A unique low-tuned banjo inspired by John Hartford and co-designed by Alison Brown.
by Teja Gerken
January 22, 2018
Deering Banjos is one of today’s most innovative manufacturers of high-quality banjos. The San Diego, California–based company offers many instruments that depart from standard designs, and the latest example is the new low-tuned Julia Belle model. Inspired by the low tunings used by the late John Hartford, the Julia Belle is a design collaboration between Deering and banjo star Alison Brown. In this video, Peghead Nation banjo instructor Bill Evans demonstrates the instrument.
The Deering Julia Belle impresses from aesthetic and tonal perspectives alike. John Hartford was an avid illustrator, and Alison Brown chose a collection of John’s drawings from the Hartford family archives to be reproduced as inlays on the instrument. Featured most prominently is a sketch of a woman in a blue dress inlaid on the peghead. The banjo’s fretboard inlay includes images of Captain Trone, captain of the Mississippi riverboat Julia Belle (which John also piloted); a paddlewheel; and the Julia Belle itself. The banjo is designed for low E or D tunings and includes a thicker head and heavier strings. Its mahogany construction also helps bring out a tonal warmth and deeper tones.
“Every time I pick this instrument up, I end up writing a song, or get the beginnings of one,” says Bill Evans, who also said that the Julia Belle is ideal for players who like to sing in the key of E or D, which he demonstrates on a performance of “Keep on the Sunny Side.”
The Deering Julia Belle is, naturally, a must-have for serious John Hartford fans, but it’s also a very cool sounding instrument with a unique sonic signature.
SPECS: Low-tuned five-string resonator banjo. Premium three-ply violin-grade maple rim. Mahogany resonator. 06 bell-bronze tone ring. Brass, notched tension hoop. One-piece cast-zinc flange. 24 round hooks with with hex nuts. 11-inch custom D’Addario head. Mahogany neck. Radiused ebony fretboard with 24 fret overhang. 26¼-inch scale. 1¼-inch nut width. Deering Smile bridge. John Hartford–designed inlays. Deering planetary tuners. Deering geared fifth-string tuner. Nickel plated hardware. Made in USA. List price $5,699. deeringbanjos.com
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