I received a great review of a Richard Morgan custom banjola (!) and mandolin all the way from Australia by John Hicks. I am sure that the banjola is an interesting topic, so I decided to share it with you. Here it is:

Life but not as we know it came to mind when I first saw a picture of one of Richard Morgan’s mandolins – it just wasn’t like anything I’d seen before and its beauty was reportedly more than skin deep with particularly penetrating  sound emanating from a unique sound board .  I asked Richard, who lived some 2000km to the north, to make me one.  Our 4 month journey was punctuated by frequent phone calls about technical aspects of the construction – at times a little challenging for me to get my head around but always with Richard’s passion and commitment shining through.  I was delighted with the resulting mandolin.  So much so that we started another journey with a banjola as the destination.

As Richard hadn’t turned his hand to banjos before, there was even more dialogue this time, some of which I understood.  Interestingly, Richard found the process helped him grow as a luthier.

The construction (see below) was similar in many respects to the mandolin featuring mostly wonderful Australian native timbers.

The banjola’s scale length of 53cm is shorter than a normal G scale banjo and Richard compensated by stringing it with heavy strings (13, 20, 26, 35,13).  I’ve changed to lighter strings and tuned to open A# as I prefer the action of the lighter strings.  An Almuse hum bucking pickup works beautifully – very clean.   With its timber body and light weight the banjola is a lot more comfortable to play than a normal resonator or open back banjo.

Most importantly, it sounds great.  Aesthetically, it’s a work of art – superlatives like superb don’t quite do it justice.

John Hicks, Australia (jandp.hicks@bigpond.com)

Banjola Specs

The body of the banjola is Queensland Maple back and sides. The back is braced with a lattice of Celery Top Pine.  Sound board and sound board bracing are Western Red Cedar and the scratch plate is ebony. The bracing on the back is Tasmanian Myrtle with an extra bar in there to make super stiff.

The block for the neck attachment is a cross ply of ebony and Myrtle.

 The neck has an anchored and pre-tensioned carbon fibre reinforced Western Australian Jarra core. The head stock is a ten ply laminate of Tasmanian Myrtle and the remainder of the neck is Celery top pine. The central compression bar down the middle of the instruments is Celery Top Pine. The neck insert and fret board is ebony from an airport cut in Honiara in the Solomon Islands.

The finish is a post cure hard shellac  and the tuners are Rubners.