A Brief History
My interest in banjos goes back to the ballad era of the seventies. Barney McKenna who played with the Dubliners was the most notable banjo player of that era & we all loved the music of the Dubliners, Clancys and all the fine ballad groups of that time.
I worked in the Institute of Industrial Research & Standards as a mechanical engineering technician and our job was to build special purpose machinery and design new products and carry out production engineering on them and produce prototypes of the products. It was natural to take an interest in how things were made and I turned my attention to violins and banjos as a hobby. I made some nice violins based on Stradivarius and Grenarius designs, the detailed drawings of which were readily available.
One of our functions was to help small industries to set up. Tom Cussen of Clareen banjos came to us for assistance and I was able to set him up with some jigs and fixtures to aid his production. We did some experiments with tone rings, wooden rims,
resonators, flanges and many other components. Tom in return very kindly showed me the finer points of banjo making.
We became great friends and to this day continue to share our knowledge and new ideas
My first banjo was made for my cousin Kevin “The Fox” Finucane. He now has a collection of some of my earliest banjos and I supplied him with a nice gold plated instrument earlier this year. My second banjo was for Stocktons Wing. Dave McNevin played for some years and suggested some changes in design such as slimmer necks, smaller peg head and other bits and pieces.
I made banjo number 10 for Kieran Hanrahan and he became my advisor on tone rings and wooden rim experiments. We did three different tone rings. We carried out work on flat head, medium and arch top tone rings. We carried out experiments on wall heights, thickness, weight etc until we were happy with the result. We fitted one of the new medium tone rings to his banjo. He made his well known CD “Kieran Hanrahan
plays the Irish Tenor Banjo” and even if we say so ourselves, Kieran’s playing and the tone of the banjo are second to none.
I made banjos for Kevin Griffin, Frank Custy, Gerry O'Connor, Eamon Coyne and Mick Moloney. They all had suggestions to offer and I have them to thank for the development of the banjo. Barney McKenna came for a 17 fret banjo. Nobody knows more about banjos than Barney. He had a great input into the design of his own banjo. He chose simple inlay, rosewood fingerboard, arch top tone ring, slim neck, concave resonator and finally his own design two footed bridge. He also loves low action.