© Luke Mercier, 2005-2012; Photos by LM, All rights reserved
Luke Mercier Handmade Violins & Banjos
maker and restorer of high quality stringed instruments
346 Bateman Road
RR 1 Spring Brook, Ontario
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~ From the day that I got it I've had trouble putting down Luke's banjo. Strung with gut strings and tuned low it's like an extension of my musical self. I love the feel and sound of the banjo, the lightness and ease of playing. I love the attention to detail; the wonderful cast brackets, the peg head and heel cuts, even the rounding of the ends of the hooks. It's my daily fretless player and I'm glad of it!
~ This banjo (Violjo) exceeds my greatest expectations. The look, feel and sound of it constantly gladden my heart. The balance, in the lap and in the hand is perfect. I feel genuinely blessed to have been part of this more than enjoyable project and to be able to live with such an instrument. Luke's openness to my evolving ideas, his meticulous attention to detail and his consummate skill as a violin and banjo maker made this my best banjo project ever!
I asked a lot of Luke....
I wanted a 1880's Dobson Banjo but with modern amenities. When I first looked at Luke's web site he was not producing what I wanted, but I asked anyway. Luke was unfazed. He seemed enthralled with my project and set out on a year long effort to develop the features that I wanted in the banjo! Now I posses an instrument that actually exceeds my expectations and is the envy of all my banjer playing friends. Luke was spot on with the look and sound of the iconic H.C. Dobson, Silver chime, yet it is every bit the modern player.
Your banjo is as fine a banjo as I have ever played. You do not need to concern yourself with how you compare to any other maker.
You have arrived. You Sir, are a banjo maker. One for the ages.
July 4, 2009
I had been giving a lot of thought to getting a newly-made banjo that would be suitable for the music of Frank B. Converse's 1886 Analytical Banjo Method, containing some of the most advanced 19 th -century banjo music played in the finger-picking, 'classic' style. The banjo needed a wooden rim, gut strings tuned to eAEG#B, frets, and was looking to the future yet still steeped in the past. It was hard to find a luthier who could do that. Many makers would adapt a later design, usually by just putting nylon strings on their existing models...and some makers specialised in earlier periods such as the wonderful Ashborn and Boucher instruments.
I finally found a luthier in Canada, Luke Mercier, who makes high-quality violins, works for a historical instrument museum as a restorer, and plays and has a passion for historical banjos. He had an instrument available which was a copy of an early Fairbanks model, with minimal wood decoration on the peghead, to which he added a Dobson tone ring. Both the model and the tone ring date from a couple of years either side of Converse's publication, and even if the great man didn't play this exact model of instrument, it is of the general aesthetic of the period. So I took a gamble (I live thousands of miles away from his workshop) and ordered it.
I guess I got lucky. Ordering a musical instrument online is not the way I usually do things, but there was something about Luke's professionalism that spoke to me. Besides, I told myself, I could always return it. As it happens, it's a keeper!
The sound is soft and sweet, and seems to suit both the music and my way of playing - it is perfect for me. It's not for hammering out songs on a minstrel stage, or for loud rag-style orchestras, but is 'at home in the parlor', so to speak. The perfect parlor banjo.
It is a very subtle instrument indeed. It can be incredibly mellow for a banjo, but has strength as well. It's a sound I haven't really heard before from a banjo, but it's all meticulously researched - construction, strings, technique. I'd like to think that, for a while, after the minstrel period and before the orchestra/ragtime craze, this is what the homely parlor instrument sounded like.
Thanks to Luke's exemplary craftsmanship, it looks like an old original, not a modern copy, which is inspiring. Both my other banjos are 19th-century originals, and this one feels and looks the part. Tone-wise it sounds great. The fourth string has an almost double-bass-like thud to it. It certainly sounds like the bass string. I just love its thumpacious thumpocity!
The neck feels great for playing on - beautiful fretting from first to last. The pegs and peg holes are perfect, as you would expect from a respected violin maker. It already feels like an old friend.
Every note on the bass is very clear and well articulated. The balance across the strings is very even and the warmth of the bass is carried right up into the higher positions on all strings. The more I play it, the more I love it. It fills the gap between the Boucher and Ashborn on the one hand, and the SSS, later Fairbanks and Cole on the other; before the metalic pop became the norm, and a more focussed sound than the old ‘tubs'. I think it perfect for 'parlor-style' playing, and 100 per cent perfect for Frank Converse's 'Analytical Banjo Method' of 1886, which is what I wanted it for.
I've never heard a sound like this from any banjo before. There are the earlier minstrel specialists, and then early 20th-century ragtime players, but to me the really interesting repertoire is on the bridge between the two. It would be nice to think that my videos might influence some others to look more closely at the period. And now - thanks to Luke Mercier - I have the perfect instrument for the style.
Edinburgh, October 2009
I had a fretless banjo repaired years ago by Luke when he lived in Toronto. When faced with my recent banjo disaster - my husband ran over it with the car last summer, destroying the headstock - I remembered Luke’s previous repair work. So I was happy to find out that he had moved closer to Ottawa where I live. Luke gave me several options to choose from for the damaged banjo: rebuild the headstock, or build a new, Luke Mercier neck. Although I decided to go with the new neck, it was not without some trepidation because I loved the sound of my old banjo and wondered if it could be reproduced. As it turns out, I am delighted with the result - the banjo sounds as good as, if not better than, the old one; is much lighter in weight; and looks great! Not only was there a happy ending to this story, but working with Luke was easy and straightforward - he got in touch with me at choice points and answered my email queries. He also made my husband feel less guilty about his transgression by telling us of worse horror stories at our first meeting! My husband and I both enjoyed visiting Luke, viewing his work and hearing his patient replies to our queries. Although we are glad to have the banjo repaired, we will miss the visits to the shop! I highly recommend Luke as a master craftsman who has extensive knowledge of banjos and their history, pays attention to detail, respects tradition and the customer’s wishes, and finds a way to do quality work at affordable prices.