Video Interview Arthur Hatfield

Kentucky Historical Society


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0:13 - Getting into the industry / Early Woodworking

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Keywords: Accent Kitchen and Bath; Banjo; Bill Sullivan; break drum; Brooks Cabinet Shop; Cabinet maker; Carl Story; Frank Neat; Hatfield Banjos; Mandolin; Walnut Special Model

6:18 - Playing the Instruments (Banjo and Mandolin)

Play segment Segment link

Keywords: Arthur Hatfield; Banjo; Bluegrass; Buck Creek Band; Carl Story; Mandolin

9:48 - Different Models of Banjos

13:17 - Custom Built for Musicians

Play segment Segment link

Keywords: Bobby Osborne; Brian Lever; Carl Williams Jr.; Dale Perry; Dana Cupp; Daniel Grindstaff; Jessie Baker; Jim Green

15:59 - Working with Other Luthiers

Play segment Segment link

Keywords: Bryan England; Custom Inlay Inc; Gibson; Sunny Granada

20:22 - Pre-War Models / Earl Scruggs

Play segment Segment link

Keywords: Earl Scruggs; JD Crow; Merle Travis; Monroe; Pre-war Gibson; Sonny Osborne; Vega

24:08 - Process

41:41 - Quality Control

45:50 - Educating / Parts of the Banjo

55:00 - Frets

Play segment Segment link

Keywords: Andy Todd; First Quality; re-fret; Robin Smith

56:55 - Calls Himself a Builder


BG: It is May 23, 2012. What are you working on now?

AH: I'm working on a neck for a Walnut special model.

BG: What's a Walnut special model?

AH: Well, I've got a Mahogany "Buck Creek" and a Walnut special model called

"The Special" and the Walnut is called "The Celebrity".

BG: And this is one you are working on right now. This is a "Special" right?

AH: Yes, sir.

BG: Are these all in a catalogue or something so people can see these?

AH: Only on a website.

BG: On a website?


BG: Now you said you are really busy right now, right?

AH: Yes sir, I'm covered up.

BG: Is that because you have pretty reasonable prices you think, and high quality?

AH: I think that's 1:00got a lot to do with it probably. That's why I am selling a

lot of banjos. Price, probably.

BG: How did you get started in this?

AH: Well I've been building, trying to, since I was a teenager. I've always had

interest in that, but I was a cabinetmaker and kind of went along with, then

after I got about 50 [years old] I decided that I needed to do something other

than the squatting and the crawling and all that you have to do involved with

cabinets, you know, hanging heavy wall cabinets. So I decided to try this fulltime.

BG: At 50 years old?

AH: I started in 2001, fulltime.

BG: That's when you started.

AH: Yeah, I was a little over 50.

BG: Well when was the first time you made a banjo?

AH: When I was a teenager.

BG: Ok.

AH: I made one out of a brake drum off of a car.

BG: A brake drum, really?

AH: And an 2:00Oak neck. It wasn't very nice work, but it did play.

BG: Was it heavy?

AH: Yes sir.

BG: A break drum--

AH: Real heavy.

BG: Well how did you know how to do it?

AH: Just looking at a banjo.

BG: Taking one apart?

AH: Mhm.

BG: Did you make any more after that?

AH: Yeah, I built several. I built two or three a year while I was a

cabinetmaker. Sometimes, maybe, I wouldn't build one for a year, then I'd build

two or three the next year. It was kind of a hobby then. I wasn't really doing

it to make money. If I could sell one and just get my money back and not lose

anything. It was more or less 3:00 practice.

BG: So did you work for a cabinetmaker yourself or was it your own business?

AH: I've done it both ways. Me and another guy were partners for a while,

working for ourselves. It's more worry working for yourself because you have to

sit at night and figure jobs and stuff and get bids, so we decided we weren't

getting rich at it anyway so we were better off working for somebody else. Less worry.

BG: Who did you work for then?

AH: I've worked for Brooks Cabinet Shop, Accent Kitchen and Bath, and Ray Jones'

Builders. Building cabinets. BG: That means going to somebody's kitchen and

building the whole--

AH: We actually build them in the shop, finished them, and then took them and

installed them. We'd go measure the kitchen.

BG: What, are they custom ones?

AH: Mhm.

BG: Ok. You worked with the customer to figure out what they needed?

AH: 4:00 Right.

BG: How was that? Did you like doing that?

AH: Yeah. Cabinetmaking making is hard work. Nearly everything you do,

squatting, crawling, duck walking, that sort of thing is bad on your knees.

BG: Why? Because you have to get down underneath it and get it up?

AH: Right. And then, when you are building you can't take a big base cabinet and

put it up on a table and hardly get to it to work on it. So we always just

worked on them in the floor.

BG: So when did you start-- You said you made them on the side when you were a

cabinet worker. Did you have a shop here or did you just do it--?

AH: No. I would just do it at home, wherever, or in the garage, or the yard. Wherever.

BG: Did you have all of this machinery?

AH: No.

BG: How'd you do it then?

AH: Just by hand.

BG: The whole thing by hand?

AH: Yeah.

BG: Did you learn from anybody else?

AH: I learned a lot from Frank Neat, and some from Bill Sullivan and different

people, you know, through just talking. I've been up to Frank's shop a lot of

times and watched him.

BG: And he let you watch him?

AH: Oh yeah. Frank didn't 5:00care. Frank's a good friend of mine. BG: And you

played in a band with Frank, right?

AH: Yeah.

BG: So this is kind of an area where people play a lot of Bluegrass?

AH: Quite a bit, but over in Frank's area it's more Bluegrass than here.

BG: Oh really?

AH: As you go east. Yeah.

BG: Ok. He's about 50 miles East of here isn't he? Or something like that--

AH: Yeah, it's a little farther than that probably. About 65 or 70, something

like that--

BG: Yeah. So you guys played in a band together?

AH: Yeah.

BG: In a couple of bands or what?

AH: With Harold Austin, First National Bluegrass Band we did.

BG: That was the name of the band? First National Bluegrass Band?

AH: Mhm.

BG: When was that?

AH: In the '70s and on through the '80s.

BG: Ok. Where did you play?

AH: No particular place, just wherever Harold booked a show.

BG: And you always played banjo?

AH: No, Frank played banjo and I played mandolin when we played with Harold.

BG: Oh, ok, because Frank liked the banjo 6:00 and--

AH: Mhm.

BG: And you were pretty good at the mandolin?

AH: Yeah, I played mandolin with Carl Story back in the early '70s. Mandolin was

probably my best instrument at one time.

BG: Really?

AH: Yeah, I don't fool with it any more, but it was probably was.

BG: Then how did you get into the banjo?

AH: You mean playing or building?

BG: Playing, playing-- Did you start playing it also?

AH: Yeah, well I started playing banjo before mandolin.

BG: Ok, so you kind of went back and forth.

AH: Mhm.

BG: You know, for someone like me who doesn't play very well with different

instruments it's kind of amazing to me that you can jump from one instrument to

another. Is it hard for you?

AH: Yeah, it's different, you know, but you just-- When I went to work for Carl

he already had a banjo player, so the only way I got the job was to play

mandolin. So then I played mandolin mostly for probably 7:0015 years instead of

banjo. Then when we started the Buck Creek Band I went back to banjo.

BG: Now Buck Creek is your band, is that right?

AH: Mhm.

BG: How long has that been around?

AH: Since 1991.

BG: '91. And you're the leader of it?

AH: Yeah, well, [unable to discern word] goes by my name, but we're all equal. I

guess as far as making a decision and deciding things I think that's the way a

band should be.

BG: Yeah. Arthur Hatfield and Buck Creek.

AH: Yeah.

BG: That's right. You've played a lot of festivals haven't you?

AH: Yeah.

BG: And you're pretty well known?

AH: Locally, not far away. We don't go very far.

BG: Nothing down in Nashville much or anything?

AH: No. We don't do very much at all in Tennessee. Never have.

BG: So would you say your Bluegrass band is kind of built Monroe style or is it

more progressive, more modern?

AH: A little bit more progressive, but not what you'd call 8:00progressive Bluegrass now.

BG: Yeah.

AH: But yeah, its a little bit on passed, I don't mean better than Bill, but a

little more progressive.

BG: Yeah. Ok.

AH: We do a few country songs and so forth, you know, that Bill wouldn't have done.

BG: Oh really?

AH: Mhm.

BG: Why wouldn't he have done them?

AH: I guess just because it wasn't his style.

BG: A little bit wider than what you guys do-- What do you think about the banjo?

AH: I've always been kind of fascinated by the sound of them.

BG: Mhm. The "tininess" of it? I never could figure out what a banjo is doing in

the band. Is it doing leads? Is it doing background?

AH: Both.

BG: Both?

AH: Both.

BG: Ok. So you liked how they looked, and how they sounded, 9:00 right?

AH: Mhm.

BG: Do you, I guess I was putting words in your mouth, do you like the style of

the banjo, how it's made?

AH: Yeah.

BG: Yeah?

AH: I do.

BG: So you are working on that one now, and what are you, what do they go for?

AH: This one's $2800. The Buck Creek Mahogany like this one is $2600.

BG: What's the different between them?

AH: Just, one is Mahogany and the other one is Walnut, and there is a little

more inlay in this peg head than there is that one.

BG: Ok.

AH: And it has a barrel resonator. Barrel Walnut. This one does, and that one's

just a plain back Mahogany.

BG: How did you figure out these styles when you were making these things? Why

do you have these different styles?

AH: Well, I knew that some people would want a Walnut banjo and some people want 10:00Mahogany, and some want Maple. That's just, every maker has to make all three.

BG: Oh, you do?

AH: Yeah. To be able to see to as many as you can.

BG: Go through those again. Walnut--

AH: Mahogany and Maple. Those are just the necks, right?

AH: Yeah, and the resonator will be matching wood, whatever, but it's only veneered.

BG: Oh ok.

AH: The resonator, they are a plywood back, solid wood sides.

BG: So the resonators you have up there, on the wall there.

AH: Mhm.

BG: So you take the resonators and you put, you said, veneer on them to match the--

AH: Right, to match--

BG: To match what's on there.

BG continues: So what are your models again?

AH: The "Buck Creek" is Mahogany, the Walnut is "Special," and the Curly Maple 11:00is the gold-plated "Celebrity."

BG: Ok.

AH: Then I make an "Aurora" model, which is also Mahogany, and I make an arch

top model, a "Rocky Hill."

BG: A Rocky Hill. Ok.

AH: It's just like a Celebrity other than it's the arch top.

BG: If we wanted to see samples of those, you probably don't have them here, right?

AH: Just on the Internet.

BG: Ok. So we can go to that and look at those different models.

AH: Yes.

BG: How long have you been making those models like that?

AH: I started out with only three models in 2001. Then I've added on the others

one at a time on through, but I couldn't tell you just exactly how long on the others.

BG: Have you experimented as you've been making over the years, trying to find

the perfect necks, feel, and things like that?

AH: I always made the necks to feel like I liked them to feel.

BG: Like you liked them, right?

AH: [Nods head yes]

BG: All right.

AH: And I've never had any 12:00complaints about them.

BG: What do you mean?

AH: Fairly thin, like that [Demonstrates with in-process neck]. And the width of

course is just standard like Gibson, the fingerboard width--

BG: Ok.

AH: --when I get them, but I don't like a thick neck, neither do I like one,

I've seen necks that are almost square that come down pretty straight on the

side. Of course they round the corners, but they still got basically kind of a

square profile and they just don't feel good to me at all. So I don't think they

probably would any one else, I think the neck feels bad to me; the way I always

felt about it, I think it's going to feel bad to somebody else, more than

likely. Once in a while somebody will order one and ask for one a little

thicker. Maybe give me a measurement or something.

BG: They'll actually tell you what the measurement might be and the edges and everything?

AH: Mhm.

BG: Ok, but most people like the way you make them.

AH: They do.

BG: Have you had any players who have changed 13:00your style, or is it mainly what

you like, I guess?

AH: On the neck shape?

BG: Yeah.

AH: Dana Cupp wanted just a little bit narrower of a fingerboard and a little

bit rounder neck. So that's the way I built his.

BG: Do you make them for different artists? Like, Frank was talking about how

he's made some for different, J.D. Crowe and different people, and then they

would go out and sell them.

AH: Yeah, there are several professionals playing my banjos.

BG: Ok. Can you tell us who they are?

AH: Part of them, I probably can't think of all of them. I think there are about 18.

BG: Really?

AH: Dana Cupp, Daniel Grindstaff, Dale Perry, Jesse Baker, Carl Williams Jr.,

and Brian 14:00Leaver-- I can't even think of all of them, but they are all listed on

the Internet.

BG: On the Internet.

AH: Jason Davis, Jim Green--

BG: Are these all musicians who are in big bands or something, down in Nashville?

AH: Mhm. And Bobby Osborne has one.

BG: Oh Bobby does? Ok. Have you made any models with their names on them?

AH: No, I've never put anyone's name on them--

BG: So what they buy is one of your--

AH: Bobby's does have a block that says "Rocky Top Express."

BG: Oh yeah?

AH: At the 15th, but it's a Celebrity model. I've been asked by some to do a

signature model as an endorsement banjo and build that model and other people

have done that, other companies.

BG: Yeah.

AH: But I've never done that, and the main reason is, if they decided not to

play my banjo and get another one, and wasn't playing it, then here'd I'd have a 15:00model of theirs and nobody even playing it.

BG: So, a signature models means that you put their name on the bottom of it.

AH: I have put the name on the bottom, it would still be like, I think Daniel

Grindstaff has "Grindstaff' on the block right here, but it's still a Stony

Creek model.

BG: What about on a top head there?

AH: They all have my name.

BG: They all have your name.

AH: Yeah.

BG: So you never put anybody else's name on there.

AH: No.

BG: So that's your standard head?

AH: That is, yeah.

BG: Hatfield.

AH: Of course, they can get like a Gibson pattern, a flying eagle, or hearts and

flowers, or something like that if they order it. Like, the flying eagle over

there I was showing you that still has a square peg head, I can get that but

still have my name on it if it's one of my banjos.

BG: When you say flying eagle, that's a different--

AH: Inlay pattern.

BG: An inlay pattern. Ok. And 16:00I didn't realize until we talked to Frank

yesterday that banjo makers often have other people do other parts of the banjo

and a lot of what your art is, is putting it together and making it all fit

right. So you told me earlier that the inlays come from Brian England, is that right?

AH: Yes sir.

BG: How long have you been doing that with him?

AH: Ever since I started. Even before I started building Hatfield banjos I'd

make a neck where I'd do my inlay.

BG: How'd you meet him? How'd you know about him?

AH: I just heard about him through word of mouth.

BG: So you never had to do the inlay yourself?

AH: No. Sometimes I will cut and put in one piece or something if there is just

a broken one or something like that, grind it out and replace it, but I don't

even like to do that, it's too slow.

BG: Too slow?

AH: Yeah, it's too slow. Or, I'm too slow at it. 17:00Now Frank's son Ricky can carve

up fast. He cuts two patterns at once.

BG: Oh he does?

AH: Yeah, if it's a standard pattern, he'll stack pearl on top of each other and

cut two patterns at once.

BG: Wow.

AH: He's good.

BG: Now Brian England used to do it by hand, didn't he?

AH: He started out by hand, but he's been, as soon as he got the contract with

Gibson he got a CNC because he knew he could never cut by hand and keep up with that.

BG: What's a CNC?

AH: It's an overhead router that's computer controlled. Like this pattern is

programmed in to cut it out in the wood, and it's also programmed, I don't know

if it's the same machine or if they've got a program in a different one because

he's got several now, but it cuts the pearl and it also cuts the pocket for the

pearl just to fit. I think Brian told there was 1000 mm clearance around the 18:00 wood.

BG: So everything comes out pretty perfect when you do that, right?

AH: Yeah. CNC is more perfect than anybody can hand cut because it's going to be

exactly the same every time.

BG: Now there are people out there who would rather have it not be so perfect.

AH: Yeah, right, because Frank owned the real valuable pre-war banjos and I tell

people they are better off to get Frank Neat to make their neck even if they

call me. The banjo will be worth more because they cut it like, where it's not

its perfect shape because all of the old pre-war Gibson's were hand cut. They

make it look just like the old ones did.

BG: And there are a lot of people out there that want to buy banjos that are

like the pre-war Gibson banjos, is that what you are saying?

AH: Yeah, that's what they are putting them on. I actually bought a pre-war

tenor Gibson.

BG: I see.

AH: I make a lot of those necks, but if they got a real a high valuable one, I

still tell them they are better off to get Frank to make it.

BG: Ok. But if they say, well I don't want to pay that much.

AH: Then I'll do it, but that's just my advice to them on the beginning. If

they've got a banjo worth $25,000 up, I tell them they are better off to get

Frank to make the 19:00 neck.

BG: And what would make a banjo worth $20,000?

AH: I guess the collectability of it. There are banjos worth $150,000 if they

belong to me, but if they belong to Sonny or somebody, Sonny Osborne, then they

are going to be worth a lot more than that for the fact that they are Sonny's

too, you know.

BG: Ok.

AH: Sonny's, "Grenada" is probably worth half a million, I don't know, but being

his it probably is.

BG: What's that, Sonny's Grenada?

AH: It's a model Gibson made, a Grenada, an original five string. Now, if they

happen to be original five strings, they are worth a lot more than come out as a

ten stringed and got an after-market 20:00 neck.

BG: Oh well, that sounds kind of complicated. All these different collectors

wanting different things, and do some of these guys just get them to hang on the

wall because they are something pretty?

AH: Probably.

BG: Yeah.

AH: They may do it, people that have plenty of money and wants them. I'd say a

lot of those really valuable banjos are not even being played.

BG: So when somebody calls you up and has a pre-war Gibson, but it's not really

worth as much as that, they might want you to do the neck to make it a five

string, right?

AH: Yeah, I do a lot of those. I do cheaper models, and I do expensive models,

but my advice is to get Frank to do it.

BG: Ok, because his looks more like that, but it's still not the original.

AH: No, but it still looks like it.

BG: I see.

AH: Because the CNC inlay, even the same pattern, is not going to look like the

old ones did, it's going to 21:00be too perfect.

BG: Someone can actually see difference?

AH: Oh yeah. You can too, if you'd seen both of them.

BG: Really?

AH: Easily. Yeah.

BG: And the whole idea is that it is imperfect, that's what makes it better.

AH: Mhm.

BG: That's interesting, isn't it?

AH: Yeah. Actually, if Frank's building a Neat banjo and they hand cut their

pearl, it fits much closer than when they are doing one of those because old

pre-wars had a lot of filler around them.

BG: Oh yeah. So, it seems like, talking to Frank yesterday and talking to you

today, that Gibson pre-war banjos were pretty good, right?

AH: Yeah, they were.

BG: Who else was making banjos at that time?

AH: Vega, Paramount, there was a lot, and I think one of the reasons Gibson was

so popular is because Earl played one.

BG: Really? Earl Scruggs?

AH: Yeah, I know that had a lot to do with it, I'm sure you know. If Earl had

played a Vega, it probably would have been more popular. He did later 22:00on endorse

Vega there for a few years, but I never did see him play it hardly.

BG: So that's what he was playing. Is he considered the king of banjo players?

AH: Yeah. Simply for the fact he started it, you know, that style of banjo playing.

BG: With the resonator--

AH: Yeah, and the three finger style with the roll that Earl has and so forth.

BG: Now if you go up to Muhlenberg County and you talk with these thumb pickers,

it's like Merle Travis is the god of thumb picking.

AH: Right.

BG: Is that the same way with banjo?

AH: With Earl Scruggs.

BG: Nobody is taking his place, Scruggs?

AH: They will never, because Scruggs invented it, you know, kind of like Monroe

with a mandolin.

BG: So what is the motivation behind these people who want to be just like him?

They just, he's their hero?

AH: Right.

BG: Yeah.

AH: But even like Sonny 23:00Osborne and J.D. Crowe, people will tell you that Earl

was the best. Of course, even if they knew they were they probably wouldn't say

that, but Earl was great and everybody knew it.

BG: He just died a few months ago.

AH: Mhm. About two or less, I guess.

BG: I just saw on Facebook somebody had a little cartoon and it was two angels

in Heaven and one said, "Earl wants a five string lute, what do you call it,

harp, because he is Heaven now," and they said, "Well give it to him, he's the

one who invented it."

AH: There's no telling what Earl's banjo is worth.

BG: Yeah.

AH: And it's not even an original five string now because he had the neck cut

down and it twisted the original neck because it was so big.

BG: Oh.

AH: And it twisted or bowed or 24:00something, and he had another neck made for it.

BG: So, when you make your banjos you get your boards cut by England, Brian

England, right?

AH: Yes sir.

BG: And they come in, over there on the wall there, they come in like that. Can

you get a shot of that?

AH: They actually-- [Holds out banjo neck for camera]

BG: They actually come like that. Ok.

AH: Profiled to shape. The fret slots have been sawn and the inlay is in.

BG: What about the neck itself. Do you cut the block out yourself?

AH: Well, a lot of them, I do some of them, but a lot of them I buy like this,

just roughly ban sawed out in a block from First Quality Music in 25:00 Louisville

(KY). This is to glue ears on up here for the size of the peg head because that

way they don't have to use nearly as much wood.

BG: Oh that's right, yeah; they were showing me that yesterday. So that's kind

of a thing that they can do in a factory, cut it out like that.

AH: Yeah, First Quality has got a bit machine shop up there. They built banjos

too, the Sullivan banjo.

BG: So sometimes you make that yourself and sometimes you buy it.

AH: Sometimes I'll buy it just to build it, long enough, about 3 ft. long and

about this wide [Demonstrates with piece of wood] and you can turn on neck this

way and turn one this way and you can get two necks out of it.

BG: Ok, and you cut it here in the shop.

AH: Yeah, on the ban saw.

BG: On the ban saw, ok.

AH: But my ban saw is really not, I like to get them like this when I can

because my ban saw is not heavy enough to cut that thicker 26:00 Maple.

BG: And those are Maple?

AH: Mahogany and Walnut.

BG: And Walnut. Is one better for playing that than the other?

AH: Not really, but they will have a little bit different sound.

BG: They will?

AH: Mahogany is a little mellower because it is softer wood and Maple is a

little bit brighter. Walnut is kind of in-between.

BG: How does the neck affect that sound of the banjo?

AH: It does. A lot.

BG: Really?

AH: Yeah. It will a lot.

BG: Ok, that's the sound of it?

AH: It affects-- If you get a bad piece of back wood the banjo will never sound

good. See here how the sound goes up in the neck.

BG: Uh huh. So when you get a piece of wood like that do you test it before you

even start working with it?

AH: I do.

BG: Do that again. What are you actually doing?

BG: Ok.

AH: I'm scratching the end of it.

BG: Scratching the end and your 27:00seeing what the sound is? What are you looking

for there?

AH: On my banjos, I prefer one with a deeper, even like the Maple, with a softer

piece of Maple it will have a deeper tone and won't be as bright and sharp sounding.

BG: For a banjo that you are going to play? Is that what you are saying?

AH: Or one of my Hatfield banjos.

BG: Oh ok, so the Hatfield banjos, you want them to sound a certain way.

AH: Yeah. If I can get them to, but not everyone does exactly what you want it

to, but--

BG: So you are looking at the sound of that. What about the resonator? Does that

have to have a certain, do you have to do the same test with that?

AH: No, because that's not really a choice. I have to use whatever I order.

BG: Oh, ok.

AH: But they are all poplar plywood on the back.

BG: They are?

AH: Uh huh. And then just with a veneer on it.

BG: Ok. So it's all just veneer on the outside.

AH: About 30,000ths. There's not enough veneer 28:00to affect the sound regardless of

type of wood that it is.

BG: 30,000ths of an inch veneer? Ok.

AH: Yeah, and I can let you see the veneer here.

BG: Ok.

AH: And then the sides. See here? They are the same way.

BG: So what is the function of the resonator, just to make it louder but not to

really give it a tone?

AH: Most of your sound comes out the back of a banjo, and if it's open on the

back your body catches a lot of it. It won't be very loud. On the resonator you

have the sounds, the flange around the resonator reflects the sound back out

through the holes and the flanges.

BG: Do most of the banjos you make have resonators?

AH: Yeah, I've never built an open back.

BG: Really? Ok. How come?

AH: I've had a few people ask about open backs, but I just tell them I don't

play the claw hammer frailing style and I just don't know enough about what they

need to sound like. So I just tell them that they 29:00are better off to get one from

somebody that does that and knows what they are doing about building.

BG: It sounds like everything you, how you make your banjo, is to please how you

play, your sound, right?

AH: Mhm.

BG: If people like your sound, they'll buy your banjo. Is that-- ?

AH: Yeah. I've never got one back.

BG: Yep. Do you have customers come in and say, "I want it to sound like this,"

and you kind of work with them to make it sound that way.

AH: Yeah, they can say, "I want it brighter or not as bright and, you know, you

just tighten the head tighter and we'll make it brighter, lower the tail piece

and that sort of thing.

BG: Ok, and you do that here?

AH: Mhm.

BG: Is that before you give it them?

AH: [Nods head in agreement]

BG: So you don't keep the finished pieces in here. Do you keep them somewhere else?

AH: I take them into the trailer.

BG: In the trailer. Ok. Is that where you live?

AH: 30:00 Mhm.

BG: So do people come to you and say, "I want this to sound like Earl Scruggs."

AH: Oh all the time.

BG: Yeah.

AH: They aren't going to sound like those kinds of people anyway unless they are

playing with them. There's a lot to who is playing the banjo as much as the

banjo itself is about.

BG: But do you try to help them sound as best as they can?

AH: Mhm.

BG: Does that also involve changing their style of playing, or just doing what

you can to the banjo?

AH: Doing what I can to the banjo. They're not going to change their style of

playing unless they want too. That's something that they have to do themselves.

BG: Ok. So if the headpiece is already done, you don't change much of that for

people, right? Not the headpiece--

AH: The neck?

BG: The neck.

AH: Not if it's already finished or anything I don't.

BG: Well what if somebody came in and said, "I 31:00want a snake going down my, or--"

AH: Here on the fingerboard?

BG: There on the fingerboard.

AH: When people want some custom thing like that I tell them I'll just stay out

of it and for them to work out all the details with Brian and Jason and send

them over there and take care of that and then to send it to me. They can pay

for it in advance and I'll take it out of the price of one of mine for the

banjo, or they can send it to me and I'll pay for it and it will be added on to

the price of the banjo. I've done different things. I've done one that had a

rope that came all the way down it, a rope, and then Brian engraved in it and

made curves. A rope, he was in the Navy or something and wanted this rope, and I

think an anchor down at the bottom.

BG: Oh really?

AH: And then Brian actually engraved the pearl, where it had 32:00marks for the rope.

It looked just like a rope.

BG: So he did that part of it by hand I guess, didn't he?

AH: Yeah, he did great, the engraving part he did. He uses a little chisel and

scratches it and then they put black Indian ink in it or something.

BG: When you did that model did you tell Brian that you wanted, did this guy

come in and sit down with you and say this is what I want, or did you guys work

with Brian?

AH: He'd already worked that part out before he came down. He came down and

picked his banjo up. See, when Jason Clarke does the design for Brian over

there, he actually does the computer designing, that's his job and he's good at

it. He will draw this up on the computer and he will email them a picture for

them to approve. I've had him do things like that for me, you know, if somebody

told me but I just quit getting in the middle because there is more chances for 33:00mistakes. The more people involved, the more chances there are.

BG: Ok.

AH: You know, to get something crossed up. That way if they look at the picture

and they do the dealing themselves. If it's not what they want, it's theirs.

BG: So that one that you are talking about, it still had Hatfield on the top, it

had a line going through it with an anchor at the bottom. So his guy was getting

a Hatfield one with a custom--

AH: It had custom in the block there.

BG: Did you do anything special to the resonator or anything like that?

AH: No, it was just the fingerboard and I can't remember what he had done up

here [points to top of banjo]. I think it had a big compass.

BG: Oh, so you did change the head too--

AH: Yeah, but still had the Hatfield logo just like that, but I believe it did

have a compass in it up here that they had drawn in abalone, I believe, of

different colors.

BG: Did you ever get something that you didn't like that somebody else had 34:00designed with Brian and you said, "Ah, that doesn't look too good"?

AH: Yeah, I've seen things I didn't like.

BG: What'd you do? You still made it though--

AH: Yeah.

BG: Ok.

AH: That's what they wanted. It was their custom thing.

BG: Why didn't you like it?

AH: I just saw that one guy had something with snakes and lizards and stuff on

it, you know, in different places and I didn't care for that. But if he liked

it, that's fine.

BG: Nothing that you wanted to touch.

AH: I wouldn't have wanted it myself.

BG: But you didn't mind having the Hatfield name on it.

AH: No. Because it wasn't one of my models.

BG: What does it mean to have the Hatfield name on it to you?

AH: It means the workmanship has got to be good or it doesn't leave. Builders

that have their name on the banjo care. Where you find workmanship going down is

where there's a place that has a bunch of employees 35:00and you know, a lot of

employees don't care as long as it's good enough, if they can get by with it

because their name is not on it, they are not responsible anyway, the company is

responsible. I've seen that in all your bigger companies. That's another reason

I wanted to build banjos because I felt I could have them a better quality than

what the companies were doing. And I don't have to pay anybody, so I can spend,

I don't like to have to spend a bunch of extra time, but it doesn't cost me any

actual money to, just time.

BG: When are you happy with it? You said the workmanship is high quality.

AH: When I'm happy with it?

BG: Yeah.

AH: When that's just as good as I can get it. I feel that I can't get it any better.

BG: And how do you know that it's as good as you can get it?

AH: Well I just like to see no defects.

BG: No defects? Yeah. And the whole thing looks good to you?

AH: And sounds good.

BG: And it sounds 36:00good, yeah. So the sound and the looks are really important?

AH: Yeah.

BG: Have you ever had one that it didn't sound very good and you?

AH: I have. I've had some, I've actually made a couple of necks over before I

let the banjos go because they didn't sound good and I tried another neck on and

proved it was the neck wood. If a neck wood is bad, Frank told me that years

ago, and I never had any reason to doubt Frank on anything he told me, but I

didn't realize it could be that much. But a bad piece of neck wood could ruin a

great banjo.

BG: Well tell me the story then. How did you figure out that it was bad?

AH: By trying another neck. Because I was using the same rims and I haven't

gotten any bad-sounding Jimmy Cox rims. That's all I use, and Frank uses them too.

BG: Jimmy Cox is the guy from--

AH: Maine.

BG: Maine. So you use rims from him too?

AH: Yes sir.

BG: Ok. So you knew it wasn't the 37:00 rim.

AH: And I didn't think it was the tone ring.

BG: So what were you hearing that sounded bad?

AH: Just a thin sound, like all the sounds coming off the string and nothing

down in the banjo. It didn't have any depth. It was just a little thin, bright

kind of hard sound. It just wasn't good.

BG: And it was that one you were working on that was screwed up?

AH: Yep. It's a neck wood. When I hear something like that I start checking the

neck wood. Of course, the first thing I'll is change the bridges because bridges

affect sound that way too.

BG: The little bridge that holds the string. Yeah.

AH: Because it's actually the main transmitter is between the strings and your hand.

BG: Show us a bridge.

AH: I don't think I have one done.

BG: Oh, those aren't bridges?

AH: Those are the blanks.

BG: Oh, ok.

AH: They aren't actually made.

BG: Oh ok, I see. Yeah.

AH: Not made into a bridge.

BG: And you do that by hand, right?

AH: There's one.

BG: You've got one.

AH: Yeah I 38:00 do.

BG: Are there lines in that? Do you put groves in those?

AH: Yeah.

BG: Turn it this way. Yeah, ok. So you are saying that the bridge that you made

could have been bad too, it wasn't transferring the sound right. How does that

little thing do anything? I mean, what is that doing?

AH: That's the main thing there. The bridges, they'll sound as much different,

every bridge you try will sound different if it's made out of a different piece

of wood.

BG: Oh ok. So the one that you were working on that didn't sound good, you first

checked to see if the bridge was bad.

AH: Yeah, I always try that first before I make a neck because that's a simple fix.

BG: Can you look at it and say that it's bad?

AH: No.

BG: How do you tell it's bad?

AH: When I try it. When I listen to it.

BG: So there are different factors, but you have to do it one by one, you are

trying to get rid. So you are trying 39:00to find if the bridge is bad. If the bridge

is bad, you'll put another bridge on and see if that makes a difference.

AH: Right.

BG: And if it doesn't, you think those two bridges are--

AH: If you put a bunch of bridges on, and a bridge, or take a bridge off of

another one and it sounds real good, then you know you've got a good bridge.

BG: So then you are narrowing it down to the neck wood.

AH: Neck wood.

BG: And you already did the scratch test on it, right? Early. And it passed the

scratch test but it didn't pass this.

AH: Yep.

BG: What do you think was wrong with that wood?

AH: Hard. It was really hard and heavy in weight.

BG: And you didn't catch that when you were making it.

AH: I did, but I really I learned more about that after I made those.

BG: Ok.

AH: It doesn't take long to learn when something can cost you money, or cause

you to make something over.

BG: I see. So was it a batch of wood that was bad.

AH: Just that piece.

BG: Just a piece.

AH: When I get wood it may not have come out of the same 40:00tree. When they get

wood-- I buy just about all of my neck wood from First Quality in Louisville,

and I can't remember if that bad piece of Walnut came from up there or not, or

if I got it from somewhere else. I can't remember.

BG: You said they make banjos. Is that like a factory banjo store, or do they

make them like yours?

AH: It's a little bit bigger than what I am. They've got a lot more machinery

than I do.

BG: Are there individual--

AH: They have got a couple of employees.

BG: I think of you as a luthier, because you put it all together and you are

responsible for what it sounds like when it's done, right, and your name is on it.

AH: Mhm.

BG: Do they have a luthier up there, or is it just a committee of people who do it?

AH: Eric Sullivan actually does a lot of the work himself.

BG: Eric Sullivan.

AH: Yeah.

BG: Ok.

AH: And his dad passed away three or four years ago. He was Bill Sullivan. He

did a 41:00lot of things, Bill did.

BG: So you would consider Eric the luthier of the group?

AH: Yeah, he's, well he's one of the owners of the business, but he does a lot

of the work himself, but he's in the shop, I mean, full-time where he can see stuff.

BG: Hmm. So maybe we should go interview him sometime I guess.

AH: Yeah, that'd be nice. He's got a, they've got a big operation up there, a

big place.

BG: Do they just make banjos or other things?

AH: Well they actually sell parts and so forth. It's a big parts store. They

sell guitars. It's called First Quality Music.

BG: I didn't know about them. Ok. So, on that particular banjo you're talking

about, you just unscrewed the neck and threw it away? The one that was bad.

AH: Yeah. When I've got a bad neck like that I don't lose the fingerboard and

the peg head overlay.

BG: Do you take them off?

AH: Yeah, what I do is I saw them off--

BG: You need to stand back there a 42:00little farther--

AH: I set the table saw and saw just below this truss rod slot. I saw the back

part of the neck off, right behind it. And then I'll take a little chisel, and

chisel what little wood is left there over it. It won't be but about a 16th of

an inch. I chisel that out, and then I grind out a bunch out here with one of

those little die-grinders and I pull the truss rod out from the back.

BG: Ok.

AH: And I save it so I can use it over. Then I saw again right below the

fingerboard, up to here. And then, before that, I saw right down below this on

the peg head overlay and get it off, and then I run it through the thickness

center and get the old glue off and stuff so I can use this over, I can use the

fingerboard over, and I can use the truss rod over.

BG: So you aren't going to throw everything away?

AH: No, just the neck 43:00 wood.

BG: Just the neck wood. Ok. Well that's pretty cool.

AH: It takes a lot of extra time, but it doesn't cost me that much extra money.

BG: Yeah, because you are going to be able to use everything again.

AH: Right. Everything but the neck wood.

BG: So, you were sanding on that when we were coming, when we first started. Did

you finish it, what you were doing?

AH: No, I'm not done. I've still got some marks and so forth that look, some

scratches that will have to be sanded out, but I don't like a lot of time on

this one.

BG: You don't like a lot?

AH: I don't like a lot of time. It won't take me too much longer. And then I've

still got to drill in this fifth string tuner hole.

BG: So what if people move from four strings to five.

AH: Earl-- I guess you know Earl started. Pretty much, before Earl, that wasn't

any five strings. There were a few, but I don't know, I think they 44:00said maybe

six percent of the banjos built were five strings.

BG: And that's all you sell is five strings, right?

AH: Yeah. I've never made a tenor banjo. I would, if somebody ordered it, but

they just haven't. I've been asked about them a couple of times, if I would, but

they just never did order it.

BG: Ok. And what kind of wood is that right there?

AH: Walnut.

BG: That's Walnut.

AH: Mhm.

BG: And that's going to give you what kind of sound?

AH: It should give you between a Maple and a Mahogany sound; a little bit

brighter than Mahogany and a little less than Maple.

BG: Ok.

AH: It's kind of considered in the middle.

BG: And that's the kind you like? Is that what you like?

AH: I usually play Mahogany.

BG: Mahogany.

AH: I sell a lot more Mahogany. I sell as many Mahogany's as Buck Creeks, as I

do Celebrities and Walnuts combined, or 45:00almost. I don't know if it's because a

lot of people do like a Mahogany banjo and I don't know if it's the price,

because there is only $200.00 different in a Walnut and a Mahogany.

BG: Is Mahogany more expensive?

AH: Mahogany is less.

BG: Less. Ok.

AH: And the Maple is higher.

BG: Maple is higher. Ok. Maple, isn't that what guitars are made out of most of

the time? Or necks?

AH: No, Mahogany mostly.

BG: Mahogany.

AH: You see more Mahogany with guitars.

BG: I didn't know that. And the three different kinds of woods, gives you three

different kinds of sound.

AH: A little bit. It's not a bit noticeable amount, but--

BG: Do you teach people how to play the banjo?

AH: I've got a couple of videos, but I don't have time to give any lessons--

BG: Ok.

AH: -- at 46:00all-- I'm asked often, "Do you give lessons?" but no, I don't.

BG: So those two screws at the end of there, at the end of that, how do those

attach to the banjo?

AH: Let's see-- I don't have everything; I don't have the other parts and that's

not really turned, but they go through the rim like this [Demonstrates]. They

aren't exactly lined up with that. I don't want to crack that neck. Let's see--

[AH looks through parts] There we go. See, you've got a tone ring that goes on

up here; and you've got a flange that goes on down here. Then you've 47:00got two

rods here. That's a long one. One is long, and one is short, and they screw on

there, and the other one is shorter and it screws on with this and that's what

holds them on. You've got a nut down here too, so when your neck is pulling

you've got a washer and here, and then that screws on. Then you've got one here

at the top that screws on.

BG: Ok. And what sticks on the end of that?

AH: The tailpiece bracket where you come down--

BG: Oh the tailpiece bracket comes down there.

AH: Then it gets a nut on it, right there, and that's got a hole in it so your

tailpiece bolt comes down. You've got a little nut on it. Now a lot 48:00of the old

banjos have open backs and stuff and they had a big wooden stick that came

through and down.

BG: Yeah, I've seen that, instead of the metal things.

AH: Mhm. So the metal is what's holding those two things together.

BG: Right, and the truss rod is inside there, and that's, what does the truss

rod do?

AH: Uh, I'll show you what those two things do. The banjo neck is not supposed

to be perfectly straight. They are supposed to have just a little bit of bow in

them this way. That's what, when you fret to string up here, then that let's it

clear those frets here better where it doesn't buzz.

BG: Ok, so if it were straight it wouldn't do that.

AH: If it were straight, you would have to have your strings higher down here

because it would probably vibrate on the frets on front of it. The strings are

so long and so small that it vibrates a whole lot. This is 49:00called relief, but

it's not supposed to be a lot, but you're supposed to have a little. I usually

put about 12,000ths in them. See, you've got a little bit of clearance there in

the middle, about right here.

BG: Oh yeah, ok. So it's bowing a little bit.

AH: A little bit, but with these rods like I use now, you can actually-- I'll

show you what they do. This block comes up to the fingerboard, right here to the

bottom of the fingerboard. And if you want to put your little bit of bow in it

there, I actually make my necks perfectly straight. I sand them flat on the big

sander there.

BG: You make your necks perfectly straight first.

AH: Yeah.

BG: And then you put these in there.

AH: And this, when you turn it 50:00one-way, see how that pushed down?

BG: Oh yeah.

AH: That pushes on the back of the neck up through here and up on the

fingerboard on each end. If it does bow too much this way and you want to

straighten it, these are two ways that it will. Those push down on the back of

the neck and up on the center of the fingerboard, so you can go either way with

them. Those rods there are great for set-up. You can make a neck do whatever you want.

BG: Are those a new kind of rods?

AH: I don't know for sure when they started making them. Probably somewhere in

the 80s.

BG: Ok.

AH: These are double rods. I used to just have singles in them, and the only

thing you could do if they bowed too much this way was straighten with a single rod.

BG: Ok.

AH: One-way rods.

BG: Are guitars using double rods now?

AH: Yeah, everything uses them, just about--

BG: So that rod has nothing to do with going sideways?

AH: Right.

BG: It's just up and down motion. So when you look at 51:00one that's bowed a certain

way it's either up or down. If it does twist, what do you do with it?

AH: Make another neck.


BG: Really?

AH: If it twists, yeah; if it twists badly, yeah. Up through here, if it twists

over sideways and this side would get a lot lower, then you would be buzzing on

the frets up here. You definitely have to make the neck over. That doesn't

happen very often, but it can.

BG: Do you advise people how to keep their banjos from doing that kind of thing?

Isn't that humidity that causes things--?

AH: Humidity is a lot of it. And once you finish one and put finish on it, it

takes care of a whole lot of that, picking up humidity into the wood.

BG: The finish seals it completely? So it doesn't really breathe--

AH: I wouldn't think so. Not through a lacquer finish.

BG: Ok. We've been talking a lot about your business as being making banjos from

scratch. Do you do much repair work?

AH: Not very much. I do a little. I do 52:00quite a bit of what they call just basic

set-up, you know, as far as head tension and trying bridges and finding a better

bridge and tailpiece height adjustment and that kind of thing, but like I do

have people who will ask me about replacing a fingerboard or something, and I

just don't do that.

BG: Oh you don't?

AH: No.

BG: Too much work?

AH: I'm not as much of a luthier as I am a builder. Those are definitely two

different things. A luthier that does all kinds of repair work, you know,

because building is kind of routine, over and over. Anytime you are doing repair

work, you've got a different task every time. Something you have to figure out.

It's time consuming. You always stand a chance that when you start pulling

things off that are glued of tearing something up, and I just don't like that

kind of responsibility. If I replaced a 53:00fingerboard, I'd want as much money as I

did to make a neck practically, because it's as much work. And that sounds like

you're trying to rob people, but it's not really if the work runs as long and it

would because when you finish over the fingerboard and everything it's all

sprayed together. And whenever you pull a fingerboard off, you've torn the

finish up all up through here and if you don't harm the wood the only thing you

can do is strip and refinish the whole neck just about because it looks patched

up if you tried to spot in and do this and that. If you want it to look good,

you're going to have to strip and refinish the whole neck.

BG: So if somebody has a bad neck, a bad fingerboard, you'd advise them to go to

somebody else?

AH: Yes.

BG: Or they'd get a new neck from you.

AH: If I do it, it will be a new 54:00 neck.

BG: And are they ok with that?

AH: Some are, yep, because I tell them, I know Robin Smith down in Gallatin, he

just moved recently from Hendersonville to Gallatin, his shop, but he does

replace fingerboards.

BG: Ok.

AH: And he might be as much to do that, I don't know about his pricing on that.

He may charge as much as to do that as I do to build a neck.

BG: What would you charge to build a neck for somebody? AH: $950.00.

BG: $950.00?

AH: Mhm.

BG: That doesn't sound that bad.

AH: That's finished and ready to play. Fitted to their pot down here and

everything. That doesn't include tuners, cause you can't give a price including

tuners. You can buy tuners for $90.00 a set to $300.00.

BG: Would it have a Hatfield name on it?

AH: No, not a replacement neck.

BG: No?

AH: I only put that on my serial numbered banjos.

BG: Ok, I was wondering. 55:00Ok. What about frets? Don't frets wear out?

AH: Mhm.

BG: Do you change frets out for people?

AH: I do just a few, three or four; I don't do any complete re-fret jobs.

BG: Do you send them to somebody else?

AH: Mhm.

BG: Who do you send them to?

AH: Andy Todd, or Robin Smith, or First Quality-- whoever. Because I don't think

Frank does any re-frets either, not complete re-fret jobs. He may own Neat

banjos, but I don't think he does on any others.

BG: What about a banjo that you made, that after it's been played by a guy after

a long time and it needs its frets to be--?

AH: Most people, a lot of people, they'll just be three or four worn, or

something like that I replace. But if they want a complete re-fret job to change

size or something, I don't do them.

BG: So you're saying they don't usually need that many because you play up

higher a lot?

AH: Yeah, a lot of people never even wear the frets up in here 56:00 practically

because they don't ever play enough on the neck.

BG: Is there some kind of guarantee you guys give when you sell?

AH: The only thing I tell people if they ask, half of them never even ask, but

the only thing I tell them is that as long as I'm living and able to work,

because that's as long as I can promise anything. Usually a banjo, if it's going

to give trouble, it'll do it in couple of years and that's one reason I like

banjos instead of mandolins and guitars because they're always submit to

cracking. A banjo is not going to. The only thing that's going to give you any

problem out of the banjo probably could be a rim separation, which would be to

just turn another rim and put it in, or something with the neck.

BG: Ok.

AH: Unless it is misused. You can tear a resonator up, but it's not going to

just tear up.

BG: Yeah.

AH: Because it's made of plywood.

BG: Well that was interesting what you said about not wanting to spend your 57:00time, that you're not a repair person and that you consider a luthier as someone

who does both kinds of things.

AH: I consider myself a builder rather than a luthier.

BG: Well, that's interesting.

AH: It's totally two different things.

BG: I can still call you a luthier though, right?

AH: Yeah, I don't care, but I don't really consider myself a repair guy. I do

some small things, but nothing as major as--

BG: So you don't have a lot of different band people come here have you set-up

their instruments for them do you? Or do you, set-up is different, right? You do

set-up, right?

AH: Yeah, I do.

BG: I don't see a lot of bands around here, so when you do set-up is it someone

comes in and you do it that day.

AH: Yeah, a lot of it is. And I've had a lot of ship-ins, but I had to quit

that, as far as shipping in a complete banjo for me to do $75.00 or $100.00

worth of work. It takes too long to unbox and box them 58:00back up to ship out for a

small job like that. Plus UPS and Fed-Ex have gotten so bad about paying claims,

damage claims. You just have to fuss with them for a month and threaten them

with a lawsuit and everything to collect anymore if they've damaged something

and if I've done $75.00 worth of work on a $4000.00 banjo, and they won't pay

off and it gets tore up, then what position am I in?

BG: Who would get set-ups from you? Somebody from Nashville?

AH: Just all kinds of people. I've had people to bring in banjos as far as Canada.

BG: Really, just for a set-up?

AH: Mhm.

BG: Tell me about that. Who did that?

AH: All over the United States.

BG: And they would drive here, that far--

AH: A lot of them wait until they come, maybe to Mammoth Cave, or to Nashville,

or something like that.

BG: And they say, well, I'm going to go see Hatfield on the way and have him set

it up.

AH: And there are a lot of people that come in just kindly 59:00banjo shopping that

will go to First Quality and down to Nashville to Hubert and to Robins and

Smiths in Gallatin and different places, but running Interstate 65 that will

stop by. And they try to make all three.

BG: Yeah, they are window-shopping for banjos?

AH: Mhm.

BG: Do they usually buy yours?

AH: Sometimes. Sometimes they don't.

BG: What do they do? They go down to try all of them and then they come back

here and buy one from you?

AH: They do occasionally.

BG: Or do they just call you and say I want on, I want yours.

AH: Some of them stop and by them if I've got one available.


BG: That's cool.

AH: Some buy down there. They may stop here and not buy and go on down there and

buy one.

BG: I didn't realize it was that, I just though you and Frank did kind of mail

order stuff, but it's really people coming in and seeing you isn't it?

AH: A lot, yeah. And I do a lot of mail order. I may just get email a lot of

times and it will say, "I'm interested in a certain model. What's the 60:00 wait

time?" and if I say, "Well, I happen to have one now, why they just buy it. Most

of the time it seems like that's the way it is, other than someone you see

somewhere saying, "I'll be down there next week," when you are standing there

talking to them and you don't ever see them. But then somebody you never even

heard of just emails you and says you want to buy a certain model.

BG: Yeah.

AH: They looked at the website, or they've seen one of the ones the

professionals are playing or something.