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Yew: taxus baccata

Having just had a banjo made out of English yew by artisan maker Dave Stacey, this Williamson of Lincoln, turns up with a yew neck along with a Grimshaw banjo (London), a Kumalae soprano Uke (Hawaii), and an 1885 Bay State Guitar (USA) ...all at an auction in North Yorkshire.

We shouldn’t underestimate how the exponential growth in the production of musical instruments in both Europe and the USA quickly fulfilled the interest in “homegrown music” that spread throughout the world in the years following the American Civil War.

Initially, it was the banjo, but mass immigration into the US created demand for a wider range of instruments as well as providing the links and avenues for imports from, and exports to countries around the globe - the proverbial melting pot.

The Yew was revered in medieval times for its strength and power when used in the English Longbow. Examples with 170lb “pull” were recovered from ships sunk in the Tudor period. Dave Stacey commented that having squared up the yew neck blank, it then went out of true when cut to profile.

There are a lot of natural stresses in timber and do these stresses contribute to the tone, hence mass-produced banjos utilised stable timbers for the benefit of the manufacturing process, were these necessarily the best tone woods?

How about this neck clamp on the Williamson. Clearly, the banjo attracted skilled metal workers as well as carpenters.

From early Victorian times until after WW2 the manufacturing heartland of Britain was in and around Birmingham. Companies like O A Windsor were major producers of the metal and brass components used on their own banjos and throughout the country for other makers.


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