Thursday, February 18, 2016

Another new fretless mountain type banjo from Noah Cline

I now have three Noah Cline mountain banjos.  The third arrive a few days ago, and I’m just getting around to “test driving” it on Youtube after fiddling with the setup. 

Here’s some basics on Noah and his banjo playing/banjo making:

I had several fretless banjos over the last 30 years, including mountain banjos, but none of them stayed in the arsenal very long.  On a lark, I traded Noah a good deal of the tools and equipment that constituted Little Bear Banjo Hospital when I decided to close down that operation after about 20 years of banjo repair work.  Noah was serious about building these things, and a very skilled banjo player, and that combination prompted me to strike a deal with him for three of his mountain banjos.

Oddly, I find myself drawn to the fretless – as one might be drawn to a new musical challenge.  I suppose I could have elected to learn the saxophone, but I decided instead to try and get serious about fretless banjo.

Noah’s banjos are great simple tools, constructed in a straightforward way with an attractive rough hewn look and feel to the work.  He’s gotr the fomula down. 

I like the basic scale length/rim size he has chosen as the “basic model,” and though he is clearly inclined to experiment, the essential equation is sound and reliable. 

It does, however, end up producing banjos with variety – in sound, look and feel.  These are not exact duplicates, and there is a slight touch of mystery about each of them – it’s up to the “operator” to figure out what must vary in the setup to produce a good, strong simple mountain sound, for example. 

I’ve told this story before, so I’ll be brief.  For his “#22” that arrived just after Valentines Day, I asked Noah to include wood I had milled up from a distinguished mahogany sign that had hung above the door of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs for about two generations. 

When it was finally and unceremoniously discarded in 2002 or so to make way for a massive Pentagon renovation, I rescued the wood and milled it up, and put it aside for just the right project. 

That project never came about, until I managed to convince Noah to take the wood and incorporate it in one of his instruments.  That’s the banjo I’m working on playing in this “Test Drive” video here. 

I’m having a good time with this banjo – and its two brethren.  Those two are earmarked for my first grandsons, Noah and Aidan, born to my son Ethan and his wife Kaytee in late November 2015.  Each banjo is about twice the length of these little twins who are rapidly putting on weight, learning to flip over, making great sounds (probably inventing the rudiments of their “twin language” now). 

I’m going to hold onto these until Noah and Aidan can park the banjos in their laps long enough to figure out what fun this stuff can be.  So, don’t be surprised if you see these on a BHO video from time to time, until Noah and Aidan are old enough, and tall enough, to stake their claims to these nice little instruments.



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