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Abigail Washburn spotted with huge bass banjo!

Discussion in 'Basses [BG]' started by bholder, Sep 12, 2018.


  1. bholder

    bholder Affable Sociopath Supporting Member

    Sep 2, 2001
    central NY state
    Received a gift from Sire* (see sig)
    Promo pic for upcoming tour with Bela Fleck (no idea whether it's real or just a prop, but look, it's even a 5-string!):

    88-og.
    "Paddle Faster, I Hear Banjos!!!!" hehe :D
     
  2. Bruce Johnson

    Bruce Johnson Commercial User

    Feb 4, 2011
    Fillmore, CA
    Professional Luthier
    Interesting....Photoshop, stage prop, incomplete instrument??? Notice that the strings don't fit correctly, and the 5th string isn't even on there.....

    I'm curious. I hope someone knows more about it.

    Looking at it again, I suspect it's a Photoshop job. Judging by her height, that thing would be about a 60" scale length!

    Edit: Wow! It does exist! See below.
     
    Last edited: Sep 12, 2018
    MattZilla and bholder like this.
  3. bholder

    bholder Affable Sociopath Supporting Member

    Sep 2, 2001
    central NY state
    Received a gift from Sire* (see sig)
    Yup, hoping it's more than a prop, someone out there must know!
     
  4. mongo2

    mongo2

    Feb 17, 2008
    Da Shaw
  5. Lance Bunyon

    Lance Bunyon

    Jul 17, 2018
  6. Bruce Johnson

    Bruce Johnson Commercial User

    Feb 4, 2011
    Fillmore, CA
    Professional Luthier
    And of course, my own Banjozilla. I'm always curious to see what other folks have done in recent years, building upright bass banjos. Over the last 25 years, I think I've only heard of two guys who have tried to build and sell them in limited production. All the others have been one-off custom home-made specials. A lot of interesting ideas and approaches.

    Bass Banjo

    IMG_3677D.
     
  7. Lance Bunyon

    Lance Bunyon

    Jul 17, 2018
    25 lbs? Ouch! Cool instrument though.
     
  8. bholder

    bholder Affable Sociopath Supporting Member

    Sep 2, 2001
    central NY state
    Received a gift from Sire* (see sig)
    Note the peg it stands on. ;) Might add a strap for stability, but not for weight carrying...
     
  9. Lance Bunyon

    Lance Bunyon

    Jul 17, 2018
    Note that my upright NEVER leaves my room.
     
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  10. bholder

    bholder Affable Sociopath Supporting Member

    Sep 2, 2001
    central NY state
    Received a gift from Sire* (see sig)
    My cat knocked mine over and the back popped off... :(
     
  11. Lance Bunyon

    Lance Bunyon

    Jul 17, 2018
    $500. Everything in a Bass Luthier Shop starts at $500.
    Selling soon...
     
  12. L Anthony

    L Anthony

    May 14, 2009
    Ohio
    Last edited: Sep 12, 2018
  13. Bruce Johnson

    Bruce Johnson Commercial User

    Feb 4, 2011
    Fillmore, CA
    Professional Luthier
    Wow! It really exists! And it looks like it is around 60"-64" scale length. Looks to be around a 24" head, same as I used on Banjozilla. I wonder who built it? The article says Bela bought it in upstate New York.
     
  14. L Anthony

    L Anthony

    May 14, 2009
    Ohio
    Here's another article that mentions it: Banjo Newsletter

    It says the bass banjo is "a vintage Fairbanks Whyte Laydie bass banjo. (“It’s huge even for a bass,” Béla marvels. “Every bass player is like ‘Oh, come on, I can’t play this thing!’”)"
     
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  15. L Anthony

    L Anthony

    May 14, 2009
    Ohio
  16. Bruce Johnson

    Bruce Johnson Commercial User

    Feb 4, 2011
    Fillmore, CA
    Professional Luthier
    Interesting article and the ad from Bernunzio Music; thanks for finding them! Those answer a lot of questions.

    A few notes about it from this article and ad:

    That is probably the same instrument. Bernunzio music in Rochester, NY listed it for sale; Bela bought it, and Abigail plays it during some of their performances.

    It's an old timer, a circa 1905 Fairbanks Whyte Laydie ContraBass Banjo. I guess there was some limited production of them, to be used in the big all-banjo bands of that era. I wonder how many still exist?

    It is a monster, 60" scale length! For comparison, a normal upright bass is a mere 42" scale. The 5th string peg on the side of the neck appears to be decoration, and isn't really functional. The fingerboard has that kink, but it is designed to be a 4-string bass.

    It's so big that Abigail can't really fully play it. They only only use it in one or two songs of their show, and only local shows. They don't take it out on tour. They tune the four strings to four notes, and she only plays them open. No fretting. The songs only need those four notes. So, she's using it like a big harp, providing deep background tones.

    The case is amazing too. A custom made fitted steamer trunk, over 7' tall.

    Technical stuff: It probably was originally intended for gut strings. It's interesting to me that it doesn't have any kind of spring support thing on the underside of the head, which I found that I needed on mine. By the spacing of the frets, it looks like the bridge is supposed to be placed down about 6"-8" from the bottom edge of the rim. Kind of odd why they would lay it out like that.

    Most of the construction looks fairly typical open-back banjo. Just bigger!
     
    Last edited: Sep 13, 2018
  17. Bruce Johnson

    Bruce Johnson Commercial User

    Feb 4, 2011
    Fillmore, CA
    Professional Luthier
    For general reference, here are the pictures from the Bernunzio Music ad:

    productimage-picture-c-fairbanks-whyte-laydie-contrabass-banjo-18317-58972..447x900_q85.

    productimage-picture-c-fairbanks-whyte-laydie-contrabass-banjo-18317-58973..447x900_q85.

    productimage-picture-c-fairbanks-whyte-laydie-contrabass-banjo-18317-58975..447x900_q85.

    productimage-picture-c-fairbanks-whyte-laydie-contrabass-banjo-18317-58976..447x900_q85.

    productimage-picture-c-fairbanks-whyte-laydie-contrabass-banjo-18317-58977..447x900_q85.

    productimage-picture-c-fairbanks-whyte-laydie-contrabass-banjo-18317-58979..447x900_q85.

    And the text describing the instrument:

    We are pleased to offer a one-of-a-kind rarity from the Golden era of Boston banjo making, a contrabass banjo from A.C. Fairbanks. 79.5" (6.7 feet) overall length, 25.5" rim, and 60" scale, the banjo has four upright bass style tuners on the peghead and a friction peg fifth tuner which we believe is ornamental. Most likely the banjo was set up and played as a bass, perhaps in a banjo orchestra in the early part of the 20th century. Bound mahogany neck, pearwood fretboard, and pearwood topped peghead, with tortoise bound rim, which shows evidence of a repaired crack. The dowel stick carries a Fairbanks plate, and two Whyte Laydie stamps although no tonering is present. Grained ivoroid dots and diamond inlays. Included in the sale is a period hardshell case which is stamped "No. 2 Professional, A. Taylor Trunk Works, New York/Chicago". Truly a custom steamer trunk, the case measures over 7 feet tall, is 11" deep, is held together by brackets and includes a large casepocket inside. The case has accumulated various names/addresses on the outside including a stencil reading "Des Moines, Iowa". Both the contrabanjo and case are museum quality artifacts, and are one of a kind.


    Sold (To Bela, I presume!)
     
  18. rllefebv

    rllefebv

    Oct 17, 2000
    Newberg, Oregon
    Were you ever pictured in Bass Player magazine with that? I recall seeing one years ago...

    -robert
     
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  19. Bruce Johnson

    Bruce Johnson Commercial User

    Feb 4, 2011
    Fillmore, CA
    Professional Luthier
    Yep, that was Banjozilla's first big famous moment. I forget the issue off the top of my head, but it was around 1995. The last page, inside the back cover. Back when Jim Roberts ran Bass Player.
     
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  20. Bruce Johnson

    Bruce Johnson Commercial User

    Feb 4, 2011
    Fillmore, CA
    Professional Luthier
    By the way, the Gibson Bass Banjo in the video that Lance put in post #5 above is also quite old and rare. From what I understand, it's from the 1930's and Gibson only made about 10 of them. I think I read somewhere that only two still exist. There's a picture around from a Gibson ad of a woman playing one. That's probably the most commonly seen upright bass banjo picture.
     
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