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 ARCHIVED TOPIC: Arthur E. Smith

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mike hansen - Posted - 04/14/2007:  20:30:13

Can anyone here tell me anything about Arthur E. Smith banjos:

I have a new Banjo student...she came in with the normal "too big" soft case and I expected the usual lot...a cheep-o...

but lo & behold...out comes an Arthur E Smith open back.

It does not look to be a really expensive model, but It's cool

Rosewood fretboard...maple neck and pot..really top quality hardware...single coordinator rod...

I helped her set it up and it sounds was her grandfather's but she is hoping he will give it to her because he never learned to play it...

What's the value of these...

what's the story: Who was arthur e smith, where is he from, etc....

thanks in advance...,

Mike in Baltimore
Bart Reiter "GALAX" Model (calf skin head)

Edited by - mike hansen on 04/14/2007 20:31:09

ballbanjos - Posted - 04/14/2007:  21:01:08

The AES banjos were some of the best of the 70's. I especially liked the internal resonator models, but even the simple ones were really nice--about as good as it got in the mid 70's.

Kate Spencer of Maple Leaf Music in Vermont was responsible for the Smith banjos. Great instruments!


Stevec - Posted - 04/14/2007:  21:05:23

I'm not sure of the exact dates, but Arthur E. Smith banjos were being built in the late 70's and early 1980's, I'm not positve, but I think Arthur E. Smith was a name for the company rather than the maker. Kate Spencer of Maple Leaf Music in Brattleboro, VT - - was one of the former owners of the company. You could contact her for more info. I had a friend who a a Maple Leaf model back in the early 80's, it was a nice solid banjo.

That your student has her grandfathers makes me feel a little old, but I suppose that if I hadn't been more careful back in the 70's and 80's I could be a grandpa too.


oldwoodchuckb - Posted - 04/15/2007:  03:55:27

The makers used to come to the Fox Hollow festival in the late 1970s. I'm not sure when they started or quit but they were about the best non-custom (semi factory? whatever one wants to call it) openbacks of the era --- and the banjos were GOOD. Good value, good quality, good work all around.
I was into "vintage" instruments at the time but I seriously considered buying one. I think the banjos they were making might have had some influence on my eventually going to "modern" banjos -- and of course, now those Arthur E. Smiths ARE vintage. What goes around, really actually goes around.

The Whiskey Before Breakfast variations and a few tunes in "F" tuning are now available on the web at:

timmo_1949 - Posted - 04/15/2007:  12:57:48

It is my understanding that Arthur E. Smith was a popular Country singer & musician in the 1960s and perhaps later. He decided, near the peak of his fame, to market a line of instruments, including banjos and (I believe) guitars. I have seen two of the banjos. One was a near-the-bottom-of-the-line job but still a pretty nice banjo. I thought it was a little more flash than substance, i.e., it could have been built a little more carefully. Just a few days ago, I ran across another AES banjo, this one a top-of-the-line item. Very pretty, very nice workmanship.

They appear to be rare. In watching eBay carefully for 5 years now, I have never seen one there.


"Bother Yum-Yum!"

Stevec - Posted - 04/15/2007:  14:47:24

I think that's a different Arthur Smith. Arthur "Guitar Boogie" Smith the country star you refer to was not involved in the A.E. Smith banjo company. He and Don Reno wrote "Fuedin Banjos" which was used without credit to Smith in the film "Deliverance" and called "Dueling Banjos". Smith sued and won back royalties. He used the "Guitar Boogie" moniker to avoid confusion with another famous Arthur Smith, the fiddler who played with both the Delmore and McGee Brothers.

According to Mugwumps Vol.3 #5 the A.E. Smith banjo company was founded in 1973 in Massachusetts. Micheal Holmes includes a post script after a short highly positive write- up on the banjo company "Unless you have 20 minutes to spare, don't ask who Arthur E. Smith was!"


Edited by - Stevec on 04/15/2007 15:55:25

ndlxs - Posted - 04/15/2007:  15:09:06

The brass tone ring, non-internal resonator model was called the Northampton; I had one that I bought in 1978. In 1981, some fortuitous accidents on the part of others allowed me to buy a Shelburne II, the internal resonator model, which is still my main banjo.

Great, sweet, banjo, all I have ever done with it is had the neck reset once, and refretted once. Grab 'em if you see them. All of the songs on my homepage here were done on my shelburne.

Andy Alexis
Sacramento, California
"The Pearl of the Central Valley"
Buy my CDs:

Bill Rogers - Posted - 04/15/2007:  15:09:16

Classic record label:
"Arthur 'Guitar Boogie' Smith
Guitar Boogie
by Arthur Smith"


DJMorgan - Posted - 04/15/2007:  15:27:21

They were made in Greenfield, MA. Hence their models were named after surrounding towns, Northampton, Shelburne.
Nice banjos. I've been looking for one for some time.

Edited by - DJMorgan on 04/15/2007 15:28:09

silvioferretti - Posted - 04/15/2007:  17:51:53

I bought an A.E. Smith Northampton model in 1978, my first "real" banjo, and it was very nice, maple, ebony fingerboard, loud and punchy for a "basic" banjo. I had to sell it in my times of need, and still regret it. Then I found another one for sale about a year ago here on the HO, and didn't miss the opportunity. A Northampton again, this time cherry with a rosewood board, sounds a little softer but IMO better than the first one. I just recorded a tune for our new CD on it yesterday, and it miked great and sounds great. I love it.

Kate Spencer was a great help in letting me have my first AES banjo and learn how to set it up and so on, I think she's a great lady and a fine builder. AES was just her and her partner Mark Surgies, so AES banjos ar by no means "factory" banjos at all! I would sure love to find a Shelburne model sooner or later, but I'm afraid noone could be willing to part with such a beautiful instrument...

Silvio Ferretti

Check out a new Scorpion banjo at

bnjomn - Posted - 04/15/2007:  18:11:23

I have an AES "Cygnet" ca. 1980 that I believe was built by Kate Spencer. It has the narrowest and thinnest neck that I have ever seen, but is so beautifully proportioned that I can switch back and forth between it and my Ramsey Special an d have both necks feel equally comfortable in my hand. It's maple with cherry as the secondary wood and all in all a wonderful banjo.

It's probably the twin of the one you describe, Mike, since it has a rosewood fingerboard and a single coordinator rod. All the other AES banjos that I've seen had dowel sticks.



"A man must love a thing very much if he not only practices it without any hope of fame or money, but even practices it without any hope of doing it well."

G. K. Chesterton

Edited by - bnjomn on 04/15/2007 18:19:50

chip arnold - Posted - 04/15/2007:  18:49:58

Lorraine Lee hammond has an internal resonator AES which I've had the good fortune to play several times. I've owned a Reiter internal res and played a number of Bacons and although they were nice, especially the Reiter, the AES was in a class by itself. Workmanship is really fine on Lorraine's.

Play with a plan

mike hansen - Posted - 04/15/2007:  19:46:27


"It's probably the twin of the one you describe, Mike, since it has a rosewood fingerboard and a single coordinator rod. All the other AES banjos that I've seen had dowel sticks."

Yep, I contacted Kate and she confirmed that it is a Cygnet model. She's gonna let me know more once I send the serial number.

She also said that she is planning to put a website together about AES banjos...sounds like they were pretty cool and now pretty rare...

I love the idea that these are now vintage but were once passed over because of a desire for 'vintage' banjos...i guess one day my Reiter will be vintage
Bart Reiter "GALAX" Model (calf skin head)

mainejohn - Posted - 04/15/2007:  20:27:06

Alas...I'm a former owner of a Shelburne II. I bought it around 1980 at the Fifth String in Berkeley, and sold it to Steve Senerchia in Warwick RI around 1989. I've regretted it ever since. A friend bought a new Maple Leaf? model around 1982 or so and still has it but hasn't played it in 20 years. I always thought of that company as the pre-1930 Vega of the 1980's.

Scarborough, Maine

ballbanjos - Posted - 04/16/2007:  06:21:20

I tried to buy that Shelbourne from Steve back then, but it was already sold. I wound up with a B&D that I played for years. The AES are cool banjos.


mainejohn - Posted - 04/16/2007:  07:28:34

Dave: I wish you had bought it...then I would know where I could visit it once in a while!

Scarborough, Maine

ndlxs - Posted - 04/16/2007:  09:16:28

I was simply fated to have my Shelburne. The whole story happened in April 1981 or so; I had just moved to Sacramento in my 1978 Honda Accord. I also had just bought a Martin 000-somethingorother that I had on consignment at a local music store. The Martin wasn't selling, and the Accord just had a head gasket failure that I had to borrow $750 to fix. The concept of putting instruments on credit cards was foreign to me at the time.

The store I had the martin for sale at was in an old victorian in downtown Sacramento; they hung the instruments from the ceiling. So I go in on a thursday night during the jam session; no Martin! I asked the owner what happened to it, hoping it had sold, but he sheepishly said that ...get this... he DROPPED it (missing the hooks on the ceiling when hanging it back up) on the ground and busted it into a million pieces. "So I Guess I just bought it, hunh?"

I confirmed that to him, but behind the counter was my Shelburne, which had just come in. "I'll take that!" Better yet, the serial number of the Shelburne was ONE MORE than my AES Northampton! The Northampton I sold to a student I had (should have kept it...), who I believe still has it.

As it turns out, the guy who was selling the shelburne had bought his at the same place I had bought my Northampton, namely, McCabes in Santa Monica, where I had taken clawhammer banjo classes from Jack Aldrich and Alan Hart.

Andy Alexis
Sacramento, California
"The Pearl of the Central Valley"
Buy my CDs:

mainejohn - Posted - 04/16/2007:  10:37:05

Does anyone know Margie Mirken? She and her husband Greg ran Shade Tree Instruments in Mission Viejo CA back around 1980. She used to do a column in BNL now and then. They were AES dealers and she had a Shelburne II that was for sale for awhile in their store, which eventually became her personal instrument. Just curious.

Scarborough, Maine

vtyankee5 - Posted - 04/17/2007:  21:12:19

According to an ad in a 1974 Mugwumps magazine the Arthur L Smith banjo company address was PO Box 825 Leverett Center, MA 01054

DJMorgan - Posted - 04/18/2007:  08:57:40

The construction of banjos happened in Greenfield, near the bridge. Leverett is just a stones throw away.

BrittDLD1 - Posted - 04/28/2007:  13:17:58

Originally posted by oldwoodchuckb

The makers used to come to the Fox Hollow festival in the late 1970s. I'm not sure when they started or quit but they were about the best non-custom (semi factory? whatever one wants to call it) openbacks of the era --- and the banjos were GOOD. Good value, good quality, good work all around.
I was into "vintage" instruments at the time but I seriously considered buying one. I think the banjos they were making might have had some influence on my eventually going to "modern" banjos -- and of course, now those Arthur E. Smiths ARE vintage. What goes around, really actually goes around.


Like "oldwoodchuckb", I first saw first saw Arthur E. Smith banjos at the Fox Hollow Festival, (Petersburg, NY) around 1974 -- and met the two partners, Kate Spencer and Mark Surgies. (And eventually, their assistant - Bruce Butler - who also did some of the photography for their catalogs.)

Each year, I saw their work getting better and better -- and I drooled more and more. (I think I have every one of their catalogs, except for the very last one, from the early 1980s)

By 1976 -'77 I was already collecting low-end to mid-level vintage instruments -- and I was playing a plain late-'teens Fairbanks-Vega Whyte Laydie No2 as my main instrument. But... like the Indians of Manhattan, I've always been mesmerized by flashy beads and trinkets -- especially banjos.

On Saturday, Nov 18th 1978, I finally made the drive, from my home in Syracuse -- to the AES shop in Greenfield, MA. I sat down with Kate and Mark, and ordered my very first high-end custom-made instrument. It was a top-of-the line Shelburne Professional model, with several unique custom features:

...o Extra-wide, extra-deep, 7-piece neck
.......... (I was used to playing big Fairbanks necks.)

...o Center stripes and underlays of maple and Brazilian rosewood
.......... (NO dyed center-stripes to disintegrate!)

...o Their "Smithsonian-style" deep heel-carving
...o Fancier peghead profile
...o 1/8" thick ebony peghead veneer, and backstrap
...o All inlay cut from iridescent snail-shell (Very rare)
...o The "tightly grouped" version of their elaborate neck inlay

...o Inlay motif on backstrap to match front motif
.......... (A custom-designed rearrangement of existing pieces -- by me.)

...o Extra marquetry on back edges of resonator
.......... (VERY rare, very difficult -- they had to do the inner edge twice.)

...o Laminated dowel -- with engraved silver plate inlaid into it
.......... (I designed the plate, cut and polished it, and took it to the
.......... engraver at local casket company. Then sent it to AES.)

The list price was almost $2300. But Mark and Kate gave me a significant break,
since I was dealing direct -- and the final cost was $1550.

$1550 was still a LOT of money for a new instrument, back then.

Four months earlier, in June 1978, a well-known New England dealer had listed:

......o "Mint Condition" 1903 Pre-fire Fairbanks Whyte Laydie No7 - $1750
......o 1903 Whyte Laydie No2 - $800.

After 4-1/2 months of anxious waiting, I drove back to Greenfield, on April 4th 1979,
to pick up the completed masterpiece (Serial #386).

The Shelburne Professional became my main playing banjo, for 14 years -- until it was superseded by my OME Grand Artist. (And even then, the Smith remained as my "second" banjo, for another 5 years -- since I usually carried two banjos.)

That was a very formative time in the development of my own playing style. The distinctive tonal and playing qualities of my Shelburne Professional had a lot to do with determining and defining my style.

The Smith has clarity at all frets, and rich sustain. It's a loud banjo, which "cuts", and I soon learned that I could play it very softly, slowly, and delicately -- and still hear every note. "Phantom" hammer-ons and pull-offs are easily produced, loud and clear.

I still play the "Smithaphone" every-so-often. Its sound, playability, and appearance are still great -- and it has held-up amazingly well.

My ONLY complaint about it (in almost 30 years) is that the neck is beginning to creep upwards a bit -- so it will probably require a dowel-reset sometime.

(It currently could use a complete setup, as well -- new head, bridge strings, etc. -- but that's just laziness on my part...)

No... The AES Shelburne is NOT just another Bacon FF copy...

While the whole banjo is obviously inspired by the Bacon FF Professionals -- there are significant differences in construction, sound, and aesthetics.

The spun-brass tone-ring is NOT the same design as a Bacon FF. It's based more on a somewhat rare 1920s Washburn tone-ring. The spun tone-ring extends MUCH farther into the center of the rim, than a Bacon ring does.

More importantly... the spun part of the tone-ring is supported on a brass rod -- which in turn sits on a solid rectangular brass bar. This added mass gives the banjo a huge amount of power, and sustain.

The original Bacon FF simply has the spun "flange" tone-ring -- with NO rod under it.

The resonator sound holes on the Smith are much more elegant, than any of the Bacon holes.

The Shelburne Professional was first designed as a custom "presentation-grade" banjo -- for Bill "Smitty" Smith, of Salem, MA.

Bill's pre-fire Whyte Laydie No7 had been stolen, and he got an insurance settlement for it. He commissioned Kate and Mark to create a high-end banjo for him. His banjo is the Shelburne Professional shown in the first booklet catalog. It does not have a heel carving, and the neck is straight maple.

The first AES "flyer" catalog, had the similar (and rare) "Colrain" model -- but I'm not sure how it actually differs. I think the Colrain was the initial basis for Smitty's custom model -- and it was eventually superseded by the "Professional".

I met Bill in the early 1980s, after moving to the Boston area. There were a few instances where we were both sitting-in with the band, at local contra-dances. People would do a double-take, when they noticed our matching fancy banjos.

The pearlwork on Bill Smith's Shelburne Professional, is much thinner, and more delicate than the later work on mine.

Like other banjo companies before them (Fairbanks/Vega, ODE, OME, etc.) Arthur E. Smith found that very delicate pearl was subject to a lot of stress-cracks -- and beefed up the weight of their pearl three or four times.

You can see some cracks in the peghead pearl of mine -- mostly because the snail shell is even softer than MOP or Abalone.

And the heavier pearl also allowed them to offer engraved pearl. (An option I couldn't afford at the time, on my Shelburne Professional.)

Ed Britt

I've never met a good banjo that I didn't like.

I'll see if can figure out how to post some photos of my Shelburn Professional. (How to do that is NOT readily apparent -- using this silly text-box interface.)

Well... Finally figured out what they MEAN to say in their "Forum Code" box -- and got the photos embedded, as is obvious by now....

(Didn't these guys ever hear of "Drag and Drop"? ... Or at least "Cut and Paste"? I'm starting to have flashbacks -- about programing punchcards for batch processing....)


Edited by - BrittDLD1 on 04/28/2007 15:08:24

silvioferretti - Posted - 04/28/2007:  19:05:51

Man, you killed me... An A.E.Smith Shelburne has been a dream for me for about 30 years, and yours is an outstanding - and unique - example of what Kate Spencer and Mark Surgies could do... My clawhammer playing would not deserve it, of course, but man how I'd love to have one! So if by chance somebody out there has an AES Shelburne that he or she might want to part with...

Silvio Ferretti

Check out a new Scorpion banjo at

Pete Peterson - Posted - 05/07/2007:  21:39:59

I have a hybrid-- a Vega Little Wonder pot that Kate Spencer made a neck for (along the lines of a Northampton AES) back in 1976. It puts out an amazing amount of sound for such a small pot I compliment some of the members of this forum for actually spelling Mark Surgieis' name correctly. I've lost touch with him (as has Kate) -- when I made my tape for Marimac I credited Mark for some of the extra, less common verses which he sang to Wreck of the Old 97 and I learned from him.
Down the road from Leverett MA is the Arthur E. Smith Memorial Bridge. Kate at one time had a picture of the covered bridge and the sign at the entrance.

Pete Peterson

RWPark - Posted - 12/28/2007:  17:38:54

Wow! Finally a major discussion about my favorite banjos and I miss it by 8 months! Ah, well... as to value - a few years ago I sent pictures of my Shelburne to Elderly for their free "evaluation of value". (didn't want to sell it, just curious) The only answer I got was they didn't have anything to compare it to...just as I thought - priceless!


I prefer to resonate internally...

silvioferretti - Posted - 12/29/2007:  15:17:37

BTW, did I tell you that I got a Maple Leaf model? Kate Spencer was so kind as to let me know someone was selling it, and I jumped at the chance and bought it. Took it home after IBMA, set it up a little, and haven't stopped doolin' an' dreamin' ever since... It's not like a Shelburne, of course, but I'm gettin close! Course I'm keeping my black cherry Northampton, as it sounds so good anyway and very different from the Maple Leaf. Too bad Kate hasn't been into building for about 25 years...

Silvio Ferretti

Check out a new Scorpion banjo at

RWPark - Posted - 12/29/2007:  15:55:17

Glad to hear it Silvio...Your becoming an AES collector. I'd will you my Shelburne but I've got 5 Grandchildren in line.

BTW the Maple Leaf sold for $650.00 retail in 1978 and the Shellburne II for $875.00. Those were the days.


I prefer to resonate internally...

RWPark - Posted - 12/29/2007:  16:03:06

Ouch...just did an inflation calculation and $650.00 in 1978 would be $2088.10 in 2006 dollars.

I prefer to resonate internally...

silvioferretti - Posted - 12/29/2007:  17:03:52

Yep, I believe I paid about $450.00 for my first Northampton in 1978, meaning about 400,000 lire at the time (approximately the cost of a well-kept 1970 Fiat 500), then had to sell it for more than twice as much around 1994, a sum that at the time wouldn't have bought a wreck of a car anyway. Your inflation is peanuts compared to ours... OUCH!!! I love them AES banjers anyway, and still hope I'll find a Shelburne II some day...

Silvio Ferretti

Check out a new Scorpion banjo at

Edited by - silvioferretti on 12/29/2007 17:05:25

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