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A few years ago, we thought we had our selection of open back banjos covered. We had Omes, Rickards, and California-made banjos by Chuck Waldman. How many banjo brands did Gryphon need? But then we got an email from Bart Reiter before he retired suggesting we look into Pisgah banjos, and when Bart talks about banjos we listen (Bart Reiter had been Gryphon’s #1 source of new open back banjos for over thirty years).
The fact that Bart Reiter would suggest that one of his best dealers stock instruments from a competitor said a lot about the quality of Pisgah banjos, and it also said a lot about Bart and the whole American open back banjo business. In fact “business” is hardly the right word, for while the folks making open back banjos in North America these days really are in business they act more like a co-operative. They make parts for each other and share tips and sources, and Pisgah Banjo Company founder Patrick Heavner is in the middle of this supportive community.
Heavner is a man on a mission that’s easy to state and even easier to understand. Since the banjo is an American instrument, he’d like to see as many banjos as possible made with North American woods and metal parts made here as well. He doesn’t wave flags and bash other banjo companies that do things differently, he just builds Pisgah banjos according to those principles and through his Balsam Banjoworks (a website offering parts) he supplies anyone who wants to make their own instruments. You have to admit that if we’re all concerned about the world’s shrinking rain forests, doesn’t it make sense to build instruments from sustainable, local woods like maple, cherry, walnut and ash?