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 ARCHIVED TOPIC: Great builders who moved on to other things


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: http://www.banjohangout.org/archive/393698

Brian Murphy - Posted - 10/30/2023:  06:03:34


Ken LeVan commented in another thread about a banjo builder from Texas who was active, but does not seem to be as active anymore. Who are some of the great small shop builders who made a real name for themselves and then decided to focus on their "day jobs" or otherwise reduced or halted their banjo building activities?



One came to mind who made a banjo I love: Kyle Smith. I also remember Cliff Fitch.



Anyone know what they are doing these days?  Who are some others?


Edited by - Brian Murphy on 10/30/2023 06:04:22

BobbyE - Posted - 10/30/2023:  06:43:53


>One came to mind who made a banjo I love: Kyle Smith.<

Met Kyle here on the HO I believe in the early 2000s. He did a set up on my 2001 Timeless Timber by Robin Smith during a vacation to that area of the Smokie Mountains. Also picked me up later that day and took me to the jam at the Maryville schoolhouse. Sure was fun. I haven't heard from him in a long time either, and certainly hope he is doing well.

Bobby

banjered - Posted - 10/30/2023:  07:28:58


Jason Mogi. One of his banjos is my jam banjo. I bought it used for $800 and it plays and sounds better than most banjos I've played costing 4-5X as much. You probably don't get rich making banjos, you almost have to love your craft/art than most things money can buy. What causes builder's to quit? Not enough money, boredom, abandoned spouse, overtaken by another art (embalming – ha!) or something else? banjered

Bart Veerman - Posted - 10/30/2023:  07:34:23


Jake Neufeld from Guelph, Ontario (Canada) He built amazing instruments in the 70~80ies.

davidppp - Posted - 10/30/2023:  09:29:00


James Ashborn of Torrington, CT had the first guitar factory in the world and made many more (and better?) than his contemporary, C. F. Martin. He made some very fine banjos, too. But he went into politics.

Banner Blue - Posted - 10/30/2023:  10:18:34


With the proliferation of builders it would be worthwhile to have a website listing them. A project for someone else. cheeky

gbisignani - Posted - 10/30/2023:  10:50:42


Roger Siminoff. I have a Bacon with a Siminoff neck. I don't ever see anything by him except books about building.

Brian Murphy - Posted - 10/30/2023:  11:14:20


quote:

Originally posted by gbisignani

Roger Siminoff. I have a Bacon with a Siminoff neck. I don't ever see anything by him except books about building.






He retired.  I believe his daughters were running the publications business, and he might have sold the instrument building equipment.

gbisignani - Posted - 10/30/2023:  11:19:26


actually I knew this. A couple of years ago one of his daughters asked me to send her a picture of the Bacon. But to tell you the truth I've never seen a Siminoff banjo for sale !

NotABanjoYoda - Posted - 10/30/2023:  11:41:33


About a year ago I was in the market for a custom banjo and found two sites that attempted to list all of the luthiers of banjos.



fastie.com/banjo/manufacturers/



and



the BHO! ... a pretty large list.



and here is a historic attempt dated to the 1800s



bluegrassbanjo.org/banmaker.html



I found a better historical list but cannot easiy find it...



 


Edited by - NotABanjoYoda on 10/30/2023 11:42:00

Bill Rogers - Posted - 10/30/2023:  12:22:01


Siminoff was really never known as a builder, though he he did make banjos.

A. C. Fairbanks left the banjo business in 1895 to focus on bicycle wheel rims and eventually other business activities.

A number of people who started out as builders evolved to business owners who left the actual building to others.

BigFiveChord - Posted - 10/30/2023:  12:57:24


Years ago, Cliff Fitch posted his personal Fitch banjo (which may have been the last one he built?) on DFW Craigslist, it must have been in 2017 or so. I emailed and offered to drive up and buy it, but a DFW local beat me to it (of course). Alas, a near miss.

banjonz - Posted - 10/30/2023:  13:01:20


Mark Platin - locally one of his Troubador 5 strings earlier this year. This is the only one I know of (there may be more though). There is no list of serial no's available to date it so I emailed him only to find he is retired from making banjos. He could not supply me with a date as his info is stored away.

Ken LeVan - Posted - 10/30/2023:  13:18:38


quote:

Originally posted by NotABanjoYoda

About a year ago I was in the market for a custom banjo and found two sites that attempted to list all of the luthiers of banjos.



fastie.com/banjo/manufacturers/



and



the BHO! ... a pretty large list.



and here is a historic attempt dated to the 1800s



bluegrassbanjo.org/banmaker.html



I found a better historical list but cannot easiy find it...



 






Seek and ye shall find—you can find current banjo builders by searching on Google.



For instance, you would find my practice by searching "Custom Banjos", going below the ones that are paid ads,  and of course Will Fastie's list, as you have said.



The bluegrass banjo market is a rowdy free-for all, so you get nothing but ads searching there.  About 30% of what I make is bluegrass banjos, but not "Bluegrass  Banjos" of the Gibson persuasion,  so you won't find me in that section.

Ken LeVan - Posted - 10/30/2023:  14:12:50


As a great builder who moved on to other things, I have to mention Dick Guggenheim.  He specialized in archtops, and made a lot of really great banjos. He turned me on to Baked ipe as a fingerboard material and EVO fret wire.



 Dick is an architect (retired) and is always interested in innovation and new ideas.



I still correspond with him, but he just lost interest in making banjos. He forges knives and does a lot of wood turning—bowls, etc..A year or so ago we went to the Woodstock guitar show together, and slogged around in the mud.



I miss his banjo wisdom.



 



 

lazlototh - Posted - 10/30/2023:  15:31:48


I am glad you mentioned Dick Guggenheim, Ken!
He has done a lot of banjo work for many years!
He has done several pots and necks for me.

As far as I know, he was one of the first to make the push for torrified banjo wood.
I like to consider him a friend. He learned from Bob Flesher at Liberty Banjo.

He is not interested in banjo work and has been working on other woodworking projects.
Anything I threw at him, he was able to deal with.
He has encouraged me to start doing banjo stuff. It is great to have someone like this to push us ahead.

Bill Rogers - Posted - 10/30/2023:  15:52:40


Gryphon made some necks years ago, and a couple of banjos. This one-off is my favorite.



frets.com/FretsPages/Museum/Ba...phon.html

RioStat - Posted - 10/30/2023:  17:35:58


I've got a Guggenheim baked Ipe rim, with the tube-and-plate flange and 40 hole archtop tone ring from a 1929 Gibson on it, and it's a killer banjo.



Also, let's not forget John (Jean) Janzegers, from over in Landover MD. He made some incredible banjos, rims, tone rings, necks etc....thru the 1970-80's, then gave up banjo luthiery to concentrate on building fiddles.



I've got a Janzegers rim and archtop ring that I'm getting ready to build a banjo around..... can't wait to hear it. I got the rim off eBay for $75.00 about 10 years ago, just bought the Janzegers no hole archtop tone ring from Turtlehill last month.



Both rim and tone ring are signed and dated by John Janzegers.....something that I wish more builders would have done, and should do. 



How often do we see people on the Hangout asking: "Anybody know who made this neck, or tone ring, banjo, etc...." ?

 


Edited by - RioStat on 10/30/2023 17:50:15

Ken LeVan - Posted - 10/31/2023:  04:51:24


quote:

Originally posted by RioStat

Both rim and tone ring are signed and dated by John Janzegers.....something that I wish more builders would have done, and should do. 



How often do we see people on the Hangout asking: "Anybody know who made this neck, or tone ring, banjo, etc...." ?

 






That's an excellent point— guitar builders normally have a label with their name inside the sound l hole, but it's more difficult to do with a banjo that readily comes apart and people often switch parts. I do that on guitars and banjo lutes, but on banjos,while I often write the name of the person I'm building it for on the top of the rim and inside the heel so I can keep track of which part goes to which banjo in process, I don't sign the stickers. My name is always on the peghead, but I ought to sign the labels in the rims and etch some ID in the tone ring.


Edited by - Ken LeVan on 10/31/2023 04:54:32

Ken LeVan - Posted - 10/31/2023:  05:21:13


Two others We should mention are Randy Cordle AKA "Rudy", who wrote a lot about construction, sold plans as well as banjos and was a very creative guy he made several kinds of banjos and was an amazing contributor to this forum.  Rudy did a lot to offer simplified ways to do things which I think gave many people the information they needed to build banjos.  Rudy "moved" on in part because he didn't like contentious comments levied at him on the forum.



And Dan Drabek, who doesn't sell his banjos, but makes museum quality instruments and posted really good illustrated treatises on how to do different things.  Dan's banjos ae top-of-the-line in terms of craftsmanship but always have a sense of humor.



Dan has done some amazing things, and a lot of this is in the archive I'm sure, like the Crow Banjo.



The last I heard from him, he was going to make another banjo, and I hope he does—I really miss his posts and getting to see his work.  I really hope he does make another one!!



 


Edited by - Ken LeVan on 10/31/2023 05:22:50

Eric A - Posted - 10/31/2023:  06:12:29


You sure do see a lot of banjos for sale that say something along the lines of "neck by an unknown maker, but it is top quality..." Maybe some of the names above did some of these necks. If only we could know...

Peter C - Posted - 10/31/2023:  06:22:09


quote:

Originally posted by banjonz

Mark Platin - locally one of his Troubador 5 strings earlier this year. This is the only one I know of (there may be more though). There is no list of serial no's available to date it so I emailed him only to find he is retired from making banjos. He could not supply me with a date as his info is stored away.






One of Mark's Paragon model was my first pro level banjo and it served me well for many years. Got word from him a few years ago he retired and sold his machinery and tools.

Ken LeVan - Posted - 10/31/2023:  10:30:31


quote:

Originally posted by Eric A

You sure do see a lot of banjos for sale that say something along the lines of "neck by an unknown maker, but it is top quality..." Maybe some of the names above did some of these necks. If only we could know...






Lots of builders (myself included) built necks before they started building entire banjos.  Even noted guitar builders like John D'Angelico and John Monteleone made banjo necks.  Lots of builders today do that as well, partially to generate cash flow for their practice.



Also, a lot of banjo players don't want to advertise the at their neck is not original.  Wyatt Fawley, a noted neck builder, wrote a treatise on how to spot fake Gibson banjos, most of which has to do with necks— 1/8" fingerboards on  originals as an example.

Fathand - Posted - 10/31/2023:  13:17:02


There were Ruby banjos built in Toronto. My understanding is they built about 160 banjos in the 70s? Owners/ Builders were Bruce Dowd and Kevin Hall. I think there was a 3rd partner.

The one I currently own, I purchased twice from the same seller, 40 years apart. I sold it to finance a 1925 Gibson around 1982 and bought it again last year. It was Kevin Hall's personal banjo as evidenced by KH engraved in pearl on the back of the headstock where a serial number would normally be. With a Janzenger rim and Ryan tone ring, it sounds great.

tdtowns77 - Posted - 10/31/2023:  19:12:33


Ty Piper was well known by many in the 70s and 80s. He also published his techniques in bnl for many years while running his Imperial banjo company. And then left the business...

groups.google.com/g/alt.banjo/...pvA?pli=1

StPeteNick - Posted - 11/01/2023:  19:25:41


How about Bart Reiter? I don't have any of his banjos, saw him on one of the "Conversations with North American Banjo Builders" DVD's. In the video, he said "Music was my life for a long time ... " His interests went to other things.

He was going to stop making banjos at number 4000 I think. He must have reached that many banjos some time ago.

Bridgebuster - Posted - 11/01/2023:  20:57:31


quote:Originally posted by Brian MurphyKen LeVan commented in another thread about a banjo builder from Texas who was active, but does not seem to be as active anymore. Who are some of the great small shop builders who made a real name for themselves and then decided to focus on their "day jobs" or otherwise reduced or halted their banjo building activities?



One came to mind who made a banjo I love: Kyle Smith. I also remember Cliff Fitch.



Anyone know what they are doing these days? Who are some others?Brian, Kyle K. Smith had to stop building banjos, and even the unbelievable setups that were his trademark. Arthritis. I keep in touch with Kyle as he and his family are some of the absolute finest folks you will ever meet. He stays busy around the family farm. I believe mine was the last banjo he ever worked on. It's a real loss to the banjo world as he just had the magic touch when it came to wringing the absolute best sound from just about any banjo. When he first worked on mine we sat for a while and talked about what kind of sound I was after. He nailed it! Fine fella!



 

ban-joe - Posted - 11/01/2023:  21:16:39


Banjonz above mentioned Mark Platin already.
He was the builder of Wildwood banjos, both open-back folk instruments and bluegrass tonering banjos, until he retired recently.
There’s a good video interview with him on youtube which I discovered last night (after this bho topic piqued my interest.) Mark talking about how he fell into his career.
The interview includes a bit about Doc Watson deigning to accept a free banjo from Mark during a post-performance meetup.
I found that part pretty interesting.
(I’m a huge Doc fan, so I found it a little disappointing. Show biz.)
m.youtube.com/watch?v=_aCsa9IM208

I never owned one of Mark’s banjos, but I was always about to pull the trigger on one…

Brian Murphy - Posted - 11/01/2023:  21:18:59


quote:

Originally posted by Bridgebuster

quote:Originally posted by Brian MurphyKen LeVan commented in another thread about a banjo builder from Texas who was active, but does not seem to be as active anymore. Who are some of the great small shop builders who made a real name for themselves and then decided to focus on their "day jobs" or otherwise reduced or halted their banjo building activities?



One came to mind who made a banjo I love: Kyle Smith. I also remember Cliff Fitch.



Anyone know what they are doing these days? Who are some others?Brian, Kyle K. Smith had to stop building banjos, and even the unbelievable setups that were his trademark. Arthritis. I keep in touch with Kyle as he and his family are some of the absolute finest folks you will ever meet. He stays busy around the family farm. I believe mine was the last banjo he ever worked on. It's a real loss to the banjo world as he just had the magic touch when it came to wringing the absolute best sound from just about any banjo. When he first worked on mine we sat for a while and talked about what kind of sound I was after. He nailed it! Fine fella!



 






I agree, he has a molecular knowledge of components and how they interact.  You could tell him what sound you wanted and he could tell you what the banjo needed and how it needed to be set up.  His workmanship was fantastic.  I have a mahogany Legend he made.  Luckily, I still have it.  I stupidly put it up for sale a few years ago just trying to thin the herd.  It did not sell at the ridiculous price of $1900.  I kept it, and I'm glad I did.  All top components, excellently made.  But even after playing it people don't want to pay much for a maker they don't know.  Sorry to hear about his arthritis.

Bridgebuster - Posted - 11/01/2023:  21:44:14


Brian, do you have any pics of your legend?   I'd LOVE to see some.

OldPappy - Posted - 11/02/2023:  09:25:46


Two I didn't see mentioned are:



Jeff Kramer "Cloverlick" banjos were in my opinion the best banjos ever made for "Clawhammer" style old time players. Last I heard he went back to driving a truck.



Dan Daggert was a banjo luthier when Stewmac was starting up back in the 70s. He turned his focus to knife making. I am the current custodian of a well known old Langstyle banjo which Dan did a 5 string conversion on in 1973. Beautiful neck, still straight and true after all these years.



Last summer I took that old banjo up to Bob Smakula for fret board repair and a re-fret as it had some serious wear in between 2nd and 7th frets and I knew I would ruin the inlays had I tried to do the job. They did a wonderful job with putting that old banjo back into playable condition. I hope he, and the young man named "Andy" working with him who did the work on that banjo never move on to other things.


Edited by - OldPappy on 11/02/2023 09:29:17

Brian Murphy - Posted - 11/02/2023:  09:31:26


quote:

Originally posted by Bridgebuster

Brian, do you have any pics of your legend?   I'd LOVE to see some.






 




Bridgebuster - Posted - 11/02/2023:  18:33:34


Brian you've got yourself a winner there, buddy. Glad you kept it and can appreciate the skill of its builder.

cemdunlop - Posted - 11/10/2023:  18:42:56


C.E. Ward of Charlotte, NC built some great banjos (I have two of then). He also built Sonny Osborne's first six-string banjo.

Julio B - Posted - 11/10/2023:  22:54:39


quote:

Originally posted by gbisignani

Roger Siminoff. I have a Bacon with a Siminoff neck. I don't ever see anything by him except books about building.






Roger is my band-mate of twenty+ years.  You can email him at siminoff@siminoff.net



He lives in Atascadero, CA with his wife Rosemary.



~Julio


Edited by - Julio B on 11/10/2023 22:55:02

jimbowilly1960 - Posted - 11/12/2023:  01:58:02


quote:

Originally posted by gbisignani

Roger Siminoff. I have a Bacon with a Siminoff neck. I don't ever see anything by him except books about building.






I spoke with Roger in an attempt to learn more about a Gibson parts banjo I own. He is now in his 80's, retired and living in California.

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