Mr. K playing one of his open-back banjos assembled from all new components.
NohoBanjo of Northampton is a small business that specializes in buying, selling, setting up, and restoring antique and vintage banjos. This is the late-in-life venture of "Mr. K," a retired architect and historic preservation planner, who has been collecting and restoring antiques--including banjos--since the 1960s. In 2005, he and his wife, also a retired city planner, moved from bustling northern Virginia, to beautiful Northampton, Massachusetts. When he retired, he became a serious student of the 5-string banjo and, since moving north to New England, is struggling with the transition from "three-finger" picking to New England's old-timey "clawhammer" style. The name "NohoBanjo" was chosen because "Noho" is a nickname for Northampton, the arts, music, and cultural hub of western Massachusetts’ Pioneer Valley.
Mr. K restores, upgrades, or fabricates banjos from top quality new and recycled parts gleaned from eBay, banjo-playing friends, and manufacturers around the world. The “audience” is the serious on-stage professional, front porch player, or downtown busker who is more interested in playing a good looking, sweet sounding instrument than trying to squeeze a tune out of a cheap “student” banjo or selling the farm to buy an expensive brand name. He doesn't do this to earn a living. Rather, he retores, builds, and sells banjos to subsidize his passion for collecting and playing and to help others suffering from the same addiction.
A display of some of Mr. K's banjos in the show window of Northampton's great music store, DOWNTOWN SOUNDS.
At any one time, Mr. K will have twenty or so banjos of all types lying around the house. In fact, his banjo T-shirt collection includes ones that say: “You can’t have too many banjos,” as well as his wife’s favorite, “Yes dear. It’s another banjo.” All are vintage instruments that he has restored or upgraded. There is not an off-the-shelf new one in the lot although a few have been assembled from new parts picked up here and there around the internet world. This downtown window display was set up just before Christmas 2007 to coincide with the Northampton appearance of Tony Trishka and his "Double Banjo Bluegrass Spectacular."
Some of Mr. K's "players."
It's always nice to have a banjo handy when you need one and Mr. K keeps several in his studio at any one time. Left to right these include a newly built gold-trimmed openback with a Whyte Laydie tone ring, an Iida custom long-neck from the 1970s, a 1980 Stelling Bellflower, and a 1970s Alvarez tu-ba-phone pot with a reproduction Whyte Laydie neck.
Mr. K's family room banjos.
There's no need to carry a banjo up and down the staircase. Here are three banjos set up in Mr. K's family room to make practice time a bit more convenient. In front is a 1980 Japanese Vega with fancy monther-of-pearl inlay on the fretboard, to the left is a workhorse Gold Tone "Bob Carlin" model with a twelve-inch pot, and to the right is a gold-trimmed Iida custom plectrum--all the major banjo groups!