Building New Banjos for an Old-Time World

Old-Time Banjos
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Richard Jones-Bamman is more than just a close friend of Gryphon – he was a partner in the business for half a dozen years in the early 1980s, and we’ve kept in touch since those days. A serious historian, musician and academician, he was always keenly interested in the classic five string banjos of the 19th and early 20th centuries. We’ve spent countless hours together examining and talking about those great old-time banjos.

His new book is a fine exploration of contemporary makers of instruments that have captivated a new generation of traditional old-time banjo players, many of whom choose gut or nylon stringing, fretless fingerboards and other vintage appointments.

Building New Banjos for an Old-Time World

Artisans building musical instruments and community

building-new-banjos-book-450Banjo music possesses a unique power to evoke a bucolic, simpler past. The artisans who build banjos for old-time music stand at an unusual crossroads–asked to meet the modern musician’s needs while retaining the nostalgic qualities so fundamental to the banjo’s sound and mystique.

Richard Jones-Bamman ventures into workshops and old-time music communities to explore how banjo builders practice their art. His interviews and long-time personal immersion in the musical culture shed light on long-overlooked aspects of banjo making. What is the banjo builder’s role in the creation of a specific musical community? What techniques go into the styles of instruments they create? Jones-Bamman explores these questions and many others while sharing the ways an inescapable sense of the past undergirds the performance and enjoyment of old-time music. Along the way he reveals how antimodernism remains integral to the music’s appeal and its making. He also delves into the omission of African Americans–the originators of the banjo–from both the instrument’s popular history and the nostalgia engendered by the music, and the role contemporary banjo builders are playing to rectify this situation.

“The issues raised by Jones-Bamman and the information he provides to aid in their discussion have never been brought together in one volume. A significant addition to the literature.” –Bob Carlin, author of Banjo: An Illustrated History

“Completely unique in his focus on present-day banjo makers and the cultural significance of the banjo for builders and players today. Jones-Bamman shows us how the banjo taps deeply into conflicting ideas about modernity and the USA’s checkered past.” –Timothy J. Cooley, author of Surfing about Music

Paperback, measures 6 x 9 inches. 288 pages. 33 black & white photographs, 5 line drawings. Published by University of Illinois Press, ISBN 978025208284.

About the Author:
Richard Jones-Bamman is emeritus professor of music at Eastern Connecticut State University.

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