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Merlin Banjo (and the Chicago Folk Scene)

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cool hand Tom 12 Dec 04 - 12:53 AM
katlaughing 12 Dec 04 - 03:14 AM
RangerSteve 12 Dec 04 - 11:13 AM
GUEST,Art Thieme 13 Dec 04 - 01:22 AM
katlaughing 13 Dec 04 - 10:21 AM
GUEST,Art Thieme 13 Dec 04 - 03:37 PM
cool hand Tom 13 Dec 04 - 08:33 PM
cool hand Tom 13 Dec 04 - 08:49 PM
GUEST,Art Thieme 13 Dec 04 - 08:54 PM
cool hand Tom 13 Dec 04 - 09:00 PM
GUEST,Mark Clark 13 Dec 04 - 11:41 PM
Mooh 14 Dec 04 - 10:22 AM
GUEST,Maurice 14 Dec 04 - 04:21 PM
GUEST,Art Thieme 14 Dec 04 - 05:17 PM
GUEST,Mark Clark 14 Dec 04 - 05:33 PM
GUEST,Art Thieme 15 Dec 04 - 12:31 AM
GUEST 15 Dec 04 - 01:08 AM
GUEST,Songster Bob 15 Dec 04 - 01:29 AM
Andy Cohen 15 Dec 04 - 08:47 AM
GUEST,Mark Clark 15 Dec 04 - 11:43 AM
GUEST,Art Thieme 15 Dec 04 - 03:29 PM
GUEST 15 Dec 04 - 03:32 PM
GUEST,Art Thieme 15 Dec 04 - 04:22 PM
GUEST,Songster Bob 15 Dec 04 - 10:24 PM
cool hand Tom 15 Dec 04 - 10:30 PM
cool hand Tom 15 Dec 04 - 10:35 PM
GUEST,Doug Stangle 18 Dec 04 - 07:18 AM
GUEST,Art Thieme 18 Dec 04 - 10:07 AM
cool hand Tom 18 Dec 04 - 07:46 PM
GUEST,Art Thieme 23 Dec 04 - 01:03 AM
GUEST,Guy Guilbert 27 Dec 04 - 04:01 AM
Mooh 27 Dec 04 - 05:32 AM
GUEST,Art Thieme 27 Dec 04 - 05:52 AM
GUEST,Guy Guilbert 27 Dec 04 - 11:29 PM
GUEST,Art Thieme 28 Dec 04 - 02:03 AM
GUEST,Guy Guilbert 28 Dec 04 - 04:31 PM
GUEST,Art Thieme 28 Dec 04 - 09:38 PM
GUEST,Art Thieme 28 Dec 04 - 11:58 PM
GUEST,Guy Guilbert 05 Jan 05 - 03:28 PM
GUEST,Art Thieme 06 Jan 05 - 08:14 PM
GUEST,Guy Guilbert 07 Jan 05 - 09:28 PM
Auggie 07 Jan 05 - 10:12 PM
GUEST,Art Thieme 08 Jan 05 - 01:10 AM
GUEST,Guy Guilbert 08 Jan 05 - 02:54 PM
GUEST,Art Thieme 08 Jan 05 - 02:59 PM
GUEST,Art Thieme 25 Mar 05 - 12:01 AM
Amos 25 Mar 05 - 09:57 AM
GUEST,aerodynamicdon 10 Apr 05 - 04:16 PM
GUEST,aerodynamicdon@webtv.net 10 Apr 05 - 04:29 PM
GUEST,Ron 05 Aug 05 - 08:50 PM
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Subject: Merlin Banjo
From: cool hand Tom
Date: 12 Dec 04 - 12:53 AM

I have a Merlin Banjo it was made in the mid 60s and is made of aluminium neck ect with a fibreglass pot and 2 brass tone rings.The company went defunct in 1967 due to overprice and traditional players prefering wood.I know a great hero of mine Luke Kelly played one as did Tommy Makem for a time.

What i would love to know is if any of you good people can remember them or anyone who played them or any general comments ect.I have heard them being called the slippery pig,cold kiss of death ect.I love mine and would just like to know a little more.

Regards Tom.


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Subject: RE: Merlin Banjo
From: katlaughing
Date: 12 Dec 04 - 03:14 AM

Froma search on google, it looks like you've got a pretty rare banjo there. Here's a little more info:

From This site:

The Merlin Mfg. Corp of Chicago, Il was formed in 1962/3 by Leonard
McCabe, Jay Smith and Bill Malloy. Merlin was to be a blend of modern
and traditional design. The instruments were made of aluminum and
fiberglass. The fretboard was ebony and the resonator was spun brass.
The neck was highly polsihed cast aluminum. The hoop or rim was
fiberglass. In 1965 the company stopped production after selling less
than 100 banjos.
Curtis McPeake


And, from a "capo mmuseum site, which also mentions McPeake: Capo shown on a Merlin scroll down to the "Small Cramp" title


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Subject: RE: Merlin Banjo
From: RangerSteve
Date: 12 Dec 04 - 11:13 AM

A friend of a friend had one, but I don't know his hame or where he is these days. I also recall seeing a Tommy Makem record cover where he was holding a Merlin. I also remember that it had cone-shaped tuning pegs, with mother of pearl yin-yang symbols on the ends.


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Subject: RE: Merlin Banjo
From: GUEST,Art Thieme
Date: 13 Dec 04 - 01:22 AM

There was a time these things were said to be the coming thing in banjos around the Chicago folk scene. We tried to sell a couple of them at the store I was asst. manager of in '65-'66 and 67.(The Old Town Folklore Center---343 W. North Ave.) They were the most unbalanced banjos I've ever tried to hold up. Just plain heavey---on the neck side. The company gave one to Tommy Makem as I recall---hoping his playing it would bring more to try it. This was a time when long-neck banjos were extremely popular--and Merlin's main banjo was a long-neck model. Of course, it was Pete Seeger's influence that popularized the ong-neck Vega. If you were in a folk group, you had to have a long-neck banjo.

BILL MALLOY was a member of a pretty fine folk group called THE NEW WINE SINGERS. And Bill was a big part of the Merlin Banjo Company. This group owned, operated, and were the house act at a GREAT folk bar nightclub called THE RISING MOON. (1305 N. Wells Street--Old Town) The rest of that group were Arnie Lanza, Malcolm Hale and Gusty Herve. Gusty was replaced by Elaine "Spanky" McFarlane about '65. The Rising Moon burnt up one night around 65 or 66. A friend sent me a framed photo of the balcony at that club -- complete with the huge moose head -- AFTER the big fire. The huge burnt-to-a-crisp moose is too depressing to look at---so I never put it up. I'm thinking of donating it to the Old Town School Of Folk Music in Chicago.

Back to Merlin banjo's:

We always had one behind the counter at the Folklore Center to pick on. I always preferred to pick up Johnny Carbo's Gibson Mastertone if I had my choice. But when John had a gig, I had to use the Merlin. That's how I learned to play banjo. In '66 Grandpa Jones was doing a concert upstairs of the store at the Old Town School and he blew into town too early so he stopped into the shop. I was playing that Merlin banjo. He saw pretty quick I wasn't very good so he gave me a lesson that lasted about an hour and a half. That got me over a huge plateau I was stuck on where frailing was concerned. I've always been grateful to Grandpa Jones for doing that---for sure.

Nobody ever wanted that Merlin so I was allowed to buy it---for forty dollars if I remember right. Eventually I sold it---for my rent I think---one month when cash was tight.

By the way: After the Rising Moon burnt, another club went into that same renovated space on Wells St. This was MOTHER BLUES. It lasted quite a while and was grand place to hear music and hang out. Freddy Holstein had his apartment upstairs of the club and one night it was Fred and Malcolm Hale, George Carlin and myself---maybe Patty Talac too... But that's another story!

Fun memories!!

Art Thieme


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Subject: RE: Merlin Banjo
From: katlaughing
Date: 13 Dec 04 - 10:21 AM

Another story we want to hear, My Fine Art!! Jaysus...Grandpa Jones, Carlin and the rest, PLUS an obscure banjo!!! Tell us more, tell us more....:-)

luvyakat


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Subject: RE: Merlin Banjo
From: GUEST,Art Thieme
Date: 13 Dec 04 - 03:37 PM

Not much to tell---except that Bill Maloy played banjo in that group--The New Wine Singers and after they formed the Merlin company he always played that metal banjo.

One good thing: The neck never warped!!

The Merlin banjo was really amazing and fun to go over visually. The innovations were extaordinary. That spun fiberglass pot was just cool. And the workmanship (machining) amazing in that it left you feeling speechless at first. Then you'd just wonder WHY? Why had these people decided this was the way to go? I suspect it had something to do with the success of the Dobro resonator guitars---and the National all metal resonator guitars. But those had a real sound difference from the original wooden ones. These metal banjos sounded just like any decent banjo. They always hit me like making a solid metal apple. It was tasteless.

I do suspect the momentum and inertia (spelling?) took over. The idea sounded good. The money was found to begin, so they began!! Then the market took over---and changed their minds.

In all fairness, I must say there were numerous production problems as I recall it. That slowed everything down right from the start. Like the war in Iraq, as Pete said in his song, "The damn fools said to push on!!!"

Good bottom line.

Art


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Subject: RE: Merlin Banjo
From: cool hand Tom
Date: 13 Dec 04 - 08:33 PM

Thank you very much for the info folks,and the stories about the Merlin in the shop u managed very interesting.My merlin is the standard G model with resonater which i take off as i mostly frail.Iv seen a few Merlins and all seem to have differences.I have a link here allmost exactly the same,ill post it at bottom.Mine has the original hard case with it which was abonus.I have heard that Tommy Makem gave his Merlin to Luke Kelly in the very late 60s early 70s.Mine plays very nicely and i must agree with it being neck heavy.I was originally looking for a long neck version so if anybody knows anybody who has one let me know.Here is a good set of pics of one like mine www.banjoworld.de/High323.htm


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Subject: RE: Merlin Banjo
From: cool hand Tom
Date: 13 Dec 04 - 08:49 PM

Sorry i cannot get the link to work.

             Regards Tom.


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Subject: RE: Merlin Banjo
From: GUEST,Art Thieme
Date: 13 Dec 04 - 08:54 PM

I mean no offense to anyone by alluding to Pete's good Viet Nam era song--Waist Deep In The Big Muddy---with it's "fool" reference. This was 45 years ago we're talking about. I always enjoyed Bill Malloy's nusic and humor (as off the wall as my own) and those folks were pioneers. Few had ever heard of anything like a "fol nightclub". The New Wine Singers were pretty great for back then.   

Art


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Subject: RE: Merlin Banjo
From: cool hand Tom
Date: 13 Dec 04 - 09:00 PM

Hi Art any links on the net for the New Wine Singers.

Regards Tom. If you still had that merlin id give ya $100 LOL


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Subject: RE: Merlin Banjo
From: GUEST,Mark Clark
Date: 13 Dec 04 - 11:41 PM

I can remember the New Wine Singers but I don't think I've ever had a Merlin banjo in my hands. I remember hearing about them but that was as close as I got.

But Art, tell me about the location of the Rising Moon. I somehow recalled the old Rising Moon as being on Pearson between State and Rush or at least close to there. There was a sunken bar in the front but the back had a framed stage and dance floor and and railed balcony. I know you used to play there and Chad Mitchell when Paul Prestopino was backing them up. We use to hang out in the bar after hours with Hoyt Axton and his enterage. What *was* that place if not the Rising Moon?

Boy, this age thing just ain't working out.

      - Mark


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Subject: RE: Merlin Banjo
From: Mooh
Date: 14 Dec 04 - 10:22 AM

There's a very cool example of a Merlin banjo at www.frets.com Frank Ford's ubersite of stringdom. Mooh.


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Subject: RE: Merlin Banjo
From: GUEST,Maurice
Date: 14 Dec 04 - 04:21 PM

Try Elderly Instruments, Lansing....they had a Merlin banjo in their "vintage" section of their website not long ago...I think it was regular 5-string, not longneck. Can't remember the price, but not expensive I think.


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Subject: RE: Merlin Banjo
From: GUEST,Art Thieme
Date: 14 Dec 04 - 05:17 PM

Mark, I, too, remember the place on Pearson. I think it was before or after the fire. You've got me wondering, once again, about my memory.

I think I'll get Guy Guilbert into this discussion. He is in California now.

Art


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Subject: RE: Merlin Banjo
From: GUEST,Mark Clark
Date: 14 Dec 04 - 05:33 PM

I well remember Mother Blues. What a great place. I was there one time just after the Weavers had finally split. Ronnie Gilbert and Rev. Gary Davis were sharing the bill. Great music! But I was saddened to see Rev. Davis sitting alone in a corner between sets. No one would even talk to him except the waitress.

So I went over and struck up a conversation. He was in town alone and I wound up inviting him over for Sunday dinner the next day. It was the Sunday before Thanksgiving and it turned out he was booked at Mother Blues the next weekend too so we invited him for Thanksgiving dinner. He enjoyed Sunday dinner so much that he called his wife and she flew in and joined us on Thanksgiving day. What a great pair those two were.

      - Mark


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Subject: RE: Merlin Banjo
From: GUEST,Art Thieme
Date: 15 Dec 04 - 12:31 AM

Mark,

I remember it a little bit different. Gary Davis surely was an amazing talent. I'm not sure if this was the same gig you're talkin' about, BUT the good Rev. was alone in town, as you said. He was rather surly and drank a bit much. It wound up with him doing a set where he started that American March thing he did and it lasted nearly 45 minutes. By the time he quit the powers that be were so pissed at him that they INSISTED he call his wife to come to Chicago because she was the only one who could keep him in line! Well, she came to Chicago, Gary calmed down, and all went relatively well for the rest of the gig. Could it be that he was alone the night you remember because folks were ticked off at him?? Maybe.----Anyhow, that's how I remember it. Could've been a different gig at that same club. Generally Rev. Davis stayed with Andy Cohen in those days---and Andy took real decent care of him.

The two photos of Gary Davis in my on-line collection were taken at an after gig party at Andy Cohen's house. -------- Once again, those folk scene photos of mine can be viewed at:

http://rudegnu.com/art_thieme.html

When prompted, enter the single word mudcat (lower case) for both the USER NAME and the PASSWORD.

Art Thieme


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Subject: RE: Merlin Banjo
From: GUEST
Date: 15 Dec 04 - 01:08 AM

Great Pics Art
                Regards Tom


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Subject: RE: Merlin Banjo
From: GUEST,Songster Bob
Date: 15 Dec 04 - 01:29 AM

I do believe a distant cousin of mine may have a very rare banjo, then, 'cause she had, as I recall, a left-handed long-neck Merlin banjo. I only saw it once, I think, but that's how I remember it.

Amazing.


Bob Clayton


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Subject: RE: Merlin Banjo
From: Andy Cohen
Date: 15 Dec 04 - 08:47 AM

The gig being referred to at Mother Blues must have happened at a point before I came to Chicago. The one Art is referring to occurred next door to Mother Blues, at the Quiet Knight. Rev. Davis was by himself, and he stayed at my house for a week. It was 1967. I remember it the same way Art does.

Gary did indeed drink too much. He had a routine where he would speak into his glass of whiskey as though it were a telephone, finish the conversation, say goodbye and knock it back.

But Ronnie Gilbert wasn't there, it wasn't over Thanksgiving, and Mother Davis wasn't there to manage the Rev.

As for Merlin banjos, I thought they were awful. If you could design everything on a banjo to be ugly and inconvenient, that was it. I remember John Carbo, though. Somebody told me he had passed away. Is that true?

Andy Cohen


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Subject: RE: Merlin Banjo
From: GUEST,Mark Clark
Date: 15 Dec 04 - 11:43 AM

Yes, two different gigs. I think the one I referred to was in 1964. My oldest daughter was born in February of that year and in the picture I have of her sitting on Rev. Davis' lap she looks about nine months old. And Ronnie Gilbert was definately on the bill with Gary.

Of course the fact that I'm referring to an earlier gig doesn't mean that Mrs. Davis wasn't called in to keep him in line. I'm only relating the story I got. <g>

My brother told me of seeing the whiskey routine at a party in Grinnell, Iowa, one time. And the glass wasn't a shot glass, it was a standard restaurant water glass (8-10 oz.) pretty well filled with Jack Daniels Old No. 7. At least I assume it was Jack Daniels since that's what the Grinnell students were drinking in those days.

      - Mark


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Subject: RE: Merlin Banjo
From: GUEST,Art Thieme
Date: 15 Dec 04 - 03:29 PM

Andy, hello!

John Carbo had a 4-string banjo band in the 60s. With guy guilbert (who I'm trying to get into this Merlin discussion), Dama Chchran and Big John Scofield (with tuba--that a chicken came out of). That gave me the idea to keep a rubber chicken in my banjo. (A chicken in every pot---so to speak!! ;-)

John Carbo edited video tape at CBS in Chicago. Then went on to be the film editor on the Blues Brothers movi

More cool memories I'd almost forgotten.

Art


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Subject: RE: Merlin Banjo
From: GUEST
Date: 15 Dec 04 - 03:32 PM

that is GUY GUILBERT--

and ADAM Cochran---not Dama !

I'm doing laundry and in a hurry!

Art


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Subject: RE: Merlin Banjo
From: GUEST,Art Thieme
Date: 15 Dec 04 - 04:22 PM

Songster Bob Clayton,

Nice hearing from you! How are things in D.C. (My best to Jennifer.)
(I do hope I'm speaking to the Bob C. I think I am!! ;-) I'm having a time trying to figure out how Merlin could've produced a left handed model. That'd mean re-tooling all the metal machines. But you could be correct. Fascinating.

Andy, You are right about the original Quiet Knight being there on Wells Street---just South of Mother Blues. That Quiet Knight is where I took the shots of Jack Elliott in '67. Dwayne Story opened that show for Jack and a shot of Sdayne is there as well.

And I remember Ronnie Gilbert being at Mother Blues that time. After hours she ang Guy Guilbert (guitar), John Brown on Guitarone and Gil Turner (banjo) would sit around and do Weavers songs. Guy has a great photo of them doing that.
I do hope Guy finds his way here...

Mark, your memory is in fine shape. Those were different gigs from what I was talking about.

Tom, I am glad you liked my pictures. It was great of Bruce Kallick to put 'em up on his site for me. I'm real uneducated in those cyber things.

Art


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Subject: RE: Merlin Banjo
From: GUEST,Songster Bob
Date: 15 Dec 04 - 10:24 PM

Hey, Art, yes, it's me. I'm pretty sure it was a left-handed Merlin, though it's possible it was right-handed and she was trying to learn to play it lefty. I don't think so, though.

Merlins had, as I recall, tuners with a 32/1 ratio, so it took till next Tuesday to bring a string up to pitch. When you're used to friction pegs (ratio of 1/1), that was quite a change.

Bob Clayton

... and Jennifer's OK. So's Andrew, whom you may have never met (he's somewhat antisocial, and 13 now, so there goes even more in terms of being outgoing).


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Subject: RE: Merlin Banjo
From: cool hand Tom
Date: 15 Dec 04 - 10:30 PM

Art.
    Can i pick your brain and ask if you know how much Merlins cost at the time,and if so was it alot of cash for the day.I once heard they where overpriced ect,that would explain why they gave one to Tommy Makem and it seems he gave that to Luke Kelly not long after.Much preferred his Vega.

I have a love of weird and unusual 5 string Banjos and have recently bought a Framus Longneck which sounds wonderfull and with the top tensioners looks like a huge cog or a weapon LOL when in battle bring out the merlin and framus.Again if you have any info on the Framus id love to hear it and if you can throw in a tale all the better.

If Merlin made left handers just goes to show they ecpected great things,but like u said its the publics choice.Maybe had they made them in the early 70s it would all be a diff story.Sad thing is even with the rarity they are not a valuable instrument.Mine even has the Merlin original hardshell case,probably worth more than the banjo.

Well ill have a drink to the MARVELOUS MYSTERIOUS MAGICAL MECHANICAL MELIN.
       Regards Tom.


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Subject: RE: Merlin Banjo
From: cool hand Tom
Date: 15 Dec 04 - 10:35 PM

Hi Bob
       My Merlins tuners are 40.1 ratio,sure does take time but once your in tune its great for really tweakin to perfect but after awhile it kinda gets very monotinus.All part of the Merlin pleasure.

    Regards Tom


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Subject: RE: Merlin Banjo
From: GUEST,Doug Stangle
Date: 18 Dec 04 - 07:18 AM

I took have a Merlin, but the regular neck style. I think this is the bluegrass one like one I saw on Elderly or Gruhn's website a few months ago for about $1000. I bought it a number of years ago but never played it much due to the high action. Took it to Hogeye music in Evanston, IL and John Carbo there fixed the action (thanks John). It now plays well and sounds like a bell. The neck is alittle wide but you get used to it. Was going to sell it but now will keep it for awhile as it's a good bluegrass banjo with a great bell sound. I used to see Merlins at Lyon and Healy in the early 60's. My email is dbstangle1@aol.com. Art Thieme, give me a shout. I was friends with Ed and Fred Holstein and went to HS with them, hung around the old Fret Shop in High Park, Chicago where George Gruhn got his start, etc. Ed Holstein tells me we went to one of your banjo seminars in the early 60's   I remember all those clubs including Big Johns where Paul Butterfield used to play. Also atended the 3rd U of C Folk Festival and haver attended almost every year since. Had dinner w/ED Holstein last Sunday after not seeing him for well over a decade.

Regards, Doug Stangle


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Subject: RE: Merlin Banjo
From: GUEST,Art Thieme
Date: 18 Dec 04 - 10:07 AM

Doug,

I will e-mail you later today. Was it Jim Craig that set up your Merlin at Hogeye Music in Evanston?? John Carbo was at the Folklore Center at 343 W. North Avenue in Chicago in the mid and later 1960s. He passed away several years back. Anyhow, I too was at Big Johns---a great blues almost 2 or 3 nights a week after I'd close the Dlklre. Cntr. at 11:00 PM each night. Mike Bloomfield had his own band before going with Butterfield's band. I remember Jim Schwall and Corky Siegel auditioning there one night. They got the job. And Muddy Waters was on Monday nights, Howlin' Wolf on Tuesdays. Little Walter was on Wednesdays for a while until he was too alcoholic to keep on responsibly. Unique times.

Art


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Subject: RE: Merlin Banjo
From: cool hand Tom
Date: 18 Dec 04 - 07:46 PM

My MERLIN IS THE ONE THAT CAME FROM ELDERLY,AND I AGREE THEY DO PLAY WELL I HAVE TAKEN MY RESONATOR OFF AND PLAY OPEN BACK.JUST WANNA SAY HI TO A FELLOW MERLIN USER.
                            REGARDS TOM.

          ps i had a drink and sorry guys for the capitals.


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Subject: RE: Merlin Banjo
From: GUEST,Art Thieme
Date: 23 Dec 04 - 01:03 AM

refresh for Guy G.


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Subject: RE: Merlin Banjo
From: GUEST,Guy Guilbert
Date: 27 Dec 04 - 04:01 AM

Hi, everyone,

First: The Rising Moon was not on Pearson and State. The Off Stage was. It was a great little club. I met the Smother Bros. there one night at the bar; who often came in. Also, one night I met Hoyt Axton. He had just come from Hollywood from filming a Bonanza episode. We had a nice talk. The Off stage was a great place. The Rising Moon Singers played there a lot. One would walk through a hallway to a large back, main room. To the left of the front door was a doorway leading down some stairs to a bar in the basement. This bar also had a balcony that looked down on it; all very cozy. Years later it became The Red Garter, a banjo-band joint.

The Rising Moon was on Wells Street north of Division. The mob burned it down and was it resurrected as Mother Blues. Richard Harding, who later owned The Quiet Knight and Poor Richard's, managed it. He hired John Brown and me to open the Monday night Hootenannies with a few songs and John would then host the rest of the night. I would play bass or guitar behind anyone who needed it. This was '63.

MERLIN BANJOS:

I worked at Merlin putting those suckers together. I worked there at two different occasions. The first was before all the fancy stuff. We just had the long-necks. The first long-necks had an ornate, rococo head; kind of ugly. So ugly they had Fleming Brown design a more traditional looking head.

I forget how long I worked there; at least a half a year. Maybe more. Then a year or two later, I worked there again; at a reduced salary. By then they had the bluegrass, tenor and I don't know what all. The place was doomed from the start, though.

I first met Jay Smith, the inventor and a beautiful guy, in the late fifties at The Old Town School Of Folk Music. He was taking banjo lessons. He had this cool looking aluminum banjo. It was made of many pieces and very different from the mass produced product; kind of a prototype. At the school people were always coming up to him admiring it. In 1961, Bill Malloy of the New Wine Singers said he got a day job at this cool place. I was the Merlin factory. He was their new salesman.

Here's an interesting story (I have a million of them): The New Wine Singers were booked to play at Gene Autry's hotel in Chicago's burbs. At the same time, they were hired by Orange Crush to write, sing and star in a series of commercials. Also, during this time, they were scheduled to participate in a live "Hootenanny TV Show" album to be recorded live at The Gate Of Horn. The national TV show was hosted by Jack (son of Art) Linkletter. Bob Gibson was also the weekly headliner.

The night of the taping for some reason, Bill Malloy got mad at The New Wine Singers and stomped out of the dressing room and went home. The New Wine Singers did not do the album. The next day they were scheduled to record the demo for Orange Crush. I filled in for Bill. I helped write some of the commercials and sang and played on the demo. A day or two later, Bill rejoined the group and, of course, I was out. (None of the agency people or Orange Crush people were at the demo recording. We sent them the tape.)

A few days later The New Wine Singer's picture was in the paper about them headlining at Autry's club. Orange Crush got wind of the gig and had second thoughts about hiring a group with the name "Wine" in it. Wine and Orange crush just don't go together. They were fired and asked if they knew anyone who could replace them. Some friends of mine and I were hired to fill in. THE STEEL SINGERS WITH GUY GUILBERT! The ad agency was going to pay The New Wine Singers for writing the commercials. (Now it get complicated.)

I was a New Wine Singers and a Steel Singer. In effect, I was going to pay myself for writing the commercials. Here's the punch line: The Steel Singers and I had a BIG meeting at the agency at a long conference table. They put on the DEMO TAPE (there I am plunking and singing away), turned to me and earnestly asked me (having no idea that was me with The New Wine Singers we were listening to) can I sing like that and play banjo like that? I answered, "Ah...yeah...sure. Never letting on...

What got me on this jag was: I received a new Merlin for using it in the commercials...pictures and all.

A friend of mine, Bob Grey, was a good friend of The Kingston Trio. He arranged for me to be an emissary and bring a free long neck Merlin to John Stuart for his endorsement. Bob and I arrived the Chicago's Opera House, and I presented the Banjo to him. Back at the factory, a party was being set up for the Trio. After the concert, Bob and I took off with the Trio for the Merlin factory. We partied until about two or three in the morning. Very strange standing by my drill press sipping cocktails.

More later.

GuY


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Subject: RE: Merlin Banjo
From: Mooh
Date: 27 Dec 04 - 05:32 AM

Guy...That's facinating, thanks! More?

Mooh.


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Subject: RE: Merlin Banjo
From: GUEST,Art Thieme
Date: 27 Dec 04 - 05:52 AM

GUY, thanks for fining this and coming in here.

----I knew Mr. Guy Guilbert had a ton of tales to tell about this era in Chi-town and Merlin Banjos if he looked in here at this discussion. People, please, listen to him. He was a big part of the most successful and popular aspect of the early 1960s folk music scene in the city of Chicago. This was a nightclub caberet era---a time with VERY late night bars (5 AM on Saturday nights---4 AM otherwise) and neon reflected-in-wet-pavement with mesmerizing music, talk, and love affairs---beat poetry and Lenny Bruce-----Judy Collins, Lord Richard Buckley and a barefoot Baez opening for Gibson at the Gate Of Horn. And it was before AIDS --- a no-guilt era ( with all that that implies!) Personally, I was drunk on the whole scene---enthralled by Bob Gibson at his best, and I was playing at those hoots (open stages) at The Rising Moon for three drinks and a burger. (Also, I was pickin' at No Exit coffeehouse as a 19 year old with no beard yet. The coffee sobered and wized me up---actually and intellectually. It kept me from falling into the pit of booze and drugs that consumed so many good friends.

So, tell more Guy. These new folks need to hear it. I'll start some new threads too. One on the SPANKY AND OUR GANG era in Chi to emcompass McGuinn, Mama Cass, Gusty Herevey (who was she?), The Old Town Singers, the group you were in with Barb Stracke and the trio with Ginny Clemmens, Elaine (Spanky before Our Gang) McFarland and yourself. Even the Banjo Rascals if you want. John Carbo doing the film editing on The Blues Brothers film with Belushi. John Belushi's time at Second City. (Were you part of that?)

And when was that picture I sent to you taken---the one of the RISING MOON's burnt moose head hanging from the scorched balcony??? I hadn't realized that it was the Chicago MOB that had burnt the place down !

So many questions---and tales to tell !!!

Art Thieme


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Subject: RE: Merlin Banjo
From: GUEST,Guy Guilbert
Date: 27 Dec 04 - 11:29 PM

Okay, here's some more stories:

DOG AS A SMALL MUSICIAN

Ya know, I played with them all: Josh, The Weavers, Gibson, Ronnie, Will. (Will? Will who?) Will Holt, that's who!; Shel Silverstein, The Kingston Trio, The Clancy Brothers.
Let me tell you about Gibson. He had always been an idol of mine. The zenith. To play like Bob Gibson was the best. I remember first seeing him, in 1960, at The Gate of Horn. He was playing in the basement of a three story apartment building on Chicago's swinging Gold Coast. The "apartment" was now the nightclub: The Gate Of Horn. The big "buzz" going around was, "Have you seen Gibson and Camp yet? They're incredible. They're the best. A new sound!"

I remember entering the packed bar. I was only seventeen. The show was going on past the door on my left. You could faintly hear the music for the crowd cheering and clapping. The excitement going on behind the door was palpable. Irresistible, magical things were going on in that room. I had to get in no matter what! The door was closed and guarded by the hostess. No one could get in anyway, because the room was "packed". Occasionally the door would open letting someone in or out, and you could peak in and glimpse just a flicker of the stage. The railroad-car-shaped room was long with a low ceiling and dark, except for the brilliantly lit stage which silhouetted the heads of what seemed to be a million, jammed in people. You could feel the heat, the sweat and the excitement. Craning my neck, I caught something on stage: a movement, a flash (from the guitar?), singing. Then the door snapped shut!

This was no good. I had to get in to that room! The way to sneak into a filled-to-capacity-show and not pay the cover, of course, was to wait until the hostess went off on some errand. Then quickly, like a thief in the night, slip, while crouching, into the showroom and disappear amid the crowd to find an empty chair—if there was one—hunch over and be invisible; ducking whenever the hostess walked by.
And there they were, Gibson & Camp. Boy, they were cool. The two Bobs! With their suits and skinny ties, they were epitome of coolness. There were three of them. Gibson, with his mighty twelve-string. Bob Camp, with nothing but his incredible voice and stage presence, and Herb Brown: Mr. Mellow bass player. His bass was the size of a ice box, and you could feel every thundering bass-rumble he had to say with it. I had just sat down when Camp started doing an impression of Louis Armstrong, and the audience was howling. They were so good together and they were really getting off on each other. Their harmony and blend was anything as good as Lennon and McCartney's. (Coincidentally, it was the same kind of frenzied musical energy that was happening, at the very same time, in a place called The Cavern in Liverpool, England. Except the audience there was, of course, much younger.)

Well anyway, that was the first time I ever heard or saw Bob Gibson.
A little while later I finally got my chance; to show and prove to myself that I could match my talent—at least as a bass player—with Gibson's. I was hanging out at Mother Blues—a nightclub on Chicago's Wells Street—when Gibson came up to me and asked if I wouldn't mind playing behind him while he did a guest set? Mind? Hell no, I didn't mind! Now was my chance to finally play with the great one. (And I'm not talking about Jackie Gleason.) I ran up to the dressing room excited and nervous thinking, 'This is a big prove it or lose it time'. Now I get the chance to show my mettle; to step-up a notch in musical prominence. (At least in my mind.) It was a challenge I was longing for. I was sure I could do it. I had to do it! When it was near time to go on stage, I went downstairs to confer with Gibson. He comes up to me and says, "Oh, by the way, John Brown is going to play Guitaroon behind me instead. But, Thanks." I was devastated, but I didn't show it. I played it cool. I was so pissed off at Brown. Not really pissed off at him but pissed off at the unfortunate timing of Brown walking in the club that night at that time, and him having that goddamn guitaroon. He sure looked like he was having a good time up there with Gibby.


The next shot I got at Gibson was in '66 at Mother Blues, again. I was the "official" house bass player, and he was booked for two weeks. The club had to have an "official" house musician to appease the local musicians union, and I was asked to go along with the charade. "Officially" on paper, I was paid a hundred twenty five bucks a week. Of course, I got nothing, unless I was working. The "real deal" was: I got all the free drinks I wanted.


Anyway, here I am. I'm supposed to play with Gibson. Now, first of all, I didn't own an upright bass. Never did. Any time I needed a bass, I would go down to Kagen & Gaines on south Wabash and rent one. They had a wall with a row of basses, I swear, that was about fifty feet long. One bass after another. Basses of every kind, shape and color. Most of them were pretty bad. No tone, or too hard to play. All of them had on really old, gooey strings. I knew Gibson would do his version of "Sweet Betsy From Pike" and would need a bowed-bass accompaniment with it. Bob Mathews was the originator of this bass arrangement and it really sounded great, and I had to do the same arrangement. Now, I had never "bowed" a bass before in my life. I definitely am not a classically trained musician. I was lucky though, and had rented a really nice bass with a bow, and it wasn't too hard to get a fairly decent bowed sound from it.


So now I was set. I went to the club early opening night thinking, "Oh man, this is it. Make it or break it." Well, up in the dressing room, Gibson got his guitar out, we tuned up, and we broke into the first tune. I was carefully studying his face for any signs; approval or displeasure, but it was just kind of a blank stare. Well, after a couple of tunes he just said, "Let's go." That was it. I had passed muster. I had made it! The first set was pure joy. Went off without a hitch. He had a big smile all through it. Sometime even smiling at me! From then on, I was in. Gibson treated me like an equal. I had reached a new plateau.

More later...


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Subject: RE: Merlin Banjo
From: GUEST,Art Thieme
Date: 28 Dec 04 - 02:03 AM

...yep, the spiggot is open. Good tales, Guy.
I'd followed Gibson since 59---my senior year in high school. His solo shows in that long low basement room you mentioned were great. I think he only did one song with 12-string----"Matty Groves".   Gibber taught that arrangement of the song to Joan Baez---during the gig at the Gate where she opened for Bob. (What a voice she had.)
My brother was in the audience at the Gate Of Horn the night the Gibson and Camp LP was recorded with that silly song making fun of Marty Faye's sister's sexual preferences. They had to pull the album from the market and when it came out again it was without that song.----- The recently issued CD of that album once again contains that song. I think it is on Alan Shaw's Folk Era Records label. It is also in the current Collector's Choice mailorder/web catalogue.

Art


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Subject: RE: Merlin Banjo (and the Chicago Folk Scene)
From: GUEST,Guy Guilbert
Date: 28 Dec 04 - 04:31 PM

A correction: I mentioned it was The Rising Moon Singer who played at the Off Stage. Wrong. It was The New Wine Singers.

Also Art, the Gibson and Camp album was recorded at the NEW Gate Of Horn on Rush Street.

More later...


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Subject: RE: Merlin Banjo (and the Chicago Folk Scene)
From: GUEST,Art Thieme
Date: 28 Dec 04 - 09:38 PM

Guy, I think you are off the mark on that. The origional LP called Gibson and Camp at the Gate Of Horn was recorded at the original Gate Of Horn---in that great black-painted long basement at Chicago and Dearborn. Check out Shell's liner notes on the album. I've still got my original copy.

Art


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Subject: RE: Merlin Banjo (and the Chicago Folk Scene)
From: GUEST,Art Thieme
Date: 28 Dec 04 - 11:58 PM

Well, Guy, you might be right. But that'd sure be news to me. If so I've been wrong for over 40 years! So what else is new?

(sheepishly) Art


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Subject: RE: Merlin Banjo (and the Chicago Folk Scene)
From: GUEST,Guy Guilbert
Date: 05 Jan 05 - 03:28 PM

Sorry, Arto, I'm pretty sure I is right. Look at the album jacket. They're smoking outside, standing across the street from the "New" Gate. The marquee is behind them announcing in big letters: GIBSON & CAMP. Now, maybe it WAS recorded at the "old" Gate, but they were singing at the new Gate when it came out. We folkies assumed it was at the "new" Gate. Maybe I've been wrong all these 40 years. I'm going to send you Camp's eMail eDress and you can ask him. Let me know what he says.

guy


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Subject: RE: Merlin Banjo (and the Chicago Folk Scene)
From: GUEST,Art Thieme
Date: 06 Jan 05 - 08:14 PM

Well, Guy, as certain as you sound, I think, no, I am POSITIVE (99% sure) that you're wrong!

I just checked with brother Richard. He and a special lady were on a special date that night. Just the first of many for the two o' them. The night is vividly etched in his mind's composite eyes. It was DEFINITELY in the original Gate Of Horn that the LP Bob Gibson and Bob Camp At The Gate Of Horn was recorded---the same room where I first saw Sandy Paton, Josh White, Joan Baez, Paul Clayton, The New Lost City Ramblers, Lord Richard Buckley, Leon Bibb, Theo Bickel, Judy Collins, Roger McGuinn, John Carbo, Odetta, Barbara Dane, Ron And Nama, Brock Peters---hell, even Ray Watkins (remember him?). Not Lenny Bruce though. I saw Lenny at the NEW Gate Of Horn---one of the nights they busted him 'cause the first Mayor Daley didn't like his pointing out stuff about the church in the same breath that he also noted that women had breasts. (Also because C.K. was way underaged and was there hanging out and/or waiting tables.)

Later, I remember her sister, T.K., walking L.B. up Rush Street and down State Street ("that great street") around and around--all night to keep him "awake" after he'd just obout O.D.'d---and she was the only reason he hadn't YET.

And we were all young enough to think that all of it was cool as all hell----which it was from where we were watching and listening then, but not so much now mostly because we are here now and still alive while Lenny, and Paul Butterfield and Mike Bloomfield and Malcolm Hale and so many others are, and have been, as dead as if a tsunami just washed 'em off the face of the Earth. And I sure do miss all of them!!

Yeah, it was the old Gate Of Horn.

Art Thieme


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Subject: RE: Merlin Banjo (and the Chicago Folk Scene)
From: GUEST,Guy Guilbert
Date: 07 Jan 05 - 09:28 PM

Well. Art, I guess you're right. If your brother was there, he was there. I wasn't. All I know is, It's one hellofa good album. I have a signed LP. (Art-who is CK? Your brothers girlfriend? And who is LB?)

MERLIN BANJOS:
When I went to work at Merlin, I was friends with Bill Malloy, who is mentioned earlier. I also became friendly with Jay Smith the inventer. (He is mentioned earlier.) In fact, Jay taught me how to drive. The second time I went to work at Merlin, things had become deteriated and more hectic and desperate. They were making many kinds of banjos hoping to cash in on present trends. Banjo bands were kind of happening.

The problems, though, were several: First: the whole idea of the banjo was that it would be easy to mass produce. Mold them out of aluminum and snap them together. Easy! The fiberglass rims were drilled with holes to give them tone. No aged wood to deal with. Jay had invented a saw with as many blades as frets to simultaneously cut the fret grooves as you slowly crank the blades through the ebony. It was all supposed to be a piece of cake.

The molding of the aluminum was pretty much a failure. Turns out, each neck had to be hand worked and messed with, therefore requiring a lot of time with each one. Also the necks, being made of aluminum, were never to warp. All I can say is mine did. The glue that held the fingerboard to the neck, on mine, came undone. All the foam in my case turned to dust. Yuk.

The other BIG problem, as I saw it, was stockpile. Bill Malloy did a great job going around the country to music stores selling banjos and taking orders. The problem was, Merlin couldn't fill them. Pure and simple. When I went to work there the second time, the place was in a state of confusion. Leonard McCabe would spend his day going through filing cabinets sorting screws; acting as if he had not a care in the world. I got fairly frustrated and started to make a long list of procedure improvements. It was ignored. I left soon after.

A funny note: I would sometimes go into Jay's or Bill's office to "party". After a while, Jay had to set me straight. He said I could only go in after work hours because the other employees would get jealous.

More later...


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Subject: RE: Merlin Banjo (and the Chicago Folk Scene)
From: Auggie
Date: 07 Jan 05 - 10:12 PM

Great thread Art and Guy.

If you came of age in Chicago when I did (i.e. just a few years too late to catch that early 60's music first hand) you should have to pay money to read stuff that is this good.


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Subject: RE: Merlin Banjo (and the Chicago Folk Scene)
From: GUEST,Art Thieme
Date: 08 Jan 05 - 01:10 AM

Auggie,

It's mostly very new inside Merlin info I'm hearing from Guy too. I love it. Guy has been a friend for a long time...

1959--There was a house band at the original Gate Of Horn that played and pretty much hosted the Sunday afternoon hootenannys. This trio was THE FRETS --- and it was made up of John Carbo (the mgr. of the Old Town Folklore Center when I was asst. mgr. there), Louis McDonald (a Chicago postal worker) and Jim (Roger) McGuinn. (Yep, founder of The Byrds.) McGuinn was a student at the Latin School in Chicago at the time.--------- A few years later, Guy Guilbert took McGuinn's place in The Frets. I was a student at the Navy Pier --- Chicago campus of the Univ. Of Illinois. There we had a folk music club and we brought in sometime Mudcatter, FRANK HAMILTON, to do an evening concert for us. Frank brought along The Frets (with Guy) and a strangely unique flamenco guitarist named Ray Watkins. I taped that show and later met up with Guy so he could copy my tape.

Fred Holstein would later take Guy Guilbert's spot on guitar with The Frets.

But Guy was the first one who loved The Beatles that I ever met. He (and my wife Carol) showed me the way to appreciate that group. Being the folkie that I was/am, I resisted for many years, but eventually I got so I could enjoy the boys and their success.--------Over the years Guy and I have split off as is the way of the world. But e-mail has made it easy to renew our friendship---across this big continent. When I saw this thread, I pointed him to it. This is fun.

As I've mentioned in other threads, John Carbo, who passed away a few years ago, wound up being film editor on the BLUES BROTHERS movie---with John Belushi.

Guy, L.B. is Lenny Bruce. I'll e-mail you about S.K. and T.K.

Art


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Subject: RE: Merlin Banjo (and the Chicago Folk Scene)
From: GUEST,Guy Guilbert
Date: 08 Jan 05 - 02:54 PM

Auggie, do you want an address to send that oney to?


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Subject: RE: Merlin Banjo (and the Chicago Folk Scene)
From: GUEST,Art Thieme
Date: 08 Jan 05 - 02:59 PM

Guy and Auggie,

There is no indication on the original Gib. & Camp LP what year it was---but that original place was all there was back then--so it'd have been obvious it was done in the first Gate.

BUT I have finally seen an "in print" reference to the date that LP was recorded.

The NEW liner notes to the reissue of that LP on CD were written by Richie Unterberger.

He says, almost as an afterthought, "In the mid 1980s, the reunited duo released Live At The Gate Of Horn Revisited", which reprised much of the material from their 1961 album."

Shel Silverstein's original liner notes are reproduced in the package also, but are printed so small you need a magnifying glass to read them.

Art


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Subject: RE: Merlin Banjo (and the Chicago Folk Scene)
From: GUEST,Art Thieme
Date: 25 Mar 05 - 12:01 AM

refish


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Subject: RE: Merlin Banjo (and the Chicago Folk Scene)
From: Amos
Date: 25 Mar 05 - 09:57 AM

One of the best threads yet on the era. Thanks, gentlemen!!


A


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Subject: RE: Merlin Banjo (and the Chicago Folk Scene)
From: GUEST,aerodynamicdon
Date: 10 Apr 05 - 04:16 PM

This is great! Thanks for some good Chicago memories. 'Old Town' has few characterietics of
it's former self. Old Town School of Folk Music
is still cooking, and has a second branch. Remember ITS HERE on North Sheridan, where you could sit on the floor and get cramps? Jeez...I'm old. I've got a perfect chrome Merlin long neck and a gold annodized long neck. You'd think that this would last a lifetime right?   No rust, no warp. Nope, I want another, and that ever elusive spring clip
5th string capo.


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Subject: RE: Merlin Banjo (and the Chicago Folk Scene)
From: GUEST,aerodynamicdon@webtv.net
Date: 10 Apr 05 - 04:29 PM

And furthermore....(who says that? Me I guess),
If the molds, tooling and supersecret stockpile of tuners could be found and purchased I'd try
to resurrect the Merlin. Dreaming and drooling,
                           Don


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Subject: RE: Merlin Banjo (and the Chicago Folk Scene)
From: GUEST,Ron
Date: 05 Aug 05 - 08:50 PM

Hi, im buying (already put money down) a Merlin 5 string long neck, $1400.
Has anyone put a list together of known Merlins (specs/pics) ?


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