New land speed record – for banjo

Johnny Butten with his Guinness Record for Fastest Banjo PlayerIt’s official… The Guinness Book has declared that Brit Johnny Butten is the World’s Fastest Banjo Player, besting the record established last year by Todd Taylor.

There is no mention of the record yet on the Guinness Records web site, but Johnny’s hopes to see it show up there soon. There is never a guarantee that newly recognized records will appear in the print edition, but let’s cross our fingers.

His official certificate from Guinness reads:

The fastest banjo player is Johnny Butten (UK) who played Duelling [sic] Banjos at a speed of 260 beats per minute at the Newquay Bluegrass Festival, Newquay, Cornwall, UK, on 15 September 2007.

There is a video of Johnny’s successful record attempt on YouTube.

Our friends at had this to say about the new record:

It’s not exactly high art, but you don’t often get to beat the Americans at their own game. Congratulations Johnny!

So it’s on!

We asked Johnny to tell us a bit more about himself, and how he came to undertake this banjo record attempt.

I started playing banjo back in ’73. I was 9 yrs old and just a regular kid in a rough neighborhood. The Beverly Hillbillies hit the UK and my Dad was intrigued by the banjo sound. He was kinda into banjo, messing around with a tenor and a flatpick playing Irish stuff, albeit badly. After much asking around he finally found Earls book and LP and realised he needed a ‘5.’ It wasn’t until I heard him almost playing cripple creek that I took any interest. He got me an old zither banjo and my journey began…….

I had drifted away from the European bluegrass scene over the years and quite by chance heard about this festival in Cornwall (S.W. UK) which had been running for 3 years. I grew up in Somerset, separated from Cornwall by Devon County, so it was kinda local to my old stomping ground. So anyway, we (Sammy my lady) and I took a trip to the fest in 2006 and had a terrific time!

There were a bunch of people who still remembered me from years ago and a whole new bunch and generation whom I’d never met. We were made to feel so welcome especially by the organizers that I felt compelled to ‘give something back.’ I had thought of a speed record years ago but it was one of those things I never got around to doing, but then Todd set the record in January and that really sparked my interest. I’ve never been one to do things solely for me. I’m happy living in a wooden shed with some food and a beat up banjo….but I get a real kick helping others. So, I decided I’d have a go at the record just for the heck of it and promote the Cornish fest for them by doing it there.

Dean Woon of the CBA (Cornish Bluegrass Association) set up the whole deal. He applied to Guinness and had to wait for them to authorize the attempt. This was the middle of June ’07, so I started practicing for the September 15 deadline. We had to submit undedited video footage, witness statements from people of standing within the community and a mile of forms from Guinness!

Then we waited…..and waited…..and waited. Finally on Jan 11th 2008 I got an email confirmation and on Sat 12th we got the Guinness certificate.

The Internet buzz about Butten’s plans to beat the record led to Johnny getting in contact with Tom Mirisola of American Made Banjo Co., who provided a Kel Kroydon KK-10 for use in the attempt. He now owns a custom Kel Kroydon and has a signature set of American Made Cryogenic Banjo Strings.

“I would like to take this opportunity to thank Tom Mirisola for his support and efforts and also Robin Smith for making such great banjos. Kel Kroydon are truly American made and I believe he has captured ‘that authentic sound’ that everyone looks for.

I’m really excited about coming back to the States in the very near future. I will be recording 2 albums, one bluegrass album and one country album when I’m there, as well as putting a hot band together (email applications accepted). In Feb this year, I’m hooking up with my longtime friend Bill Keith at the Joe Val fest in Boston, and boy are we gonna pick!!

Thanks to everyone for their support and good luck to the CBA (UK) for 2008!!”

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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.