David G. Hyatt
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Pete Ross  [see gallery]

Pete Ross and Jubilee Gourd Banjos

Scott Didlake used to say that he was "building the newest oldest banjo." That heritage has passed to his apprentice ­ Pete Ross. Scott had been diagnosed with Lou Gerhig’s disease when he met the young Pete Ross who called on him in Mississippi. The two immediately established a bond, having a common interest in gourd banjos in addition to shared idealistic values. Pete was soon apprenticed and learned how to make banjos with Scott¹s methodologies. Although Pete has continued to improve upon the design of instruments that Scott was building at the end of his life, he has also expanded his interest to re-creating banjos as they may have existed in early America. Through painstaking research in the materials, tools and skills, music, art, instruments, and sociology of those times, he has been able to reproduce gourd banjos such as those depicted in the artworks "Liberty Displaying the Arts and Sciences" (1792) and "The Old Plantation" (ca. 1800), primarily using period tools and materials. More than just a luthier building reproductions, Pete’s work functions as an ongoing research project. In addition to unearthing formerly unknown written accounts and images of the early banjo, the work on the reproductions themselves is a method to clarify the nature of the banjo from this nearly lost segment of its history.

Pete now lives and works in Baltimore. He has been playing and building gourd banjos since 1991. He has made instruments for many players including Joe Ayers, Bob Carlin, West African Musician Cheick Hamala Diabate. Many of his banjos have been exhibited and become part of museum collections; including The Musical Instrument Museum in Brussels; the traveling Banjo in Virginia exhibit; Colonial Williamsburg; Appomattox State Court House (site of the Joe Sweeney historical marker); University of Virginia and many others. Pete is currently working on the only reproduction banjo being used in the Birth of the Banjo exhibit which is traveling from the Katonah museum of Art in New York to the Corcoran Museum of Art in Washington D.C. He is contributing a short essay on the gourd banjo for the exhibit catalog.

Information on purchasing one of Pete’s banjos can be found at www.banjopete.com. Contact him directly at Pete Ross, 3206 Avon Avenue, Baltimore, MD 21218, (410) 402-3070.


  The Apprenticeship of Banjo Pete (pdf - 163kb)
  Interview with Pete (pdf - 21kb)
>> Orig pub. in Banjo Newsleter

  Pompey Ran Away (MP3 - 450kb)