Mercier Violjo 2007
Banjo with Bracket design by Hank Schwartz
Commissioned by Hank Schwartz
© Luke Mercier
photographs LM 2007
During many years of experience in the field of
violin making I'd thought, on numerous occasions, of making
a violin scroll headed banjo. Because of the amount of time
required for such an undertaking I could never really
justify the pursuit without knowing what demand there was,
if any, and more directly, I could never afford the expense
of such an experiment.
Hank Schwartz, already a proud owner of one of my
instruments, had long dreamed about such a banjo and
independently approached me with the concept as a possible
commission. I was absolutely beside myself with excitement
and was all over the idea in an instant.
It's not very often that a maker has the pleasure of a
commission by somebody with such infectious enthusiasm,
tremendous eye for detail and superior knowledge of musical
This, combined with ongoing correspondence throughout
regarding every last detail, made for an incredible
experience and what we both feel to be an outstanding
A grand project that I'd planned for myself much later in
life had suddenly become very real and immediate; a
wonderful collaboration was born!
We began with the peghead scroll on an otherwise usual banjo
but quickly extended the concept to the entire instrument.
The Violjo exhibits many features borrowed from the Violin
family. Most obvious is the scroll that is patterned after
the famous Antonio Stradivarius 'Archinto' Viola c. 1696
only slightly enlarged (by scale) to accommodate standard
banjo string spacing at the nut. The spiral of the mirrored
heel scroll, also patterned after the Archinto, ascends from
the classic early Fairbanks heel cut. Continuing onto the
body, the scroll theme is accentuated very tastefully in the
hardware brackets - a Hank Schwartz whimsy.
Other violin inspired features include:
. Baroque viola pegs - unstained Boxwood
. Violin purfling staggered flush frets
. Bridge design derived from a viola bridge
. Fiddlish tailpiece
. Scroll-like dowel stick end.
. Premium curly maple
. Violin Spirit Varnish
All of the wood used on the Violjo is from the same maple
block. The veneers used to compose the pot were sawn from
the profile of the neck as was the material used to make the
bridge. The entire neck including the dowel stick is one
The banjoistic influences present are derived from 19th
century American banjo makers such as: James Ashborn (design
of the 5th peg area and it's blending into the neck),
William Boucher Jr. (use of early-style cast nuts inside the
pot and on the hooks), and A. C. Fairbanks (early heel cut
leading into the lower scroll).
dimensions ~ 12" x 3"
Rim composition ~3 ply, top grade
curly maple. Each layer hand bent over a hot iron, fit
and glued with traditional hide glue on an outside
Thickness ~ 5/16"
Scroll patterned after Antonio
Stradivari 'Archinto' Viola ca. 1696.
enlarged to accommodate banjo string spacing.
The scroll, neck and dowel are of one
piece, top grade Curly Maple. The layers of the body
were taken from the same piece as was the bridge.
Baroque style pegs are unstained Boxwood.
The fifth peg
feature is taken from early banjos by James Asborn.
The staggered fret arrangement is typically common of
Mirrored heel scroll also
patterned after 'Archinto'
Inside bracket nuts and hook nuts
are cast as on W. Boucher Jr. banjos
Bracket design -Hank Schwartz
scroll end to the dowel stick was derived from an early
tackhead banjo as was the fancy neck wedge shown in the
Added Note by Hank
This banjo exceeds my
greatest expectations. The look, feel and sound of it
constantly gladden my heart. The balance, in the lap and in
the hand is perfect. I feel genuinely blessed to have been
part of this more than enjoyable project and to be able to
live with such an instrument. Luke's openness to my evolving
ideas, his meticulous attention to detail and his consummate
skill as a violin and banjo maker made this my best banjo
Luke Mercier Handmade Banjos
346 Bateman Road.
RR1 Spring Brook, Ontario
Mercier, 2005-2008; Photos by LM, All rights reserved