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Phil Davidson - British Banjo Builder by Rod Jackson Phil Davidson former mechanic and now luthier, who after 20 years is one the UKʼs most highly rated banjo, mandolin and guitar makers. I ﬁrst met Phil in 1982 at the Reading Banjo Festival, Berkshire, England, heʼd been playing banjo since hearing Doug Dillard a year earlier and had been bitten by the banjo bugʼ Who would know at that time that most of the great players in the U.K. Richard Collins, Leon Hunt and John Dowling (who won Winﬁeld) would have Phil make their banjos. Scott Vestal had Phil make the prototype neck which later developed into the Stealth banjo, both he and Gerald Jones had seen the English style banjo with a tunnel which runs up the neck instead of having a 5th string peg. When the Stealth banjo was developed Scott Vestal asked Phil if he would make the necks but he declined, saying that doing multiples would be boring! All, or most of the wood used is from the U.K., usually recycled as can be seen in the English style banjo which has a neck made from birdseye maple recovered from a cigarette factory ﬂoor during demolition and was imported from the U.S.A a hundred or so years ago and has now been put to much better use. In his workshop is a storage space for the various woods Phil uses, which include birdseye maple, curly maple, walnut mahogany and cherry. Everything comes in blocks so he has to cut the shape to fulﬁll the order. He builds the necks and frets, bridges tuning pegs, resonators etc. Phil also, on occasions creates all the instruments metal work himself but his specialty is inlay work using mother of pearl and it is his attention to detail which makes him one of the best. He says, “What I love about this job is hearing someone good playing one of my instruments, Iʼve had people in here who are superb musicians and when a couple of them turn up weʼve had fantastic sessions.” Phil loves what he doeʼs and is one of the nicest, happiest guyʼs I know and I always look forward to visiting him. His workshop has a potbellied wood burning stove which apart from heating the place in the winter is useful for cooking mushrooms and bacon also for drying out resonator backs which after the wood has been soaked, are placed in a mould and clamped and placed on the stove. Phil exports Celtic style mandolins and octave mandolins to the U.S.A. and Tim OʼBrien plays one of bouzoukis. He has orders from Ireland for tenor banjos. He has also made a ukulele for the celebrated mandolinist Simon Mayor. My banjos are the ones pictured and both have ʻTennessee 20ʼ tone rings and the pot and hardware are from First Quality Music Supplies. The bluegrass style banjo is made from walnut with an ebony ﬁngerboard. The English style is birdseye maple and also has an ebony ﬁngerboard but the binding on the neck and resonator is maple. What beautiful pieces of furniture they are and have been much admired both in the U.K. and in Europe, they sound great too!! Philʼs other love is his motorbike which stands at one end of his workshop but when he goes on a trip, which he did this summer, touring round Spain, he couldnʼt take a banjo with him so he made a travel banjo which will ﬁt into a rucksack and is an open back with a shorter neck. Phil told me, “nothing hand made can be entirely perfect, but I do the best I can with whatever I do. Iʼm hardly ever satisﬁed, though. Except for the traveling banjo. Iʼm really satisﬁed with that.” If you are interested in seeing more of Philʼs work then pay his website a visit. http://www.davidsoninstruments.com Thanks Phil! Rod Jackson. Rod Jackson Banjo player with the British Bluegrass band Blackjack, Rod has been a ﬁxture of Bluegrass banjo in England since the late 1970’s. I met him at a banjo festival in Reading, England in 1983. One of the few Scruggs style players in the country at that time. Most groups consisted of a tuba, tenor banjo, and piano! A great banjo player and a heck of a nice guy.
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