Islander Banjos: exclusive to Banjos Direct
INTRODUCING THE ISLANDER OB ASH LEAF
The Islander OB Ash Leaf is the first in what is sure to become a classic series of handmade banjos, exclusively manufactured for Banjos Direct: and remarkably the only range of production banjos being manufactured in England. In case that statement is a surprise, we should explain. Up until the 2nd World War there were numerous banjo manufacturers on mainland UK, but now there are none left.
There are of course a number of excellent individual craftsmen making instruments to individual commissions. But those instruments are often aimed at the most affluent of players and collectors. In addition there are one or two people importing rims and necks and doing an assembly job in the UK to produce entry level instruments.
But with the Islander OB Ash Leaf banjo we want to do something quite different from either of these: we are creating superb quality, hand-crafted, genuinely 'Made in England' instruments in small production batches. This enable us to provide exceptional, aspirational, instruments at much more achievable prices than those made to private commission.
The first banjo in our range is the Ash block-rim Islander OB Ash Leaf, which is not only be a wonderful instrument to play and own but will also become an instant collectors' item.
A superb quality Ash-block rim banjo handmade in England exclusively for Banjos Direct, the Islander OB Ash Leaf is the first model in a completely new range of British hand-crafted banjos.
This 5-string open-back model is beautifully crafted in England in Ash with a Maple neck. It features a wonderful combination of traditional styling and superb sound, plus the use of ultra-contemporary carbon fibre reinforced neck.
Features include: all nickel-plated hardware, 24 brackets, Ash-block rim, Maple neck with carbon fibre reinforcement, traditional dowel stick and S-shaped frailing scoop.
INCLUDES LUXURY ARCHTOP CASE
Photograph by Carlotta Luke
More about the Islander OB Ash Leaf
Why an ash rim?
To some people ash will sound like an unusual choice of wood for the rim, but actually it's not that unusual, and has many special qualities.
Ash (like maple) is a very dense and purposeful wood. You could also say that ash is as American as a baseball bat and as British as a Morris Minor! It has lent itself to both iconic items. Ash is often known in Britain as "the coach builders wood" for its strength, and adaptability to shaping and joinery. And ash is immensely strong and stable: no wonder it gets used for pickaxe handles too!
Strong as an ox it may be, but ash is also a wonderful tone wood, just ask Leo Fender. The first Stratocasters and Broadcaster/Telecasters had ash bodies. Fender later switched to alder so that their solid guitars would be a bit lighter, but those early ash Fenders remain highly collectible.
And ash is not a new wood for banjos either: many of the turn of the 20th Century spunover rim banjos such as Winsors and Stewarts were made of ash.
Why a block rim instead of three-ply?
If you want to make a killer banjo rim, whether it be block or ply, your main enemy is glue. Glue acts like rubber: it soaks up the vibrations you're trying to transmit. The late Tony Pass used to say that a block rim had a third less glue than the average three ply. And block rims have an inherent stability too. The wood is not fighting to straighten itself like the bent wood in a ply rim. In a block rim the wood blocks sit snugly tight against each other, allowing superb transmission of sound vibrations.
This is why makers are so obsessive about particular glues and old fashioned hide glues and so on. It's really impotant to have a glue that drys glass-hard (for want of a better description) and (ideally) shrinks a bit in the process. The theory being that the surfaces of the wood are brought into contact as tightly as possible without any gunky, rubbery stuff inbetween. A really good three ply rim is doubtless as good as a block rim, but we've chosen to use block because we can ensure great sound and absolute stability time after time, rim after rim.
There is a certain honesty and integrity about the manufacture of block rims too. You can see the wood, and the workmanship. Nothing is hidden, everything is apparent, and everything is beautiful too: so we use light stains only on the Islander OB Ash Leaf to allow the wood character to be clearly visible. You can't hide a dodgy join in a block rim!!
Photograph by Carlotta Luke
Why a wooden dowel stick instead of steel coordinator rods?
This is simple to explain: wooden dowel sticks look better and sound better. For the old-timey sound and feel you can't beat a wooden dowel stick.
It would be easy for us to use steel coordinator-rods, but that would make our openback banjos heavier than necessary, less appealing visually, and they wouldn't sound so sweet. A hand-crafted wooden dowel stick is virtually unknown in banjos within this price range and would usually be the preserve of much more expensive custom instruments.
Some folk think the adjustable co-ordinator rod concept is important to be able adjust action etc.. but with the Islander OB Ash Leaf you won't need to do that because the instrument is perfectly designed, built and set-up to start with. What's more the block-rim ensures complete stability, rendering a steel coordinator rod redundant.
Why a carbon fibre reinforced neck instead of an adjustable truss rod?
Well this is both a nod to tradition and a very modern manufacturing approach at the same time!
Back in the day, when the big American brands started to introduce truss rods, this was viewed with a lot of suspicion. The cynical feeling being that the manufacturers had resorted to using inferior neck wood and therefore needed truss rods to stabilise the necks.
It's quite funny to think of that now, when we have come to accept truss rods and to be surprised by an instrument not having one. But of course relatively few players have ever actually turned that little nut at the top of their neck.
For us the main advantages of a carbon fibre non adjustable rod are that the carbon fibre rod is super light and super strong.
Put it another way: you can fit whatever gauge strings you like and sleep soundly in your bed the same night, without worrying that your banjo is going to be a different shape in the morning!
When we install a carbon fibre rod we know that the rod itself is one heck of a lot stiffer and stronger than the wood we've removed in order to fit it. And we know that it will never rattle, it will never need tightening or loosening, and it will never twist or warp.
What's more, carbon fibre transmits sound very efficiently (unlike steel).
Who wants to mess with truss rods in a handmade banjo? You just want your banjo to be right, right from the start.
Photograph by Carlotta Luke
Ash block rim, handmade in England
Twenty four brackets
Notched tension hoop.
Plain brass hoop tone ring
Edge of pot ivoroid-bound on inside and outer edges
Maple dowel stick, with traditional fixings (Vega style neck brace)
Dowel stick fitted with ferrule and end bolt.
Fingerboard: ebony, with S-shape frailing scoop
Peghead: ebony veneer
Maple neck, with stained black Maple centre splice
Edge of Fretboard ivoroid-bound to match pot
Mother of pearl fret dot markers and ash leaf peghead inlay
Evo gold fine gauge frets
Carbon fibre reinforcement.
All Islander photography by Carlotta Luke
High quality planetary tuners
Patented 'No-knot' tailpiece
Bone top nut
Bone fifth-string nut
Sullivan Historic ancient slow-growth maple bridge
Traditional 'wide' neck, 35mm at nut
Durable modern two part lacquer, cut back by hand for traditional feel and appearance
Luxury quality archtop hardcase included
Numbered by individual maker and with maker's individual brass name plaque
Certificate of authenticity
Seven year manufacturer guarantee