Thursday, July 28, 2011

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.

No comments:

Post a Comment