.. was one of the most sensational players of the banjo at the start of the 20thC..
Born in Canada in 1864 he was touring America in a circus when George L Lansing bought him to the attention of SS Stewart who presented him in a concert in Philadelphia which proved to be the start of Farland’s phenomenal career.
In the beginning he had played a Dobson banjo and then changed to a Stewart (both with 22 frets – far in advance of his contemporaries who were still playing with a few if any frets) but finally he designed his own banjos which, although he always advertised them as “ his own make”, were made for him first by Buckbee and subsequently after 1897 by Rettberg & Lang.
Farland patented his “metal head “ about 1890 and his “bevelled-top wood rim banjo” in 1900. It is interesting to note that his “metal vellum” was advertised as a “waterproof” head. His famous “harp” attachment was a atype of lever mute operating under the vellum, like the later Bacon “soft pedal” mute or the “S.X. Expression Stop”.
Because of the special arrangements of operatic and classical works he performed ,Farland later needed (and marketed)a banjo with an extended fingerboard possessing 29 frets on which he played, amongst other things, Mendelsohn’s Violin Concerto.
His hearing failed in 1939 and he died in 1954 aged ninety.
Farland "Black Beauty" pictures courtesy of Steve Prior
Alfred A Farland 1864 – 1954