Flatfoot Johnny – In 2009 I bought my first banjo with an ambition to learn to play Bluegrass music. I very quickly discovered there was much more to banjos than Bluegrass, became fascinated by the world of old time and early banjos, and soon realised I had bought the wrong type. I couldn’t afford to buy another so I decided to make my own… how hard can it be ?
Turns out it was quite tricky so after my first attempt I made another, then another and then I was well and truly addicted. Based in a home built green roofed wooden workshop in the hills of SE London I build old time and early banjos. My focus is on the early instruments. The first banjos, from the mid 1600s, were made from gourds with simple fretless necks, by the late 1800s they had evolved to the instrument we know now.
- Custom / bespoke instrument building / commissions
- Repair, set up and sensitive and restoration
- Historic banjo research
- Wood carving
- Marquetry and inlay
- Wood turning
- Steam bending
- Metal work and machining
I make banjos inspired by these earliest of instruments using gourds grown in the U.K. Whether making primitive fretless banjos or more modern fretted instruments with steam bent rims I aim to use timber sustainably harvested in the U.K. or reclaimed from antique sources. As much as possible is made in house or as locally as possible. I steam bend my own rims using carefully selected quarter sawn timber and I fabricate my own brass tensioning hardware, using a local small foundry to sandcast the custom bronze parts… often bespoke for the specific banjo.
The calfskin vellum is bought commercially but I often use goat skin from a maker in Jamaica. These are from free range goats and the skins have been processed by the banjo maker using no bleaching chemicals. I am confident that the animal welfare is excellent, and the environmental impact is minimal… except for the transport. Therefore, I am currently seeking out a U.K. based supplier of skins.
With a background in fine art (MA Central St Martins) and a commercial background in prop making and fine art fabrication I have a strong interest in the decorative arts. Throughout my work I often apply many decorative techniques including carving, inlay and marquetry.
I have recently developed a fascination for English historic banjos. The banjo was extremely popular in the U.K. during the late 1800s, early 1900s and we took the design in a slightly different direction. Most notably was the Tunbridgeware banjo using a mosaic style of decoration developed in Tunbridge Wells Kent. I am currently researching and learning the techniques of Tunbridgeware in order to restore a neck from Circa 1870 (its only a neck… I need to make the rest).
In order to make meticulously accurate reproductions of early banjos or to carry out repairs means I need to get my hands on the genuine articles. This can be very tricky but luckily there is a great community of collectors online who I can either visit in person or we can correspond via the various social media platforms. As far as I know I am the only maker in the U.K. making accurate reproductions of the early models without being tempted to modify them, and im definitely the only one investigating the English banjo in all its weirdness.
I carry out repairs and restoration on all forms of banjos (they come in many styles e.g. piccolo, ukes, mandolins, cello) in order to keep these often neglected instruments alive, looking and sounding the as good as when they were in their prime. I have worked on historic instruments as well as those owned by prominent professional musicians. Commissions have come from as far afield as Sweden and the U.S.
Trade memberships / Awards / Qualifications
Heritage Crafts Association
120 Ankerdine Crescent, Shooters Hill, London, SE18 3LG
Telephone: 07735 405375