Phil Davidson - British Banjo Builder by wulinqing


									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

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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