A love for music prompted a former fiddle player to become a banjo builder, subsequently setting him on a course highlighting Missouri’s mountain music.
Tuesday morning, Jeremy Myers strummed a handcrafted banjo in the MEC Building at the Missouri State Fair while talking about his work. Myers and his wife, Brandy, own Snowbird Banjo Co. in Ava.
“I’ve played music since I was 5, and I played at a place where I learned traditional music,” he said. “Mountain music, traditional folk music and I played fiddle. But what I wanted to do was learn banjo but I couldn’t afford a banjo. So, I decided to make my own.”
Myers said he previously had worked in the IT business and was also a woodworker, so he combined the two areas of knowledge to become a banjo builder.
“So, I would go online and search and find groups of people who were making banjos,” he noted. “I figured out how they would make them and then I designed mine. So, it just naturally evolved.”
After he made his first banjo, people began to take notice and encouraged him to open a business.
“Somebody told me, ‘this is really nice, you should make these and sell them,’” Myers said. “I thought, ‘that’s a good idea, I’d love to make a little extra money on the side.’”
Myers does all the work by hand, not by computer and it’s made with Ozark materials. He hand-cuts and creates inlays with mother of pearl, abalone, brass and copper. Creating a banjo takes time and precision. His first banjo took a year to build due to the extensive amount of inlay on the neck.
“Anything can be customized as far as the build goes,” he said. “I only have one standard model and that’s called the ‘Little Birdie.’ It’s my base model and it costs $850. There’s really no inlay on it, except for your basic dots.
“I’m getting faster at it, I think I could build a standard banjo in less than a month,” he continued. “An inlay intensive banjo would take longer.”
Myers makes two types of banjos, a traditional bluegrass style or resonator banjo and an “old-time” or opened-back banjo. When creating the instruments, he uses maple, walnut or cherry.
“Maple has the best tonal quality for bluegrass banjos,” he explained. “And, walnut, in my opinion, has the best tonal quality for old-time banjos.”
Myers said banjo building has become his full-time business and he pairs it with farming. On Myerstown Family Farm the couple is growing vegetables and fruit trees and establishing a vineyard.
“We moved to Alaska back in 2013, which is right after I built my first banjo,” he noted. “We stayed there for two years and realized it wasn’t for us. We missed the Ozarks — the Ozarks is our home.”
For more information, visit the Snowbird Banjo Co. Facebook page or www.snowbirdbanjo.com or call Myers at 417-543-3104.