Recently, the fine folks at The Banjo Reserve reached out to talk to me about my banjos, and about life in general as a part-time banjo maker. The interview gave me a chance to think a little more deeply about the work I do – which is an exercise I highly recommend to anyone. Special thanks to Jim Van Zile from The Banjo Reserve for reaching out to me with such great questions. Here are a few excerpts from the article:

Why did you decide to become a custom banjo builder?

I didn’t set out to become a custom banjo builder in the beginning. I had made a modest banjo for myself, of course. And in time, I started to make similar banjos for a few close friends. Along the way, I studied banjos from the past. I looked at old banjos from the 1890s – instruments that were made by hand with no power tools to speak of. And I grew to respect their enduring qualities. These objects, built from such humble beginnings, were somehow still being played more than a hundred years later.

I thought, “If I can make something that’s still being played in another hundred years, that would be a good thing.” So, here I am making banjos for whoever will have them.

Do you work alone, or are there others involved in your construction process?

I work alone. But when I’m building a banjo for someone, I never feel like it’s a solo endeavor. I enjoy getting to know my clients. And I love the collaborative spirit of building a banjo “in the air” before we settle on materials and a specific design. In this way, I feel like every new commission is also the forging of a new partnership. From start to finish, I share updates and photos of the entire construction process. Over time, this experience – or story – becomes part of the finished banjo. It arrives at their doorstep with a history already built in.

Where do you get your design inspiration from?

I am a designer by trade, so design is a very important part of my process. I am inspired by the very old styles – mostly from the 1890s and early 20th century. I fill my shop with tools and materials from the 20s, 30s and 40s. I have learned that if you spend enough time with these old objects, their design just starts rubbing off on you (sometimes literally). But design is more than just aesthetic. A design approach is an approach that considers things like playability, tone, construction and durability. Sometimes this calls for innovative solutions, and a fusion of things that traditionally may not have been put together.

 

This is just part of the interview. See the rest here.