Wednesday, October 5, 2011


This is the very first banjo I made. It was sometime back in the early 1970's when John Pedersen (owner of Amazing Grace Music and bandmember of the Roadoilers) decided to trade in his old Fairbanks Special Electric #5 for this baby. He was playing banjo with the Swamp Root String Band at the time and although the Fairbanks was beautiful this one was louder and sounded better.

John recently wrote a mystery novel, Scroll and Curl, featuring an old time band on the road, also certainly a first!

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Videos of Mike Seeger playing his Holophonic

Mike Seeger - "Sugar Baby"
"Mike Seeger plays a Doc Boggs song, "Sugar Baby". Performing at the Adams Avenue Roots Festival, April 22, 2007 - organized by Lou Curtiss. Concert was in the Normal Heights Methodist Church sanctuary. An intimate performance before an audience who knew him well."

Lost Gander
"Mike Seeger performs Lost Gander at the California Banjo Gathering 2008 October."

"A history of rural southeastern traditional American music, as told and played by Mike Seeger and Alice Gerrard. Mike and Alice recount their own involvment with this music, and briefly trace its history as we meet their mentors: the late Tommy Jarrell, Lily May Ledford, Roscoe Holcomb, Elizabeth Cotten and many other musicians."

Paul Brown (of NPR fame) playing a new Holophonic prototype at Ashokan

Fall On My Knees
"Performed by Paul Brown and Bruce Molsky, Terri McMurray singing. Recorded at Ashokan Southern Week 2010."

The Holophonic Story

In the mid 70's Mike Seeger asked me if I would consider looking at an old banjo in his collection in dire need of restoration. It was a late 19th century Kraske instrument, and he thought its hollow rim might have an interesting sound if we could get it into playable condition.

I had met Mike a few years earlier when I approached him after a concert in Rochester, NY to ask if he'd look at a banjo I'd made. At that time I was making ornate banjos inspired by the Fairbanks Whyte Laydies, and when he saw my work he asked me if I would build one for him. I was thrilled, Mike had been one of my heroes, pretty much the reason I got into old time music. It was such an honor to have one of my banjos in his hands.

So, even though I didn't really care much to do repair work, I went down to Mike's place in New Freedom PA to visit and check out the Kraske. It was immediately apparent that it was too far gone to restore, but I agreed to try to make a similar hollow rim banjo, seemed like a fun project.

I returned with measurements, and started making various experimental rims. In order to test them, I needed some necks, so we made a bunch of dead plain necks, with inexpensive rosewood fingerboards. Even though they were unadorned, they were as well made as we could get them, that's just the way I do things.

Eventually we came up with a configuration that we all agreed sounded right, and I made a few of them. I had intended to get Mike's neck back and inlay it and put on a truss rod cover, but he said he like it just fine as it was, and refused to return it. I think he was worried I might not get it back to him in a timely manner, and he had become quite fond of it.

I sold a few of them to friends who were looking for banjos but had been unable to afford the fancier instruments I'd been making. They were perfectly happy with the stripped down model, all they cared about was tone and playability.

The Holophonic became Mike's main performing banjo. There are numerous clips of him playing it on youtube. I also sold one to Alice Gerrard, his wife at the time. When they split up he bought it from her so he'd have a backup in case his was ever lost or damaged. By that time, I'd quit instrument making and turned all my energies to making an easier living as a studio furniture maker.

Now, after a 35 year hiatus, I've picked up pretty much where I left off and the Holophonics are back. It's interesting to see how much I've learned and forgotten over the years, and I'm real curious to see where it will all lead.