A visit to Průcha Bluegrass Instruments in Prague

This visit with Jaroslav Průcha is a contribution from Matt Scutchfield, a music vlogger, journalist, graduate of Berklee College of Music, and current associate concert producer at The Wild Rose Moon Performing Arts Center in Plymouth, IN. He is of Eastern European descent, and has a strong connection to Czechia as an ethnomusicologist. 

If you find yourself just a little bit south of Prague, in a peaceful and beautiful rural area called Buš, you will be very close to one of the top banjo builders in the world, Jaroslav Průcha, and his shop, Průcha Bluegrass Instruments. I stopped in there while I was visiting Prague, to talk with Jaroslav about his career in building banjos, take a look around the shop, and get his reaction to his newest acquisition – the title of being an IBMA Distinguished Achievement Award winner. We’ll get to that part in a moment.

The first impression I had from walking into Průcha’s shop was happiness. It is a true family-run business, with Jaroslav and his son Jan taking care of the instrument building, and Petra, wife and mother of the family taking care of calls, emails, and packaging/shipment of instruments. The three work together perfectly, and there is something simply wonderful about observing this – so much support, dedication and love in one family towards making bluegrass instruments. Oh, and they also have a shop foreman, the cutest little dog ever, making sure that things don’t get too serious, and that play time is observed regularly!

Jaroslav showed me around the shop, taking me to different stations where particular aspects of banjo building are done – an inlay station, a place for neck carving, staining, etc etc. About the moment when I realized that he has tools to do almost everything, he mentioned that there are only three components of the banjo that are not made directly in his shop: the head, the tuning machines, and the strings. Everything else, literally every other aspect of the banjo, is made right there in Czechia. This is something he is really proud about. That pride has got the attention of many other prominent banjo builders as well. Gibson had long been sourcing parts from Průcha, and a few other US companies have been too. Jaroslav quickly assures me, though, that while all the other banjo companies are in business competition with each other, they’re always happy to see one another at events like IBMA, and have a great time catching up.

It was a true pleasure to meet the Průcha family and see the shop, and to learn the history of the company as well as Jaroslav’s personal history. Even better was feeling the unquestionable love that he has for banjos, bluegrass, and the people that play his instruments. Should you want to be one of those people that play his instruments, you might be in for a bit of a wait. Shortly before I arrived, he had sent out the newly finished banjos, and currently estimates that any new orders will be ready in April/May of next year.

Watch below to hear how he first learned that he had won the IBMA award – through a trick phone call from Alison Brown! Jaroslav also mentions the significance of this award, due to his hero (and all of Czechia’s hero), Marko Čermák, of the band Greenhorns winning it many years ago, as well as fellow banjo builder and friend, Geoff Stelling, also receiving it.