In the summer of 2002 Nix developed a
concert program surveying banjos styles for Stowe
Performing Arts in Vermont, and for the Pocumtuck Valley
Memorial Association concerts in Deerfield, MA. Tony
Creamer, of Fretted Instruments Workshop in Amherst, MA,
lent Michael a 1935 Bacon Profession Model with an
interior resonator, strung with gut strings. Michael wrote
a variations set on "Spanish Fandango", the famous
pedagogical classical banjo melody for the instrument.
Francis LaPierre's son Rick lent Michael a 1910 Cole banjo
mandolin from his collection. He played Bach's Cello Suite
#1, and the "Ghost Dance" on his own open back tenor.
Ideas for the Seven String
After working on the concert Nix
concluded that he wanted to develop a banjo that could
maintain an intregal bass line like the lute or guitar,
have a dark, rich powerful, sustaining tone, and use the
high tension strings of the classical guitar.
A little research revealed seven
string banjos were popular in England in the 1800's...and
it seemed like some modern materials and design could be
applied to the concept.
Michael and Rick LaPierre took in an
exhibit of the banjo collection of James F. Bollman at The
Museum of Our Natural Heritage in Lexington, MA. looking
for design ideas, and soaking up some banjo making
The open back banjo produced a
rounder, less "cupped" sound than the resonator. There
seemed to be a greater control and diversity of timbre.
A number of different head materials
were considered. Natural materials such as calf or goat
skin lost tension in humidity, drastically altering the
tuning on summer days. White plastic head produced a
sharp, unpleasant tone, and the Fiberskyn heads were a
little too dull. A head of timpani material was chosen for
it's ringing and sustaining qualities.