People ask why we have a non standard inlay pattern on this banjo. It was once the standard pattern and fairly common to just have the inlays grouped right in the middle and out on the ends of the fingerboard. Some of the old banjos like the Farland, and some of those old banjos made before 1900 had this, so John asked us to do that. John was a licensed river boat captain and wanted us to put some sort of a riverboat theme into his banjo. And again, we were kind of stumped a little bit, not wanting to just put inlays of riverboats in the fingerboard. Then we had a really neat opportunity because when Chuck, our head craftsman and artist who has been with us over 30 years now, was growing up and learning to play music his main banjo hero was John Hartford. Chuck grew up in Minnesota and when John Hartford would come to town to play he would never miss a concert and he thought John Hartford was the coolest musician. The idea that he would someday be making a banjo for John Hartford was beyond his wildest dreams so I gave the job of designing the inlays to Chuck.
Chuck started studying riverboats and reading a lot. He went to the library and found all the books he could about riverboats. He discovered that there is a whole classic architecture of riverboats that's significantly different than the architecture that goes into houses. People think that the gingerbread on a riverboat is the same as on the house but it is actually distinctly and identifiably different. The ratio of the length to width and the style of the scrolls that go into the riverboat architecture are different than what is on a gingerbread house, a Victorian period house. So Chuck took the riverboat architecture and used that classic form to develop inlays for the Hartford banjo. It ended up having a very riverboat type of flavor because it uses that architecture and that art form without having to have pictures of riverboats on it. We accomplished a really classic design for John and Chuck was able to have a wonderful time working with John on the inlay.
When John Hartford passed away we changed the nameplate on the fingerboard from mother of pearl to abalone in the fingerboard. So if you find a Hartford with a white mother of pearl name plate it was built before he passed away. If it has abalone it was made after his passing.
Ross Nickerson, Owner of BanjoTeacher.com
at Nashville Namm Show (2016) with the John Hartford
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