Monday, November 15, 2010

My Second Favorite Banjo

Years ago, I worked for a violin-maker. I mostly did his bookkeeping, but occasionally he let me use rottenstone to clean some instruments, not the ones in the walk-in safe, but student models.

In the safe lay the really valuable instruments; the insanely valuable ones got stored off-site in a safe deposit box, but that's another story. My favorite was, not surprisingly, a banjo. For some reason, I've always recalled it as a Vega White Lady, but the more I think about it, it was probably an Epiphone. I'd beg my boss to take it out of the safe just so I could look at it.

Whatever the brand, it was definitely a whorehouse special. It was a creamy white, with a closed back covered in gilt and mother of pearl inlay. The headstock and the fingerboard had more of the same. Everything that could get encrusted on this banjo gleamed. This thing practically glowed in the dark.

A few weeks ago, I found my second favorite banjo.

Using the torque converter for a '56 Buick and an aluminum dishpan, Jenes Cottrell (pronounced JEN-ess) built this banjo on a foot-powered lathe in a Clay County, West Virginia home with no electricity, gas, nor running water. He'd even make banjo pots out of pressure cookers.

You can hear some archives of Jenes's music and jokes here.

Best of all is the inlay--slices of plastic knitting needles set directly into the neck (there's no fingerboard), back, and headstock.

Given my susceptibilities, how could I not fall in love?

1 comment:

David R. Usher said...

We visited him at his home in the hills when I was in 9th grade to pick up what is believed to be the only long neck banjo he ever made. His shop was amazing. The foot powered lathe was a breathtaking stroke of genius (pun intended). He saucered and blowed red hot coffee every morning, and we quickly learned to do the same to keep our lips from being burned off. The walls of the log cabin which he built with his father were covered with various gadgets hanging on the wall. Years later, he was chopping firewood and chopped his leg. He walked 2 miles to the local store bleeding and limping to get help. He was an amazing guy.

david usher