JACK HATFIELD'S AUSTRALIAN TOUR
Banjos and Bluegrass “Down Under” - A Working Vacation In Australia
BNL article Nov-Dec 2004
This summer I had the good fortune to do a workshop and performance tour in Australia. I had dreamed of visiting “Down Under” since I can remember, and when Australian festival promoter Howard Miller realized I was serious about visiting “Oz” as the natives call it, he made a series of emails. He arranged a three-week performance and workshop tour, starting with his own Ausgrass festival and Australia’s first multi-day bluegrass workshop, which he called “Boot Camp”. The bluegrass and folk festival circuit in Australia is very loosely organized. The four or five annual festivals and several weekly or monthly regional bluegrass club meetings and jams are all run by different individuals or associations and are scattered across an area almost the size of the USA. There are no booking agents that have connections with all the festivals, only a few individuals like Howard who take it upon themselves to bring acts over from the USA.
Howard was able to make dozens of phone calls and emails and arrange a tour consisting of three clubs, two festivals, three local bluegrass association meetings with jams and/or stage shows, and his three-day Boot Camp workshop. Good work considering all this was squeezed into a three-week period and covered a 1,500 mile circuit including Melbourne, Sydney, Wagga Wagga, Bathurst, Canberra, and Brisbane! The only large city I did not visit was Perth, which is on the west coast.
I flew into Sydney and caught a domestic flight to Melbourne, where banjo luthier/musician Laurie Grundy met me at the airport. On Laurie’s car stereo I was surprised to hear a recording of a jam session held at the Smithville Tennessee fiddler’s convention in 1987. Among the musicians were Laurie, fiddler Billy Womack, banjoist Ed Brown (of Magnum Banjos fame), and…hey, that was ME! I had met Laurie at the jam that day and invited him to stay at my place on his way through East Tennessee after the festival…it turned out to be a welcome invite, as his young son had gotten very ill and needed the care of a doctor, which he received while staying at my place. I ran into Laurie seventeen years later in Australia and he returned the favor by opening up his home to me! To me this demonstrates the true kinship and good will bluegrass musicians share worldwide.
Though Laurie lives a couple of hours away in Porepunkah, we stayed in Melbourne so we could attend the Melbourne Bluegrass Society’s monthly meeting the following evening. After a tour of banjo luthier Roger Buckmaster’s shop (more on Roger later) we headed for the meeting and my first exposure to Aussie bluegrass. The club meets at a former pub called the Piggery. No, this is not a barbeque joint -- it was originally a slaughterhouse! This jam and concert is known as ”Pickin’ at the Piggery”. The event consisted primarily of amateur and semi-pro musicians and a respectable number of non-picking bluegrass fans. There was a surprisingly high level of musicianship on stage and in the jams that night. I have been to England, Ireland and Scotland on three different tours so I have seen overseas bluegrass before. Because of less access to recordings, teachers and instructional materials, I expected the level of musicianship would be somewhat lower in Australia than in Great Britain, but it was not. I truly believe internet access has helped raise considerably the level of musicianship overseas.
The Melbourne Bluegrass Association club members jammed informally in the outer area of the Piggery or rehearsed for their upcoming stage spots as a fiddle player conducted a beginner’s workshop in an adjacent room. Nick Dear is the organizer of the “pickin” (as they call it) and leader of the family band Hard Drive. Nick herded the groups one by one into the performance room where they each played a set for a paying audience. The audience was very supportive and appreciative of all performers, regardless of age or ability level. I found this to be true throughout my tour…lesser-experienced musicians who were brave enough to get on stage were always met with approval and encouragement by the audiences. Another thing that really struck me was the high ratio of middle-aged and older folks who were beginning to play for the first time. Many people in their 40’s, 50’s and even 60’s were just now taking up a musical instrument. I found the Aussie “can-do” attitude very refreshing. Have met so many folks here in the USA who have convinced themselves they are too old to learn an instrument, even though many are half the age of some of these beginners from down under. Goodonya, mates! I was allowed to sell my merchandise at the Piggery, and I realized right away how starved these folks are for learning materials. The terrible exchange rate (around 70 cents on the dollar) coupled with the extremely high overseas shipping fees make "low demand" items like banjo supplies extremely expensive in Australia. Additionally, if one orders a video or book from the USA and it’s not what he wanted, it’s too expensive to return it.
Aussie bluegrassers have it rough. They are so isolated by distance from one another that it makes learning and attending festivals difficult. Teachers are rare and hundreds of miles apart. Bluegrass instruments and learning materials are virtually nonexistent in Australian music stores. Aussies may have to pay more than twice what we do for a quality instrument. Most of the dealers charge full retail price in addition to extremely expensive shipping rates, and they usually expect payment in advance. Therefore, if the instrument is damaged in transit or is a “lemon”, the Aussie customer has little recourse. Some big instrument companies reportedly send their “duds” to Aussie music stores or mail order customers, obviously not expecting them to go to the extreme expense of returning them. Luckily for the Aussies, there are several banjo makers in “Oz” turning out domestic instruments of a quality comparable to that of the U.S. manufacturers (more on that later).
The next day Laurie drove me to his quaint country home in Porepunkah, a lush farming community. There were hundreds of parrots and white cockatoos. Magpies, the national bird, were in almost every tree. It sounded like a jungle on my morning walk! Kangaroos often graze in Laurie’s field, often coming into the yard at dawn and dusk. The country setting was exactly what I was hoping for, though I decided to drink bottled water instead of partaking of the “roof collection” water system common in the rural areas. Like I said, there were MANY birds flying over! The next morning Laurie took me on a tour of the nearby countryside, including the lilac garden and grass airstrip belonging to Laurie’s neighbor Ted Gray. Ted was building a cottage next to his house. He gave me a tutorial in mud brick construction. The bricks are not baked –- the clay earth is simply dug from the ground right there on-site. It is then formed in molds, dried naturally, and laid in neat courses. Finally the outside is painted with a transparent waterproof finish. Ted had built every inch of the cottage himself, down to the old metal tractor wheels used for window frames. He planned on renting it to tourists and honeymooners as an additional income source.
Howard Miller met me at Laurie’s. He drove me from Porepunkah to his sheep and cattle farm in Wagga Wagga, about two hundred kilometers away. Note -- though they still use feet and inches for measuring small lengths such as lengths of rope, the Imperial measure is used for long distances and weights. I found it a bit confusing using this dual system of measures. To make it more confusing, Australians use their own dollar as the currency system instead of British pounds. The drive to Wagga Wagga was picturesque, a typical Australian landscape with grazing sheep, strikingly clear blue skies, eucalyptus trees, rolling hills and countless miles of…eucalyptus trees and rolling hills! This comprises ninety-five percent of the outback. Most of the evergreen and deciduous trees, though fairly common in populated areas, are imported. The tough eucalyptus (gum) trees are the dominant plant because of relatively poor soils and low rainfall. They were exported to California in the 1800’s because of their toughness. They are used for building materials and of course the eucalyptus oil and its vapors are used as a cold and cough medication.
I had a couple of “free” days before embarking on Howard’s Boot Camp, three days of workshops followed by the Ausgrass festival. The event was held at Borambola, a Girl Guide camp (the Girl Guides are similar to our Girl Scouts). There were eighteen students at the Boot Camp. Most came to learn banjo, but I taught guitar and mandolin workshops as well. Other fine musicians who taught were mandolinist and fiddler Mick Moffitt, gifted singer Kate McCarthy and Australia’s premier dobroist, Gary Brown. The students were very eager and seemed very appreciative of my presence. Though many of the “boot campers” had developed proficient picking skills, most were in dire need of playing with other musicians. Again, this was a condition caused by the huge distances between population areas. My “jamming” workshops were by far the best attended.
The ensuing Ausgrass festival was fun. I met several of Australia’s premier bluegrass musicians, notably banjo and fiddle player Trevor Warner, who was instrumental in bringing bluegrass to the Aussies over thirty years ago. Other fine banjo players were Ian Simpson and Dave Helens, who had both won Australia’s national banjo competition at the huge Tamworth country music festival. I was lucky to have many of these fine musicians to perform with during my sets. The Sommers family and the Davidson Brothers were other fine bands featuring young talent. Another hilarious and gifted band was the BluegrassSouls (lovingly referred to as the “Grassholes”. This band not only played fine bluegrass featuring very solid and inventive banjo work by Jim Golding, but also broke out the leis, flowered shirts and ukeleles and performed an authentic Hawaiian set.
Ukeleles? I have found bluegrass audiences and musicians overseas are generally more accepting of non-bluegrass instruments, of related music forms and of female performers. Ukeleles seem to be very popular in Australia. Louise Bell and Sue Dilly (the String Chickens) are a wonderful Tasmanian singing duo that also utilize a ukelele. Later in my tour I met a bluegrass harmonica player. It does not HAVE to sound like Bill Monroe or Flatt and Scruggs -- if it is acoustic and performed well it is welcome at bluegrass gatherings overseas.
I found the ratio of female performers much higher in Australia than in the USA. The most enjoyable jams for me involved playing guitar behind the singing of Julie Barnes (from Alive and Pickin’), Kate McCarthy, Louise Bell and Sue Dilly. I also enjoyed listening to sixteen-year-old Matilda Sommers, who sings and plays rhythm guitar and very solid banjo with her dad and two brothers, the Sommers Family. The pretty and talented Matilda is Australia’s version of Alison Krauss and I believe she could go far in the states with a good agent.
One of the highlights for me was getting to perform a short duet with didgeridoo player Grace Thornton at the big Ausgrass Saturday night concert. Grace was also a talented puppeteer and comedian. She was at Boot Camp learning banjo to add to her show. Traditional aborigines would never allow a female to touch a didgeridoo, much less play it, but Grace is no ordinary gal.
When the Ausgrass festival was over I had several days before my next appearance. Tourist time! I went to a jam at Canberra, Austrailia’s capital. I toured the Parliament building and walked up to within ten feet of kangaroos at the Canberra Royal Golf course. My host, Neil Greaney, and his beautiful wife Margot showed me a great time. Neil is a pretty fair banjo picker, and his two talented teenage sons, banjoist Adam and guitarist Ryan, are also fine upcoming bluegrass musicians.
After leaving Canberra I traveled a few hours away to Bathurst, where I met my new host Ian Hobba. We took a walk on Mick Moffitt’s farm, where I saw kangaroos and wallabies. I was relieved that at no time was I attacked by "drop bears" (koalas -- they drop out of the trees and attack you) or "hoop snakes" (they put their tail in their mouth and roll downhill, again to attack the unwary). We had a short rehearsal, then Mick and bass player Peter Gallen joined Ian and me entertaining students at the local primary schools. The kids were in awe of the loud and fast banjo music and had many good questions. Most of them had never heard bluegrass, much less seen it performed up close. I am hoping we planted a seed and maybe one or two of them will end up playing bluegrass music. Ian and his darling wife Margie lived in a rural setting, so I got two more relaxed days in the country. I also gained a couple of pounds there (I voted Margie the best cook in Australia!)
Ian drove me a few hours away where I was to attend the monthly Annandale jam on the outskirts of Sydney. We went through the Blue Mountains National Park. This range is very similar to my home in the Great Smoky Mountains, including the bluish haze which both ranges are named for. In the Blue Mountains I saw Govett’s Leap at the Grose Valley at Blackheath and the famous Three Sisters rock formation on the edge of Jamison Valley at Katoomba. They call these gorges “valleys”, but they are every bit as impressive as the Grand Canyon, a good two miles across and at least 2,000 feet deep! The Annandale jam is hosted by Rod and Judy Jones who are founders of the Sydney Bluegrass and Old-Time Music Society. It is my understanding this is one of the oldest bluegrass associations in Australia. Rod and Judy are to be commended for promoting the music and bringing so may new members to the bluegrass family. In addition to the jamming, I had a great time onstage performing with dobroist Gary Brown and other Sydney area musicians. Though it was early winter down under, my first day in Sydney was the warmest July day on record. I went to Sydney Harbor, played volleyball at Manly beach, and swam in the Pacific Ocean. I saw the Sydney Opera house, took a ferry tour of the famous Sydney harbor, and generally acted like a tourist. My Sydney host Tony Eyers is a fantastic harmonica player… a BLUEGRASS harmonica player! This term may be considered to be an oxymoron in the USA, but like I said, bluegrassers are generally more inclusive overseas. Tony has actually invented a special harmonica tuning. He has harps made that have the necessary half-steps so that he can play fiddle tunes note-for-note. This is the first time I have heard a harmonica player do justice to fiddle tunes. Go to www.harmonicatunes.com to download a sample.
After a few days “touristing” in Sydney I flew to Brisbane for the Redlands Bluegrass Convention. I was met at the airport by Roger Simpson of Eucalypt banjos and Neil Wills, who is president of the Redlands Modern Country Music Club, which hosts the festival. Roger drove me to his home on Mount Nebo, about an hour out of Brisbane. Roger, in addition to being a banjo builder, is a retired general aviation pilot. Judging by the way he drives his hot rod mini-truck up the winding mountain roads, he misses his job! Again I was lucky to be staying in some beautiful country, high up on Mount Nebo. Roger crafts banjos totally of native materials, including eucalyptus wood and even hardware poured from native ore. Roger’s delightful wife Anne (who is a practicing M.D.) adds a highly artistic flare to Eucalypt banjos by doing beautiful wood inlay on the resonators. This art form is called “marquetry”.
After spending a day acclimating to Mount Nebo and meeting some of Mount Nebo’s colorful characters, Roger drove me to Brisbane to perform at the Broadway Hotel, which has a weekly country/folk music concert. This show was primarily to promote the upcoming Redlands festival, which started the next day, and featured many of the festival performers. Here I met the extremely popular group Bluegrass Parkway, who saved the day by performing with me onstage. One thing I liked about the Parkway was the fact that their vocals sounded "natural". In my opinion, too many overseas bands try to sound “southern USA” and the fake nasal accents do an injustice to the music and to the singers. I suppose the Parkway comes by it honestly -- singer/bassist Maria Duff is originally from Kentucky! Previously mentioned banjoist Ian Simpson plays guitar and sings lead with the group, and Mick O’Neill (aka “Fabio”) plays banjo. Maria’s husband Paul is the bandleader and mandolinist. Paul is also a fine luthier specializing in mandolins. His mandolins are raising eyebrows here in the states -- I have friends, professional musicians here in Tennessee, who own Duff mandolins. Small world!
Other top bands performing at the Redlands festival included the Davidson Brothers. Actually I met and jammed with these boys three weeks prior in Melbourne, but I did not get to hear them perform as a group at that time. The band includes Laurie Grundy on bass, his son Josh on mandolin, and the Davidson brothers, Hamish and Lachie. Laurie taught the Davidson boys guitar and banjo as youngsters and when they became proficient enough, they formed the Davidson Brothers band. Three 20–year-olds and one sixty-year-old flying around the country, performing at the biggest venues, and being screamed at by young girls like rock stars. Laurie takes it in stride -- he was a rock musician as a young man. The dad and former teacher is playing bass, and the boys' former school principal is driving the bus and playing occasional guitar. Talk about “role reversal”! The Davidson Brothers have almost too much energy. I had to take a break after half hour of jamming with them. They are fine musicians and are obviously having the time of their life… and their energy is infectious to the audience. In addition to bluegrass banjo, Lachie also moonlights on fiddle, currently making the “big bucks” with the country’s most popular country music star, Lee Kernigan (the Garth Brooks of Australia, I’m told).
Like Ausgrass, The Redlands festival was located at a Girl Guides camp. I taught several workshops here, most solo and one with Dave Helens and Ian Simpson. The workshops here were less intensive and more general in nature than at Boot Camp, but very well attended. This was a fairly large festival by Aussie standards, about 600 people. It was very well organized and the talent level was the highest I had seen in Australia. I reunited with many new friends I had made at Boot Camp/Ausgrass three weeks earlier, a thousand miles away. I also met another banjo builder, Peter Nahuysen, who had some beautiful instruments on display. Redlands was a great festival. Neil Wills and his wife Cilla were gracious hosts and made me feel very much at home.
When the festival was over I flew back to Sydney to take it easy for a couple of days before flying back to the states. I had tome to reflect on a wonderful experience in a land far away but connected by bluegrass. The Aussies were SO kind and helpful, and so respectful of an American southern bluegrass picker. The students in the workshops were truly eager to learn, and the older folks were “young at heart”, excited about improving their chops.
|AUSTRALIAN BANJOS AND BANJO BUILDERS|
In this final segment of my account of my Australian workshop and performance tour last summer, I will go into more detail about the Australian banjos and the banjo makers I encountered. Mentioned earlier were four banjo builders and one hardware designer/manufacturer. I will start with the hardware designer because his efforts impact many of the others.
Bill Jacobs, Woodhill Bell Tone Rings
Bill is an interesting guy. I met him at the Redlands festival. He lives in Woodhill, Queensland, about thirty miles south of Brisbane. He comes from several generations of bell makers and runs the family foundry. He is the designer and manufacturer of Woodhill Bell tone rings. Bill may be the only foundry owner anywhere who actually plays the banjo! Probably due to his years in the courtroom (he was formerly a barrister) Bill is pensive and very careful in choosing his words. I was impressed by his inquisitiveness about banjo tone. Though he has a thorough knowledge of the math, skills and techniques used to pour and machine banjo hardware, he is primarily trying to learn more about what kind of tone banjo players are seeking. Bill wants to be able to make a more consistent product and create formulas and techniques that will result in the production of tone rings with a predictable sound. Of course there are many variables. ”Good” banjo tone is subjective, and the tone ring is only one element of many which contribute to the tone of a banjo. Therefore, Bill understands that there is no one formula of tone ring metal that will be acceptable for all players.
I learned a lot about the smelting process talking to Bill. Pouring a tone ring is a very complicated procedure and ALL the conditions and ingredients must be closely monitored. The final product depends on much more than the ratio of the components. The various ores must be heated to specific temperatures and different ores and additives must be added at specific points in time and temperature in order to get the desired results. Each pour must be cooled at a specific rate as well. Bill explained how bell makers in earlier times would bury a newly poured bell in the ground to slow its rate of cooling.
When Bill Jacobs first started studying tone rings he enlisted the help of some experienced people. Bill says: “I started researching banjo tone rings some time in 1999. My first contact was Mr. Bill Palmer, who steered me in the direction of Mr. Scott Zimmerman. Both gentlemen were most constructive in their advice. Owning a large foundry and having many friends within the university, I set forth to make my first tone ring. After casting and machining the first two I shipped them to Mr. Scott Zimmerman who in turn forwarded them on to Mr. Paul Hawthorne in your home country. That was the beginning. Since then we have developed two hundred and eleven formulas...” Bill has since developed a working relationship with Paul Hopkins. Paul is no stranger to BNL readers. He developed the Tennessee twenty tone ring for Rich & Taylor after Mark Taylor did analysis research at the Oak Ridge National Laboratories on the alloys used in pre-war Gibson banjos, regarded by most as having the ultimate bluegrass banjo tone. Paul shared with Bill the results of Mark Taylor’s analysis of drilled samples of Earl’s 1934 RB4 tone ring, which Paul now owns. The analysis agreed with Bill’s own experiments at the University of Queensland. Bill achieved virtually identical conclusions about the composition of the tone ring using totally different methods than Mark! Bill’s analysis was based on the (recorded!) sound of the banjo, and Taylor’s analysis was based on actual metal samples obtained by drilling. Undoubtedly, this confirms the results both men’s experiments.
Bill makes it clear: “It is not my intention to copy the Gibson Earl Scruggs sound, but to use that sound as the benchmark from where I can further the sound quality of the banjo. By knowing that formula I have the base from where I can only improve my research method.” He still confers regularly with Paul Hopkins and others in the quest of improving and controlling tone ring sound.
One unique feature of Bill’s tone rings is the lack of plating. Most of the rings are sprayed with a clear lacquer instead of nickel or chrome to protect them from tarnishing. He explains, “When you plate the tone ring with nickel you place a harder surface over the ring. This restricts the brass in its efforts to carry the tonal qualities. The nickel coating causes a reflective effect to the sounds generated by the strings. Research shows me that the original tone rings were not nickel coated on the inner chamber. This can be verified by Gibson themselves and by Mr. Paul Hopkins.”
The problem with trying to reproduce a “pre-war Gibson” formula is that the procedure was not that closely controlled in the 1930’s, and very few records were kept. So, trying to re-create the tone of the pre-war rings using modern techniques may be a more useful goal than trying to re-create the exact composition and density of the 1930’s rings, which varied somewhat. I talked to Paul in researching this article. He says the three 1930’s Gibson tone rings he has analyzed vary in lead content by as much as seven per cent!
So what is in the future for Bill? He states: “At the present moment we are developing a new tone ring using true virgin ore. This ore is purchased direct from the mine and has never been smelted before other than when the earth itself was formed. Presently tests are being conducted in our testing facility here at the foundry after which a further two rings will be cast. These two rings will go to the university for additional testing.”
Much has already been said about Laurie. He makes a fine banjo with and may even be the first in Australia to make a bluegrass style five-string banjo. He makes mostly Gibson replica banjos but will also take on custom orders. Recently he was asked to make a banjo commemorating the favorite horse of a professional equestrian. The lady sent Laurie photos of the beloved horse. He showed me these photos of the horse, and the inlay on the banjo looks remarkably similar to the original animal. The owner was thrilled with the results. He refers to this banjo as “Homer McTwang”. It features Laurie’s unique cam-style D-tuners which he claims are every bit as accurate as Keith tuners (see photo). Laurie actually did not originally want his banjo making to be mentioned in this article. He is busy enough touring with the Davidson Brothers and has enough Australian banjo customers to keep him satisfied. He has endured some hassles when dealing overseas, and does not wish to be contacted by overseas customers.
Roger Simpson, Eucalypt Banjos (www.banjoz.com)
Roger Simpson and his wife Anne live atop beautiful Mount Nebo near Brisbane. Roger is a retired commercial aviation pilot and his delightful wife Anne is a practicing medical doctor. Roger builds the Eucalypt banjo from one hundred percent native Australian materials, including the hardware. (Roger was the first builder to use Bill Jacobs’ hardware in a “production” banjo.) Roger was kind enough to provide me with a Mount Nebo model banjo throughout my tour of Australia so I would not have to lug my banjo overseas. The domestic airline luggage restrictions are stingy at best, and I wanted to have more room in my luggage for instructional materials and other goodies for the Aussie workshop students.
Since I gave the Eucalypt banjo a one-month intensive “test drive”, I can vouch that this rather surprisingly affordable banjo is a professional quality instrument featuring top craftsmanship. I toured Roger’s shop and saw many banjo components in various stages of development. I was impressed by his ingenuity. For example, he has fashioned a vacuum press from an old refrigerator pump and a thick plastic bag. This device eliminates all air pockets and irregularities when gluing resonator laminations. Besides the excellent workmanship and native Australian components, the beautiful resonater marquetry done by Anne makes each Eucalypt banjo a unique and impressive work of art. Marquetry is the art of inlaying different colored woods to create pictures (see photo).
My only criticism of the Mt. Nebo model banjo I played was the rather plain dot inlays, which I suppose was one reason for the affordable price. I told Roger that banjo players are comfortable with paying a little extra for esthetics and a banjo of this quality should have an inlay design commensurate with the fine craftsmanship and tone. Anne is probably cursing me for this advice…she is currently working on an original fig vine inlay pattern in addition to decorating resonators for every Eucalypt banjo (see photo). Roger and Anne are planning on coming over for my Smoky Mountain Banjo Academy in April 2005 with several banjos to display.
Roger Buckmaster, Buckmaster Banjos (www.buckmaster.now.nu)
Laurie Grundy took me to meet Roger Buckmaster at his little shop in Melbourne. There were literally hundreds of violins and other stringed instruments hanging in his tiny shop. Roger is a delightful fellow, small in stature, with reading glasses and an apron. When he is bent over his workbench he looks like the stereotypical shop owner. Roger comes from a family of artists. Therefore, he focuses largely on the esthetic aspects. His banjos are exquisite in appearance, with ornate carving, engraving and painting. However, some of his bluegrass style banjos do not have an upper coordinator rod, so the action can only be adjusted by changing the bridge height. Roger owns a fantastic collection of ornately engraved and carved banjos, from Bella Voces to Florentines to unique antiques and many ornate creations of his own. He brought one after another from the back room for me to admire and play as he tended to his customers and talked local news and sports with Laurie. Our visit was very enjoyable but too short.
Peter Nahuysen, Bellbird Banjos (www.bellbirdbanjos.com)
Bellbird banjos are named after a native Aussie bird whose chirp has a beautiful tone, very similar to a bell’s chime. Peter works out of the factory of guitar builder Chris Melville near Brisbane. He outsources some of the work, including manufacturing of a very good molded case. It is not clear exactly which aspects of banjo building he does himself. I tried out two or three of Peter’s banjos at Redlands and was impressed with the clear tone and the consistency from one banjo to another. The craftsmanship is excellent. Peter only produces high-end professional level banjos. His banjos are heavy for the most part, which tended to make them bright with a good deal of sustain. His standard models are only available with gold plating, which I find curious, as most players prefer nickel. I assume he would offer a nickel or chrome plating as a special order.
I urge the reader to visit the websites of these manufacturers and view the beautiful and unique instruments Australian banjo makers have contributed to the banjo world. Also, I apologize to any Australian banjo makers I did not mention. I am sure this is not a complete report on Aussie banjos. However, these are the only craftsmen I actually came in contact with on my trip.
SEE PHOTOS at: THE AUSTRALIA PHOTO ALBUM.