The best affordable openback banjo in the world
In March 2013, whilst wandering around MusikMesse, the giant music trade show in Frankfurt, I made a life-changing decision: to create a new, high quality, affordable, banjo: and to make it in Britain.
There have been banjos made in Britain for nearly two centuries, but since the World War 2 the industry has been pretty much dead. There remain a handful of craft builders, each producing half a dozen or a dozen instruments per year. And very good they are too. High end instruments, lovingly hand crafted.
But there hasn’t been a company making banjos at production levels in this country for more than 60 years.
I decided in Frankfurt that this had to change, and I created (at that stage purely in my imagination) a banjo that would combine the highest quality feel and sound, with an accessible price.
We didn’t have the funds available to set-up a factory of course, so we had to be just as imaginative about how we went about designing and building the banjo.
We decided to outsource key components from small UK companies. Not a single one of them had made any part of a banjo before. We commissioned Premier Drums in Manchester to use their hand-laminating technique to create our rims, and every bearing edge is hand routed. We asked three different Norfolk engineering companies to machine metal parts to our precise design: in stainless steel. We designed our unique neck and created handmade prototypes. Then we collaborated with CAD experts in Sheffield to create 3-dimensional drawings and programs which would drive the milling equipment that would create our necks.
Each neck of The Shackleton is precisely cut from a single piece of Appalachian rock maple.
Then we chose the very best tuners we could find: vintage style American-made Grover 97 Series. And of course we used the US-made D’Addario strings and Remo Renaissance skins that all discerning players expect to see on a quality banjo.
So far so good. But having all of these great components doesn’t in itself guarantee a great banjo, or even a good one.
What finally makes The Shackleton a great banjo (and when you’ve heard it, and better still played it) you’ll know I’m not exaggerating, is the care and skill with which the components are brought together.
The Shackleton is built entirely by hand, in small batches of fewer than a dozen at a time. The necks are hand sanded in five different stages before being hand oiled. The nickel frets are hand fitted and hand polished. The engraved bowler hat and Union Jack logos on the front and back of the headstock are hand stained in wax to contrast with the natural maple of the neck timber.
Every single nut is cut to size, shaped, and every string slot cut and finished by hand.
Then, finally, each Shackleton banjo is assembled, by hand, slowly and with immense care. Then strung, Then tuned, tested, left to settle, tuned and tested again.
The string action of every Shackleton banjo is perfect. The tone is sweet and earthy, and much louder than you would expect from a banjo which has no tone ring, and which weighs only 1.6kg.
The playability is exceptional and customers are telling us that The Shackleton is one of the ‘friendliest’ banjos they have ever experienced.
We believe, and customers seem to think so too, that we have created more than a good banjo. We’ve created a great banjo, but at an astonishingly affordable price.
The Shackleton is not only the first production banjo in Britain in more than 60 years. It’s also one of the best banjos available anywhere in the world under £1,000.
The Shackleton isn’t just another banjo. It’s been a life-changing banjo for me, and we believe it’s an industry-changing banjo too.