Mountain Music Fills the Air: Banjos and Dulcimers: The Foxfire Americana Libray - Eliot Wigginton, Foxfire Students (2011)
Leonard Glenn went to school with Tedra Harmon, and they still live almost within shouting distance of each other. He farms tobacco and sells an instrument once in a while to bring in an income for the family. His son, Clifford, also makes banjos and dulcimers.
On the day we visited him, it was rainy and cold, and although we had never met him before, he invited us in and showed us two of the banjos he had made. The one we were most interested in was the one made in the same style as those Tedra and Stanley Hicks made. Glenn got his pattern from his father who made banjos fifty years ago. His father used squirrel hides for the heads because they were thinner than groundhog and deer, and he felt they had better tone. Glenn did the same until recently when he started buying cowhides out of which he could get at least three heads.
When he was using squirrel hides, he’d put them fresh in a vat under about an inch of hardwood ashes and water. When the hair loosened, he’d scrape the hides clean, wash them thoroughly, and put them in the banjos immediately.
He could cut out the pieces for the head, the neck (for which he preferred cherry or walnut), and put in a skin in one day. He’d cut the pieces out with a band saw, and cut out the holes for the head and the sound holes with a jigsaw. Finishing work was done with a rasp, wood file, and sandpaper. Pegs were cut out with a jigsaw and then shaped with a pocketknife. Rather than trying for a high gloss, Glenn preferred simply to rub in a wax for the finish.
He’s sold many instruments—some of them ones he didn’t really want to sell. He’d set the price at two or three times what he thought they were worth to discourage buyers, but someone always came along with a checkbook.
Photographs by Ray and Steve Smith.
ILLUSTRATION 43 The banjos that Leonard Glenn makes are similar in construction to those of both Tedra and Stanley (three wooden rings, a metal ring to hold the head, no neck extension, etc). There are several differences worth noting, however, as shown.