Video Interview Harry Bickel, Jr.

Kentucky Historical Society


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0:22 - Early Life and History

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Subjects: Banjo; Earl Scruggs; Flying Eagle Pattern; Foggy Mountain Banjo; J.D.Crow; Kingston Trio; Louisville, KY; Newport; Pearl Cutting; Shackletons; Tom Hale

5:16 - Process

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Subjects: Bill Sullivan; Bluegrass Hotel; Cherokee Triangle; First Quality; Harry Sparks; Mid 1970s

7:47 - Favorite Banjos

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Subjects: 1890s; 1900s; Claw Hammer; Coles; Fairbanks; Flathead Master Tone; Gibson; Old Time

11:25 - Banjo Makers / Working with Musicians

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Subjects: Bart Reiter; Bela Fleck; Chicago Banjos; Fairbanks Electric; J.B. Shaw; J.D. Crow; Kevin Enoch; Lyon and Heely; S.S. Stewart; Sam Bush; Sonny Osborne; Tony Williamson; Tuba Phone; Tubafone; Vega; Vince Gill; White Lady; Wyatt

17:09 - Special Instruments / Materials

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Subjects: Bela Fleck; dyed pearwood; ebony; Fair Banks; Fair Banks Electric; metal; Original Flatheads; White Lady Number Seven; wood

20:42 - Banjo Heads

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Subjects: bluegrass; calf skin head; fiber skin head; skin; steel string banjo; synthetic

22:27 - Teachers and Mentors

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Subjects: Famous Old Time Music Store; Gary Cornett; George Gruhn; Harry Sparks; Martin Guitars; North Carolina; Repairing; Restoration; Sparky; Tommy Thompson

25:15 - Restoration

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Subjects: binding; Fairbanks; finish work; fret; nickel plating; pearl replacing; polishing

29:24 - Playing Music

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Subjects: 1975; Art Stamper; Buzzard Raw Strong Band; Charlie Cushman; Dime Jumpers; Doc Hamilton; Harry Sparks; Michael Cleveland; Vince Gill

30:45 - Favorite Banjo Musicians

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Subjects: Bill Keith; Bluegrass banjo; Cincinnati, OH; Davis Unlimited; Earl Scruggs; Old Time Banjo; Pat Dunford; Pete Hoover; Spahgetti Runs; Tommy Thompson

33:05 - Fairbanks White Lady Number Seven

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Subjects: 1901; Albert Fairbanks; Boston Massachuttes; Cherubs; engraved pearl; Fairbanks White Lady Number Seven; Gibson; Presentation Model

38:22 - Harry Plays the Banjo


JW: We are doing our interview today for the Kentucky Craft History and

Education Association. Welcome, Harry Bickel. Tell us where you're from and maybe--

HB: A little bit about myself?

JW: Yea.

HB: Well, I'm from Louisville. Born in Louisville in 1945, within a few months

of when Bluegrass actually started which was late '45, '46, and have been here

most of my life. Got interested in music back in the early '60s with the

Kingston Trio thing, and the whole folk music boom. I went to Newport in '65 and

started getting interested in instruments right around that same time, not only

just playing them, but working on them and all 1:00 that--

JW: Great. Can you describe a little bit of your childhood and family

background? Musical and non-musical.

HB: No music in my family. Nobody played music at all. I was really the first

one. I wanted to play the piano when I was a kid. My parents wouldn't buy me a

piano. They didn't particularly care for music and, you know, I was one of these

kids who was always jumping from this to that so they figured this would be a

waste of money. They wouldn't buy me a piano, so I think I went out and I got my

first job when I was in high school. With my first paycheck I went out and

bought a banjo for $40.00. I figured they probably hated banjos, so I got me a

banjo and that was what I stayed with.

JW: Who did you hear playing the banjo that might have influenced you?

HB: Well, of course the Kingston Trio to begin with, and I had a buddy who

called me over to the house and said, "You gotta hear this guy," and he put an

LP on and it was Foggy Mountain Banjo, it was Earl. 2:00Then, after I had actually

started working on them with a guy named Tom Hale here in town, he was a

repairman, he called me one day and he said, "I want you to come listen to this

banjo player. We're going to be building him a banjo neck." So I went on over to

the house, and it was J.D. Crowe. So I was the one putting the inlay in, we

didn't cut the inlay, you know, I was going to put all of the inlay in it, and

he, J.D. asked me how much I'd charge to inlay the neck and I said, "Do you give

banjo lessons?" He said, "Yea, I'll give you banjo lessons." So we just traded

and then became friends after that.

JW: Was that your first experience as a luthier or doing any kind of--

HB: Well, I started in '63, '64 whatever, I started hanging out in a music store

downtown, Shackletons. Tom Hale worked in the basement. He was 3:00the stringed

instrument repairman. Another guy worked over there who did all the horns and

wind instruments and all that. Being a big music store in the folk era, all

these people were playing guitars and about half of them didn't know how to put

strings on them. So they'd bring them back to the music store to put strings on

them. They'd take them down to Tom. Tom hated to put strings on them, to stop

what he was doing and put strings on them, so he'd pay me a dollar a guitar to

put a new set of strings on them. So that's really how I started working on them.

Then he started showing me other things. When he left down there and started, he

put his shop in his home and started working out of his home and at that point

he would have me do things. Mostly, I'd do inlay work. He needed somebody to,

when he'd build a banjo neck or had somebody bring a guitar in, he'd need

somebody to go ahead and cut out the fret board and put the inlay 4:00in. Back then

it was before we had a dremel. So, you had to use chisels and all that stuff.

JW: Yea. You did everything by hand.

HB: Yep.

JW: Did you have any specific patters you liked to work from?

HB: Well like I said, we were more-- Tom was not a purist. Ok. Tom just did. So,

he would order pearl out of a catalogue, and we would just take these, they

still offer them, you can still buy all these different pieces and shapes, you

know, bells and stars, this, and that and the other, and he would have a whole

bunch of that. So I would kind of lay them out on the finger board and you know,

just build a pattern. In fact, a couple of years ago I saw one of them end up on

EBay, one of them that I had done--. But we just pieced stuff together.

And then, when we started to work with somebody like Crowe, Crowe a specific

inlay. He wanted the flying eagle pattern. So, we ordered the flying eagle

pattern. Pearl cutting is, it's not something you do unless you have the right

equipment. It really needs to be 5:00done with a pearl saw under water and all that.

We would just order that stuff and I'd lay it out on the neck, draw it out and

then, you know, cut out the wood and put it in.

JW: What other experiences have you had with building necks for banjos or other instruments?

HB: Well, back in the mid-70s, I bought a house in the Cherokee Triangle here,

the one that has since become known as the Bluegrass Hotel. Bunch of guys were

living there, and my best friend at the time was a guy named Harry Sparks. Harry

was, and still is, a really, really, fine luthier. Back then, nobody was a

luthier because, I'm sure the word existed, but nobody, you would just insert

repairman, or builders, or whatever. You just didn't, that wasn't a term that we used.

Sparky built a lot 6:00of, was building banjo necks, and back then the thing that

people needed were five string, reproduction five string banjo necks to go in

Gibson banjos. That was the big thing.

JW: So just the pot assembly and--

HB: Yeah, you could make the pot up if you wanted, but basically, Crowe would

bring a Granda pot for a banjo and he would need a maple neck made for it with

all the trimmings. So, Sparky and I, when I bought the house, we actually set-up

the shop in the basement and it's still there. We built quite a few banjo necks

for musicians. Most of them, again, most of them reproduction banjo necks for

four or five stringed necks for Gibson pots. Back then, in the 60s, and even

into the '70s you could buy a Gibson banjo pot for anywhere between $100.00 and

$400.00 dollars, which I wish I'd 7:00bought a lot of them, but nobody had $100.00

to $400.00 dollars back then. Sparky and I would work on the necks together down

in the basement, and after a while we actually started working with Bill

Sullivan of First Quality. Bill would make up the neck blanks to our specs, and

then we'd, I would cut out the head stocks and all that kind of stuff, and put

the, I would do most of the inlay work, and Sparky would do all of the shaping

and all that, and the fitting and all and the finish. Well, you know, we cranked

out a fair number, plus we repaired other stuff. Guys at their house fell down

the stairs and broke their guitar necks, something like that, so we'd patch them

back up and send them on out.

JW: What are some of your favorite banjos to work on?

HB: Well today, my tastes have changed a lot because of my playing. I played

Bluegrass for a long time and 8:00then I started playing Old Time. I played claw

hammer. Instead of the Gibson banjos that we were working on at that point in

time, I've drifted back more to the 1890s and early 1900s Fairbanks banjos.

Fairbanks, and Coles, and things like that, and that's really mostly, you know,

that I do. I restore old banjos and put them back together and do what needs to

be done to them. I just love the artistry that went into the banjos of that

golden age, it was just incredible-- the Fairbanks, their designs, their pearl

work, everything like that is just-- Some of it is way over my head. The

engraving that they did, I'd have to have somebody else do that. It's just super

fine engraving. The workmanship was just tremendous on those instruments.

JW: Absolutely. Can you talk a little bit about 9:00how the interaction between your

woodworking, and building, and repairing, and playing? You touched a little bit

on the Old Time banjo.

HB: It's funny. Banjo players typically, I think they have somewhat mechanical

minds because there are a lot of adjustments that you can make on a banjo to get

what you want out of it. Guitar players seldom do anything to their instruments.

They take it to somebody if the action needs to be raised, or lowered, or

anything like that. Mandolin players can raise their action a little bit with

the bridges that have the little turn screw on them, but banjo players can do a

lot of different things. They can put a different kind of head on it, they can

tighten the head, they can loosen the head, they can put a higher bridge, a

lower bridge, so there are a lot of things that you can do with a banjo.

I guess I'm the type of 10:00person, I didn't want to have to go to somebody else to

have my banjo sound the way I wanted it. So I just kind of, back then, learned

how to adjust them. I think that's one of things that Sparky and I did. We were

very competent at setting up banjos to get the maximum sound on them. Sometimes

it's funny. We would set them up, we would take an original flathead master

tone, set it up, and it'd sound terrible. We'd take it apart completely, take

every hook and screw off, put it back together, tighten it all down, and it

would sound great. Nobody ever knew why, but you know, we would just fool around

with them. We would get-- we were very, very fortunate. Some of the guys that

lived at the house, some of the guys came through the house-- We would have

sometimes a whole room full of master tones, flatheads to compare sound, or we'd

have a half a dozen loar 11:00mandolins there. We'd just had them around and play

them. So, you could really fine-tune your ear to what the capabilities were I

think to the instruments. It's very hard to get those kinds of instruments

together any more, but they were very commonplace back then.

JW: [Brief interruption by videographer--] I was just going to ask you what

other banjos do you seek besides Fairbanks and Coles? What are some desirable--

HB: Some desirable banjos?

JW: Instruments? Yea.

HB: I like Chicago banjos. It's not a brand; it's actually-- there was a Chicago

brand, which you don't want-- Lyon & Healy instruments, not only their banjos,

but also some of their mandolins and guitars were just excellent. The engraving

on some of the pearl on some Lyon and Healy instruments is just superb.

There was 12:00another maker, J.B. Shall. I've got a J.B. Shall banjo. It was made by

Shall, but it was another guy that put it out. It's got a 13, or 12 and 3/4, no,

13 and 3/4 inch head. It's this huge thing. I just recorded with it and it's

just amazing. Its got nylon strings on it, has just got this boom, this big boom

to it. It's really fantastic.

I like those kinds of banjos. I like banjos that combine function with artistry.

Now, you know, there are some very, very beautiful banjos made by S.S. Stewart,

but I don't like to play them, and most people don't like to play S.S. Stewart

banjos. They are incredibly well crafted, beautiful, beautiful pearl work,

carving and all that stuff, but for some reason they just don't sound as good.

As far as the best sounding banjo there is, I 13:00think Fairbanks, which they had

the Fairbanks electric and it went into the White Lady and the Tubaphone and all

that. Still today, for Old Time music, those are still kind of the state of the art.

JW: Still today?

HB: Still today, and Fairbanks burned down in 1904 and Vega bought them out.

They've just continued and still, a lot of players still, that's what they want

to play. Are there any contemporary makers that you like?

Yeah, I mean, there's some great-- I've got, the banjo I play when I'm out

playing most of the time has a neck by Wyatt Fawley with a Tubaphone pot. I

really think the best bargains are old banjos. I mean, you can get some

incredible stuff that, if you, dollar for dollar, if you paid somebody to do it

today you'd pay three or four times as much as you would for the original one.

Some people I 14:00think are scared of old instrument. They think, "Oh my God it's

like an old house, it's going to fall apart on me," but there is some beautiful

stuff out there. But Wyatt, you know, Wyatt does work-- When Wyatt makes a copy

of a Vega, or a Fairbanks neck, it looks and feels exactly like the original

one. He'd just really good at that.

Bart Reiter, I've played some of Bart's banjos. There are some guys-- Kevin

Enoch makes some beautiful stuff. I've not played any of Kevin's I don't think.

I've seen a couple of them.

There are some, I'm not going to mention names, but there are some folks making

absolutely incredible artistic banjos today that don't sound good.

JW: Sure, that's--

HB: They don't sound good, and that's like having a beautiful car that doesn't

run. I mean there's not a whole lot of use for 15:00 it.

JW: Have you built any reproduction necks for Old Time banjos?

HB: We did. I gave up building stuff back a long time ago. When Sparky moved

out, Sparky, he moved out in the '80s, and I just kind of piddled around in the

shop after that. Actually, I traded a whole bunch of the old neck blanks we had

to Wyatt for a banjo. So I haven't really gotten into that much. But we did make

some Old Time banjo necks back then, but again, the demand was just starting for

Old Time banjos. We, Sparky and I both played Old Time banjo, so we'd make them

for ourselves. The big demand was, back then, for the Gibson style necks.

JW: Who else did you make necks for? You mentioned J.D. Crowe--

HB: J.D. and um, I'm trying to think of some of the people. We did that. We did

work for different people. Sonny Osborne. Sparky brought Sonny over to the house

one time while I was out of town and Sonny was down 16:00there having some work done.

Of course, we did some work for Sam Bush. And Béla, we did some work on Béla's

banjo. Sparky still does all of Sam's work on "Hoss."

JW: Oh, wow.

HB: Yeah. He may do some stuff for Béla. I don't know. Béla's gotten into

custom necks. Monteleone I think makes his necks, so he has radius frets and all

that. The guys that were around the house was Vince, you know, lived down there,

and if his guitar needed, or if something needed work on it-- We actually built

one for Vince, Vince Gill. When he left he took it with him. It wasn't too much

longer after that that a stagehand knocked it over and broke the headstock on

it. So he didn't care for it, I think he's still got it, but you know, it was

just whoever was around. Tony Whimson's brother, we built a banjo neck for 17:00 him.

JW: What are some of the best instruments that have gone through your hands that

you might have now?

HB: You mean that I've owned? I had two original flatheads. I've sold those

since I don't play much Bluegrass anymore. In fact, the second one, the last one

I sold to Béla. He told me not too long ago that it was his third favorite.

Béla has got a lot of flatheads. It was his third favorite. Let's see, traded

Sparky out of the other one. I got a couple of White Ladies number 7s that I

love. They're very, very nice instruments. That's kind of the holy grail of Old

Time, of the Fairbanks, White Ladies number 7s, although, it's funny, my tastes

have changed in the last few years and I tend to like the Fairbanks electrics

like the one I showed you earlier. Now 18:00that's, to me there's a different, it's a

different sound. It's mellower. It's beautiful, and they all sound a little bit

different, but I like the Fairbanks electrics probably as much as the White

Ladies, and Tubaphones, I like Tubaphones a lot.

JW: Is there a wood preference there? Do you like Mahogany over Maple?

HB: I like Mahogany better. I'm not sure that-- In a banjo, banjos are

interesting because they're one instrument that you have to use a hammer on

every now and then, you know, to get them in shape because they are not as

depended upon wood as an all wood instrument is. The banjo has a lot of metal in

it, and the tone ring around the top of it influences the tone much more than

whatever wood. I like Mahogany because it's more 19:00stable. I've seen Maple necks

that-- Maple is just not a very stable wood. After a while they will twist on

you, bend on your, or warp on you. That's one of the reasons why a lot of the

makers that used them would split the piece of wood and glue another piece of

wood in the middle and sandwich them together and make a three piece neck,

particularly with maple, because when they tried to move that piece of wood

would tend to keep them from moving against each other.

JW: What type of wood would you use as a veneer in the middle? Harder wood? Like Ebony?

HB: I not sure what they used. Ebony or-- it depends on the company too. Some

companies used cheap wood that didn't hold up very well. 20:00Pearwood. I think

sometimes it depended on the model. Pearwood, you know, Fairbanks, for whatever

reason, used Pearwood over the pit stock. These beautiful instruments, they

spared no cost, but they dyed Pearwood-- Maybe it was because of the look they

got out of it or whatever, but over the years it deteriorated. I've got a

Fairbanks Regent that the piece in between the two pieces of wood is

deteriorated somewhat. Some companies, like I said, they made beautiful banjos

and put all this work into it, but then they used a few pieces of cheap wood in

it and it kind of fell apart.

JW: What are your thoughts about heads on banjos? Do you prefer skin or are

there synthetic materials that you like?

HB: I use both.

JW: Both?

HB: I use both. I'm not that crazy-- If I were playing Bluegrass, I'd probably

be using a straight 21:00Remo banjo head. Some of my banjos, steel string banjos in

particular, probably a fiberskyn [verified spelling] head. I think I like those

the best; they have a little more thunky sound to them. On some steel string

banjos though I use a nice calf skin, I love calf skin heads.

JW: Yeah.

HB: Particularly a nice, heavy duty, you get them tightened up and-- you know,

they used to say that people didn't want to use calf skin because they would

break and all this kind of stuff, but I haven't had many calf skin heads break.

I get them down, get them to tightness, I don't ever tighten one so tight that--

Sparky and I always used as a rule of thumb, when you put a banjo head on and

you get it tight, you should take both thumbs and it should depress just

slightly like that [demonstrates with hands]. If you do that with a calf skin

head there's really not much change, other than the fact that over time of

course it's going to 22:00wear out. Particularly what I'm using are imitation gut

strings, the nylon strings. I love calf skin with that. I wouldn't even want to

put one of those on with a plastic head.

JW: Can you name some other teachers or people who have been mentors in your work?

HB: In the luthiery work or the playing?

JW: Well, both.

HB: Playing, you know, I was very fortunate to hear a lot of good people and

meet a lot of good people. Tommy Thompson, with the Red Clay Ramblers, and I

ended up living in the same apartment complex in North Carolina, so I kind of

got inspired by Tommy in my playing. I probably learned the most from 23:00 Harry

Sparks. Again, I worked with Tom, and Tom did things a certain way. Sparky

taught me more about doing work in a restoration. You know, there's a lot of

difference between repairing an instrument, and restoring an instrument. When

you are dealing with really fine and old instruments, you need to know how to

restore them.

One person that I think we are all indebted to is George Gruhn. George Gruhn was

one of the, if not the person, who got people interested in vintage instruments

way back in the '60s and George is still going strong today. He laughs. He says,

"He's owned more instruments more times than anybody," because he sells them and

he trades them back, he sells them and we trade them back! But George, he is

just a, he's an encyclopedia. It's just all in his head. I hear him on the 24:00 phone

sometimes, he's talking about, well that one had three screws, but next year

they put four screws in it, and he just knows all that stuff. But he really has

created the appreciation for old instruments.

I guess I learned a whole lot from Sparky. At that time, when we were working

together, he had had a music store up in Cincinnati, a famous Old Time music

store, and he was the only authorized repairman for Martin guitars outside of

the factory at that time. So you know, he is just a very, very fine luthier. He

doesn't do as much work today. Gary Cornett is just-- I learned stuff. Every

time I talk to Gary I learn stuff. I think he's pretty amazing, his ability to

not only understand how the instruments go together, but all the materials that

he uses, and the 25:00glues and everything like that. Back years ago, of course you

didn't have crazy glue and things like that, there are places for all of it, but

you have to know how the materials work.

JW: What are some aspects of the restoration process? Maybe finish? Or glues and

wood that--

HB: Yeah, I'll speak mostly to banjos, which is mostly what I do. A Fairbanks

banjo, what you've got to do a lot of times is to replace the pearl. For

whatever reason, when they put the pearl in, sometimes it didn't stay in, and so

it fell out. So you might have an instrument, I just bought a banjo recently

that about half of the pearl, or more than half of the pearl was just gone. Now,

you know you still have it cut out in your fingerboard, so it's fine, you know

what to cut, and you can see a little bit of the engraving pattern so you know

how it was engraved, so that kind of thing.

Fret 26:00jobs, sometimes you've got to replace frets. Sometimes you have to level

them out. They are, you know, sometimes over the years they wear out, or you get

high ones and you have to kind of level them out.

Binding, replacing binding-- Finish work, I'm not the greatest finish work

person in the world, but you know, but I know some. The one thing you try not to

do with a vintage instrument is refinish it. You want as much of the original

instrument, particularly when you get into guitars and so forth, people would

rather have the original finish as many original parts as possible.

But there are a lot of things-- On a banjo a lot of it is cleaning up the parts.

Polishing it. Over the years, nickel-plating, over a hundred years, gets pretty dirty.

JW: Do you have any tips for cleaning metal parts?

HB: Absolutely. I just found this out after polishing them by hand for 27:00so many

years. You go to a gun store, and you get one of these big drums, they use it to

polish shell casings like brass casings, and you use rouge-covered Walnut

shells. It's a thing that looks like a globe like that [demonstrates with hands]

and you take the top off, and you fill it with the Walnut shells and the rouge,

and you dump all the parts in and turn it on and come back about four hours

later and they're clean as a whistle. It's just amazing. You still have to

polish the stuff that's on the banjo.

JW: Sure.

HB: But it's just amazing. You can do wet ones and dry ones. I do the dry ones,

but it doesn't scratch them up, it doesn't do anything, they just come out clean

as a whistle.

JW: What about a finish? Do you have a preference? French polish, or--?

HB: Like I said, I don't do much finish work. I never 28:00did do that much. I just

try to touch up little things or whatever. Yeah, I mean, French polishing is

wonderful. That's the way a lot of the old necks were done, with French

polishing. Again, I'm not a finish person.

JW: Have you garnered any recognition for your work that you've done besides--?

HB: Nah, not really.

JW: None?

HB: Again, over the years, there weren't a whole lot of people back in the '60s

and '70s repairing instruments. In today's world, there are lots and lots of

people repairing them, and some of them are just superb, and some of them are

not so good. That's hard to determine. Who is good and who is 29:00not. You look and

see which ones the professional musicians go to, you've probably got a better

shot at it. Again, I have not been known as a luthier, we just had a banjo shop

in the basement. We just kind of patched them up and sent them back out, and we

did some good work.

JW: Do you think people have given your more credit than you are yourself?

HB: I don't know--

JW: Musically, who are some of the people you've maybe recorded with or

performed with?

HB: I just finished an album with my original Buzzard Rock string band. Harry

Sparks, Doc Hamilton, and myself started the band in 1975, and we sort of had an

unofficial fourth member that was living at the house and that was Vince Gill.

Last year, Vince invited us down to his studio. So we went this February and the

four of us recorded an album. We are in the mixing stage right now, but it's

mostly stuff we did 30:00back then, plus a song that Sparky's brother wrote. It was

really fun. We spent a couple of days, we hung around Nashville all week. We

went and heard the Time Jumpers play, which if you've never heard the Time

Jumpers play, you want to hear the Time Jumpers play.

We went over and hung out at Gruhns all day. Michael Cleveland was there, so he

jammed with us all day. And we had Charlie Cushman who played base with us.

Vince has got a new studio in his house, so he calls the studio the house. That

was fun-- And I recorded some back in the '70s and the '80s. I recorded with Art

Stamper a bit. But yeah, I'm still playing.

JW: Who are some of your favorite banjo players to listen to?

HB: Old Time banjo?

JW: Yeah, or just--

HB: Any of them?

JW: Yeah, any of them--

HB: Well Crowe of course, for Bluegrass banjo, and Earl. They are just-- that's

what I like. I used to like to listen 31:00to Bill Keith. I thought Bill Keith was

good. When it got a little to, we used to call them "spaghetti runs," these guys

run these things all over the neck-- but I always liked the basic stuff. As far

as Old Time banjo players, I really like Tommy Thompson's playing. I like Pete

Hoover's playing. There was a guy up in Cincinnattii that I didn't know, but

somebody gave me tapes of, and actually, he was giving a banjo lesson to

somebody, named Pat Dunford. Pat was a wonderful banjo player. He died a long

time ago actually. He did one album for David Unlimited. So, I really liked Pat

Dunford's playing, and there are a lot of good people out there now so.

JW: Yeah.

HB: When I started playing Bluegrass banjo, there wasn't anyone else playing

around here. Then, all these guys started playing Bluegrass, so I guess I

started playing Old Time 32:00then. Now there are all these people playing Old Time

banjo, so now I'm going to get two sticks and beat them together or something

like that--

JW: Playing the bones.

HB: Yeah, playing the bones. Not a lot of bone players around--

JW: Well, can you think of anything Sean [referring to videographer] that you--?

SA: No, not anything off of the top of my head--

HB: You aren't going to make me tap dance or anything are you?

JW: No, no.

HB: Is that it? Can I put my glasses back on?

JW: Yeah, I think that's it.

HB: Cut! Cut!

JW: Thanks.

HB: That was fun.

HB: 33:00[Demonstrates on banjo].

JW: That's a beautiful instrument.

HB: There, I don't need to be playing it. Do you just want to talk about it?

JW: Yeah! Show us some of the pearl, and maybe the engraving.

HB: Do we need to hold it up close to the thing? What do we need to do?

SA: I'll get it--

HB: You're going to get it? Ok. This is what I talked about earlier. This is a

Fairbanks White Lady number 7. This is sort of the top of the line Fairbanks

banjo of the regular line. They make some fancier custom ones, but this has

become the benchmark for Old Time banjos. The "White Lady" refers to this tone

ring that's inside. This was patented in 1901 by Albert Fairbanks and they were

made in Boston. Most of the 34:00great banjos back in the 1890s, early 1900s, were

made in Boston. This is a highly decorated model. You can see that it has

engraved pearl in the headstock. All of the pearl up and down the neck is

engraved. This is kind of a neat touch because the audience never sees this, but

in the back, for the banjo player, there's a nice little engraved piece of

pearl. And, there's another down here actually, but the banjo player is really

the only one that ever sees it, that one back there. Then of course, the heel is

very, very nicely carved and, it's imitation tortoise shell binding and all. So,

it's just very nicely put together, instead of many companies, they just put a

heel 35:00cap on, there are one, two, three, four, five-- five pieces of wood there,

so you get different colors of wood. Same thing up here. You have a stack.

They're veneers. There's no functional reason to do that. Same thing here, you

didn't have to all of those nice colored veneers in there. They just did it.

At this time period, Fairbanks, they went so far into artistry as they matched

the size of the peg head to the size of the pot and the overall length so that

proportionately it looked good. At one time I think they had four for the same

kind of banjo, they had four different sizes of peg heads, just so it would be

proportionately correct. It's unusual to do something like that. Gibson, who

made really fine 36:00jazz-aged banjos, but they made one neck. Basically one neck,

same scale, never a difference in the scale really, and they just put different

kinds of decorations on it. And this, these are replacement, except for this,

this is the original tuner, but these are replacement tuners on it, but the

original pearl buttons are still on it. So they made, they put solid pearl,

mother of pearl buttons on them.

JW: Was this common back stripping?

HB: No, this is an extension. They sandwiched these veneers and then they ran

them down the neck. And then of course, they had to carve it back so it was

even, and they would come out as these rings like this. You only found that in

the higher-grade banjos. At this time, this was the highest-grade 37:00banjo they

would carry in their catalogue. Now if you wanted a presentation model, then you

could order one special and it would have whatever you wanted on it. It would

have cherubs and all these things on the pearl on the fingerboard, but this is

basically an out of the catalogue, off the wall stock instrument, but the

quality of it was just superb.

JW: Yeah, it's an amazing instrument.

HB: Yep, they are amazing instruments, and there are lots more like this from

that era. This one was made right, just a little bit after the fire. Fairbanks

burned down in March of 1904. Vega was right next door. Vega bought them out.

They paid $100 dollars for all their patents, and they continued making-- and

this banjo looks exactly like a pre-fire banjo, almost exactly like a pre-fire 38:00banjo. Just a slight few, very minor, minor differences. Vega didn't even put

their name in them until 1910. They just kept on making them. It was a good

product and sold well.

JW: Want him to play a little?

SA: Sure if he could--

HB: Ok.

JW: It'd be nice to 39:00 hear.

JW: Thanks.

HB: Yeah. This is an interesting thing. Did you ever look at one of the original

pips? They don't make them like that anymore-- [Hands banjo off to JW], the

little ivory, you know, fifth string nut. They actually did them alave [unable

to discern word]. I've got, Gary was commenting a while back on one that I have

on another banjo that I've got that's even fancier than that. It's got

different, it's curved like that and then it's got a little lip-- Remember that

one Gary? [References Gary Cornett off camera]. It was beautiful.

JW: No, you don't see that anymore. I was always curious about the 40:00back striping.

HB: Yeah.

JW: Did you make any necks like that? Bluegrass necks?

HB: We didn't, no.

JW: That's Pearwood, isn't it?

HB: Probably the, I would imagine the-- yeah, yeah it is, look, you can see how

cracked it is.