The Merlin Manufacturing Corporation of 3545-7, North Clark Street, Chicago, Illinois was formed in 1962/3 by Leonard McCabe, an accountant, and Jay Smith, a mechanical engineer. William “Bill” Malloy who was an amateur banjoist was engaged as an advisor and sales manager.
The efforts of the company were devoted to the 5-string banjo, prompted by Mr Smith’s desire to play one after finding it difficult to buy such an instrument. Since he was a mechanical engineer he decided on an unusual approach and to quote from the company’s literature the Merlin banjo was to be “a blend of modern and traditional design”. In fact the instruments were made of aluminium and fibreglass except the wooden fingerboard and the spun brass resonator.
The neck of the banjos was of highly polished aluminium and the hoop made of fibreglass; neck and hoop being locked together by means of six screws which were said to allow an adjustment of the neck (see pictutres) It could be “moved up or down and even rotated to bring the out strings closer to the finger board” it was claimed.
CC Richelieu, who had been building and playing banjos for forty years was a consultant to the company in a minor capacity. – on a “what’s wrong” basis, as he put it. He wrote “the Merlin banjo as it evolved from a series of rather foolish trial and error experiments, finally turned out to be a rather good banjo”, It did however lack a the feel of good wood and conventional banjoist frowned upon it – but its tone and the action was quite good.
In 1965 the company stopped production after selling less than 100Merlin banjos. In 1967 it went into liquidation.
Pictures courtesy of Barbara Harris-Pruitt