From the Gold Tone instrument company’s recent collaboration with banjo virtuoso Béla Fleck, a new banjo has emerged.
A breed apart from the traditional 5-string, it’s a baritone banjo – called the Missing Link – and Béla is currently playing the new instrument on tour with Abigail Washburn.
“Béla Fleck and his wife Abigail Washburn were about to begin a concert tour,” says Wayne Rogers of Gold Tone. “Since they would be performing many banjo duets, Béla wanted a deeper-voiced instrument to compliment and blend with Abigail’s singing and her standard-tuned banjo.”
Inspired by John Hartford’s love for low-tuned banjo, Bela Fleck conceived the Missing Link, a baritone banjo. Bela’s previous experience with the Gold Tone cello banjo had brought him back to Wayne Rogers to collaborate on his idea for a baritone. Béla and Wayne worked on the design for many months and the result is a marvelous banjo that has become part of Béla’s stable of instruments for the shows he performs worldwide.
“We decided to voice this new banjo halfway between the standard G-tuned banjo and our octave-lower cello banjo, said Wayne Rogers. “We tuned the Missing Link to cGCEG – a fifth below open G.”
“Last July, my wife and partner Robyn, and I and our daughter Mandy visited Béla and Abigail at their Nashville home to finalize the specs for the Missing Link. Within a month Béla had recorded it on five tracks of his and Abigail Washburne’s latest duet album, which debuted at #1 on Billboard Magazine’s Bluegrass Chart,” he said.
Now the Missing Link will become part of many musician’s stable of instruments. Some have already lined up to receive one, from the first shipment next week. Among them is Steve Martin, the famous comedian-actor-banjo player whom Béla introduced to the instrument and who was so intrigued with its sonic possibilities that he immediately ordered one for himself.
Steve Martin used to take 33 rpm bluegrass records and slow them down to 16 rpm, and would tune his banjo down to match the sound on the record – so he’ll feel right at home with this baritone banjo.
With the Missing Link getting musicians like Béla Fleck and Steve Martin excited, the mind runs wild trying to imagine how the world of the 5-string banjo is about to expand with addition of an exciting new instrument that fills a lower tonal range in such a pleasing way.
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