Sonny, along with his guitar-picking brother Kenny, has been playing bluegrass music since he was a child. Both were entering – and winning – instrumental competitions by their teens, and both have made a career in music. But while Kenny has taken the road route with his wife Amanda, Sonny has preferred to stay closer to home, playing banjo at various shows in Pigeon Forge, TN. He is currently performing nightly at the Hatfield and McCoys Dinner Show.
Sonny said that he and Tom Nechville met and started talking about a custom model at the Smoky Mountain Banjo Academy in May of 2012.
“I had played a few Nechvilles in my time, and spent a lot of time at Tom’s booth at SMBA. The first thing that impressed me about Tom was seeing him work on one of the student’s banjos. This guys came in with an old Framus banjo and wanted Tom to set it up. A lot of luthiers would have just waved it off, but Tom quoted the guy a fair price to put on a new bridge and do a few tweaks.
I was so impressed by the way he handled his business that I thought, ‘this guys alright.’
I’ve always liked the way he engineers his banjos, and how much thought he puts into them.
He had a couple of exceptional banjos there in the booth, and I really enjoyed playing them. As it happened, my contract with Washburn was expiring for my signature edition, and Tom and I started talking.
So we put our heads together and started looking at options for a Sonny Smith model.”
The Sonny Smith model uses the revolutionary Nechville Heli-Mount pot, with a curly maple neck and resonator, and a wider neck with a tunneled 5th string and a compound radius, ebony fingerboard.
We also changed from the angled peg head, and we switched to a radiused S-shape board. Tom wanted to bring this diamond pattern back, so I suggested we use mother of pearl for the leaves and abalone for the centers
Tom had built a prototype some time ago and for reason, the guy never picked it up. It had this diamond binding made custom for this banjo, and I fell in love with it.”
Nechville uses their 20 Hole Pro tone ring, supported by their Cyclotronic ball bearing mounting system. It is offered for sale at $4450, with a hard shell case.
Sonny says it suits him just fine.
“I’m tickled to death with this banjo. The sustain is just right – works on slow songs, fiddle tune, or Scruggs-style numbers. I’ve played the best out there, and this thing is exceptional.
I think the non-truss rod system helps the tone as well. It’s less metallic sounding, and I think the aluminum in the pot helps get that woody sound as well.
I love Tom’s ingenuity with the Helimount head mounting system. A lot of thought goes into his banjos, from one end to the other.”
For more details on the Diamond Joe, visit Nechville online.
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About the Author (Author Profile)
John had served as primary author and editor for The Bluegrass Blog from its launch in 2006 until being folded into Bluegrass Today in September of 2011. He continues in that capacity here, managing a strong team of columnists and correspondents.
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