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Let Us Praise All Good Makers

Posted by FretlessinTexas on Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Somebody much smarter than me said that we were living in a golden age for quality instrument building. Judging by the evidence, I think that person is probably right. We are blessed with so many fine builders out there.

The purpose of this blog is not to provide a listing or a rundown on who they all are. But if you are a frequent reader of Banjo Hangout, you will soon discern who these fine craftsmen are. I will say this much -- I would much prefer to buy their handiwork than from that of a factory. There are some good factory instruments, no doubt, but I would rather buy from a small maker.

For purposes here, I will  write about three such men.

Chuck Lee, Ovilla, Texas. I haven't yet been to Chuck's workshop yet, but I learned soon after moving to Texas that he lives only 20 minutes from me. I talked to Chuck today and he has welcomed me to come visit. It is generally bad form to drop in unannounced as these crafsmen do have lives to live, with the challenges that face us all. So be nice and always make arrangements beforehand.

But I do look forward to spending time with Chuck. I have played his banjos before -- at festivals and in the showroom at Elderly Instruments. They have a distinctive look and sound. I seriously hope that I do not become so smitten that I toss and turn at night yearning for one. Now is not the time for me to fall in love.

Jason Burns, Birmingham, Ala. I knew Jason as a luthier in Birmingham, Ala., before he started building banjos. He had an excellent reputation for doing top-notch repair work and I had him work on several banjos for me when I lived in Birmingham.

And then he started building. And then I had to play one. And, well, the rest is history.

I love the Burns banjo that I own. No, really, I love it.  No fancy inlays, but wonderful quality building and how it does play. A fine, fine instrument and my keeper for life. Yessir, I'm sold on Jason Burn's work.

Mark Ward, Cincinnati. Well, you may not have heard of Mark. He has no website as of yet advertising what he does -- which is build fantastic banjos and fiddles. Mark is a friend. I met him three years ago at the Indiana Fiddlers' Gathering and we have since spent time playing tunes together at various festivals and at each others homes.

When I first met him, I boasted that I had the very best banjo in my newly acquired Burns. Then he quietly and humbly handed me one of his banjos. I examined it, then I played it, and then I gulped. Wow. It was that good. Actually, better than good. It was excellent.

I have seen Mark in his workshop. Slow, meticulous, precision. It translates into a very very superior instrument. Again, he builds both banjos and fiddles and he will become a name to remember. Trust me on this one.

Well, there are the three makers who have allowed me an inner peak into their world. I have visited Jason and Mark in their workshops and will soon have the priviledge of visiting with Chuck at his. Keep in mind that it is a priviledge. These workshops are their livelihood, a place where they need to concentrate to create. If I were not invited inside, I would not take offense. They don't need outside distractions, which is what any visitor like me can be.

So let us praise all good makers of banjos, fiddles and other fine string instruments. They provide us with the ways and means for memories that will last a lifetime. And we should thank them for that.

Merry Christmas, everyone.







11 comments on “Let Us Praise All Good Makers”

banjotef Says:
Wednesday, December 15, 2010 @12:13:02 PM

I've thought for a while, maybe there should be a "Banjo Builder of the Year" award at IBMA.

strokestyle Says:
Wednesday, December 15, 2010 @12:59:57 PM

Praise be to the Banjo Makers!

frailin Says:
Wednesday, December 15, 2010 @3:09:03 PM

There has never been a time like this... when so many exceptional luthiers are building such extraordinary banjos. It's a great time to play!

banjotef Says:
Wednesday, December 15, 2010 @4:06:06 PM

Buy 'em now, they're be worth big bucks in about 30 years.

Oldpiper Says:
Wednesday, December 15, 2010 @5:09:15 PM

I'm not personally familiar with Chuck Lee's or Mark Ward's banjos, but I'll surely agree with your comments on Jason Burns banjos. I recently bought one of his tubaphone 12" and it has replaced my other 3 as my favorite, by far. Superb workmanship and sound.

rinemb Says:
Thursday, December 16, 2010 @5:08:42 PM

When you visit Chuck, tell him the "red haired boy" is doing fine! I love my CL custom banjo. Brad

VancePants Says:
Thursday, December 16, 2010 @8:27:34 PM

THERE is nothing motivating custom banjo craftsman (uh, I think the term "builders" a bit coarse) othan than the love for the instrument: a proverbial labor o' love. Reminds me of my Italian grandfather who was an accomplished: painter. sculptor, wood carver and funiture maker. Everything done to his high standards, or not done at all. I purchased a Jason ROmero banjo recently and I "feel" the workmanship and attention to detail every day I play... and it was worth every single penny paid. Cheers to all who support these dedicated folks!

DGEBanjo Says:
Friday, December 17, 2010 @12:15:15 PM

As one who is into middle of having a custom name crafted by a small Luthier that I met at a value grass festival I would agree whole heartedly. The nice thing is that you can probably find a crafstman in your own backyard and help stimulate your local economy and keep the money at home. It may take a bit longer but for a personalized one of a kind banjo you cannot beat it. So for those that have the know how to create these beautifull instruments we salute you and please don't forget all those artisans that assist in the creation such as engravers, platers, parts makers etc

Paul R Says:
Monday, December 20, 2010 @9:31:07 PM

Well said, Dean.

I've had the honour of meeting a few luthiers (guitar) here in Ontario, and they certainly show a dedication to their craft that keeps them working at a preofession that is financially risky, and I know of some who have not been able to survive. The best banjo I ever owned was made by an almost unknown, Jake Neufeld, although his banjos are revered by those who know of him. I wish I still had mine.

Have a very merry Christmas and a happy 2011.


billy stewart Says:
Wednesday, December 29, 2010 @8:41:51 PM

I just got a banjo from Chuck Lee WOW LOVE IT!!!!!!!!

mrphysics55 Says:
Friday, December 31, 2010 @10:43:44 AM

You said a mouth full Brother.

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