Peghead Nation instructor Bill Evans demonstrates a special open-back banjo.
by Teja Gerken
August 10, 2020
Peghead Nation instructor Bill Evans has a large collection of banjos, many of which he uses for his The Banjo in the America performances. While he is best known for playing bluegrass banjos such as a 1929 Gibson Granada, he also owns several unusual banjos, including this Round Peak–style open-back banjo built by musician and luthier Riley Baugus of Walkertown, North Carolina.
The instrument’s Round Peak–style refers to the type of setup used by many old-time players in Surry County, North Carolina, including Fred Cockerham and Tommy Jarrell. The most distinctive feature of this style is a fingerboard that is fretless from the first to the seventh position, and then again above the 17th fret. Even more unusual, the lower portion of the fingerboard is covered with a thin piece of metal, which creates a smooth sliding surface. Traditionally, players have removed the unneeded frets and installed various types of sheet metal, including bits of galvanized roofing or copper plates. Built from the ground up with the Round Peak setup in mind, this Riley Baugus banjo uses an 18-percent nickel silver plate.
The banjo has a walnut and cherry neck and pot made with a two-ply steam-bent maple rim and walnut cap. The head is mounted with 18 brackets, which are held by zinc-plated brass shoes. Unplated brass is used for the instrument’s hoop and stretcher band. A German maple and ebony bridge, a No-Knot tailpiece, and Gotoh tuning machines complete the banjo.
In this video, Bill discusses the banjo in detail, and demonstrates the Round Peak style by playing a bit of “Reuben” and “Cluck Old Hen.” Rileybaugusbanjos.com
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