Instrument maker Noel Booth is becoming a well known figure in the world of contemporary banjo makers. After growing up in Georgia and north Alabama, Noel studied instrument making with guitar maker Brian Gallup in Big Rapids, Michigan. He gained valuable production woodworking experience at Silver Creek Paddles in Bryson City, then focused his skills on banjo making while working at Cedar Mountain Banjos in Brevard. He now directs his skills to his own line of instruments. Working from his home studio on Old Fiddle Road in Balsam, Booth creates old-time open-back banjos, gourd banjos, and historically-inspired Antebellum banjos.
The various lines of Old Fiddle Road banjos display Booth’s versatility in traditional and contemporary construction techniques. His open-back banjos are available fretted and fretless, with rims of different hardwoods constructed both in the bent (single-piece) and block (multiple-piece) methods. The Antebellum-style banjos feature a traditional dowel-stick-neck construction, friction pegs, tacked-on skin head, and an optional hand-carved scroll headstock. Venturing even further back, Booth makes gourd banjos inspired by the earliest American banjos built by enslaved Africans.
A scholar of the history and heritage of the banjo, Noel is a visiting lecturer on the subject for the North Carolina Center for the Advancement of Teaching. He is also equally interested in pushing contemporary banjo design in new directions. In 2007, Noel was awarded a North Carolina Regional Artist Grant to pursue his design of an open back banjo with five played strings and seven unplayed strings that responded sympathetically. This new design draws from traditional instrument designs around the world. “My brain is just spinning all the time with new things to try,” he told the Asheville Citizen-Times.
Noel Booth’s banjos are available at Acoustic Corner in Black Mountain, at Turtle Hill Banjos in Bryantown, Maryland, and directly from the artist. Noel is available to speak to groups regarding banjo construction, history, and traditions.