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This story has a happy ending, folks, and I'll start with it. After working for three weeks to painstakingly restore Bryan Sutton's flood damaged Banjo Killer, Shin Ichikawa finally got to test drive it today! The entire shop stopped working to watch this exciting moment, after which Shin received a standing ovation (well, we were all standing anyway). 





Mike Onofrio, our regular fret guy, came in early this morning to install frets.











I was kinda sorta planning to receive the guitar from Mike and do a quick and dirty setup, but Shin wanted to carry the baton over the finish line himself. Before I realized that Mike had finished the fret job, Shin had the neck on and started installing a new set of Waverly tuners.

I should have known better than to expect that the guitar would end up on my bench.












Shin quickly installed the original nut and saddle, got strings on the guitar, put some tension on the strings, and adjusted the truss rod. Machines stopped running all through the shop as word spread that a possibly historic moment was about to be witnessed.


After a little warmup doodling (compulsory for all professional guitar setup folks), Shin played a few tunes. When we finished applauding and reaching for the hankies, several of the more courageous players the shop took turns trying out the Banjo Killer. Shin is a tough act to follow!










Here's a portrait of the team that put the Banjo Killer back together: Shin, Brian Durkin, me, Mike Onofrio, and Cary Clements.

So how did the Banjo Killer sound? Pretty amazing. After about 15 minutes of playing, the bottom started to open up and we all got a little glimpse of what it might feel like to be Bryan Sutton.

I'm sure there's more break-in ahead, but to sound this loud, clear and full after being drowned in the Nashville flood, disassembled piece by piece, nipped and tucked, and cobbled back together, is more than I could have hoped for. The video at the top of the page was made within 10 minutes of initial string up.

Late this afternoon Shin received a phone call from Bryan Sutton, thanking him for accomplishing the incredible feat of restoring a treasured guitar that might otherwise never be played again. Bryan is Shin's real life guitar hero, and this was the first time Shin had ever spoken with him. I'm pretty sure the phone call was as exciting for Shin as playing the Banjo Killer. 

Shin leaves for Boston tomorrow and for Tokyo on Monday. He came here at his own expense and donated his time for the challenge, for the lutherie experience, comraderie, and pure love of the music the Banjo Killer represents and may produce again.

So long, my friend. Working with you has been a real pleasure and a humbling experience. Your heart is as big as your talent. Lets find a way, someday, to do something like this again.

I need a little break, but tomorrow I will finish restoring Courtney Hartman's guitar, which imploded, cracked and came unglued a couple weeks ago in Telluride's 20 percent humidity (the opposite condition experienced by the Banjo Killer). I thought I got out of the repair/restoration business 20 years ago, but a few projects just can't be refused.

The Banjo Killer needs still some cosmetic work and a better setup, and this will generate a couple more blogs. But not tomorrow.



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Comment by Bourgeois Guitars on July 21, 2012 at 11:49am

Dear everyone who left comments to us below,

I am sorry that it has taken me a  long time to respond. I got back to Tokyo safely 4days ago. I can't thank you enough for supporting us since we started working on the project on June 25. As Dana mentioned, the Banjo Killer still needs some cosmetic work and the final setup and it will sound BETTER for sure. I really wanted to hear the sound after they gave it the final tweak, but I had to leave it up to them. I was extraordinary happy that I could be a part of the project. I could not make it without great advice and suggestions that Dana and guys at the shop gave me and being supported by all of you who read the blog daily. You all encouraged us and we have been motivated. Again, thank you very much for the compliment and thinking that I am your hero. I guess I am still nothing but a repair guy though!

Best Regards,



Comment by Michael Munzer on July 18, 2012 at 1:16pm

Thanks for sharing this great story. Shin is a wonderful player. Bryan must be thrilled to be getting his instrument back!

Comment by Zohn Genade on July 17, 2012 at 10:01am

Well done Shin! Great story thank you for sharing.

Comment by Sleight of Hand on July 15, 2012 at 5:37am

I can't wait to see the videos of the restoration of the are going to restore that as well, right?

Comment by Sleight of Hand on July 15, 2012 at 5:36am

I just love a happy ending! Shin is my hero now.  I hope he has sweet dreams of playing such a huge role in this project (and the Banjo Killer, if you'll pardon the 'syllepsis'...)

Comment by Doc Rogers on July 14, 2012 at 6:57am

What a great story. Thanks for taking the time to document this amazing reclamation. Bryan must be ecstatic, and Shin's playing was pretty impressive as well.

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