Ode to kids

A few months after getting married in 1971, the BRC founder purchased a long neck 5 stringer cobbled together from parts left-over from the Ode banjo company after its purchase by Baldwin. His bride was destined to see a parade of more than 30 banjos stream through their house in the ensuing years, a cavalcade which was culminated by a banjo repair shop cropping-up in her basement 6 years ago.thumbnail_FullSizeRender (1)

With her spouse`s permanent collection of 10 prize banjos stationed around the house, his wife recently designated his vintage Ode banjo as the one instrument that their curious grandchildren could play.

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Although the Ode had long ago been relegated to a dark and  remote corner of the house to collect dust, the grandkids have reawakened their grandfather`s interest in this mellow and well-seasoned 5 stringer. It has now resumed the premier role of being his daily practice instrument thanks to the grandkids who love to experiment with it.

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Speaking of kids, the G&F Singers entertained again this month at the Children`s Hospital. This trio of women effortlessly accompanies the baritone BRC founder by singing four part harmonies in songs familiar to patients, siblings, and parents. The lilting soprano, alto, and tenor female voices are church-choir trained and require no rehearsal. Ladies- thank you for graciously sharing your vocal talents with the children and families.

P.S. Check-out the `5 string  “Freedom Eagle” open back BRC banjo` on eBay Feb. 25- Mar. 4 and its cousin the “Golden Eagle” banjo  Feb 26- Mar.5.

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Can you ever really tune a banjo….. pot?

At a recent desert art show in Indio, CA, the BRC founder came upon an artist who carved Native American flutes. The two musicians chatted, and the Indian craftsman reported that he tuned his flutes to A (440 cps) with an electronic tuner by cautiously trimming the length of the instrument. In comparison, the BRC founder offered that he balanced head tension with the wooden properties and diameter of his banjo pots by tapping the rim/head junction and tuning the assembled sound chamber by ear to G using a keyboard.IMG_4609

Stepping momentarily from his basement workshop, where the ambient temperature is 62 degrees with a humidity of 43%, he utilizes a piano residing at the top of the stairs in his wife`s  busy “Tiny But Mighty” multi-media studio. (Editor`s note: the `TBM` moniker is derived from a press clipping describing one of her paintings at a juried community art show).  The BRC  banjo tuning technique was adapted decades ago in the pre-electronic tuner days from watching a band director tune tympani drums by ear prior to a concert.IMG_4799

 

Upon returning home to Missouri from the western desert, the BRC founder cross-checked his ear vs. piano banjo tuning technique with an electronic tuner in his cozy acoustic instrument room where the ambient temperature is 72 degrees with humidity of 55%. The tapped wooden ash banjo pot with its plastic head registered a G sharp on the tuner.

 

 

 

The BRC founder plans to continue this tradition of tuning banjo pots by ear on the keyboard, but what do you think? Check-out the 5 string  “SunFlower” open back BRC banjo on eBay February 12-19.  The  ash wood pot was tuned by ear to G.

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The Curious Journey of a 7 string Banjo

During the mid 19th century, troupes of minstrel show musicians toured England igniting a craze in Britain for America`s homespun music and its signature banjo.  In 1859, Stephen Van Hagen of Albany, NY,  patented  a 7 string banjo- the very first patent of its kind.   Alfred D. Cammeyer, a Brooklyn born composer and entrepreneur,  relocated from the US to London in 1888 to cultivate the profitable banjo market there. At the end of the century, banjo sales remained a fertile business in the UK. The colossal  musical instrument company owned John H. Buckbee of NY manufactured banjo parts that were shipped to London to be assembled and sold by the English distributor Joseph Wallis.img_4683

A forlorn Buckbee/Wallis 7 string banjo was recently discovered in a small antique store in rural Missouri by a  guitarist who brought it to our  workshop for restoration as guided by a recent article about the BRC in a local newspaper. img_4668

The instrument`s “J.H.B.” initials imprinted on the heel of the neck confirm that the parts were manufactured in NY by J. H. Buckbee.

The “Guaranteed American By… Wallis ” inscription on the dowel stick assured the buyer in London that the banjo was a genuine product of the USA- birthplace of the minstrel tradition.img_4672

 

Buckbee died in 1897, and his business effects were publicly sold. Wallis & Sons were still listed as musical instrument makers in 1915.img_4670

 

Clad in a rim of German silver,  the spun-over pot interior was fashioned from a single bent piece of wood- a lost art form. After a clean-up, the original craftsman`s single marks for bracket positions and triple marks for dowel stick alignment remain visible as well as the overlapping seam of the wood rim.img_4709

 

 

 

 

A close-up study of the crusty nut reveals multiple string slots. The BRC founder`s theory is that the instrument was initially built for 7 strings (white arrows) in NY and then shipped overseas to London and sold. After the banjo made its return transatlantic journey back to the the United States, it was then converted to a five string (red arrows) instrument more familiar to the American musician.

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Following our restoration of the instrument, an antique Bell Brand tailpiece was applied to anchor nylon strings. Thomas Nelson Jr. owned the Bell Brand string franchise which he merged with two other manufacturers in 1897 to form the  National Musical String Company (NMSCo.). In its day, this conglomerate was the largest manufacturer of steel strings in the world, and the  original factory of the now defunct enterprise still stands in North Brunswick, NJ, as a National Historic  Place.

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The banjo neck has a unique `flush fret` series of markers supplementing  its traditional fretless fingerboard, and these stripes aid the musician in proper fingertip position. A new goatskin head was applied as well as non traditional pancake outrigger geared tuning pegs. The most common tuning for this rare bird 7 stringer is: gGcdgbd.  The guitarist  who brought this precious 120 year old  banjo to us has graciously donated it to the BRC Collection where it will be treasured.img_4752

Our workshop staff wonders if the number 7 is a lucky digit for the BRC, as our website has contemporaneously just surpassed 700K hits for which we gratefully thank our readership .

 

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Good Tidings We Bring

Every mid December for the last 10 years or so, the BRC founder`s band has performed  Yuletide tunes for the in-patients on the adult and children`s psychiatric ward at the University Hospital. The staff enjoys the festive sing-a-longs as much as the patients. After the gig, the band pauses for a yearly photo in the lobby  of the mental health center in front of the Christmas tree.fullsizerender-24

A few days later each Holiday Season, a trio of vocalists joins the BRC founder for a similar songfest at the Children`s Hospital on the other side of town.  In the pediatric ward playroom and at the children`s bedsides, parents and siblings join us in singing familiar Holiday tunes.  The staff concludes the performance with a photo of the choral group.

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Let there be Peace on our Earth and all Blessings to these generous musicians and singers in 2017.

 

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The 4 R`s of 5-Stringers

Using his long neck banjo and a customer`s newly acquired instrument as teaching tools, the BRC founder (center in photo) was an invited speaker at this month`s meeting of the Midwest Woodworkers Association. He lectured the assembled craftsmen on his 4 R`s of banjo building:

  1. The banjo must look right and have an aesthetic charm appealing to the personality of the owner.
  2.  The instrument must feel right to the buyer. The BRC open back model weighs only 4 lbs., and this entry level lightweight can be easily handled by beginner students.
  3. The fingerboard must  play right with low `action` of the strings. The fretboard is the dance floor where the digits, like the legs of a ballet dancer, must be able to accomplish their tasks with comfort, ease, and accuracy.
  4. The instrument must sound right to the expectations of the customer. The BRC open back models have a woody, chubby sound preferred by clawhammer enthusiasts, and the resonator banjos have featured a snappy pop favored by Bluegrass pickers.

After a Q&A session, the BRC founder concluded the presentation by performing his `Variations on Greensleeves` on the MWA member`s new banjo (left center). In a very cordial thank-you note a few days later,  an executive officer of the Association graciously reported, “Your deep musical knowledge, your fine workmanship, and your good cheer have inspired us all”.fullsizerender-8

As winter closes in upon the Heartland, the BRC workshop staff wishes all our faithful readers overflowing blessings of the Holiday Season. Enjoy the recent local press clipping about the Banjo Rehabilitation Center in the below link.

http://www.voxmagazine.com/music/two-local-luthiers-revive-banjos-and-mandolins/article_b9046154-5f94-5f3f-83b5-b01b557ad825.html

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