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Frank Proffitt Jr. 5 String Fretless Banjo (1975)

Frank Proffitt Jr.  5 String Fretless Banjo  (1975)

Frank Proffitt Jr. 5 String Fretless Banjo (1975), made in Watauga County, North Carolina, natural finish, walnut body and neck with skin head, handmade gig bag case.

This unusual instrument is a hand made "Mountain banjo" by Frank Proffitt Jr. in the style of his father Frank Proffitt. It was purchased by the last owner from Proffitt Jr. in 1975, and has mostly hung on a wall since. This style of handmade "Mountain banjo" was a specialty of the region of North Carolina where the Proffitt family and their neighbors Clifford and Leonard Glenn lived. Frank Jr. sold limited numbers of these banjos after his father's death in 1965, some made by him and some by the Glenns, which are all locally made pieces and for practical purposes identical. This one is not signed by either but has remained in one family since purchased there new.

Frank Proffitt Sr. was also a folk performer who made a major contribution to American musical history beyond his handmade instruments. Collectors Frank and Anne Warner traveled to Beech Mountain in 1937 and recorded Proffitt singing the local ballad “Tom Dula” and other tunes on the banjo and dulcimer. Subsequently Alan Lomax published the song in his "Folk Songs of North America". It was through a Lomax publication that the Kingston Trio found the song, which as "Tom Dooley" became a massive hit for them and effectively kick-started the folk revival of the early '60's.

This banjo is built with a walnut body and neck, with a piece of 6" stovepipe inside to hold the possum skin head. It is fretless with wooden friction pegs and tailpiece. When Frank Proffitt Sr. began making banjos and dulcimers, some of the area folk could not afford commercial banjos, no matter how basic so he sold them locally. Proffitt's design was functional and economical; using hand tooling and locally sourced materials he crafted instruments well suited to the traditional songs and ballads still played in the region. By the 1960's performers from beyond the region began seeking the unique instruments out for their unique character.

There is a traditional school of playing that these banjos excel at; the sound is more intimate than a more standard factory instrument, with less overring but surprising volume when played hard. Authentic examples of these banjos rarely come up for sale; Frank Proffitt Sr. died in 1965, and Frank Proffitt Jr. passed away in 2005. This hand-wrought "Mountain banjo" is playable Americana at its most basic and beautiful.
Overall length is 36 in. (91.4 cm.), 5 7/8 in. (14.9 cm.) diameter head, and 1 3/4 in. (4.4 cm.) in depth, measured at side of rim. Scale length is 27 in. (686 mm.). Width of nut is 1 7/16 in. (36 mm.).

This folkloric banjo remains in fine original condition, with just some minor wear. There are a couple of small patches in the very thin skin head, done to preserve its originality. It appears to have been played lightly for a time but the finish is crude enough to make any wear relatively inconsequential. It plays well to the standards of these instruments; with steel strings and hand-made friction pegs it is not the easiest of banjos to tune but rewards the effort with a uniquely evocative sound. It includes a very nicely turned out hand-made gig bag. Excellent - Condition.

Item # 8496
This item has been sold.

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