“The appointed thing comes at the appointed time in the appointed way.”
–Myrtle Reed (1910)
I’m relatively new to the banjo. I started about 18 months ago, but it’s only after retiring last October that I’ve had the chance to devote substantial time to it.
When I started out, I made a number of trips to the local music store only to be overwhelmed by the possibilities (tone ring, head, …). I also found that most of the instruments sounded very brittle to my ears. I ended up with one but the search continued.
While I’m new to banjo, I’ve been playing (at) guitar for 50 years, so I know how it works for me. I buy, I sell, I buy, I sell, I buy, I buy, I sell…until eventually, if I get very lucky, the instrument that was meant for me lands in my hands.
I’ve known Kate for about 10 years but heard about this blog only a few months ago. I’d known about AE Smith banjos, but they were always on the periphery since I didn’t play banjo. Now, reading the blog made me eager to try one. When I mentioned to Kate my regret that they were no longer being made, she told me that a used Shelbourne model (AES 265) just came into Maple Leaf Music and was in the process of being set up. I called the shop and was told that it would be back by next week. I thought we’d left things so that they would contact me when it was ready, but I decided to follow up just before the close of business on Friday of the following week.
Good news: The banjo had come into the shop only an hour earlier.
Bad news: There were two people coming to see it the next morning. Good news: Neither had placed a deposit on the banjo, so my Visa card was all it took to get the banjo shipped to me.
I’ve discovered over the last 18 months that if I had to pick a banjo sight unseen (or, rather, tone unheard), I’d choose one with a Bacon tone ring. The Shelbourne has not only a Bacon tone ring but also an internal resonator. This should have been the happy ending to the story, except…
Bad news: it didn’t win me over immediately. It didn’t sound particularly warm to me ears.
I mentioned this to Kate who suggested swapping the Renaissance head for Fiberskyn and…
Great news: That made all the difference!
Like all hand crafted instruments, AES 265 has its own unique personality. The neck is on the narrow side (1-3/16” at the nut; 15/16” from the middle of the first string to the middle of the fourth string at the nut). However, my fingers find it to be the most intuitive of any neck I’ve played. My fingers are right where they need to be when they need to be there.
The neck and pot are dark. I’ve been told that most AES banjos are blond. I know nothing about wood, so I can’t say if it’s the wood itself (mahogany?) or due to staining.
It’s on the heavy side (just shy of 8 pounds), but one nice thing about old time music is that it’s invariably played sitting down!
I wrote earlier that if I were to get very lucky, the instrument that was meant for me would land in my hands. Well, it did. It’s AES 265.
Here’s a youtube of Christian at Maple Leaf Music in Brattleboro, Vermont. He is playing AES 265, just before it went home with Jerry.
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