MOUNTAIN GROWN MUSIC • CELEBRATING THE TRADITIONAL MOUNTAIN MUSIC OF HAYWOOD COUNTY NORTH CAROLINA

Mountain Grown Music - traditional mountain music of Haywood County North Carolina
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Legends - How sweet the sound: the Cox/Fairchild banjo - By Todd Callaway

It's the sound—the sound and the man behind the sound that makes the Cox/Fairchild model banjo a classic.

Craftsmen of fine instruments have to know the sound first, then the workmanship and materials, according to Raymond Fairchild, world champion banjo player and designer of the Cox/Fairchild banjo.
Fairchild collaborated with Jimmy Cox to design and produce 100 gold- and 100 nickel-plated banjos.

"They're Fairchild design and Cox built,"he said.

"Curly maple wood and gold engraving make a banjo fancy, but it's all secondary to the sound of the instrument," Fairchild said.

Voted best banjo picker of the year from 1987-1991, Fairchild says that designing the Cox/Fairchild model banjo is the career accomplishment of which he's most proud.

A curly maple neck and resonator, an ebony fret board, and a 20-hole, flathead bronze tone ring help make the Cox/Fairchild banjo unique. It's even been touted as the banjo of the future.

"I worked on it for three years drawing the blueprints on the way I thought a banjo should sound, look, balance, stay in tune, and perform from one end of the neck to the other,"he said. "And I got it all in one package, and I run into a banjo maker who's the greatest banjo maker in the world ... I showed him my plans and he said "I'll tell you what, I'll make a hundred nickel and hundred gold."

"There's a half a dozen secrets to the Cox/Fairchild banjo, that's why it's great," Fairchild said. But pulling those secrets from him is like pulling teeth.

Proud of his creation, Fairchild enjoys talking about the Cox/Fairchild banjo, but ask him to reveal the secrets to its sound and he'll explain it's the craftsmanship.

"Jimmy Cox is a great banjo builder because he's devoted so many years to it. He works and works on a banjo until it's right," Fairchild said.

The Cox/Fairchild banjo is made in Cox's Five-String Studio in Top Sham, Maine. Prices range from $1,100 to $3,000 for a gold-plated and engraved model.

"There ain't any tricks to making banjos, they just have to sound right," Cox said in a 1992 interview.

Fairchild is sure the Cox/Fairchild banjo will triple in value over the years. A clean, crisp, powerful sound is what makes this banjo great, he said.

 

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