Video Interview with Frank Neat

Kentucky Historical Society


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0:08 - Carl Astoria guitars / Guitars vs. banjos

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Keywords: Bill Monroe; Carl Astoria; Carl Astoria and the Rambling Mountaineers

4:36 - Stories of Earl Scruggs

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Keywords: Beverly Hillbillies; Earl Scruggs; J.D. Crow; Lizzie Long

9:21 - Other banjo makers

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Keywords: Arthur Hatfield; Hendersonville, TN; Jimmy Cox; Steve Huber

12:36 - Passing down the craft

15:58 - Cost

24:31 - Blocking time

33:28 - Finishing the banjos

36:13 - Scenes around the shop


0:00 – Begin Track 2 FN: Carl Story, back when he was living, we made him ten Carl Story guitars. BG: Carl Story? I don’t know him. FN: He was Bluegrass Gospel; he played with Bill Monroe at one time. Then he had his own band for a

long time. He went by “Carl Story and the Rambling Mountaineers.” But we made him; back in the ‘90s

we made him ten guitars. BG: Did he sell them? FN: He would sell them and I don’t know where he sold them. He lived in South Carolina, so I don’t know

where he sold them. I know he passed away and I hadn’t heard anymore from the guitars and then we got to where we were doing so many banjos I didn’t have time to do the guitars so I quit doing that. BG: The guitar is completely different than a banjo. FN: It is. It takes completely different jigs and different wood and everything. BG: Yeah. Did you like doing it? FN: No, not like I did the banjos. BG: Why didn’t you like it? FN: Whenever we did the guitar, I’ve got a son, Leon, he’s my son, he lived in Texas at that time, and he

liked doing the guitars, so I would send everything down and he would put it together and we would finish it.

BG: Ok. FN: He did basically most of the guitars because he liked fooling with the guitars and I like fooling with the banjos.

BG: Yeah. So your true love is really the banjo? FN: It is, yes. BG: What kind of feeling do you get when you are finished with one? FN: Well, I’ve done so many of them so really, whenever I’m finished it’s just another one done, but back

whenever I first started doing them it made you feel good seeing somebody on the Opry playing one of yours or something like that, but it’s something you get used to.

BG: Could you see it on TV, the word “Neat”?

FN: You could see it, I’ve seen them like that, and I’ve even had, I’ve had people to mention on the Opry that they were playing one of mine. I’ve had that happen and it’s a good feeling when it first happens, but it is something that you do get used to.

BG: Have you ever had instruments where you are working on it and you just say, “I don’t like this, it’s not going to work,” and you just throw it away at any point?

FN: No, I’ve never run into one that I couldn’t do what I wanted to do with it. There have been some that I wouldn’t tackle to start with, I’ve seen some of those where I would have people call me, today, I had a guy call me today and wanted me to do a job and I told him I don’t want to do it, I can’t, I'm just not set-up for doing that.

BG: What was he asking you to do?

FN: Add more wood to the heel. Somebody had cut it wrong and he wanted me to basically go and fix somebody else’s mess up is what he wanted me to do, something that somebody had messed up, he wanted me to fix it. So I try to steer away from that.

BG: Why is that?

FN: Well it’s hard to fix-up, some things you just can’t fix. You can take more off, but you can’t add back on it when it comes to wood. If somebody’s cut too much off or something like that, well then there’s not a lot that you can do.

BG: I imagine there are so many parts that work together in this thing… FN: There is. BG: …that you can’t just add to it and make it feel good. FN: Well, I’ve seen behind the neck and things like that I’ve seen shims that people have put in there

and things like that, but when you do that you don’t get a good sound, you don’t get a good solid sound like you do if you don’t use shims.

BG: Is there any glue in this? FN: The rim, the wood rim is three-ply, it’s glued together. BG: But everything else is… FN: And the filler stick, right there, that’s glued into there. And then you’ve got, this cap up here is glued

on, and the fingerboard is glued on.

BG: We interviewed a fiddle maker, and he would glue things with a certain kind of glue so you could unglue when you had to. Sometimes you have to do that with instruments. FN: Well I glue it with glue that you can unglue it.

BG: Oh you can?

FN: Yeah, well you know, from time to time I have seen, I have changed fingerboards on necks because they will eventually wear out if they are played enough, so I glue it with a glue that you can get lose, it will come apart if you need to take it apart.

4:24 [Interruption – cut in film] 4:27 BG: What do you fish for? FN: Crappie, mostly. Mostly crappie, yeah. SA: We’re rolling. 4:37 BG: I guess I was going to ask you; do you have a story about one of your favorite instruments that you


FN: I guess one of the, you know one of the best memories I’ve got in this, back four or five years ago my

wife got Earl Scruggs to come up for a birthday party.

BG: Your birthday party?

FN: Yeah, of course he played one of my banjos and then later that summer she got Earl to come back, and J.D. and Little Roy Lewis and you know, we had a bunch of them and had a good jam session over at the house. Then I took a banjo down to Lizzie Long that I worked on for her, and Earl was there at her house and he wanted us to come over and spend the night with him. So, you know, he told us stories about when he and Lester was with the Beverly Hillbillies and he can tell you some good stories, but to get to see him sit and play one of my banjos, it really meant a lot to me because he really liked them and

he’s been here in the shop and set here and talked to me.

BG: Did he die a few years ago? FN: He died about, back a month ago, a little over a month ago. He was 88 years old. BG: So that must have been an honor to have him come. FN: It was, and it was an honor to get and go spend the night with him because it was just something

that nobody gets to do. He showed us his awards that he had won down through the years and it was really nice getting to do that. BG: What did he think about being on the Beverly Hillbillies?

FN: He liked it. There were things about it that he really liked. He had a lot of stories that he could tell you about that to.

BG: That’s when I saw him first. I was a little kid and I didn’t know who he was. FN: They enjoyed doing all of that. Of course, it helped their career a lot too them doing that. BG: So why did these kind of banjos become the Bluegrass, the resonator ones? FN: That’s because when Earl started playing with Bill Monroe in the ‘40s that what he was playing, the

banjo, the Gibson banjo, and he was the one that brought the three fingered picking to the public. A lot of the playing that everybody had heard was the Clawhammer, and then it took the three finger playing

and it seemed it fit the Bluegrass music really well. It’s a combination that came together back in the ‘40s with Lester and Earl and Bill and that’s where the Bluegrass…

BG: But he wasn’t Bill’s first banjo player was he?

FN: No, String Bean was playing with Bill, but String Bean, String would only play the Clawhammer, but Earl was the first banjo player that Bill had that would do the finger picking.

BG: And that was more, you could do more rhythm…? FN: You could do more with it, it sounded better with the Bluegrass music. BG: I know a lot of those bands would play around one microphone when they… FN: They did, yeah, and the only thing you had to do, we did that at Bean Blossom when we had to play

as staff band there and you just have to learn when to move in and out.

BG: Did you have to hold your banjo…? FN: You have to hold it where the mic will pick it up and you have to learn your part and when it’s going

to be to move in and out, get in and do your part and then get out so somebody else can do theirs is what you have to do.

BG: I’ve heard that people are starting to go back to that. FN: Some, they are, some of them are doing that, yes. BG: Yeah. You’ve gotten some honors over the years, haven’t you? Do you belong to a luthier


FN: No, I don’t. BG: You don’t? Ok. FN: I’ve never, the only thing I’ve ever made from this is a living. That’s the only thing I’ve ever gotten

from it.

BG: That’s kind of like an award, having those guys come.

FN: It is. You know, they still do, they still come by, and it’s nice to have them come in here and sit, they’ll sit here and play and we enjoy that.

BG: Right in here? FN: Yeah, they’ll sit right here and play. BG: Wow. Do you ever videotape it or anything? FN: I do. I’ve got a videotape of Earls. I can’t let it out because of his sons. BG: His sons won’t let you? FN: Well, they’d want their share of it. They would think you were selling them, so they would want

their share.

BG: I brought up the idea of being part of a luthier organization, but I just get the idea, do you know other banjo makers that you admire, or that you work with or anything like that?

FN: Jimmy Cox is the only one that I actually work with. Steve Huber has a company in Nashville in Hendersonville and I’ll get him to do some gold platting from time to time, but Jimmy is the only one that I actually work it. You know, he does a good job by doing what he does and we work back and forth

and we’ve done that for a long time.

BG: Do you learn anything from other banjo makers?

FN: You know, you can always learn some. I don’t think you ever get too old to learn things, I don’t learn a whole lot from them because I’m not around them a lot. There’s a lot of people making banjos and I’ve

had, most of them have come in here to get ideas from me. BG: Like who? FN: Well, Steve Huber for one. He used to come here a lot. Then there’s a guy in Virginia, or North

Carolina, Yates, his name is Yates, and he’s been here. Arthur Hatfield, he’s, I’ve known Arthur way before he started doing this, before I started doing it. BG: Oh really? FN: Yeah, I’ve known Arthur for a long time.

BG: You guys from the same area? FN: No, I got acquainted with him because I was playing music, because we both played music and I’ve even played in the same band with him a few times.

BG: His banjos are different from yours I guess? FN: It is, yes. BG: Did he borrow any of your style making or anything like that? FN: Not a whole lot. He will do, I’ve not seen Arthurs operation so I really don’t know what all, I’ve seen

some of his banjos. BG: Do you like them? 11:06 FN: I do, yeah. They’re fine. BG: But yours are kind of… FN: Mine are different than his are. He does his, he tries, he’s got several of the guys playing his banjos

and he likes to do that and I’ve got several of them playing mine, but I’ve been doing it so long, I’ve been

doing it a lot longer than he has. BG: So he’s right down the road, and your, is that area kind of a hot bed of banjo, or just you two? FN: No, just us two. We’ve got First Quality in Louisville that building banjos. BG: Louisville where, Kentucky? FN: First Quality Music Supply. They make banjos there. And then Arthur builds them and I build them,

and Steve Huber, he builds them, you know, so we’ve got several people. BG: Where is Steven Huber? FN: He’s in Hendersonville, Tennessee. BG: Hendersonville. FN: Yeah. BG: Where is Hendersonville? FN: North of Nashville, just before you get to Nashville. BG: Oh Tennessee, just before you get to, yeah, ok, I forgot you said Tennessee. Ok. So there’s kind of a

network. FN: There are several people doing it, not a whole lot, but when I first started doing it there was nobody. I was the only one that was doing it when I first started building the Ralph Stanley banjo.

BG: Is there a, you talked about I guess, you taught people, right? Your son, and then you said the other guy worked here.

FN: Yeah, I showed him some things. He worked with me a couple of years. Then he went on. I don’t know what he’s doing now; I don’t know where he went.

BG: Well see, we have an apprenticeship program with the Kentucky Arts Council and we’ve given grants out to people to take on apprentices to try to teach them, we really haven’t had any in instrument making. We have like Basketmakers from Highway 31W, banjo playing, like Lee Sexton did one with somebody, but it’s the instrument makers that we really haven’t had anybody apply for a grant. Why is that?

FN: There are a lot of people, you know, it’s a different talent to build a banjo. To start with, it takes a lot of patience because when you first start this it doesn’t always come out the way that you want it to, and you’ve got to keep trying and trying until you get it like you want it. So it takes a lot of patience. And you know, there are a lot of people that are interested in it, I don’t know, I don’t try to find anybody that will work here, because we don’t have that much to where you could have an employee anyway, we don’t have that much to do, but I don’t know where you would find one if you were looking for one, to find someone to come in here and do this kind of work, you just don’t find them.

BG: Because of the patience part of it? FN: Because of your patience and if you have to, you show them how to do something and then you

have to make sure that they do it right and it’s easier to go ahead and do it yourself.

14:27 BG: Your son has kind of watched you. FN: He has. He’s watched me and went through it. BG: How important was the family aspect, him being part of your family, that let you take him on. FN: Well he was with me whenever he was small. He watched me do it when he was small, so he just

grew up with it. BG: But he didn’t know how to make this stuff did he, until he came back? FN: No. He would work with me, but until he went and worked other places, whenever it got to be three

o’clock he quit. Now, if he’s doing a job, he will go ahead and work until he gets it done. BG: You said earlier that he’d get in here at 7 or something. FN: He gets here about 6. BG: 6? And he stays till 4? FN: Yeah.

BG: So that’s pretty dedicated, isn’t it? FN: It is. And then if he needs to he’ll come in on Saturday. BG: So there is something about doing that kind of work, I mean it seems to me if you aren’t watching

the clock when you’re doing a job…

FN: Then you are enjoying what you are doing. Whenever you are doing it and not watching the clock

you are enjoying what you are doing. That’s the way I think. And he enjoys it when he is doing this.

BG: And you do to?

FN: I enjoy it. Although you know, I’ve done it so long that sometimes it becomes a job.

BG: Do you want to retire or do you want to keep going?

FN: I’m 71 years old. If I was going to retire I would have already done it.

BG: You make a pretty good living off it I guess?

FN: We do ok. Yeah.

BG: I was going to ask you before, how much does that Neat model cost?

FN: Five thousand dollars.

BG: Five thousand?

FN: Yeah.

BG: That doesn’t seem very expensive.

FN: No, it’s not compared to what a lot of the others sale for. It’s not.

BG: So you have higher models than that? FN: About the only thing you can do to make them higher is to do the engraving and just dress them up. This has got the best of everything in it that you can buy. The only thing, you could raise the price on it if you started engraving and things like that to it.

BG: That would raise the price. And how does it get to be five thousand. Is it your time that you are putting in plus your expertise?

FN: Yeah. All of your hardware cost quite a bit too. And then, just like that wood on there, it’s expensive to find that. If you find it, when you do, it’s expensive, so you have a lot of money tied up in it.

BG: How do you find your wood?

FN: I’m always, I’ve got people looking for me and I’ve got a lot of wood already that I’ve found. By always having an open ear and being willing to listen when somebody’s got something and be willing to go and look at whenever they say they’ve got some wood. A lot of times it’s nothing, but once in a while you run across something that’s really good.

BG: So what do you do? Do you go to their house? FN: This guy here, I had called him, I had bought veneer from him. He used to be in Lexington and I

bought veneer from him and I called and asked him if he had anything I was looking for it and he told me he had this and I went up and bought it. BG: What does he have, a woodshop or something? FN: He does veneer. He sales veneer and yeah, he’s got a woodshop. BG: So he imports… FN: Yeah he imports veneer and things like that. BG: So you told him you were looking for something good and he said, “I’ve got it.” FN: Yeah, he told me he had some of it, so I went up and looked at it. BG: Up in northern Kentucky. FN: It suited me so I bought some of it. BG: Let me see that again. What is that called? FN: A Quilted Maple. BG: What makes the wood do that? FN: So, that’s the design that’s in the wood. I don’t know. BG: And you can see that when you saw the veneer? FN: Yeah, you can see it in the veneer before it’s finished. The finish brings it out better, but you can see

that in the veneer before it’s finished.

BG: Did you know that it was going to be light in the middle and dark on the edges? FN: No, we did that. BG: Oh, how did you do that?

FN: We did that with two different color stains. See, you start with this color stain here, and then you change colors and go with a brown and make it dark on the outside.

BG: How’d you radiant that so…? FN: By doing it. You learn to do that by doing it. BG: So you were looking for that. Is that called “Sunburst”? FN: It’s called Sunburst. Yeah, that’s what it’s called. BG: It looks like clouds. FN: Well yeah it does. It looks like the ocean, waves in the ocean, and the sun setting over it. But that’s,

when I found that up there I got enough of that for about twenty resonators at one time. BG: Do you buy it in big sheets? FN: Yeah, buy a sheet of it and he rolls it up for you. Veneer is what it is. It’s real thin. BG: So you have to put a lot of money into this? FN: You have to put a lot of money into it and I had to send it up to Jimmy and have him make the

resonators and put that on it. BG: So he put the veneer on the resonators? FN: Yeah, he glued the veneer on them. BG: Ok, well that’s really nice. And when you, do you put the binding on it? FN: We do. Yes. BG: What does the binding do? FN: It covers up the seams where the resonators are put together. You know, you’ve got the sides here

put on the back and that binding covers the seam up. BG: It covers the seam up. Ok. FN: The glue joint. BG: I thought it protected it in some way. FN: No, it covers up a glue joint where it has been put together. Same way with a guitar. The binding on

that covers up the glue joints where they are put together.

BG: What do you do if you don’t put binding on? Is there another way of covering it up?

FN: No, you could, this one here, this one up here is just there because you’ve got one down here and it looks better with two instead of one. You see some of the older ones that didn’t have this one on it, but now you’ll always have that one because you have to glue the sides to the back and they’ll cover that joint up. It just wouldn’t look very good if you didn’t have that piece of binding there.

BG: So, when you came down from Indiana, and you came back to Kentucky, you started building these and making your necks. You’re still making your necks and then you started doing the other things, was there a lot of experimentation with that as you were going along?

FN: There was some, but I did most of the experimenting when I was learning to do it. By the time I started doing it full-time I knew pretty well what I wanted to do. Although you know, I’ve improved some and have gotten more machines to speed the job up and things like that, but I knew pretty well what I wanted to do whenever I started to do it full-time.

BG: And you said you had another shop before you moved here?

FN: I did. I had one over in Dunnville.

BG: Dunnville.

FN: Yeah.

BG: And when you moved here you only brought three pieces of machinery with you?

FN: No, when I first started doing this I had the three pieces of equipment when I first started, when I lived in Indiana.

BG: What was that?

FN: I had the, I lived up there when I first started doing it; I had the drill press, and a bandsaw, and a sander.

BG: And that’s all you had? FN: That’s all I had. That and some dremel tools and things like that. BG: You had a dremel? FN: A hand cutter, with dremel tools. BG: That’s not very much. FN: No, but most of it I did by hand. BG: So you didn’t have that little belt sander, belt buffer over there? FN: No, a lot of that I didn’t have.

BG: So you were doing it all by hand then? FN: Doing it all by hand. A lot of this speeds the job up. You don’t have to have all that to do this. BG: Do you get a different result if you hand buff it than doing that? FN: No, not if you buff it right, it all looks the same once it’s done. BG: So what you are looking for has certain perfection in it, right? FN: Yes. BG: And no matter what you use, you get it there. FN: I get it, I’ve got a certain thing in mind when I’m doing one and as long as I get it there it doesn't

matter if it’s buffed by hand, machine, or whatever as long as it’s buffed like it should be. BG: So we’re going to take a little walk through here in a few minutes, but a lot of these tools that you

kind of invented or you had someone help you make has speeded up? FN: It speeds the job up. Yes. BG: But it also gives you more precession sometimes? FN: It does. The cutters that I use, there are different ways, you could fix up different jigs and different

cutters to do the same job. This is just the way that I’ve fixed mine up. I’ve been in Jimmy Cox’s shop and he’s got kind of different jigs set-up rather than what I’ve got there in Maine. He’s got a lot of jigs set-up that he does different jobs with. But there are a lot of different ways that you could do it, it’s just what works for you.

BG: And that makes you feel good. FN: Yeah, the thing that you can work with and what you can do. BG: I wanted to bring up the fact that years ago I came and interviewed you because we were doing an

exhibit with the National Folk Festival in Chattanooga, right? FN: Right. BG: And one of your instruments was displayed there. Did you get to see the exhibit? Did you get to go

down there and see it? FN: Yes. BG: What did you think? FN: It was nice.

BG: But you probably had your exhibit, have you been in other exhibits since then? FN: No. BG: No? FN: No, that was the first one and the last one I’ve been into. BG: Well I asked you to be in the other one. FN: I know, but I was tied up. I sent Ricky up instead. BG: I couldn’t get an instrument for it to travel with the exhibit because you were so busy shipping them

out I guess. FN: Right. BG: And that was the problem with the whole exhibit, any instrument we borrowed from somebody

meant that they couldn’t sell it.

FN: Well at one time you were selling them faster than you could get them done. BG: Really? FN: You know, there were people who had them on order. They would order them and wait until you

had it done, so you had to let it go as quick as it was done. Over the past few years we have, I think

we’ve got two more in there of the gold platted ones that we’ve just got built up.

BG: So if I did another exhibit I could borrow one? FN: Yeah, you could just about have your choice. BG: Just timing it I guess… When you get up in the morning and work down here what do you think

about, what do you start with? How do you lay out your day for doing projects?

FN: Sometimes I figure out from one day to the next what I’m going to do, but most times I don’t know what I’m going to do until I come in here because you never know who is going to call that night and what they’ll need done the next morning and you know, if somebody calls me and needs a job done because they are playing well then I’ll try to work them in, I’ll try to do that. So I’ve got things that I will, just like tomorrow, if nothing else comes up there are some things that I’ll do but there’s nothing that I can’t change. I like to be where I don’t have to do it that day, where maybe I can do it the next day, or

the next day.

BG: So you’ve got behind you there are like five heads, or, what do you call those things? FN: Yeah, the resonators.

BG: Five or six resonators. Does that mean that you are working on six at one time?

FN: Yeah. Actually, that one there was sent to us to finish a neck in that color, that’s one. Those others we are working on them, but it’s jobs that there is no big rush on.

BG: So it’s like, you’ve got jobs that you can work on as you are going along, and you’ve got jobs that… People will order something or send you something to do and they’ll say, “There’s no hurry for this. I don’t want it until a certain time.” Then you don’t have to be in a hurry about getting it done, but you’ll go ahead and work on it, if we have the time we will go ahead and work on it and get it done and then

just lay it back and when they want it why it’s ready. BG: Ok, so you’re not one of these guys who needs a deadline from somebody to get things done? FN: If I have a deadline I can usually meet it, but I don’t like to have one. BG: Oh ok. Some people just can’t do it without having deadlines. FN: Yeah, I don’t have to have a deadline. I don't like to have a deadline. If I do have one, well then I can

work it out.

BG: So you come in and part of your business is, people come on in and wanting things right away because they are professionals and they need it done, right? FN: Right. BG: Other ones that you get… FN: There’s no hurry on, and then if I come in and somebody calls me and says, “Lets go fishing,” I’d like

to be like good, let’s go. BG: Ok, so let’s go fishing. FN: Yeah. BG: Sounds great. So you can do all that too? FN: Yeah. BG: So you like the way it’s going? FN: I like the way, you know, Ricky, when he’s here, he’ll take the phone calls and all that and he can

take care of it if I need to go take a day or two off. BG: Do you like to play music while you are working or do you like it silent? FN: No, I sometimes will play music, but most of the time we don’t. Sometimes we will. BG: Do you guys talk much while you are working?

FN: There are days that we do, and other days we don’t say half a dozen words.

BG: Really?

FN: Yeah.

BG: That’s how it goes, huh?

FN: Yeah, if you want to talk to Ricky, you start talking to him about the Cincinnati Reds and he won’t

shut up. BG: Oh good. That’s where I’m from so. They won last night. FN: Yeah well if you talked to him about the Cincinnati Reds why he would talk to you all day. BG: Well, I was so enthused last night that they won that I started listening to the St. Louis game to

make sure they lost, but they didn’t. FN: They didn’t lose? BG: They came back in the ninth inning with a home run and beat the Padres. FN: Yeah I didn’t listen to St. Louis. I did watch Cincinnati last night on TV. BG: And you can get it down here on TV? See I can’t. FN: Yeah I get FOX Sports out of Ohio. BG: That’s nice. I wish I could do that. FN: Well I have to have Dish Network to do it. BG: Oh do you? You’ve got to Dish Network? FN: Yeah, I had to get Dish Network. BG: How did he get to be a Reds fan? FN: Well, I used to, I had a sister that lives in Cincinnati, and I had a brother that lived up there for years

and I’ve spent a lot of time up and around Cincinnati. BG: You used to go to Crosley Field? FN: I have been there, you know, and then I’ve worked there some, I haven’t worked there a whole lot,

but I have worked in Cincinnati a little bit. BG: In a factory there?

FN: No, I worked with a guy trimming trees there one summer. BG: Really? FN: Yeah. Just different things. BG: I was a roofer for my uncle up in Cincinnati. FN: Well, I worked with another guy up there on roofing work for a while. BG: Oh really, we might have worked together. FN: But anyway, this was an individual. He did it, just him and me. BG: Yeah, my uncle had me work with my cousin, we just, that was fun. I enjoyed it. FN: But I’ve spent some time in Cincinnati. BG: Oh yeah. So it’s a nice team to root for. FN: And then Ricky spent time there whenever he was small. His grandma lived there in Cincinnati so he

would go over there and spend time with her. BG: I ate out with these people last night; I went out to Kroger and got us some Cincinnati Chili mix so they could make it at home. Have you ever made an instrument that you didn’t want to sell because you liked it so much?

FN: I’ve made some that I hated to see go, but I never made any that I wouldn’t sell because that’s what

I was in the business for. But I have made some that I really hated to see go. BG: Why? FN: I don’t know, just the way, there was something about them, you know, no two turn out exactly

alike and there was something about them that was special, that I really liked.


BG: We were interviewing, this was a long time ago when we were doing the exhibit, the exhibit we had

was called, “Made to Be Played,” because one of the people we were interviewing said, “I don’t like my instruments to be hung on the wall, I like them to be played.” FN: Yeah.

BG: Do you feel that way, or does it matter to you if they play them or just hang them on the wall? FN: You know, if they want them I don’t care. Ralph has sold a lot just for an investment to people that don’t play.

BG: Who did?

FN: Ralph Stanley. He sold a lot of the Stanleytones that we did just to people that don’t play. They buy them because whenever he is done they’ll be worth more money, so they’d buy them as an investment. So I like to see them being played, but if they aren’t played it doesn’t bother me.

BG: Yeah, ok. You said there are Stanleytones, that was a model you made that you still make, right? FN: We’ve not made any in a while, but we have. BG: What are some of the other models that you’ve done? FN: The Osborne Chief, we did those. And the Leroy Lewis model, we did that. We’ve done more of

those than anything. The Osborne Chief, the Stanleytones, and the Leroy Lewis model. We’ve done a

few for J.D., but not a whole lot. BG: And they say, J.D. model? FN: Well, they’ll have New South on them and then J.D. Crowe. BG: So J.D. doesn’t buy a bunch of them and sale them? FN: No because his retiring after this year, so he hasn’t really gotten into that. He never got into it much. BG: Is that, buying and selling those, is that kind of an old musicians thing? FN: Ralph started that in ’75, the one that actually started that was Ralph Stanley. Whenever I built him

the first Stanleytone he said, “If you’ll build these, I’ll sell them,” and other musicians have you know,

picked that up along the way because they could play them and sell them and make some extra money.

BG: I guess I’m wondering with new banjo players, young banjo players, they don’t probably get into that do they?

FN: No, it would be hard for them to sell them. Unless you’ve got the name, the name sells a lot of it. BG: Do you know any young banjo players that are buying your stuff? FN: No I don’t. BG: Ok. FN: Most of them that are young are trying to play can’t afford them. BG: Oh really? I’ve heard that there’s kind of a young phenomenon.

FN: There are some young people playing Bluegrass music, there are quite a few people doing that, but now you don’t make the money playing Bluegrass music that you do playing country, if you get to be big in country, so you’re limited in terms of what money you’ve got that you can spend.

BG: So Country musicians buy your instruments too?

FN: Country music usually has companies to build them and give them to them.

BG: Oh really, ok. Just for advertising.

FN: For advertisement. Yes.

BG: You haven’t done that have you?

FN: No.

BG: That would be a big investment, wouldn’t it?

FN: The one I built for Ralph Stanley, the first one, I gave that to him. And then he said, “If you’ll build

them, I’ll sell them,” and it worked out fine for me.

BG: Well, anything else you want to say? Did I cover everything? FN: I think so. I don’t know of anything else. BG: Your son has been doing this for how long? FN: About fifteen years. BG: What’s his name? FN: Ricky. BG: Ricky Neat. Would you consider him a pretty good luthier too? FN: Oh yeah, he’s done everything. I’ve had him to do it all. He can fit the necks to the body and turn the

rims and shape the necks, I’ve had him to do it all. He can do it all. BG: When people get a Neat banjo, is it partly you and partly him? FN: Yeah, he does the inlay. He does about all of the inlay. I’ll shape the necks and then, we will finish

them. Either he can finish or I can. I usually turn the rims and fit the hardware and then I’ll put it all


BG: And you said you had a paint room here too, didn’t you? FN: We do, back in there.

BG: Is that where you do your varnish? FN: Yeah, the finish work, yeah. BG: What do you use for your finish? FN: Lacquer. Just a regular lacquer. BG: Lacquer? FN: Just a wood lacquer. BG: Does that, I guess you don’t have to breathe when you're a banjo, right? FN: Well, we’ve got an exhaust fan in there and everything. BG: Oh I meant the wood itself. FN: No. BG: People talk about… FN: Well it does, it does breathe somewhat, but not like a guitar and it doesn’t have to be like a guitar.

The finish, if you’re doing a violin or a guitar you use certain types of finishes because of the sound and a banjo you can put about any kind of finish on it and it doesn’t seem to hurt the sound of it.

BG: You’ve experimented with that a little bit? FN: Not a whole lot. We have done some for Ralph and put his picture on the resonator and we had to use a different finish on those but it didn’t, but you couldn’t tell that it made any…

BG: So that’s lacquer and it’s just really pretty. Do you shine it up afterwards? FN: Yeah, we buff it. BG: You buff it. Ok. FN: You put twelve of fifteen coats on it and then you when it dries you buff it. BG: Wow. That many coats? FN: Yeah. Normally, you put about four coats on a day and the next day you sand it and put four more

on it and…

BG: Are you doing it with a brush? FN: No you do it with a spray gun.

BG: A spray gun? Ok. Does it ever run on you or anything like that? FN: Yeah, you have to learn you know, it takes time to learn all that too. BG: All that too… FN: You spray this much without it running. BG: Yeah. It’s beautiful. I think we’ve got enough. Do you want to take some…? SA: Let’s get some room tone. BG: He’s just going to do quiet room tones for just a second. 35:37 [Room Tone] 36:10 [Filming] BG: And the guy who did that, what was his name? FN: John Madole. BG: And he did the painting on it? FN: The lady who did the painting is Jackie Shepherd. BG: Oh, Jackie Shepherd. FN: And John Madole did the engraving. BG: Yeah, let’s look at the engraving again on the other side. FN: Ok, when he gets this. SA: Got it. BG: And he did all this by hand? FN: Yeah. BG: So he’s gone now? FN: Yeah.

BG: If you were going to do that again, who would you have do it?

FN: I don’t know anybody that can do it like that. That’s the reason we quite doing the engraving was

because you couldn’t, there’s a guy in Nashville that engraves, but he couldn’t do it like this.

BG: And he’s doing that by hand?

FN: Yeah.

BG: Does he draw it out before he does it?

FN: Oh yeah, he would draw them out. He would put a smoke print on it.

BG: Ok.

FN: He did it with a smoke print and then cut it by hand.

BG: That’s amazing.

FN: I’ve seen him sit there with a little knife and a hammer and just peck, peck, peck.

BG: So it takes a lot of artists to make one of these things.

FN: Yeah.

BG: Do different things on it.

SA: Ok.

BG: So this is your main workbench here?

FN: Yeah.

BG: And you were showing me this thing before. What is this?

FN: That cuts the neck to fit the pot. Cuts the heel of the neck. Puts the same radius on the heel of the

neck that’s on the pot.

BG: And somebody invented this for you? FN: That’s the guy who did this engraving. BG: Oh ok. Can we take a little tour of your place then? FN: Yeah. BG: What’s going on with this?

FN: That’s a rim that we are getting ready to finish, and here where the tone ring goes you don’t want

any finish on it so we take that part of it off.

BG: Why don’t you want any finish on it? FN: It makes it sound better if they don’t have any finishing on that. [Interruption – request for shot of rim – cut in tape] 38:25 FN: The way I am holding it… [Holding up rim] That’s all that’s for. BG: So that’s stained, but it’s not finished is it? FN: No, it doesn’t have any lacquer on it. It’s got the stain on it, but it doesn’t have any lacquer on it. BG: And you never put any lacquer on it? FN: Yeah, I’ll put it on there. BG: Oh you’ll put it on later, ok. And what are you doing with this guy? FN: That’s one that I’ve got started and ran through it through the shaper, see to round the sides of it

up, and I’ve got to work the ends of it up, work this out. BG: Where’s the shaper? FN: Back in the back. BG: Ok, can we take that over and look at it? 35:06 [Film cut – FN, BG, and SA walk to shaper] BG: Is it a router kind of? FN: Yeah. This does. BG: So you are routing down the… FN: Routing down the sides of it. BG: Ok, and these are…? FN: This is a planer and that’s a jointer, and these are all neck blanks that are ready to be sawn out. See

how I have them drawn out?

BG: You draw out the necks on the blanks? FN: I draw the necks off, and then I saw them out with a bandsaw. BG: Inside. FN: Yeah. This is all Mahogany wood. BG: Some are thicker than others. Is there a reason for that? FN: No, some of it was thicker whenever I got it you know, some of it was thicker pieces than others. BG: And you can see in that that it’s going to be the… you try to avoid waste on it? FN: You get it in the rough, and then I have to plane it down, plane all the rough off to where it’s good

and smooth like that then you can see what you’ve got and mark them off to cut them out.

BG: Ok. So you keep some of your wood in here? FN: I keep some of it in here. I have a lot of wood out in the other garage, a lot of neck wood. BG: Oh you do, in the other garage? We thought the cars were in there. Not cars at all. FN: No. There’s a lot of neck wood in there. BG: Ok. Can we go inside? FN: Yeah. BG: And what do you do with the planer? 40:29 [Interruption – FN, BG, and SA go to another garage – cut in tape] 40:30 BG: This is what you get, right? FN: I get that from Jimmy Cox. I put it on there and turn it, and then I tone ring fit it, and flange fit it. BG: These are not finished yet, right? FN: No, those just have the vining on them. 40:46

[Interruption – cut in filming]

BG: The American design, what’s going on there? FN: That’s Bureau Walnut, that wood is, that’s what that is. This is wood purfling. That’s something

Gibson did years ago and people still want that from time to time. BG: Purfling. What does that mean? FN: It’s a different colored wood that glued up together and it’s wood so it’s the same color all the way

though. You can sand it, and it’s still the same color. See, it’s different colored wood glued together. BG: Oh ok, and that’s what’s in here? FN: Yeah. BG: How do you bend it into a circle like that? FN: Very carefully. BG: Really? FN: Yeah. BG: You have to take that straight piece and bend it? FN: You have to bend it. You have to cut the grove to fit this, and then put the glue in it and bend it

around. BG: Do you have to water it or something? FN: No. If you do that it will come apart. BG: Oh, ok. FN: So you have to bend it around and push it in that grove as you bend it around. BG: So did somebody order it like that? FN: Yes. BG: Ok. FN: But I’ve made it, you know, there’s a guy that has it on order, but we put these in there.

BG: Ok, that’s neat. I just want to look at this one machine back here because you were talking to me

about it before.

FN: Let me get this locked up. [Uncertain of transcription] Oh, the fret saw? BG: Yeah, the fret saw, this thing here. If we could just get that I think… Is this the fret…? FN: I think it’s the one up here... [Interruption – cut in filming] 42:37 FN: Neck blanks. Those are the dates whenever I cut them out. You know, some of them, the ones we

did for Sonny Osborne, he wants a special kind of Curly Maple in it so whenever I’m cutting them out if I find one I put his name on it. BG: Ok, so the ones over there that say Sonny, those are the Curly Maple ones? FN: Yeah. BG: And are those resonators down there? FN: Those are resonators that are just stacked down there that we haven’t done anything to.

BG: Oh ok. And you invented this? FN: Well partly. I invented it, but there was a guy who made the shaft and all that for me to start with. You put that in there like that.

BG: Do you have to have it exactly in a certain place?

FN: Well no, you just want it to where it will cut, where you got space.

BG: You are going to cut off the excess.

FN: You are going to cut from there off.

BG: Oh ok.

FN: You cut that much of it off.


BG: And you’ve got your frets.

FN: It’s got the frets.

BG: That’s where you are going to put your frets.

FN: Yeah.

BG: And they are always straight, huh? FN: They are always straight in some places. They are always in the same place. BG: And then you put your frets in by hand? FN: Yeah. BG: And you dig them out a little bit. Are the frets glued, or how do they stay in there? FN: No, they have a thing on them and they just drive down in there. BG: Oh ok. And this thing here is something else you invented? FN: I did, but we did that so we could put the lines on the back of the resonators, you know, like the

lines in the back of the resonator. BG: So you put this in. Can we see that real quick, how you put that in? FN: Yeah. It comes off like that. BG: So you take the resonator and put it over that. FN: You put it over this wheel and then push this up against it so it doesn’t come off, and then you can

start to turn it and cut your groves wherever you want them.

BG: So where you put that…?

FN: Yeah, you cut the groves in the back of this and then you put the purfling in the groves.

BG: Purfling in the groves, ok. You would make this the size…

FN: You would make this the size of, the grove that you cut is the size of your purfling. You’ve got to

have the cutter the size that the purfling is. Then you cut your grove then you put the purfling in it. BG: So you used to do all of this by hand, but then you invented these little tools to help you. FN: Works faster. BG: Works faster? FN: Yeah, it’s faster, and easier, and quicker. BG: Cool, but you still do the inlay by hand? FN: We still do the inlay by hand.

BG: I know England, is that his name? FN: Brian England? Yeah. BG: He used to do it by hand, but now he does it a lot with computers. FN: He does, yeah. BG: But you’d rather do it by hand? FN: Well, most of the people that we work for wants it done by hand because it looks more like the

Gibson. If you do it with a computer every piece looks just alike, and whenever Gibson was doing this it

didn’t look alike, they were doing it by hand so it would vary from one piece to the other one so that’s

what people really like.

BG: That’s kind of the aesthetics of what people want, right? FN: Right? BG: Well, I think we got enough. What do you think? SA: Yeah. We’re good. BG: Great. And that’s your bandsaw over there. FN: Yeah, I’ve got the three bandsaws in here. 45:58 [Interruption – cut in film] FN: I’ll show you what I use it for. BG: Ok. FN: You fit that around through there like that, see, that’s the right angle. BG: Oh, this piece here is giving you the right angle for that. FN: It holds this piece up here so we can slide it around and then it keeps laying the same angle. BG: So you are just sanding it down. FN: Yeah. It just keeps holding it in the same place. BG: That doesn’t need to be done does it? FN: No… It’s not plugged up. You just hold it and go around it like that [Demonstrates with machine].

BG: Why does it go up and down? FN: So it will sand. That’s a sander. BG: Isn’t it going around in a circle too? FN: Yeah, it’s going around in a circle and up and down. BG: Up and down, ok. Double action, ok. So next week, when they come down with the snake for the

Turtleman, where do you think they are going to hide the snake?

FN: They’ve been talking about putting him over here some place, underneath that or some place like

that. BG: I wish we had thought of a gimmick like that when we came down. [BG begins taking pictures – No additional interview material]

47:45 – End of Interview