Banjo Ben makes Christmas special for Matt Leadbetter

Matt Leadbetter received a most meaningful gift this holiday season, a Phil Leadbetter signature model resophonic guitar from Banjo Ben Clark, designed by his dad and built by Gibson. And the two men had never even spoken!

Here is how it came to fruition:

Banjo Ben was playing in Taylor Swift’s country band in 2007. 

“I had been touring since 2004, and always used my own instruments because I wanted to play the best instrument that I could. I always wanted Gibson’s endorsement.”

While performing with Swift, his dream came true.

“Gibson supplied me with a banjo, mandolin, and resophonic guitar. I went to their Opry Mills Shop and met several luthiers: Danny Roberts, Tony Wray, and David Harvey. They were very kind to me and knew that I had a passion for bluegrass, and wanted me to have the best instruments off the line. The guys played the instruments and I selected which ones that I wanted.”

One that he chose was a Phil Leadbetter Dobro, a limited edition model.

“I played it all over the world. It became a part of my personal collection. In 2010, I came off the road, signed a songwriting deal with Sony, and started giving lessons.”

That same year, Nashville experienced historic flooding. Gibson’s shop was submerged in the rising waters of the Cumberland River, and no more of the Phil Leadbetter models were ever made.

In 2017, Clark opened Banjo Ben’s General Store and got into the business of selling instruments.

“Recently, I came to the realization that I had more instruments than I could play. It was time to thin the herd,” the musician/business man admitted.

“I put the Phil Leadbetter guitar up for sale in my general store. I had only briefly met Phil at a NAMM Show in the Recording King booth. I received a message from Matt. He asked if I would be willing to set it aside while he got the money. He said how much it would mean to him. When I got Matt’s message, I knew immediately what I needed to do.”

Clark had lost his dad to cancer ten years prior. He knew Matt had lost his father to cancer in 2021. 

“I messaged Matt and told him I wanted to give him the guitar. I know how special dads are and how connected we are with their history. He was thankful and almost unbelieving.”

Clark got Matt’s address and sent him the dobro. It arrived near Christmas.

“I was floored. I had never even talked to Ben before,” Leadbetter explained, as he shared his side of this story. 

“One night I had woken up in the middle of the night and couldn’t sleep. I started scrolling on-line.”

He spotted Clark’s listing for the dobro. 

“I had been trying to track one down for years. I was with Dad when he designed that model. This was going to be a limited run of 50 and I’m not so sure that Gibson ever built that many due to the floods. The one Dad used was sold when he got cancer.”

He was excited to finally find a genuine Phil Leadbetter Signature Dobro.

 “It looked like it was in mint condition,” the son of the instrument’s namesake told us. 

“It was such a huge blessing receiving this dobro from Ben. I will never forget this, and will always cherish it. These Gibson Phil Leadbetter Limited Edition dobros are hard to find, and it is a guitar I have been looking for ever since the passing of my dad. Ben is a kind soul, and he will never know how much this meant to me.” 

Clark concluded, “That guitar was never really mine. I was gifted it. I was blessed to get fine instruments that I could not afford. I wanted to be a conduit of that blessing and pass that blessing on to Matt. I’m a Christian, and I want to be a good steward.”

What a gift, what a blessing, what a Christmas!

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About the Author

Sandy Hatley

Sandy Chrisco Hatley is a free lance writer for several NC newspapers and Bluegrass Unlimited magazine. As a teenager, she picked banjo with an all girl band called the Happy Hollow String Band. Today, she plays dobro with her husband's band, the Hatley Family.