A few years ago when I came up with the idea to interview various banjo masters, I intended to focus on both players and builders that I felt were innovative, influential, and were making a lasting impression on the banjo world. I don’t think it is quite the same, but I do feel question of which came first the master player or the master builder, is pretty closely related to the chicken and egg one. Either way, the magic ingredient is the same- innovation. Whether it came first from the builder or from the player, someone had to do or think of something different in their respective craft to either create or demand a change in the playing and building of banjos.
In thinking about who I felt filled all of those areas, a list of several names popped into my head right away and so far each of them have agreed to sit and talk to me about what they do and why. Today I am very pleased to release the first of the banjo builder interviews in this series of banjo masters- Tom Nechville. Tom is founder and owner of the Nechville Banjo Company based in Bloomington, Minnesota and he is doing something truly different in banjo design and building. Nechville banjos are not like the traditional “Gibson style” banjos in form or tone. When I said above that Tom is banjo building’s mad scientist, that is probably not too far from being true. Tom has rethought banjo design and function and has some very innovative ideas that he has put into production to produce a very fine instrument. (Disclaimer- I bought a Nechville banjo several years ago from a music store in Maryland and still play it and still love it.)
In a lot of ways I think we are living in the Golden Age of banjos, and I have heard that said by others too, so it must be true. Each year we have large corporate builders making hundreds of a few models of fine quality traditional banjos, small private builders making a handful of custom banjos, and a few builders- like Nechville- doing something in between. If you listen for it, you can hear banjo being played in television commercials, movies, sitcoms, and hear it in a wide variety of musical styles. Country stars are playing guitar banjos, electric five string banjos, as well as traditional banjos in front of thousands of fans. Jazz banjo players are playing tenor, plectrum and electric banjos at jazz festivals and clubs. Bluegrass and Old Time festivals have more banjos than you can shake a stick at. Did builders create new and different banjos that players discovered would fit in various musical situations, or did players try to put banjo in situations only to find they needed builders to make different kinds of banjos for? Who knows…. maybe it is the chicken and egg situation, but really….what does it matter? Both are mighty important in my mind. What I do know though, is that Tom Nechville makes banjos for all of those situations and he is a fascinating, fast thinking guy.
In this interview Tom Nechville talks about how he came up with some of his ideas, explains his Heli-Mount design; talks about some of the people playing his banjos; talks about what music means to him and what he thinks is important.
So have a look, feel free to comment too!