A while back I blogged about “Rescuing Simple Heirloom Banjos.”
These are basic, generally old banjos of low to middle level value that come out of people’s attics and represent something intrinsically important to a family, perhaps because of the original owner or perhaps just because the instrument was roosting in the home’s upper deck for so long and therefore must have some lineage in the family.
I’ve been getting more and more of these, especially around spring cleaning and also about the time of the customary sprucing up that comes before the winter holidays. When Little Bear Banjo Hospital was operating in northern Virginia, I’d generally turn such jobs away with the polite suggestion that the owner save his or her money. However, since we moved to Staunton, VA, four years ago, I’ve seen as ratcheting up of the number of such banjos that people haul to my shop for work. I’ve come to recognize that people are serious about having the instrument as a family artifact, so I’ve been inclined to work on them, either to make them playable or displayable.
Often, such banjos come with an interesting cargo. Tucked away in the recesses of the old case it’s possible to discover “relics” of old family history: I.D. cards, music school” homework assignments,” sheet music, picks, banjo tools for the road, and other items that end up having as much importance to the client as the banjo itself.
I recently took in a simple Stella tenor from the 1930s or so for a young family that wanted Grandma’s banjo preserved, and were inclined to reserve the possibility that their young son might some day take an interest in learning the banjo – an instance where the client is seeking both playability and displayability.
The case’s interior compartment revealed a music store card, the kind that a student would carry along to lessons. The music store’s staff would punch a hole on the card’s perimeter marking the number of lessons taken. The case also contained a screw driver, a pencil stub, a banjo wrench and a box – from an old and distinguished company that manufactured class rings and other family collectibles.
I’ve seen such treasures in instruments brought to Little Bear Banjo Hospital. They usually end up being placed back in the interior compartment of a chipboard or hard shell or the front pocket of a soft case, with little concern for their fate.
But since such artifacts sometimes have as much meaning for the client as the banjo itself, I thought I’d try my hand at cobbling together a banjo “shadow box.” Here’s a photo of the first effort.
Looks as though it’s time to start keeping a supply of oak picture frames around the shop.