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Lo Gordon and a Peek at Cedar Mountain Banjos

When Lo Gordon decided he wanted to learn how to play the banjo, he didn’t stop in at his local music shop and pick one off the rack. Instead, he relied on his longtime passion for woodworking and built one from a kit. Now, he builds them for a living, and he and his wife, Mary Gordon, operate their own music store in Brevard, N.C.

The Gordons moved to Brevard in 1993 after selling their wooden garage door business to start Cedar Mountain Banjos and open Celestial Mountain Music. Lo had been playing banjo for a number of years and had already built several banjos of his own.

Peghead for Lo Gordon's
S1 model banjo.
“I knew that I'd build at least several for my own excursion into banjodom, and a kit would be a good way to start,” Gordon says of his first banjo. “In short order, I built a scratch-built fretless and one with a ‘White Layde’ tone ring. These were the instruments I learned to play on.”

Gordon had always been inclined to build things on his own. If he wanted to go kayaking, he built a kayak. If he wanted to go fishing, he built fishing rods and other gear.

“So it was natural to build a banjo when I wanted to learn to play,” he says. “People, curious as they are, would ask about the banjos I would be playing at festivals and gatherings. Some folks would want to try out what I was playing. Some expressed an interest in having another banjo built for themselves. This was the little bit of encouragement it took for me to eventually build banjos for a portion of our living.”

Gordon says he has always enjoyed traditional or traditionally based music, especially when the banjo was involved. “It was very exciting and cathartic music to me,” he says. The first real live banjo music Gordon experienced was played by David Rea (who happens to be a former Akron, Ohio, native).

Lo Gordon playing one of his banjos.

“I spent untold hours with David, and listening to his music. That was 48 years ago. Twenty five years ago, at 40, (that was 23 years later) I had to learn to play,” Gordon recalls. “I met up with Pam Lund, who I studied with for two and a half years. During that time I met Dwight Diller. Both played in a Hammonds-influenced style, which I found compelling.”

When it comes to building banjos, Gordon says his influences have ranged from all the banjos he has seen and played over the years to art in many different mediums.

Rim and heel of Gordon's
more "refined" L2 model.
“My goal is to build banjos that are a pleasure to play,” he says. “They must have a form that is pleasant to the touch as well as the eye. They must sound vibrant. They must embody all that is banjo without being overdone. They must be simply elegant. They must be easy to maintain."

Cedar Mountain Banjos are available two main lines, the Vintage Line and the J Line. Under the Vintage Line, there are four different model styles.

“In the vintage line, I wanted at least a couple different styles,” Gordon explains. “I wanted one model with a swept heel and a very plain peghead, not a copy but something along the lines of a Dobson, something early, something basic. These became my A and FH models. I also wanted a banjo that was a little more refined, more stylistically evolved, this concept materialized in the L and S models. In either case, I wanted something that was a joy to build and play.

“As far as the J Line is concerned, I felt we needed to make a more economically priced model, which would satisfy both me and my customers.”

These days, Gordon is starting to step back some from the banjo building business. He will take on a more advisory role, while his son, Tim Gardner, who has been working for Cedar Mountain Banjos for the past six years, will continue to take on more of the load.

Cedar Mountain Banjos are available at a number of banjo dealers, but if you ever get the chance to pass through Brevard, stop in at Celestial Mountain Music, the home store for Gordon’s beautiful banjos.

Comments

  1. LOVELY! Wonderful interview, Viper. Thanks for drawing attention to some of Lo's fine instruments. :)

    Craig (frailin) Evans

    ReplyDelete

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