Earl Scruggs Center acquires Earl’s Ruben banjo for new exhibit

Earl Scruggs playing his Jim Faulkner Mark V Ruben banjo with the Earl Scruggs Revue

The Earl Scruggs Center in Shelby, NC has acquired a custom banjo made for Earl Scruggs by Jim Faulkner for their newest exhibit on the Earl Scruggs Revue.

This model, which Scruggs played often with the Revue, was built over 1970-1971, and has been known since by the nickname “Ruben” for the small, red inlay in the headstock overlay with that text. In a departure for Earl, this instrument is a top tension banjo, something that you rarely saw him play, until Faulkner made him this special banjo while the Revue was starting up.

In the ’70s, Jim Faulkner was known for building fine replica Mastertone necks, based on the prewar Gibsons, and for a tone ring that people believed had the same tonal response as the old flatheads. After Earl’s passing in 2012, this banjo remained with the Scruggs family until it was sold through Gruhn’s Guitars in Nashville in 2018. At one time it had belonged to Noam Pikelny, but now is in the collection of Aaron and Darlene Carr, who have made it available to the museum at the Center for display.

Assistant Director for the Earl Scruggs Center, Zach Dressel, says they are beyond delighted to present this piece of bluegrass history to visitors.

“The Faulkner Mark V ‘Ruben’ Banjo is more than just a banjo that was owned by Earl Scruggs, it is a symbol of the mutual respect shared between two masters of their craft. We are extremely honored to tell this story as it provides more context to the character of our namesake, while at the same time giving proper attention to a person who earned respect in the world of banjo building.”

Upon coming to the Carrs, the Ruben found its way to the shop of contemporary banjo craftsman Richie Dotson, who did some set up and repair on the banjo around this time last year. He shared the several images below, including photos where Scruggs had etched his name into the banjo’s parts in a number of spots, as had been his wont.

Aaron Carr says that they feel sure that this classic instrument needed to be enjoyed by more than just themselves.

“Earl was starting a new era of music with his sons when Faulkner built this banjo for him, and he took it with him into that new era. When we visited the Earl Scruggs Center, we were impressed and felt like the banjo belonged there. We are proud to have this unique instrument displayed for others to enjoy.”

Visitors can see the Ruben in the museum’s Turning Road Gallery, where several exhibits explore Earl’s career after he left the Carolina hills for Nashville in 1945 to take a job with Bill Monroe. In Bill’s band at the time was Lester Flatt on guitar, Chubby Wise on fiddle, and Cedric Rainwater (Howard Watts) on bass. To this day that group is lionized as the “Original Bluegrass Band,” because when Scruggs came onboard, all the elements that we now recognize as bluegrass music were in place.

The Earl Scruggs Center is open Tuesday through Saturday each week, with an admission charge of $12 for adults, $8 for students, and $5 for children 6-17. Under 5 are admitted at no charge.

You can learn more about the Earl Scruggs Center and Museum online.

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About the Author

John Lawless

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.