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.