Davis Banjo in Harrisburg NC has introduced a new signature banjo for Don Wayne Reno, based on his father Don’s iconic prewar RB-75, affectionately known as Nellie.
Called their Don Reno model, this new banjo is designed as an exact replica of Nellie, which has quite a history of its own. In addition to being the instrument Don used to record so many classic songs, it had belonged to Earl Scruggs until he swapped Don for it, getting his own signature instrument, a Hearts & Flowers Granada in return. So much historical banjo lore is bound up in those two classic fives, and it’s hard to imagine either Scruggs or Reno without them.
The Davis Don Reno features the same Flying Eagle inlay pattern and double cut headstock as the original, and a new tone ring they developed after sampling the content of the metal in Nellie. It is a mahogany banjo that was once believed to be an RB-3, based on the inlay, until shipping records and small details revealed that it was a 75. During WWII it was common for Gibson to build banjos that did not conform to the catalog standards.
Davis Banjo started as a custom inlay company. Tim Davis is an experienced player himself, and started building his own banjos a few years later. His goal has been to produce high-quality, handmade banjos at lower prices than the larger shops can offer. They also make a Tom Adams model, a mahogany banjo with a Wreath pattern inlay, and a couple models of their own design. All three sell for well below $3,000.
Tim tells us that they also heat treat their tone rings after they are poured.
“We have developed a new ring called the Vintagetone ring with a new line of banjos around that. We start out with a prewar formula that is to our specs and then they go through a special 3 step heat process which artificially ages the ring, and in our opinion really improves upon the standard ring before the process is done. It has worked so well in fact that we now do that process to all of our rings.”
They are also working on another signature model for Bennett Sullivan, which will feature a wider, radiused fingerboard. It will be called their Newgrass model. Tim also expects to introduce torrified rims as an option, created by heat treating them like their tone rings.
There isn’t much up yet on the Davis web site about the Don Reno model, but Tim sent a few images for us to share. You can contact him online for more information.