I’ve been considering adding a new banjo to the family for some time. I won’t even try to really convince anyone I need one. I checked the formulas for how many banjos a guy needs, applied the R factor, filled a blackboard with calculations, checked with the Minister of Finance, and when the math was said and done, there was nothing left to do but find a good banjo builder. It turns out there are quite a few builders making high quality open back banjos these days. I’ve had a chance to play quite a few different banjos, some of which are fantastic. How to choose?
For some time, I’ve been following the Facebook page of Dogwood Banjos, updated regularly and showing off new instruments. Dogwood Banjos is Mike Chew, in Minneapolis. Here’s Mike Chew’s introduction to his instruments.
If you’re interested in hand-made banjos (isn’t everybody?), check out the Dogwood Banjo page on Facebook or the web page. To start with Mike Chew’s banjos sound great. I think one of the things that sets Dogwood Banjos apart from some other builders, though is an adventurous attitude toward woods and how they work together for sound and beauty, and a willingness to creatively work with customers needs to produce some fantastic instruments. Mike has done some delightful inlay work, and as well he uses wood colour and character very effectively. I also want to support a small, independent instrument maker.
We’ve had an initial chat about the banjo I’m looking for, including some thoughts I have about some inlay work, but I think there are quite a few decisions to be made along the way, and I suppose that’s going to start with what woods to use. As this new instrument gets closer to completion, and my excitement to play it grows, I expect I’ll be writing about it more here at 27th Street. If the universe unfolds the way it I’d like it to, I’ll be driving to Minneapolis in May.
I have a somewhat mad plan which is tied into this new banjo. Rather than have it shipped, I’m going to drive to Minneapolis to pick it up, making a road-trip of it. While there, I’d love to record a podcast at Mike Chew’s workshop, in which we can talk banjos and play a little music. Part 2 of my mad plan is to do a couple days fly fishing while I’m in Minnesota in the area known as The Driftless, which covers part of SE Minnesota as well as chunks of Wisconsin and Iowa. I’ve fly fished in many places in Canada and the US but I haven’t yet checked out the small streams in this area, and I’d love to do that. They come highly recommended. Part 3 of the mad plan is to stop in Chicago on the way back to visit my pals Candy and Stagg. Retired guys have mad plans.
My roadtrip route will be to cross at Sarnia/Port Huron, drive up to the Upper Peninsula, then west across the UP towards Minneapolis then SE to Chicago, and from Chicago east back to Port Huron, back into Canada and home. It’s going to be a lot of driving, but also a great deal of fun, and along the way I get to meet the fellow who is making my banjo, chase some trout, and see two of my dearest friends. It doesn’t get much better than that.