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

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frailin - Posted - 05/27/2011:  18:14:58

Thanks, guys... your comments are kind (and appreciated). Yes, this project does involve a significant (read: considerable) amount of time, but I'm willingly putting it in.  Remember, this is my 60th Birthday present to myself.  smiley  I'm really grateful I've got such a great wife (being an artist means she understands). 

Now that I've finished recording the Eastern Swing interviews, I can CONFIRM my original premise... that this IS an extraordinary group of individuals.  They've pretty much dedicated their lives to building this quirky instrument for relatively little pay.  But they also have WILLINGLY decided on this out-of-the-ordinary path.  Why?  Because the REWARD they're experiencing in this "chosen" lifestyle is remarkable.  It comes in the form of artistic satisfaction ("3 dimensional art you can play"), community, contribution to history and more. But I'll let THEM tell you the stories in these programs.  They're incredible people.  approve

All-in-all, this is about the most fun project I've undertaken for quite some time.  And yes, I'm in waaaay over my head right now.  That's ok.  I like it like that (thus MY present to me).  I know... sick.  dead  But it beats jumping out of an airplane for grins.  

Now... ABOUT time.  Mike Ramsey's interview (not including "Shop Talk") took a full 8 hours to edit today.  And fixing Will Fielding to be a real color (versus blue) took another hour... then there was sound balancing, changing out a coupla pics, finding a forum where someone can help me figgerout how to finagle iMovie to put the correct audio channel in the correct speaker (thanks, Mark).  

Thank God I teach (I've got most of this summer to try to put these programs together).  


cgdat50 - Posted - 05/27/2011:  18:22:16

I liked this so much I joined Vimeo just so I could put a 'like' down. Outstanding job Craig. I especially liked Will's comment re the reason for building banjos.



Edited by - cgdat50 on 05/27/2011 18:23:23

Paul R - Posted - 05/28/2011:  05:02:03


I thought your last question was great - insightful ,and it seemed a bit jarring and unexpected. Curious, because these people are so passionate, you'd think that some time, or somewhere in the backs of their minds, the thought of their legacy would be sitting, waiting for expression (in a form other than their banjos).

It was neat to get a glimpse of Will's surroundings. I couldn't help but look at whatever I could see of his home - the built-in cabinet, the funky staircase, and the workshop - his organization, the banjo-uke, the little framed old photo.

Criticism? I find the stills work best when you pan across them (they fill the screen and seem to be in motion), but, hey, you work with what you have. I guess the worst part is seeing the excellent work of someone whose banjos I can't afford.

Great job!

frailin - Posted - 05/28/2011:  05:38:00

The choice of "what to include" and "what is too much" is hard.  In Will's case, the fireplace work (STUNNING cherry cabinets and more) was a tough call.  I do have footage of it (it caught my eye, too).  Now that you've mentioned it, I believe I will go back in and include some.  When you see what he can do with wood in furniture, it gives you MORE of an appreciation for his eye toward instruments.  

I also like the "panning" move across stills.  Unfortunately, in many cases, THAT move requires a close up... so you miss the "whole" of the picture.  I'm deliberately trying to consider the "parts" versus the "whole"  for each still.  It can be a tough call.  

Thanks for the helpful input!


PS - I asked several "brain-benders" of the boys.  

* "What, if anything, has the banjo contributed to society and culture?"

* "Twenty-five years from now, when someone picks up your banjo, what little bit of you is still inside?"

* "What will people say about your banjos 25 years from now?"

Some had incredibly pithy answers.  Some hadn't yet thought about where they will fall within history.  Where appropriate, I'm including their best statements at the end of the show.  Will was one terrific example.  Yes... most of them DO know they're making the world a better place (it can be a large part of their motivation to build banjos).   You'll see.  smiley



Edited by - frailin on 05/28/2011 05:42:06

thombanjo - Posted - 05/28/2011:  06:00:04 the Prince of the Hangout hits another home run !  What a great idea and context by which to view banjo makers.  I agree with you that the banjo is a source of joy and for me, reflection.  I live not too far from Egleston,VA where Buckeye banjos are made by Graig Galbraith (sp?) so you may want to check that out in your travels as you come down towards Zepp's.  Over outside Charlottesville,Va is Stelling Banjo Works; not open back BUT Geoff Stelling indeed has a personal relationship with his instruments and their owners. He made the first wood rim banjo for John Hartford in 1983 which John used on his wonderful record, "Gum Tree Canoe."  Amazing idea !  Safe travels to you

frailin - Posted - 05/28/2011:  06:20:32

Here's one of the side benefits of my filming... being able to play some INCREDIBLE banjos.  

Once I finished a show, I got to sit down and sample the wares.  Here's a pic from Jason Burns of me playing one of his tubaphones (this one owned by Eddie Young - Mrphysics55... lucky guy!).

Thombanjo - The Eastern (filming) Swing is now finished.  I was fortunate enough to film Greg Galbreath and Zepp along with others in that area (Mike Ramsey, Lo Gordon).  Stelling, unfortunately was not included.  I focused on open-back builders (exclusively).  There's just not enough time to film everyone and I'm sorry about that... there are MANY fine builders out there today.  

thombanjo - Posted - 05/28/2011:  06:56:07

Can't wait to see your project.  Good luck on it !

banjered - Posted - 05/28/2011:  08:54:59

Ditto homerun, Craig! Great to see how your banjo, computer, filming, and interviewing knowledge/skills merges with your banjo enthusiasm and travel opportunity to create all this for Banjodom! Now THAT is a legacy! Many thanks from many fans! Banjered

XXXris - Posted - 05/28/2011:  19:28:04

Nice work! I really enjoyed watching.

PS: what is the unusual combo of picks that Will is shown wearing at the end of the video, when he demonstrates his banjos?



Edited by - XXXris on 05/28/2011 19:32:14

pete hobbie - Posted - 05/29/2011:  09:49:56

Nice work  Craig, I don't know where your at now but if you pass thru eastern W.Va , message me and I'll drum up a jam for you here at the shop.


frailin - Posted - 05/29/2011:  14:49:17

As a part of the "time capsule" approach to this series of documentary programs, I'm inviting current banjo performers (on open-backs built by these builders) to participate in a builder's individual program.  Here's a current list of those that have responded with a "yes" to the invitation.  And this doesn't include those that will be invited by the West Coast crew:

Frank Lee

Joe Newberry

Bruce Molsky

Adam Hurt

Mark (Kansas/Bluehammer) Johnson

Mike Miles

Rachel Eddy

Mary Cox

Curtis Eller

Bob Carlin

Chris Coole

Most will be generously contributing an MP3 as well as performance pics.  Comments are welcome, too.  approve

This list doesn't include Paul Brown, Steve Arkin, Riley Baugus and Howie Bursen that have already been interviewed at Banjo Camp North.  




Yellowhouseroad - Posted - 05/29/2011:  16:45:20

Cool!  I can't wait to hear them!

Paul R - Posted - 05/29/2011:  21:43:37

There are some phenomenal pickers on that list! Don't forget to include yourself (on a Chuck Lee).

Clawdan - Posted - 05/30/2011:  06:09:59

Looking forward to your trip west.


HolyGrass - Posted - 06/02/2011:  11:15:46

Awesome idea! I'll definitely be interested to see where this goes.

frailin - Posted - 06/02/2011:  11:44:15

Here's an update:

As of today (6/2), four shows are roughed out (85-90% completed).  They will run 20 minutes each.  These four still need audio sweetening, final pictures of the builders best banjos (the builders are now in the process of sending these to me) and music beds.  The music MP3s are coming from artists/performers suggested by the builder (that own that builder's banjo) or just everyday players that a builder wants the rest of us to know about.  Here are the first four shows:

- Will Fielding

- Mike Ramsey

- Jeff Menzies and

- Bill Rickard

And the 5th - Greg Galbreath - is now started.  They're taking 10-12 hours each to edit.  

I'm very pleased with the presentation (technology is behaving) and I'm DE-lighted with the quality of content.  You DO get to know these guys... and why they build what they do.  

I've located a sound expert to help tweak audio (an unanticipated $500 - $750 task - but worth the added expense).  He might also be the guy that compresses the final files and builds the DVD.  

Additional, unexpected expenses... so far:  

New Mac to handle all the HD files - $2,000

New 7 Channel Firewire hub - $170

New 2TB hard drive  - $160

New cables and such  - $25

Value of project documenting these incredible people when finished - Priceless big


Sure hope I get that grant.  Oh, I DID spend less on gas during my trip.  It reached a high of $4.59 my second day in, but leveled off at $3.65 after the first 8 days.  My little Scion's 35 miles a gallon helped. 


pernicketylad - Posted - 06/02/2011:  15:40:59

"Sure hope I get that grant. "

Don't want to interfere but is there anything the BHO community can do to help that along......I'm not clued into the process but would a petition-like thread with members saying why they feel the project is worthy help? 

frailin - Posted - 06/02/2011:  18:37:28

What a terrific idea. Folks, if you think this is a worth effort, please vote here. thank you


pernicketylad - Posted - 06/03/2011:  05:49:07

Would a little bit of text on why people feel it's important help or would just a "yay"  vote do?

Anyway it's a "yay" from me.

I'm very excited by the prospect of this documentary. The dogs on the street will point out that we are living through a second golden-age of banjo making. Imagine if someone had interviewed the Dobsons, Buckbees and Stewarts of yesteryear. What a resource that would be.

This is important work in the order of names like Smith, Lomax and Bussard. The "Why Old Time?" people did a really great job of introduciing people to the thriving Old Time scene and I think this documentary could be very successful and could appeal to a wide target audience.......not just Old Time banjo players.

To see how, where and why a fiddle maker works would interest me even though I don't play fiddle.

A few years ago the national broadcaster in Ireland reran as series of 30 min documentaries made in the 70s in Ireland called "Hands". The documentary followed crafts like thatching, stonemasonry, boat-building, basket-weaving etc. It was fantastic stuff and generated alot of positive responses almost 40 years on.

I must also say the the questions in the Will Fielding interview are well considered and make for insightful answers. 

Edited by - pernicketylad on 06/03/2011 05:52:25

Brentk5s - Posted - 06/03/2011:  07:22:37


Originally posted by pernicketylad's a "yay" from me.

I'm very excited by the prospect of this documentary. The dogs on the street will point out that we are living through a second golden-age of banjo making. Imagine if someone had interviewed the Dobsons, Buckbees and Stewarts of yesteryear. What a resource that would be.

This is important work in the order of names like Smith, Lomax and Bussard. The "Why Old Time?" people did a really great job of introduciing people to the thriving Old Time scene and I think this documentary could be very successful and could appeal to a wide target audience.......not just Old Time banjo players....

I couldn't say it any better than that. It's, Yea from me too - 100%!

cmox - Posted - 06/03/2011:  14:35:52

Yea from me and sign me up for the DVDs.



Greg Galbreath - Posted - 06/05/2011:  18:44:58

Hey Craig,

Have you ever though about using Kickstarter ( to cover some of your costs?  It sounds like there are a lot of folks out there that might want to contribute (I would).


J-Walk - Posted - 06/05/2011:  18:57:09

Good idea, Kickstarter.

I'd gladly promote it at my blog -- and I think that everyone else here who has any Web presence would too. 

corgies - Posted - 06/05/2011:  21:07:32

No web presence here, but a solid YEA of support!

ramjo - Posted - 06/06/2011:  05:15:43

Definitely a yay from me. I wonder if there's a way for members to contribute directly to your project thru the BHO store. This might be a little less involved for you than Kickstarter (although that is a great idea too.) I'd be happy to put in some up-front money either way.

Viper - Posted - 06/06/2011:  07:00:41


Originally posted by J-Walk

Good idea, Kickstarter.

I'd gladly promote it at my blog -- and I think that everyone else here who has any Web presence would too. 


I'd definitely promote it on my blog and at our local old-time group on Facebook. 

frailin - Posted - 06/06/2011:  07:11:33

Excellent, helpful promotional and funding suggestions.  Thank you!  And thanks ESPECIALLY to those of you willing to reserve an order NOW for the the North American Banjo Builder program DVD set.  

I'm actually optimistic about receiving the grant... especially in light of the QUALITY of this content. Each and everyone of these guys have thoughtful, reflective insights and incredible, unique, passionate (exciting, even!) personal stories for anyone interested in art, Americana music or just the creative process.  

In the case of this particular grant, the board will most likely require that the project produce up to 20% of the grant's award. I've already taken that into consideration:  Pricing a single program's PPV (good for a week of viewing) at the cost of a "Starbucks drink" ($3.00), makes it possible for MANY people to watch (a primary goal)... and, at the same time contribute to the project's cost (a grant board requirement).  

And for the more serious student, historian/librarian or connoisseur of banjo knowledge, $75 for EACH of the "time capsule" DVD sets means up to 10% of that requirement might be reserved with pre-orders through this thread!  Again, thank you to those that have already said "I'll buy it!"

* 1 - "North American Banjo Builders East of the Mississippi" - will be available later this year.  And then next year's 

* 2 - "North American Banjo Builder's West of the Mississippi" - available fall of 2012.

As such, the project should be both "qualified" for grant funding/support, AND capable of self-liquidating costs.  

My goal was never to make money off the effort... but to instead, capture the people (the banjo builders themselves) MAKING this amazing moment in time.  Their inspiration is of great value to both present and future artists and musicians... not to mention us everyday players.  smiley

Ok... back to work.

Barnet in SoCal - Posted - 06/06/2011:  11:39:26

Fantastic work Craig!  Please sign me up for the DVD (edit: for both DVDs!)...

This is a superb documentary in the truest sense of the word: to document the artistry of these extraordinary craftspeople who are unknown in the general cultural world. It's a labor of love that makes a difference.

Barnet in SoCal

Edited by - Barnet in SoCal on 06/06/2011 11:41:01

HolyGrass - Posted - 06/06/2011:  18:34:56

this is some great stuff! Wish I would've known you were in Georgia; thats where I live! I was JUST up in Brevard too! We went from there on up to Mount Airy.

I'll definitely like to get the dvds; better start saving up now!


Pine Cone - Posted - 06/06/2011:  20:16:12

Sign me up for both DVDs.  Such a great project.  Hustle that grant money!

If you need a place to stay on your western trip one ferry west of Seattle send me a message and I'll see what I can do.

frailin - Posted - 06/08/2011:  11:45:36

Thanks folks, for your support (in ordering the DVDs).  Ok, until I'm done with editing, here's a little brain teaser for you to help pass the time. 

(SFX: Jeopardy Theme )

The category is:  How well do you know your 'East of the Mississippi' banjo builders?  

The challenge is:   Match a descriptive TITLE with the builder.  


The following table is a listing of the 14 Banjo Builders East of the Mississippi that were included in the "Eastern Swing" interviews.  They are all unique individuals, but each seems to have a different gifting and/or motivation in choosing this equally unique profession.  

Can you match a descriptive title to the builder? Give it a try!  And post your best thinking in this thread. 


(Alphabetical listing)

Match with one of these Titles

(Listed Randomly)

Jason Burns

The  "Historian"

Kevin Enoch

The  "Tinkerer"

Will Fielding

The  "Romanticist"

Greg Galbreath

The  "Academic"

Lo Gordon

The  "Artist"

Jim Hartel

The  "Sculptor"

Chuck Lee

The  "Renegade"

Jeff Menzies

The  "Altruist"

Bart Reiter

The  "Genius"

Mike Ramsey

The  "Johnny Appleseed"

Bill Rickard

The  "Paleontologist"

Pete Ross

The  "Woodworker"

Doug Unger

The  "Perfectionist"

George Wunderlich

The  "Businessman"


I'll open this up for a week starting today (6/8/11). The FIRST person that figgers it out by correctly titling all 14 builders (and publicly posts it here, in this thread) gets a FREE Volume 1 - "Banjo Builders East of the Mississippi" DVD set (a $75 value!).  

Oh. The assigned "Title" will be clear once you watch the builder's shows. It's pretty amazing.  

Have fun!


PS - Over the next few months I may choose to modify the descriptive title a bit, but the positive attribute will still be the same.  And it won't affect the outcome of this one-week puzzler.  smiley

Edited by - frailin on 06/08/2011 11:52:37

Brooklynbanjoboy - Posted - 06/08/2011:  12:04:21

Here's my stab at it:


(Alphabetical listing)

Match with one of these Titles

(Listed Randomly)


The  "Historian"  WUNDERLICH


The  "Tinkerer"  RICKARD


The  "Romanticist"  FIELDING


The  "Academic"  ROSS


The  "Artist"  UNGER


The  "Sculptor"  HARTEL


The  "Renegade"  LEE


The  "Altruist"  GORDON


The  "Genius"  REITER


The  "Johnny Appleseed" MENZIES


The  "Paleontologist"  GALBREATH


The  "Woodworker"  RAMSEY


The  "Perfectionist"  BURNS


The  "Businessman"  ENOCH
































frailin - Posted - 06/08/2011:  12:14:11

Brooklybanjoboy:  3 Correct = 21%    

I'll tell you George Wunderlich is The "Historian."  Can't tell you much more for fear I'll give too much away. 

Try again.  smiley

Brooklynbanjoboy - Posted - 06/08/2011:  12:15:27

I was hoping you'd grade on a curve....

frailin - Posted - 06/08/2011:  12:18:07

"A" for effort.  big

And I could give you credit for a close (but incorrect) answer, Bill Rickard as The "Tinkerer."  Oops, gave another clue.  

frailin - Posted - 06/08/2011:  13:22:53

I was roughing out Jason Burns interview this morning and ran across this clip. You just never know who might wander into a banjo store in Birmingham. 

L-R:  Bob Tedrow, Jason Burns and Eddie (MrPhysics55) Young.  

Watch it happen here:

plunknplinkntwang - Posted - 06/09/2011:  08:32:26

Craig - well done, really great edutainment. 

I've only one suggestion and it's minor, perhaps the background music would be more in keeping if it were banjo centric rather than fiddle alone?  Even better still if it were the builders products played by some of the artists giving testimony?

Another selfish question - will this be available in/for the UK?


Best regards


p.s. I hope I hope your knee recovers soon.



Edited by - plunknplinkntwang on 06/09/2011 08:44:48

RWJonesy - Posted - 06/09/2011:  08:46:50

Im in, reserve a copy for me.

frailin - Posted - 06/09/2011:  08:48:21

Hi Chris

Regarding the opening sequence music (Fisher's Hornpipe), there is a banjo in there (it's me).  I've chosen this particular piece for sentimental reasons:  

One of my favorite fiddlers, Debbie Joy Sorensen-Boeh passed away from cancer on 9/20 of last year.  She was only 58.  Over the past 10 years, Debbie and I played hours of fiddle and banjo music at coffee shops, festivals, retirement homes, churches, parties, apple orchards and more.  She was an extraordinary musician.  

Fisher's Hornpipe was our favorite tune to play together.  I loved her "notey" arrangement.  You can't hear us smiling at the end of the tune, but believe me, we are.  Including Fishers, Debbie also contributed 4 other pieces to my 2009 "Frailin' with Friends" CD that continues to be used as a fund raiser at  Debbie would have LOVED this project and supported it and me any way she could!  So I'm dedicating the opening of all these shows to my friend in music.  

Now, for the shows themselves.  Where possible, I will be using a CURRENT performing artist (or amateur) of the Builder's choice, ideally playing their instruments.  If you read back a few pages in this thread, you can see some of the names of those that have already volunteered.

And I'd be delighted to ship the DVDs to the UK.  

I'd answer your questions... but my time is better spent editing.  Mebbe later, when I'm in PT for my knee (which IS probably going to happen).  'Couse, sitting behind a computer for 12-14 hours a day isn't helping.  big


Edited by - frailin on 06/09/2011 09:03:33

plunknplinkntwang - Posted - 06/09/2011:  08:51:53

There is No better reason for the fiddle tune,  I edited out the dumas questions on the prior post and didn't realise you were on line.

 but I still couldn't resist the challenge...


Match with one of these Titles



(Alphabetical listing)


Jason Burns

The "Paleontologist"

Kevin Enoch

The "Perfectionist"

Will Fielding

The "Sculptor"

Greg Galbreath

The "Altruist"

Lo Gordon

The "Businessman"

Jim Hartel

The "Woodworker"

Chuck Lee

The "Renegade"

Jeff Menzies

The "Tinkerer"

Bart Reiter

The "Johnny Appleseed"

Mike Ramsey

The "Academic"

Bill Rickard

The "Romanticist"

Pete Ross

The "Genius"

Doug Unger

The "Artist"

George Wunderlich

The "Historian"


Edited by - plunknplinkntwang on 06/09/2011 08:56:26

frailin - Posted - 06/09/2011:  08:57:04

plunknplinkntwang:  5 Correct = 38%    

You got Doug Unger as The "Artist."  

Edited by - frailin on 06/09/2011 08:57:34

Brooklynbanjoboy - Posted - 06/09/2011:  09:00:59

Is it true that if you score below 25% you automatically are drummed out of the ranks of BHO? 

I guess I need to pack my bags....

frailin - Posted - 06/09/2011:  09:02:08

Nope.  But IT does mean you need to BUY MORE BANJOS!  

I mean, SERIOUSLY!  What better way to educate yourself?!

Edited by - frailin on 06/09/2011 09:02:49

rubicon - Posted - 06/09/2011:  10:59:21

Hello Craig  Here is my go at it  1 ) Wunderlich historian , 2)  Rickard the Buissnessman ,3) Fielding, the perfectionist ,4) Ross the academic, 5) Hartel the artist,6) Reiter the genius ,7) Enoch the sculptor 8) Menzies  the Johnny appleseed,9) Lee the  renegade 10)   Burns the woodworker. 11) Unger paleontologist , !12) Ramsey the altruist 13) Gordon tinker 13 Galbreath The romanticist

frailin - Posted - 06/09/2011:  13:38:17

Rubicon:  3 Correct = 21%

Lo Gordon is The "Tinkerer."  smiley

RWJonesy - Posted - 06/09/2011:  14:48:59

Bart Reiter = The Woodworker

rubicon - Posted - 06/09/2011:  14:54:55

1 )Burns altruist , 2)Enoch perfectionist ,3)Fielding sculptor ,4) Galbreath buisnessman,5) Gordon tinker ,6) Hartel johnny appleseed ,7) Lee renegade,8)Ross romanticist,9) Reiter woodworker,10) Ramsey academic,11)Rickard  genius,12)Ross paleentologist,13)Unger artist , 14) Wunderlich historian

Edited by - rubicon on 06/09/2011 14:57:29

frailin - Posted - 06/09/2011:  14:59:48

Rubicon:  6 Correct = 43%

Kevin Enoch is The "Perfectionist"

Brooklynbanjoboy - Posted - 06/09/2011:  15:04:37

By the way, did you capture any of Bob Tedrow's banjo playing, or singing -- or even his guitaring?  He's a real talent.

J-Walk - Posted - 06/09/2011:  16:47:28

So that's what MrPhysics looks like! I always pictured him wearing a white lab coat.

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