Lowell Levinger in Collectors Weekly

Lowell Levinger, a.k.a. Grandpa BananaThe Collector’s Weekly has a lengthy interview with Lowell Levinger where they discuss his extensive collection of vintage acoustic instruments. Levinger is better known to his followers as Banana, the nom de guerre he adopted as a founding member of The Youngbloods in the mid 1960s. The band had a folk/rock bent, but Levinger came from a bluegrass background, and his multi-instrumental chops were part of his appeal.

Lowell now runs a business, Players Vintage Instruments, where he buys, sells and consigns quality stringed instruments in Inverness, CA.

The interview starts with a story that all instrument lovers will cherish…

1933 Gibson RB11I bought my first really good bluegrass banjo in 1963 from a banjo player who lived in New York. His name was Winnie Winston, and he was a mentor of mine. It was a great banjo, a Gibson RB-1 Mastertone, and I played it for a few years. Then, in 1966, it was stolen out of my Lower East Side apartment. I looked in vain for it in pawnshops and all the old instrument shops. Finally, I gave up.

Then, about four, five months ago, it showed up on online. I got in touch with the guy who was selling it, and of course he had no idea what the history of it was. He had just bought it from somebody a year ago. I told him my story, but put yourself in his place: it’s a hard story to accept, and I didn’t have any proof. I filed a police report back then, but the New York City Police Department had more important stuff to do.

I wasn’t absolutely positive from the pictures and descriptions that it was mine, but it sure looked like it. We went back and forth, and he offered to sell it to me for what he had in it, which was quite a bit of money. I bought it for 600 bucks back in 1963. I had so many banjos anyway that I didn’t really need another, especially if I wasn’t totally sure it was mine. So I said, “I don’t think I’ll do it,” and he said, “Well, I think I’ll just hang on to it rather than sell it.”

Well, he did get it back, as you’ll find if you read the full interview, where Levinger also talks about the instruments in his “keeper” collection.

1933 Gibson Granada from the collection of Lowell LevingerI currently own maybe 15 or 20 banjos. I play them all every once in a while. For bluegrass I play my Gibson Mastertone. Well, for everything these days, I play my Gibson Mastertone. For gigs, I’m only playing the one that I just got back.

I’m also a big fan of Paramount banjos. Paramount made really nice banjos back in the late 1920s. William L. Lange was involved in a few early banjo companies and then went off on his own and formed Paramount banjos. He made banjos under a lot of other names, too. Orpheum was one of them, and Lange Style was another. And boy, did he put out a lot of banjos. He was in New York. He must’ve made thousands of banjos a year. He published these very nice catalogs that are pretty readily available.

Read the complete interview (with more photos) at CollectorsWeekly.com.

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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.