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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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derwood400 - Posted - 06/25/2011:  20:16:22


Originally posted by pernicketylad

I don't even want to think about the damage these interviews could do.....and there I am thinking I've all the banjo I'm ever going to need.

Tell me about it Shane!  I just watched that video, and I am becoming convinced that I will never have all the banjo I'll ever need.  

Really well done Craig.  I'm really excited to see the whole series.

frailin - Posted - 06/26/2011:  06:09:32

Those 30+ of you that have ordered the DVDs receive FREE PASS CODES to watch the "just released" Shows. 


I've emailed codes to those of you on the DVD order list this morning.  IF I MISSED YOU, PLEASE EMAIL ME ( ASAP TO GET YOUR CODES for a free view of these first 6 shows!!


Mike Buchman - Posted - 06/26/2011:  06:23:47

Don't get to the Hangout often and just found this thread on your remarkable project! Please sign me up for the DVD set and THANKS for your work and sharing your passion...

frailin - Posted - 06/26/2011:  06:31:56

You're signed up, Mike.  Thanks!



Brooklynbanjoboy - Posted - 06/26/2011:  09:06:14

Nicely done interview.  Thanks for allowing early access.  That workshop/home is just such a comfortable, quiet space in which creativity can take place alongside of plain and simple living.  I was taken by Greg's comment that listening to music while working might divide his attention somewhat and so he tries to stay focused by working in the quiet.  And I enjoyed the brief fiddle/banjo duet.  I would have liked to hear more, and watch them play a bit longer, too.  Again, you do good work Craig.



cmox - Posted - 06/26/2011:  09:53:40

Pernicketylad nailed it. There will be a resurgence of BAS as a result of these great videos. Who won't want more wonderful banjos built by such nice, interesting people???


frailin - Posted - 06/26/2011:  10:50:45

Thanks for seeing the value in these wonderful people, their stories/messages and this project, folks.  That's both humbling and encouraging.  approve

I hope the good folks at Smithsonian Folkways feel the same.  That way, MORE audiences can appreciate and enjoy the incredible community we're a part of.  smiley

BNJOMAKR - Posted - 06/26/2011:  12:04:44

Please add me to the list for the DVDs. PM has been sent.



frailin - Posted - 06/26/2011:  12:33:32

Roger that, Marvin.  Thank you!  Temporary Pass Codes sent. 


J-Walk - Posted - 06/26/2011:  18:43:46


Originally posted by frailin

Those 30+ of you that have ordered the DVDs receive FREE PASS CODES to watch the "just released" Shows. 


I've watched them all. Great video quality, and top-notch production. Thoroughly impressed. 


srrobertsiii - Posted - 06/26/2011:  18:47:37


Just finished viewing the Greg Galbreath interview. Elsewhere, you have said that you hope the genuineness of these folk comes through, not only to the banjo community, but also to a wider audience, so as to motivate and inspire creativity in other areas. I was greatly impresed with Mr. Galbreath's lifestyle choices, his integration of vocation and living, and what seems so clearly to be his love for life. In this instance I believe you've met your goal. You have communicated who Mr. Galbreath is through what he does, in a way that does indeed transcend and inspire. Thank you both!

Sam Roberts

pastorharry - Posted - 06/26/2011:  22:34:21

I just watched one of these "sneak previews" and this is what I wrote to Craig...I HIGHLY recommend his work, it's top notch!

>Craig , I knew this would be good but I had no idea how good. I just got
>finished watching your interview with Will Fielding--masterfully done, very
>high quality for any video, personally I think it spanks PBS!! LOL.... This
>is gonna really do wonders for the old BAS, but it's also something I'm sure
>the non-player could really appreciate. Look forward to the finished work.
>God bless brother, Harry (PH)

Brooklynbanjoboy - Posted - 06/27/2011:  02:25:54

I watched the video yesterday.  Regarding those that I've seen, the builder response to the question about the wages for the job of banjo building is consistent: chagrin that there's any question regarding the return to labor for this craft.  As someone once said, you could make up to tens of dollars a year doing this.

Those I've seen are all quality interviews.  Press on, Craig. 

derwood400 - Posted - 06/27/2011:  02:38:40

Hi Craig, I think I got missed somehow.  PM sent.  Thanks again.

ramjo - Posted - 06/27/2011:  05:22:37

I watched the freeviews and found them wonderful. They expertly capture the personalities and the craftsmanship. How do you do it, Craig?

PS. I'm not ashamed to say I was crying openly at the end of the Bill Rickard show.

frailin - Posted - 06/27/2011:  05:22:53

Thanks for the kind words, folks.  

Some of you have left interesting comments about the Builders.  I'm curious... for those of you that have seen the first 6 Programs, what has proved most memorable or impressed you most about the Builders themselves (as either individuals or a group)?  

PS - Thanks, Ramjo.  I know exactly how you feel.  Bill's story is amazing and inspirational on many levels.  I think you can now see why I call him The "Genius."  One cannot be anything other than amazed at his drive, his ability to adapt and his passion for life and the banjo.  I am especially touched by his closing sentiments.  Looks like you are too.  smiley

Edited by - frailin on 06/27/2011 05:27:43

Mark Johnson - Posted - 06/27/2011:  08:50:06

Yeah, I just spent the morning watching through them... really great stuff, Craig.

I'm not sure what my answer to your question about the most memorable etc. would be. Certainly Bill's story is hard to shake free from my mind. That guy is amazing (or rather, as he's a member: you're an incredible person, Mr. Rickard.)

Beyond that, I guess I was struck by how handy and capable these guys are, and the diversity of their talents. Sometimes I get to thinking it's all neck making + assembly, ignoring all the work that has to be done to make rims, hardware, to make the tools and apparatuses needed to make the various parts. There are clever minds at work here.

I was also intrigued by the glimpses in to their lives outside of the banjo, specifically how the same skills and traits that make them great builders impacts their non banjo lives. It seems like these guys live rich interesting lives in really neat homes.

Finally, at some point watching this it occurred to me this is quite a boys club. There are so many amazing women playing banjo these days, I'm waiting for builder to show up.


Brooklynbanjoboy - Posted - 06/27/2011:  08:53:13

I remember Gail Gillespe, who is a BHO member -- and a fine banjo player -- introducing me to a young woman who was making banjos.  Might have been her daughter; my memory is cloudy here.  I recall that the introduction was accomplished at one of the Banjo Collectors Gatherings in Williamsburg. 

GSCarson - Posted - 06/27/2011:  09:34:37

Craig, These are really turning out just great! One side benefit when you have the dvd's completed is that I am looking forward to sharing them with various freinds or people I know and interact with that just "don't get it" in regard to the whole banjo building/playing side of my own life. These interviews help to illustrate in many ways the reasons I play and build banjos, and I know think they will benefit all of us as they are viewed and think they will generate a whole lot of interest in our instrument and music. I really hope you are able to get them on tv or similar media, it will have a big impact.

A couple years ago I lent my father my copy of "Clapton's Guitar", the story of Wayne Henderson making a guitar for Eric Clapton, among other things. A great and fun read, and during my weekly call to him to catch up, he asked me all kinds of questions, like do you play this tune?, Yes, do you do this when you make banjos?, Yes. It really helped him understand my passion for building and music in general. We even planned and did a day trip to the Martin factory with my brother after he was done reading it which was a really memorable day together.

Looking forward to the rest of them as you progress. Thanks again, Glenn

Viper - Posted - 06/27/2011:  10:47:46

Just got through all six videos. The insight to the how and why these people build banjos is remarkable. The common thread that comes through in these interviews is the passion for the instrument. Although each builder has a different methodology in creating each banjo -- from all handwork to almost all machinery -- they each exhibit a pure sense of joy and purpose for the work they do. What a remarkable group of people, and this is just a small sample. I can't wait to see the whole series.

Thank you for the preview, Craig.

derwood400 - Posted - 06/27/2011:  17:29:44


Originally posted by Mark Johnson

Yeah, I just spent the morning watching through them... really great stuff, Craig.

I'm not sure what my answer to your question about the most memorable etc. would be. Certainly Bill's story is hard to shake free from my mind. That guy is amazing (or rather, as he's a member: you're an incredible person, Mr. Rickard.)


Its about a 2.5 hour drive from my house to Bill Rickard's shop.  The funny thing is, I never met Bill until I went to Clifftop last year for the first time.  Since then,  I have been to Bill's shop twice and had numerous email and phone conversations with him.  This is because when I met him at Clifftop we started talking about having him make me a neck for an existing pot and tone ring that I had.  Well, since then its kind of morphed into a bigger project than we had initially anticipated and when its all done I will have a completely new banjo.  And maybe next year, we will make a neck for the pot and tone ring we had inititally talked about.  Anyhow, the point is, that Bill is an amazing guy to say the least.  Both times I have actually gone to his shop, he has taken time out of his busy schedule to help me out. And believe me, this guy is extremely busy.  Between his banjo company and major manufacturing/fabricating business that he runs, I honestly don't know when he eats and sleeps.  I haven't had a chance to watch the video about him yet, but I'm going to watch it tonight.  I'm so proud to know Bill, and I'm so proud to say that a great deal of the hardware on banjos being made in North America is coming from Bill's shop up here in the Great White North.  He is making incredible contributions to the world of old time banjo.  

I watched the Greg Galbreath interview yesterday, and was so astounded by the life he has made for himself.  My wife really has no interest in banjos, but I had her watch the interview with Greg, and we are both so inspired by him to make some long overdue changes in our own lifestyles.  

Thank you Craig for doing this, and bringing all these incredible artists and craftsmen into our lives.  I've only watched the one interview, and seen a few bits and pieces of some of the other ones, and I am waiting in great anticipation for the rest.  


srrobertsiii - Posted - 06/27/2011:  17:49:03


In terms of answering your questions re the memorable and impressive aspects of the interviews and the builders, I think "derwood400" said it as well as it can be said. And his thanks to you is just as well put.


frailin - Posted - 06/27/2011:  18:59:09

I'm delighted you folks are (also) appreciating these wonderful folks!  

ScottK is added to the DVD list.

Thanks, Scott!


Will1717 - Posted - 06/27/2011:  21:35:58


Any chance that you could forward me a link to view the videos? I'm presently out on the west coast trying to get some R&R for the week and as usual I can't get a link to my shop system. As I was heading to the airport I notice that you'd forwarded me the link but I was in a rush, and didn't stop to have a look. You can get me at my standard e-mail address it's just that I can't link to any of my saved e-mails at the shop. Something about me and computers!

Only been west for the day, and looking forward to getting back to the shop! Hopefully my wife won't read this! Also wanted to thank everyone for their positive comments. Not forgetting you Craig. You did a fantastic job on this. I just can't imagine the number of hours that you've spent putting this all together. I did see Greg's interview before leaving and am thinking of asking him if he would  adopt a second dad. He's definitely got his life together as to what's important + what a neat shop and surrounding. Possibly he has a spare bedroom? 

Best regards to all

Bill Rickard  smileybigbig

Greg Galbreath - Posted - 06/28/2011:  07:54:39

You're welcome here any time Bill - maybe you could help me with some new jigs!

banjoholic - Posted - 06/28/2011:  14:30:56

I think I can safely say just about everyone here wants to now move in with Greg

frailin - Posted - 06/28/2011:  14:56:46

I found him first! :) They put me up in the room over the shop. I woke up to birds singing on Buckeye Mountain.

Edited by - frailin on 06/28/2011 15:00:53

cmox - Posted - 06/28/2011:  19:54:26

Craig: Thanks for the opportunity to preview the interviews. I started with Jason Burns because he's building me a banjo as we speak. It was a real treat for me to "meet" him via your interview and to see his shop. I'm in California so it's it's really hard for me to pop in for a chat. I love this project of yours and think it has value not only for banjo lovers but for those who appreciate well crafted things and those who make them. The interviews feel like we're there with you having casual conversations with these several thousand of us on BHO get to stop by for a cup of coffee and a visit. I best like your questions that reveal what each man thinks about Jason's comment that banjos are sometimes really sad instruments. He's so right....a banjo can be ever so haunting and melancholy. And the question about where he sees himself in 25 years....He wants his kid to follow him into the craft....and in the background we can see the child gate in the door between the store and shop.


frailin - Posted - 06/29/2011:  17:42:00

Jason Burns is a very impressive young man.  I'm thrilled he's building banjos!

And OlPete is added to the DVD list.  Thanks Thad!


HolyGrass - Posted - 06/29/2011:  20:12:53

All i can say is wow. Each interview felt like old friends chattin about the good old times (and these are the good old times, indeed). I was hanging on every word. All the builders share such a great outlook on life and just a generally joyful disposition; not even to mention their expert artistry and craftmanship. It certainly will catch the attention of other non "banjo nerds" too; for instance, my girlfriend very much enjoyed watching a few of the interviews with me and she doesn't even play banjo (yet). I really hope the Smithsmonian Folkways folks help you out in putting this in the view of millions of soon to be banjo fans. You've really done a great job with it all. LOVE it.

cmox - Posted - 06/29/2011:  20:47:22

I watched the Pete Ross interview. Art school...paleontology...history...classical music...punk rock to banjos. Pete Ross is one unusual and INTERESTING guy.
Quotes I liked from Pete....
"I started making banjos because I didn't like art that wasn't functional."
"...make an object that makes clear the complexities of our culture."
The banjo is...."the genesis instrument of American music."

Loved the pile-o-gourds in the corner.


Brooklynbanjoboy - Posted - 06/30/2011:  02:35:38

These are great flicks.  I was as in awe of Bill’s inventive and resourceful ways, and impressed that first thought after working up his inventive jigs and machines was that these machines might be helpful to two handed builders.  I was glad to see Pete Ross, and old friend, was still working in his little basement shop and as cerebral as ever about the craft of building instruments. Referring back to CMOX's comments, I confess to liking the Jason Burns video best, probably because I now have two of his banjos.


In January 2009 I asked Jason Burns to build me an A scale banjo.  This banjo was to be a gift to myself upon retirement, set for late October 2010. 


I had given some thought to this banjo.  I was intent on an A scale sized banjo.  I had stumbled into a Burns banjo not too long before I got to thinking about this second banjo, and had fallen in deep banjo love with his aesthetics, his deep 12 inch pot, the special architecture of his scoop. 


The first Jason Burns banjo, and ultimately purchased, was one of Jason Burns’ earliest banjos, early enough to have eluded branding with a number.  This banjo has a 12 inch pot with just the right amount of thickness without becoming a heavy or hard to hold, a nicely dimensioned rimcap, 25.5 inch scale, set up with nylagut –mediums.  The scoop is level with the head, which means the fretted part of the neck is higher than the head giving you the ability to have a taller bridge with a slightly shallower neck angle.  It is an extremely user friendly approach to designing a scoop as part of the overall construction of the banjo.  That, and the overall artistry of the banjo – the contour of the fifth string area, the heel carving, the use of ebony veneers on the peghead, top and bottom – convinced me to keep an eye on Jason and to turn to him when I was ready to try another homemade banjo.


For me, the process of designing an A scale became an exercise in understanding where to draw the line between (1) one’s personal sense of artistry and tendency toward invention and (2) the builder’s own artistic expression and architectural choices for his basic banjo design.  The process drove me to focus on key decision points at which I would have to make choices between my own intensions and the overall vision of the artist/builder.  The process became one of understanding where the artistic creativity and design flair of the builder, and the intention and hoped-for end state for the intended player had to meet, negotiate, and find a balance between vision and preferences of each of the two key people involved. 


Jason was an incredible navigator for this difficult course.  He was direct, polite, focused and clear in all his guidance.  He showed a flair for uncovering complexities in a straightforward, understated way, and the end result of this effort is an A scale that is more adaptable, versatile and pleasing to play than I imagined.  I thought I was getting a banjo I’d reach for when I needed to play with a fiddler.  Instead, I tune this thing to scale and play for long hours, so it has a great sound in G and a strong, articulate voice tuned to A. 


I’m glad that Craig is putting this stuff out there. 



frailin - Posted - 06/30/2011:  13:43:35

Whoa!  Check out the five day traffic to Greg Galbreath's FREE Program!



I'd say folks have an interest in Buckeye Banjos!  Deservedly so... they're terrific (and so is Greg).   

Note:  This is "Plays" (meaning they watched the Show), not just "Loads" (ie: youtube's typical "load and leave" after thirty seconds).  

Edited by - frailin on 06/30/2011 13:47:07

Brooklynbanjoboy - Posted - 06/30/2011:  13:56:20

You need to correlate these "loads" with the number of banjos sold over a period of time after the official release of these DVDs, and come up with an equation that will calculate the royalties from banjo sales derived from these videos.  If there is an economically consequential impact of these films, you might need to offer your services to guitar builders, fiddle makers, and wooden spoon craftsmen, and so on.   I think there is a chapter in Das Kapital that speaks to the formula in question: "from each according to their need, to each according to their preferred scale length," or something like that. 

frailin - Posted - 06/30/2011:  14:27:41

I like the way you think, Lew.  smiley  

Frankly, in terms of "gain" from this effort, I'd like to think of just how happy all those wonderful new banjos would make people.  



I'm still just an old hippie.  


Or a future one. 


Edited by - frailin on 06/30/2011 14:29:02

cmox - Posted - 06/30/2011:  18:50:42

Craig: I LOVE the Peanuts cartoon. I don't remember ever seeing it before or if I did it was before I was "born again" into Banjo World.

Lew: Appreciate your comments on your Jason Burns A scale. Just got an email from Jason today saying my A scale is near finished!!!! I'll likely get in in July. I'll post pictures.
I relied heavily on Jason's expertise because I just don't know as much as he does. I was lucky to play a couple of his owned by a friend so I knew the quality and the sound. Jason was just great in asking me the right questions about what I wanted in the way of sound to guide the decisions he needed from me. My the Trained Professional!

Gotta go watch more interviews.


Yellowhouseroad - Posted - 06/30/2011:  22:12:49

I have always loved the peanuts, and I like their views on true happiness! That, and a good sense of hummer. :)

manomusic - Posted - 07/01/2011:  03:01:34

Hi Craig

I love what you are doing and have total envy. Over here in Oz we have very few makers and even fewer shops that sell quality banjos. You must be like a kid in a candy store!

If you're shipping overseas I'd love to be on the list for that first set of DVD's.

It's great to see someone living the dream mate. cool

frailin - Posted - 07/01/2011:  05:05:20

Manomusic is added to the DVD list.  Thanks, Neil!

pauwac - Posted - 07/01/2011:  06:30:51

So far I've watched the Will Fielding and Greg Galbreath interviews--fine work on both of them.  In my avatar photo, showing my best side, I'm playing one of Greg's banjos.  I also own a Jeff Menzies tackhead and a Bart Reiter.  I guess what I'm trying to say is PLEASE ADD ME TO YOUR LIST!!!

frailin - Posted - 07/01/2011:  06:35:21

Pauwac is added to the DVD list.  Thank you!  

Please don't hold me responsible for feeding your BAS.  

And trust me on this... IT WILL HAPPEN.  big

StraitsBlueGal - Posted - 07/01/2011:  07:37:30

Alright! A project after my own writing and researching heart! Add me to the list please!

frailin - Posted - 07/01/2011:  07:41:56

StraitsBlueGal is added to the DVD list.  Thank you!  Watch for free passwords to the first 6 shows. 


BanjoMc - Posted - 07/02/2011:  05:19:58


Originally posted by pernicketylad

Think I've survived my earlier BAS episode but stumbled upon this in the interim........ 

Seems like a comprehensive list to me.....links and all!


It is a good list, but not comprehensive.  For example, I don't see White Mountain Banjos on the list out of Arizona.  I think it is interesting that Craig's project is creating opportunities, not just for the builders and aspiring builders, but for more valuable research projects.  Here are three or four that come to mind:

1. A follow up trip out East to pick up more open back builders. Then west.  Then North. Then South.  Then Australia.

2. A similar trip to interview resonator and traditional bluegrass banjo builders

3. How about someone eventually sets up a website, repository where builders can submit their own stories...or film footage that is then edited or cleaned up by an enterprising banjo enthusiast and then posted for everyone to see. 

4. A book by Greg Galbreath on living has he got it going on.  I used to live 15 minutes from him on Doe Creek Mountain in Giles County and never new he was down there working.  His is a lifestyle, not a profession.  Soon, I think he will be known as the guru.

5. How about a wikipedia/youtube  type site of banjo builders, their models, etc.  I have tried to figure out a way to make this a Doctoral project, but I'd love to see an online, multimedia database of banjo builders with links to interviews like Craig has done, descriptions of standard models with audio/video/photo examples of each one, highlights of custom models, biographies, etc.  I was thinking it needed to be done for historical banjos (Vega, Paramount, Ludwig), but I can see it where it would be fun to do it with active builders.  Still, I do want to hear the entire Bob Rock story :-)

Oh, and about 20 more ideas.  I'd love to hear others.  Craig, I hope you know you are a catalyst and I, for one, thank you.  I can't wait for the PPV to be up and running.


BanjoMc - Posted - 07/02/2011:  07:04:05


Originally posted by jmmcdona

good list, but not comprehensive.  For example, I don't see White Mountain Banjos on the list out of Arizona.  I think it is interesting that Craig's project is creating opportunities, not just for the builders and aspiring builders, but for more valuable research projects.  Here are three or four that come to mind:


Ah, the English language.  I am rereading my post and I take exception to my own phrasing.  The post should read

"...I think it is interesting that Craig's project is creating opportunities, not just for the builders and aspiring builders, but for ADDITIONAL research projects. "

No implication was intended on the value of what he is doing as I believe it is incredibly important.


pjxndvm - Posted - 07/02/2011:  07:06:09

Sign me up for both sets of dvds...


pauwac - Posted - 07/02/2011:  09:35:03

I just watched all six previews--they're all fine, and especially memorable is Bill Rickard's.  What a courageous and inspirational man.  I'm going to go back to that one whenever I"m feeling sorry for myself.  Excellent project, Craig.

frailin - Posted - 07/02/2011:  11:49:26

pjxndvm is added to the DVD list.  Thanks, Peter!

frailin - Posted - 07/02/2011:  12:25:04

Distribution Update!


Hey everyone. I'm DELIGHTED to report that the North American Banjo Builder Series will be available in BOTH DVD and PPV form from our own BANJO HANGOUT!  

Yepper.  Eric is setting up the Buy-it-Now programming as I type.  I'm THRILLED our growing community of close to 60k will get a chance to see these wonderful folks first.  

I'll let you know when it's operational.  The PPV will come first.  Shows will be added as they're finished.  The DVD Volume 1 series will be out later this fall.  



Edited by - frailin on 07/02/2011 12:26:25

manomusic - Posted - 07/04/2011:  04:08:38

Well Craig

I've watched the first 6 and these guys are amazing. The common thread throughout is their standard of living. To go into your own workshop, have that aroma of different woods, not to be dictated by a wall clock or boss and have the satisfaction of creating something that is both esthetically beautiful and sounds awesome. The questions you ask are well thought out and you have managed to really draw out individual passion and personality in each maker. I really enjoyed watching the series so far.

Thanks Craig.

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