I've always been very fascinated with this extremely unique banjo with it's full aluminium construction and glassfiber rim. It is rather likely that I will buy on somewhere in the future, mainly out of interest and sentimentality as a big fan of the great Luke Kelly.
But to the lucky people out there who have handled one, what is it like? how does it sound compared to a wooden banjo? And how is the build quality? Obviously, Luke himself was not overly pleased when his instrument borderline exploded during a performace, breaking into bits.
I have played Lukes personal banjo during an evening of whiskey, cigarettes and, debating politics as I recall, with the man himself ! Luke was a slightly built man with a huge voice and very strong political views, how he tolerated that banjo hanging around his neck all night was quite beyond me, it came out of its case feeling very cold to the touch and was if I remember rightly, very neck heavy ! sadly it had only four strings on it. Luke told me that he had broken one just before that evenings show but, just went on and did his stuff without bothering to replace it ! Banjo was quite new to me in those days and I remember thinking that all pro banjos must be the same and, I did not enjoy trying to play it at all, that was around 1982 I think and Luke got his Pete Seeger banjo not too long afterwards, FWIW I have never seen one come up for sale anywhere.
a curious instrument for sure but, dead cool because of the Luke connection, on youtube the Clancy Brothers are on Pete Seegers Rainbow thingy show and Tommy Makem is playing his one before gifting it to Luke, Luke used to joke on stage whilst retuning between songs; " this banjo that is giving me problems tonight was a gift from some friends of ours, I think it was sabotage that they had in mind !" Luke was very into the fact that Tommy Makem had given it to him I think.
Somebody said that a Merlin, like folk music, sounded better than one would expect. A 'big peghead' Merlin long neck weighs 8 pounds 12 ounces. I just weighed one of mine. Howie is selling one on Reverb. Paul
Because of the Luke Kelly connection, I bought a Merlin long-neck (they also made ones with regular necks) about 25 years ago off eBay, back in the days when I had an Irish traditional music shop, McNeill's on Capel Street, in Dublin.
It attracted a lot if interest, but it was a very awkward thing to play - the pot weighs very little which, combined with the heavy neck, totally unbalances everything, and the best way to play it would be by putting a shoulder strap on by attaching the upper end of it to the (missing on my one) eye bolt halfway up the neck.
The round, tapered tuning knobs are very awkward to use too.
Apparently Tommy Makem gave it to Luke (quite literally) for a song.