Popular music has always been influential in our culture even as the popular musicians have changed time and time again. Pop music has introduced the listening public to new political ideas and it has even been the catalyst for important cultural movements in history. Today, popular music from bands like Mumford and Sons and the Avett Brothers is present on the radio airwaves across the U.S. But, it’s not just new music that these bands are introducing. Among other things, they are reintroducing the listening public to an instrument with a long and influential history of its own: the banjo.
Even though Mumford and Sons hail from distant shores (West London, England) and the Avett Brothers formed 3,000 miles away, in distant Concord, North Carolina, both bands have had their definitive sounds shaped by San Diego. That’s because San Diego is home to Deering, “The Great American Banjo Company,” and it is Deering that designed and built the banjos used by both bands.
Deering Banjo has a distinguished history of making the banjos that the pros want. Bela Fleck has long relied on his Deering Crossfire banjo, which uses custom pickups and a special synthesizer pickup. Currently, many modern pros also use Deering. Taylor Swift, Keith Urban, Gillian Welch, the Dropkick Murphys, and the Carolina Chocolate Drops all rely on Deering banjos when they compose or play live.
Husband and wife team, Greg and Janet Deering founded Deering Banjo in 1975, here in San Diego. Over time they’ve had many successes. Deering has become the largest maker of American-made banjos and is recognized around the world as the premiere company to look to for innovations related to the banjo. Greg Deering started playing the banjo at the age of 12. Equipped with a love of building, especially machining and woodworking, Greg developed new manufacturing techniques. Many of Deering’s innovations are aimed at making quality instruments affordable for the average person while still meeting a professional player’s exacting standards. Ultimately, Deering made a name for themselves, while remaining true to their own roots and the traditional banjo community.
The fact that a Deering Banjo is the instrument of choice over other manufacturers for many mainstream musicians has helped encourage a significantly broader interest in the banjo among pop music fans. In fact, 2011 is on track to be Deering’s best year ever based on dollars of sales. “People are coming into stores asking for banjos.” says Dave Bandrowski, Deering’s director of marketing.
The banjo was an instrument that dominated popular music in this country from the late 19th century all the way up until the late 1930s. When Gibson started manufacturing amplified electric guitars and Charlie Christian brought the idea of amplified guitar to the Benny Goodman sextet in the late ’30s, the banjo fell by the wayside and the electric guitar took its place. Further guitar innovations continued at Gibson, Fender, Gretsch and, other famed guitar makers while the banjo was relegated to the field of “traditional” music, rather than popular music. But, once again the banjo is being heard… and even amplified!
Deering is the only banjo manufacturer in the U.S. that makes all their own parts in house (Greg has even designed and built many of the workshop’s custom tools). This do-it-yourself approach is indicative of a trend you can see for yourself at the Deering factory – they feel compelled to improve all the time. In a recent collaboration with Jeff DaRosa of the Drop Kick Murphys (a nationally recognized Irish-punk band from Boston) Deering developed dramatic advances in electric-acoustic banjo pickup technology. Anyone who has played an acoustic instrument on an electrified stage can attest to how likely and horrid feedback can be. This problem was true (if not also more likely) of banjos as well. Deering’s new pickup technology allows the banjo to retain the feel and sound of an acoustic banjo, but with a plugged in sound that stays more true to the real timbre of a banjo.
It is wise for any instrument manufacturer to remain prominent in the marketplace (especially if they’ve got a good product!). Deering Banjo participates in major music festivals all over the U.S., trying to expand awareness of, and interest in, the banjo. Traditional and contemporary players alike showcase Deering Banjos at the RockyGrass Festival, MerleFest, and Walnut Valley Festival in Winfield, Kansas. Deering also supports music in the schools and Greg and Janet’s daughter Jamie is spearheading efforts to cultivate even more buzz in contemporary music circles that focus on new banjo music and composition. Every Thanksgiving, the Lemon Grove factory has a special open house and, yes, you can find them on Facebook and twitter. They also offer free newsletters (and email newsletters) and online tutorials designed to help new banjo inductees get started.
Learn more about Deering Banjo online at http://www.deeringbanjos.com. You can find them on Facebook (http://www.facebook.com/deering.banjo) and twitter (@Deering_Banjos).