In his quest for perfect banjos, Tom Nechville doesn’t stop with mediocrity. Especially in his more ornamented creations, like Merry, there must be a magic combination that inspires musical power the hands of a musician. In Tom’s words, “It is relatively easy to create good sound, but in the world of pro banjo, good is not good enough. This is where the mixture of art and science meet folklore and faith.”
Here Nechville has combined his now famous Helical Tone chamber mounting, or Heli-Mount construction, with specially selected old-growth woods and spared no expense in adding the festive details that make this banjo so happily cohesive as an instrument.
Merry, the holiday banjo was originally inspired by a gift of sparkly Christmas tree binding made by noted banjo artist, Greg Rich. Since Tom liked playing Christmas music, he decided to make a banjo that would depict Holly and Ivy rather than candy canes and Santa Clauses to create a flowing natural design. He hired inlay design by Ken Bennett to create the fingerboard and headstock artwork. The level of detail on the inlay gave rise to the need for some modest carving and color on the neck and resonator, so Tom called upon his old friend, Ron Chacey to do that handy-work.
The process of building this banjo spanned more than 7 years. Tom Nechville painstakingly digitized and programmed the artwork for production on Nechville’s CNC router and handled all aspects of building and assembly. One particular challenge he overcame is his use of sparkle around the sides of the peghead that matches the binding.
Finally in early 2016 she was done except for the finishing touch of finding the perfect bridge, a critical component that often gets overlooked by banjo builders. Tom’s 2016 trip to Israel with his wife and church group afforded him the chance to find some special bridge wood from the Holy Land. Tom’s group was granted special permission to enter the traditional site of the Garden of Gethsemane. The main feature of the garden is its grove of 2000-year- old Olive trees. Upon noticing a small stack of branch trimmings under one fenced off tree, Tom turned his thoughts to whether Olive wood would work in a banjo bridge. Just before exiting the garden, Tom turned around to take a look behind his bench. There, bigger than life was a 3-foot long stick with interesting patterns on the surface of the wood just barely wide enough for making bridges.
Upon returning to the shop, he found that natural Olive wood did not suit the tonal characteristics he was after for Merry, but that baking the wood somehow gave the perfect result.
Merry is a masterpiece to behold and a delight to play. It is on temporary loan at the American Banjo Museum and is currently for sale. Inquiries can be directed to [email protected]. Additional Information about innovative Nechville instruments can be found at www.nechville.com.