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Decades of Banjo

Decades of Banjo

from his 1984 GAL Convention lecture

by Tom Morgan

Originally published in Guild of American Luthiers Quarterly, Volume 12 ,#4, 1984



I would be a lot more comfortable today if I could have a gutiar and a five piece band, but I quickly discarded the idea of trying to set an hour’s lecture to music.

I learned to love the sound of a good banjo not too long after the vintage years, and have had the privilege of examining a lot of good instruments. RB was the designation the Gibson company used for their five string or regular banjo, and TB means tenor banjo. Small numbers such as 2,3,4, and 5 were used, and just before the war early numbers like 7, 12, 18 and 75 came into use. The new models after World War II started with 100, 150 and 250, which was also their list price, and an 800 was added later.

The Air Force sent me to Washington D.C. in 1955, where I met Callie Veach. Callie was originally from Arthur, West Virginia, and had several mountain traditions in his past such as hunting, making whiskey, riding horses, and making music. By the time we knew him, he worked at free lance carpentry, but kept a large number of musical instruments, which he modified, inlaid with Mother-of-Pearl and used to horse-trade with the local musicians.

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Meet the Merchant: Jay Hostetler

Meet the Merchant: Jay Hostetler

by Jay Hargreaves

Originally published in American Lutherie #91, 2007



Founded in 1968 by C.E. “Kix” Stewart and Bill MacDonald, Stewart-MacDonald started off selling banjo parts and being innovative. Almost forty years later, Stew-Mac is are still being innovative, and still selling banjo parts. But now they also offer hundreds of tools, parts, and materials for all kinds of luthiers.


Jay, where were you raised?

On a farm outside Athens, Ohio. I spent a lot of time in the woods. My dad’s a wood sculptor, and taught at Ohio University, a small college in Athens. So I grew up around artists and wood and nature. It’s a nice setting.

In high school, about 1973, I started working in a furniture place. I enjoyed that, and I started making furniture. After high school I was going to go to the School for American Craftsmen in Rochester, New York. But they had a waiting list, and while I was waiting I started working at StewMac doing woodworking. At that time, all we did was banjos, mainly banjo kits. That was about 1977, so they were still riding the banjo wave of Deliverance.

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Meet the Maker: Guy Rabut

Meet the Maker: Guy Rabut

by Tim Olsen

Originally published in American Lutherie #32, 1992 and Big Red Book of American Lutherie Volume Three, 2004



On a recent trip to New York, I had the good fortune to visit Guy Rabut in his uptown Manhattan apartment above a small grocery store. We sat in his tiny shop, which was piled high with cardboard boxes in anticipation of Guy’s imminent move into a freshly renovated space in Carnegie Hall. He made the move in October, and now shares this classy address with two violin dealers, Charles Rudig and Fred Oster, and Michael Yeats, a bow maker. Artifacts of wide-ranging artistic sensitivities surrounded us, including Northwest coastal Indian carvings which Guy made during a summer seminar with renowned artist Bill Reed; his intriguing logo in which the proper curves of a violin appear in a cubist jumble; a glass case holding a few of his beautiful finished fiddles; and a pine mock-up of a banjo he plans to build someday.

Guy Rabut is one of the Guild’s most faithful members. The May ’74 issue of the GAL Newsletter listed him as a new member, and he hasn’t missed a day since. He is also a member of the American Federation of Violin and Bow Makers.

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Meet the Maker: Do Viet Dung

Meet the Maker: Do Viet Dung

by Andy DePaule

Originally published in American Lutherie #74, 2003 and Big Red Book of American Lutherie Volume Seven, 2015



Christmas eve, 1965. I arrived in Saigon, age eighteen years plus one week. I had joined the Army on my seventeenth birthday after dreaming of it for two years. I felt lucky when the Vietnam War started to get serious, because it was my chance to be a hero. But the rule was that you had to be eighteen years old to go. OK, I was the classic stupid kid.

I ended up doing two tours of duty in Vietnam, by my own choice. I don’t know why, but I loved that place from the first day. That has never changed for me.

I did become disenchanted with what we were doing there. These were the “light at the end of the tunnel” days, and those of us on the ground were already starting to realize that this was the first war we would not win. But even when things were rough, there was no other place I wanted to be.

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Meet the Maker: Kevin La Due

Meet the Maker: Kevin La Due

by Cyndy Burton

Originally published in American Lutherie #81, 2005 and Big Red Book of American Lutherie Volume Seven, 2015



The fall colors of upstate New York were in full regalia as my sister and I drove towards Binghamton, New York, to meet my niece for lunch. She had just started a new job at nearby Vestal High School, where she’d met a teacher named Kevin La Due, who is teaching high-school kids to make guitars. It sounded like a story asking to be told.


Please tell me about your program.

I teach two sections of lutherie per year, one each semester, which distills down to about sixty class hours each semester, not really enough time to make a guitar. Most students work extra time before and after school and during their free class periods. Although about fifty students apply, we only have room for fifteen seniors at a time because of facility, prep time, and budget limitations.

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