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In the early 1970s, a lot of Gryphon's business was crafting five-string banjo necks. Gibson wasn't offering a wide variety of vintage-style five-string banjos during those years; the Vega Banjo Company was basically defunct; Ome and Deering were not yet offering banjos in vintage styles; and builders like Bart Reiter, Pisgah, Rickard and Waldman didn’t even exist. So, we found ourselves converting lots of 1920s tenor and plectrum banjos into five-strings for bluegrass and old-time string band music. The wood of choice for most pickers was maple, and we quickly got tired of chasing after highly figured maple in the right dimensions for building one-piece banjo necks. So, we decided to find a single source and buy a lot of it.
It turned out that highly figured maple of the right dimensions was available but it wasn't being marketed to luthiers. Instead it was sold to builders of replica early American rifle stocks, a style known as a Kentucky Rifle. Monteath Hardwood of New Jersey (in business since the 1860s) had excellent maple with lots of curly figure but they didn't want to ship just a few boards, they wanted a really big order. We borrowed the money from relatives and ordered the smallest amount we could. Even so, when our maple arrived, it came on a rail freight car. We were blown away by the quality of the wood, but shocked by how much of it there was.
Not long after that rail freight car of raw maple arrived, we got another surprise. After we opened the retail storefront in early 1973 we started taking in repairs from the general public. The trickle of repair work grew into a stream and when Gryphon became a warranty center for C. F. Martin that stream became a flood. We were so busy with repairs that unless a banjo neck was for a specific customer, necks we started for our own banjos just never got finished. We used some of the maple for various small projects now and then, but mostly it stayed in our attic nicely seasoning. In 2017, Billy Gill, our Taylor Guitar rep at the time, saw it and suggested we have them make guitars from it. We have always been fans of Taylor’s maple guitars, so we designed a handful of custom models, which were quite successful.
Earlier this year, Eric Sakimoto, our current Taylor rep, asked if we had any more maple. He thought that it would be interesting to hear how it sounded with some of the innovations Andy Powers has been coming up with. As luck would have it, we had enough for another small run. Each member of the sales staff designed a model, choosing the features they thought would look and sound great. We think each one is a winner but stop on by, try them out and see if you agree. The first four have arrived and we will have six altogether. And we have enough aged maple to make a few more so if you want to design one of your own, we would be happy to help you out.