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. . . was born James Thomas Parslow in July 1848 to Joseph and Harriet Parslow in Kingston Upon Thames, Surrey, England and in 1874 when he was 26, married Sarah Martha Prout.


He learned woodcraft as an apprentice at Burgoynes, the Kingston, Surrey, motor-launch builders, famous for building royal barges. In the early 1880’s he established a workshop complete with lathe and forge at 28 Fairfield Road, Kingston Upon Thames.


All his machinery was steam-driven and until he added zither-banjos to his output at the turn of the 20th century, every part of his banjo was made by his own hands. These were made in two models: 11” hoop with generally a 26¼” scale and a 12” hoop with a 27¼” scale.


The necks of his instruments were laminated both vertically and horizontally depending on the style and on many, pearl dots were placed at the 5th peg side of the neck to correspond with each fret. Parslow was a lover of decoration and he collected odd pieces of mother-of-pearl from which he would fashion stars, crescents, arrows and dots for insertion in the fingerboards of the banjos he made. With minor variations, no two Parslow banjos would be identical in this respect but in general he chose the 5th 7th 9th 12th and 17th fret positions for the main inlays whereas the majority of makers preferred using the 10th instead of the 9th.


He devised and patented his own non-slip pegs and used several styles of metal perch-pole in his banjos which could be adjusted at one or both ends by screw-nuts to make the hoop rigid. He also devised a special tailpiece; the lugs for the strings being hinged to make the fixing of the (gut) string easier but later cast brass or bronze ‘Lyre’ style tailpieces with copper lugs.


He often used the "split" second fret on his zither-banjos but they also appeared on his regular models.


Because he never used serial numbers, it is difficult to date the evolution of his instruments especially in the design of the headstock, the transformation of the nameplate from stamped to engraved and the style of heel.


In addition to his instrument-making, he maintained a teaching studio and ran a successful banjo quartet with outstanding pupils which appeared at local concerts, this also helped to advertise the Parslow instruments.


He died aged 72 in 1920 and it appears that the business then folded; although his son Charlie Parslow played banjo professionally – especially with The Palladium Minstrels and touring the world with Al Jolson – there is no mention of him continuing the family business.


Pictures courtesy of Steve Harrison, text courtesy of Ed Parslow


James "Jimmy" Parslow  1848 to 1920

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