Eamonn McKeever (The Bread and Banjo Bakery. Belfast)
The short answer is we had to get it absolutely right. There are lots of great banjos on the market today, we wanted to be sure that there was a good reason for players to choose a Fairfield.
When 4-string tenor maestro, Damien O’Kane expressed an interest in designing and playing a Fairfield tenor we seized the opportunity with both hands.
Not only is Damien one of the world’s best (trad Irish) tenor banjo players, he’s just as picky and opinionated about his banjos as our 5-string designer, Leon Hunt. He’s a perfect addition to the Fairfield team.
Whist the tenor sports the same, clean ‘deco’ inlay design as the 5-string it’s constructed from the highest quality Maple available (as opposed to the 5-string’s Mahogany). The Tenor has also replaced the ‘flathead’ tonering in favour of an ‘arched top ring’. To say Damien was pernickety about neck profile and playability in general would be an understatement. We firmly believe The Fairfield tenor is now the best sounding, most playable available.
You can hear the new Fairfield tenor, played by Damien, in the Kate Rusby Band and his own, eponymously named trio.
When Baltimore native old-time banjo and fiddle player Kate lissauer held the first Fairfield ‘off the line’ she couldn’t believe how easy it was to play. She removed the resonator and then immediately fell in love with the sound as well. She never gave it back! A couple of ‘mods’ later (open back flange etc) and it became a fully-fledged old-time banjo.
Leon hasn’t touched another banjo since he got hold of his Fairfield. Even his pre-war Gibson Mstertone is laid up gathering dust! Minor design tweaks to the 5-string model were happening right until completion. Most notably was the re-positioning of the neck, in relation to the pot. The Fairfield, rather than having the usual arrangement of making the fingerboard level with the body of the banjo, it is now raised 4mm. This makes the height of the strings to the head much more consistent from the bridge to the neck. In a more conventional setup the player needs to completely change his or her right hand picking technique in order to move away from the bridge. The Fairfield is packed with minor tweaks just like this. The cumulative effect being a banjo that is more playable than ever thought possible!
The proud owner of Fairfield 5.11.3 decided that if he was going to have a special banjo he would push the boat out just a little further and make it really special. Gold plating and top tension were his requests. This banjo really is the last word. We were so taken with it we decided to make all our banjos top tension (unless specified otherwise).
By far the most critical part of creating a great stringed instrument is the last bit, the setup. A bad setup can render any banjo useless, whether it be a prized prewar flathead or mass produced instrument from the Far East.
The Fairfield precision setup is our default, and is what our players receive unless we’re instructed otherwise. If you have your own very specific setup requirements, we will always do our best to satisfy them.
When it came to developing The Fairfield’s superior neck profile, we observed that some of the most demanding musicians on the planet, especially with regard to playability, were electric guitarists. We already knew that we wanted our necks to be digitally accurate and consistent, so it seemed an obvious choice to collaborate with one of the best electric guitar makers around. To say we spent a lot of time CAD modelling and trying softwood mockups would be something of an understatement.
Once these parts are completed the careful hand-building process commences. The marriage of modern CNC precision machining and traditional instrument building methods is at the heart of what makes The Fairfield such a special banjo.
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