The 2017 Seedtime Festival theme is "Tools of Culture", which will spotlight handmade and historical instruments from gourd instruments created by Pete Ross to dulcimers made in Hindman, Ky at the Appalachian Luthiery Studio of the Appalachian Artisan Center.
Pete Ross has been playing and building gourd banjos since 1991. He apprenticed under Scott Didlake of Mississippi, a folk musician and craftsman whose instruments can be heard on Rounder Records “Minstrel Style Banjo” CD. Joe Ayers and Tony Trishka used Didlake’s banjos for that recording. Pete studied under Didlake until Didlake’s death in 1994.
Since that time, Pete has continued his historical research into the roots of the banjo, refining his designs and materials as he uncovers more information about these primal instruments. He has made instruments for many respected musicians, including Joe Ayers, Bob Carlin, and West African musician Cheick Hamala Diabate. His banjos are also used by Rex Ellis in historical interpretation performances at Colonial Williamsburg and are found in several museum exhibitions including the Blue Ridge Institute’s travelling exhibit, “The Banjo in Virginia,” The Museum of Musical Instruments banjo exhibit in Brussels, Belgium; and at Appomatox State Court House, Appomatox , Virginia, the site of the Joel Walker Sweeney Historical Marker. Pete was an advisor to the curators of the "Birth of the Banjo" exhibit appearing at the Katonah Museum of Art, Katonah, New York and at the Corcoran Museum of Art, Washington D.C. A Jubilee gourd banjo is the only reproduction banjo appearing in that exhibit as well as in the exhibit's catalog. Pete is also an accomplished player and instructor on the popular steel stringed banjo, and can be seen playing on the “Banjos Ringing” videotape.
1. Haitian Banza
Pete Ross 2005
This is a reproduction of a banjo in the collection of the Musee de la Musique, Paris, FranceThe original instrument was collected in Haiti in 1840, but was lost in the museum's collections until 2003 when it was rediscovered by a museum worker who was curating an exhibit on the banjo. Even though the instrument was collected in Haiti, it closely resembles images of early banjos found throughout the New World in the colonial period. This is the only example we have of a banjo as it was probably known in the first one-hundred-plus years of it’s history in North America. This reproduction is based on a first hand examination, following the measurements of the original, reproducing even incidental tool marks, damage, and general wear and tear.
2. Gourd Banjo-Boucher style neck.
Pete Ross 2017
This banjo has the gourd body of the earliest folk forms of the instrument, combined with a neck influenced by the designs of Baltimore’s William E. Boucher Jr., the first well known commercial banjo maker. Boucher began making and selling banjos in 1845 in response to a big boom in banjo popularity.
3. Gourd Banjo -Minstrel era neck.
Pete Ross 2016
Another hybrid, this banjo has a neck influenced by makers like Levi Brown and James Ashborn, who primarily worked in the 1850s and 1860s. They were among many luthiers who began making banjos in response to a huge wave of interest that rose from the instrument's central place in the Minstrel Show.
4. Mande Banza
Pete Ross 2017
The Mande is a modern take on the gourd banjo, both returning to the instrument's early four-string configuration with elements influenced by contemporary African instruments. The goal in blending these influences is an instrument that reaches back to the 18th century for the tonalities of the earliest banjos, while meeting standards of playability and responsiveness suitable for modern players.
5. Fairbanks-Vega-Bacon Professional
Pete Ross 2015
Although modeled after the banjos of the late Victorian era, this banjo is as much a hybrid as some of the gourd banjos on display. The pot is from an early 20th century Bacon “FFProfessional” banjo with a partially closed back and “internal resonator.” The new six-string neck combines two of the most elaborate inlay patterns by the Fairbanks and Vega companies.
6. Fairbanks “Electric Prototype” Banjo
Pete Ross 2016
The pot of this banjo has a combined wooden-metal tone ring that was found on a prototype for the Fairbanks companies 1890s “Electric” model banjo. The banjo was electric in name only, though the Fairbanks company settled on a full metal tone ring/metal clad pot design that met the era’s taste for increasingly bright sounding banjos. This banjo has a mellower, woodier tone than the Electric as finally produced.