I like banjos.
There….I said it. I guarantee that is a true statement too. I like to play them, I like to hear them, I like to learn about them and I just plain like to look at them sometimes. (Which is one reason I have six of them hanging on the wall in my house, easy access to play and easy access to just look.) Some time ago I was thinking about people who play banjos, and how when we get together to visit, the talk often shifts to banjos. I will tell you right off, in these situations there is not a lot of talk of playing techniques or music theory happening- the talk is about banjo models, neck inlay, tone rings, tuning pegs, tailpieces, picks…..the list goes on and on. The take away idea in that is that we are somewhat obsessed with the instrument itself.
In a lot of ways, the banjo is simply a drum with a neck and strings attached to it. In other ways, it is a finely crafted collection of metal, wood, and a few other things that have been engineered to create a vehicle to make pleasant sounding music. Over the years luthiers have studied and experimented and changed design and thought about design to attain certain sounds, tones, and looks.
I mentioned “looks”. There is a lot of importance in the visual aspect of an instrument, if not then we would not have instruments with beautiful pearl inlaid necks, artistic peghead designs, veneer covered resonators, decorative binding patterns etc etc etc. There is real artistry involved in instrument building. Some say it doesn’t matter, but it does. Many people can quickly dredge up images of flashy tenor banjos with rhinestones glued to pegheads, classic parlor banjos with heavily inlaid and etched necks, inlay patterns on bluegrass banjos with names like Flying Eagle, Tree of Life, and the like. The decorative parts of banjos serve a purpose other than being eye candy but artistry is important. Form vs. Function.
So with all that in mind, I am happy to announce the start of a new digital photograph collection here in the Archives. The idea behind this collection is to show that many banjos have very similar parts as far as function, but differ in form- sometimes to a great degree.
Never fear though…..if you are one who is not obsessed with banjos you might still enjoy this collection. Think of this as a Warholian exhibit of sorts.(Shout out to my grandmother who taught me to understand and love Andy Warhol.) Andy Warhol taught us to appreciate that the package of Brillo Pads is art, the Campbell’s Tomato Soup label is beautiful, that repetition is genius. Same idea can apply here. If you look at the shape of the wooden rim hidden deep inside a banjo, you might be surprised at the finely cut grooves and curves and how they differ. You might be fascinated by the many intricate cuts in the heel of the neck. The minute differences in the curve of a hook might catch your eye. Form vs. Function.
So come have a look. Use your artistic eye, your entrepreneurial eye, your musician eye, any way you want to look is fine. You can compare parts between brands- at the moment this collection represents Stelling, Nechville, Gibson, Bacon and Day and Recording King but that list will expand as the collection grows. It is all art, it is all functional, it is all beautiful. Form vs. Function.