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Long necks and Fretless Fancies

Posted by Bufo Bill on Tuesday, November 5, 2013


My Bluegrass Banjo was lovely, but I was moving away from that musical style towards oldtime. I was falling in love with a new style of music, and of course a new banjo was on it’s way, again the Eagle Music shop in Huddersfield fed my habit with A Deering Vega Woodsongs long neck banjo. The thought of having an American made banjo was a big thrill, almost as big as the cost, which took out my savings almost entirely. The banjo felt great to play, but as the months progressed I was finding the extra length on the neck was making my arm and shoulder ache, but never fear, for another banjo was in my sights less than a year later.

My ears heard a strange sound one day. I was looking at YouTube videos, when I came across Pete Seeger on the Johnny Cash Show. Pete was playing a fretless banjo, and this sound filled my brain. I knew then what I must do, and when I saw an 1880’s English 5 string banjo, which was made before fretted banjos were common, out on ebay, I pounced.

Have you heard the horror stories of people buying old banjos without seeing them in person? When the seller doesn’t understand that the neck is warped from steel strings, and the pot has a big crack held together with rusty ironwork? Well I hadn’t, so I felt no fear in buying that banjo on Ebay. If I had have heard such stories I may never have bought that banjo. It was possibly the best purchase I have ever made. The banjo had it’s problems; a tailpiece that was made from a scrap of old rosewood gave up the ghost very soon after purchase, but the banjo was otherwise fine, and has got better and better in my hands ever since.

To make it clear to you all, this is my main banjo. It has been since I bought it and my attachment has only grown and deepened over time. I had an ebony tailpiece made by my good friend, Inventor, and Luthier par excellance Helmut Rheingans. His daughter is now a famous Folk musician, I understand. Helmut  was key in educating me about old instruments and told me enough about my banjo that I didn’t wreck it with modern adjustments, and didn’t put steel strings on (the neck of a banjo must be reinforced to take the tension of steel strings, which will contort and ruin the necks of old banjos).

Eventually other banjos came my way, but to finance these, the Tonewood, Tanglewood, and Deering Vega were sold.

For our next instalment I will bring you up to the current line up of banjos I call The Big Three (but one is little).

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