finest purveyors of violins in the world.  





We toured his shop, talked violins as well as banjos and he played me a couple numbers on each.  Wow.  A cup of coffee and a few cookies later and I was on my way.  It was 2P.  I arrived in Muskegon, MI at 11:30P.  Long day, but the ferry "short cut" was worth it.  




So here I sit inside the food court next to the "Boatique" (cute).  The cruise director is about to start bingo (so I'm leaving now thankyouverymuch).  It's overcast over Lake Michigan.  This body of water is break-takingly beautiful.  I'm reminded of it's history and importance to the early settlers in this area.  I like to think of those simpler times where the music we all enjoy was current, trendy even.  And how those folks celebrated music and community as we do today.  It's a powerful connection.  Then I remembered The Edmund Fitzgerald.  



The moment passed.  


Time for more coffee and good book.  And I just happen to have access to both.  I'm unplugging now.  Will have plenty of time at my computer over the next few months.  So now I'm sitting here, full of gratitude (actually trying not to cry).  What an amazing week I've had… what incredible people I've met.  Golly I love these people.  So grateful for life.  Ok.  Enough for now... crying during bingo looks weird.  


Thanks for being a part of my ongoing birthday present.  smiley

Edited by - frailin on 09/22/2013 07:40:13

Ron Ortegel - Posted - 09/22/2013:  07:57:21

And your gift has been a gift to so many- words hardly are enough to express the good this has brought to me.

I eagerly await this next round of visits, I feel as if I have met these people through your work.

You have enriched my life, 



RWJonesy - Posted - 09/22/2013:  08:08:52

The pleasure was all mine Craig. You are a precious soul and true blessing to us all. You always have a place to hang your banjo on my wall here in lil' Mexico NY.

GSCarson - Posted - 09/22/2013:  09:24:57

Rob said it well Craig, it was a real pleasure to visit with you again and you also have a place to park in Mechanicsburg, PA anytime you choose.  I was really lucky because with my session cause I didn't even have to clean up the shop (just had to hike a couple miles...)!  Safe travels home.  Glenn

rudy - Posted - 09/22/2013:  09:47:17

Thanks for keeping us filled in, Craig.

I once also had the "pleasure" of crossing Lake Michigan by fairy, but unfortunately it was very rough waters that day. Sixty-three miles across but I was lucky enough to not find it mandatory to spend most of the trip hovered close by a garbage can...

Your visit was totally awesome; I only wish that I would not have almost totally forgotten how to play banjo when you were here!  (I do play much better than that...)smiley

Luckily, you have to ability to get to the "back story" for all of us banjo building aficionados.  If my ability to verbally communicate my ideas were the only avenue that was available we'd both be in trouble.

Have fun with the video edits!  I'm sure the editing process must truly be the portion of the iceberg hidden below water, so to speak.

Thanks again for all of your patience and calm demeanor while engaged in a true labor of love.  Your series is hugely entertaining and inspiring for prospective and current builders, as well as for those that just have a general interest in banjos.

Great work!

kwl - Posted - 09/22/2013:  12:37:04

Craig, had I known you were heading to Altoona, I would have offered you a place to stay on your way to Ken LeVan's. I'm an hour east of Altoona. Anyway, thanks for sharing your travels and all the work you have done in acquainting us will so many fine banjo builders. You and they continue to be an inspiration. Ken

frailin - Posted - 09/22/2013:  17:44:21



J-Walk - Posted - 09/22/2013:  18:00:27

So this is a 46-page thread. It may have been mentioned before, but CRAIG IS A GREAT PHOTOGRAPHER.

Some of these shots are National Geographic quality. 


wfawley - Posted - 09/22/2013:  18:43:23

Just wanted to add my 2 cents regarding Craig ....

I've done a few interviews over the years, but this one was different. I am the poster child for fear of microphones and cameras, but between his knowledge and obvious confidence in his recording equipment, and his easy going, but equally confident interview style, he made it seem as though I were just talking with a friend. I never even thought about the recording equipment. It's probably as accurate a portrayal of me in my natural (non nervous) state, as anybody has ever been able to capture.

It was fun, but the time just passed too quickly. So quickly, in fact, that we never even got around to the coffee....

Craig ... It was a pleasure to meet you. I enjoyed our brief time a lot. I'm honored, and I'm grateful to have been included in this project. You're always welcome here too.



Edited by - wfawley on 09/22/2013 18:44:00

ballbanjos - Posted - 09/23/2013:  15:40:53

I'll chime in as well.  The time did indeed pass too quickly--it was a great pleasure to finally get to meet Craig, and it really is apparent that doing this kind of interview is completely second nature to him.  It was as easy and fun an interview as I've ever participated in, and I've done several with really good interviewers.  Thanks for including me, and hope to see you again sometime Craig!



richla - Posted - 09/25/2013:  11:28:16

The sad part, is that this DVD isn't ready for sale, yet. I can't wait, looks great.

frailin - Posted - 09/25/2013:  11:54:16

Thanks for all the kind words and encouragement folks.  This project truly is a joy!  


On Monday I designed and built the "interstitial screens" for Volume 4.  I needed to have pics of all the Builders for the opening sequence.  Here's the title slide.

I'm now in the process of uploading last week's interviews and have started editing. I actually shot Jeff Kramer's interview and edited it earlier this summer as a "shake down" for Volume 4. Yesterday I plugged in the interstitial screens and his show is complete.  And as of this morning, as soon as Jeff Delfield sends me his purdy banjo pictures, I'll have his show done as well.  big

At noon today I uploaded Mac Traynham's video and he's in my Final Cut editing template (on my screen).  Hope to rough out "The Conversation" by 6 today* (Eelpout Stringer's rehearsal at 7).  What a kind, gentle man Mac is.  Like the two Jeff's, his story is so compellingly real.  How interesting.  Such fun!  So far, all 3 Builders have played their own music for their shows.  These guys are great!  

Starting tomorrow, I'll be stepping away from the computer for a few days for family but will be back at it on Monday.  My goal is to have Volume 4 done (and out) by Christmas.

Oh, and I know I need to build a Buy-it-Now button for Volume 4 for those of you that want to pre-order so you can watch the shows as they're completed.  Haven't forgotten... lots to do.  I will get it done!  smiley  

Thanks again for supporting the Banjo Builder project.  approve


*Where as MOST (but not all) of the Banjo Builders don't keep close tabs on the number of hours it takes to build a banjo, I'm always interested in my own efficiency.  So I do measure my time in editing.  You might be interested in knowing, for every minute of final Banjo Builder show, it takes me approximately 40 minutes in edit.  That's down from over an hour.  Actually, I'm hoping to get it closer to 25 minutes/minute of final show.  At that point I might consider adding back in time for planning, traveling, interviewing, posting, yada yada.    

It's a good thing I'm not doing this for the money... which makes ME sound like a Banjo Builder.  big

Edited by - frailin on 09/25/2013 11:59:58

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