Monday, October 15, 2007

Buckdancer's Choice - part 2

Lo Gordon of Cedar Mountain Banjos had a booth at the Tennessee Valley Fiddlers Convention and I was fortunate to get a chance to talk with him for a bit. Lo is a nice guy and, I would say, one of the top three banjo makers. His banjos are beautiful and the craftsmanship is excellent. We had a nice talk in which we discussed the zen of sanding, the craftsmanship of the early, classic builders, the definition of "handmade," etc.

Lo feels that the early, classic, builders sacrificed detail and craftsmanship in favor of ornamentation. The amount of time that a true craftsman would put into, say, sanding or small details, many of the older builders put into inlay, then covered the wood with a thick varnish or lacquer.

I found the discussion of "what is handmade in today's technology" conversation very interesting. Lo uses a machine to replicate his necks. While some may not consider this to be "handmade," Lo pointed out that this method of building employs 200 year old technology from the beginning of the industrial revolution, thus an "authentic" method of production, unlike employing computer technology in the building process.

I do not disagree with this philosophy and, in fact, can see an advantage in using machines to replicate parts, especially a professional builder. How different is that, really, from using a band saw or a table saw to cut wood?

That said, I enjoy using a spokeshave to carve the neck. I do it by hand simply because I enjoy doing it that way. In fact, that may be my favorite part of the building process. I like the feel of the wood, the thin curly shavings that float to the floor. It's a quiet, meditative way to spend the day. Although, I must say that if I were building for a living, in a situation where I needed every neck to be consistent, I would certainly use a replicator.

I enjoyed talking to Lo, it was certainly one of the highlights of the weekend. Lo strikes me as a dedicated builder, and I greatly respect his work.

On our way back home we stopped by the Homestead Hollow Folk arts Festival in Springville, Alabama. Surprisingly, I met a banjo maker there. His name was Bob Taunton. He just started building banjos. He builds gourd banjos mostly. I enjoyed talking with him.

He got into building after he ordered a banjo from builder Mike Ramsey. Mike is so backlogged at the moment that there is a three year wait once you order your instrument. So, during Bob's wait, he decided to just build his own. Good for him.

This week I didn't have much time to work on the banjo. I glued and clamped the wood for the pot, only to have the clamp break. The pressure on the clamp is so great that it broke four of the bolts holding it together. this is the second time that this clamp has failed, both times in the same way. So, instead of putting more bolts on and using the clamp until it breaks again, I'm going to rethink the whole system.

Other than that, I put some ears on the peghead (photo left), made a few more fingerboards, and experimented with different ways of clamping the pot.

I assist a class at the University of Alabama. I help with the pottery portion of a seminar class taught by Dr. Galbraith through the New College program. This week we are going to pit-fire some of our pottery, plus we will have extra studio time. Also, next weekend is the Kentuck Festival of the Arts, where I will be working with the Alabama Folklife Association on Friday afternoon and Sunday, so I'm not going to be working on the banjo much, if at all, this week. But, if you're at the Kentuck Festival on Sunday, look for the Folklife Association booth and say "howdy."

1 comment:

buck said...


I lost your email address. I have some questions about how you use the spokeshave on the banjo neck. I tried one on my gourd banjo neck and it was a disaster.

Nice blog.

Brian Kimerer