Robot banjo – who knew?

The Bluegrass Special, Grade 3Many thanks to David Hollender, upright bass and banjo instructor at Berklee College of Music, for turning me on to Ragtime West, makers of some of the most amazing musical creations I have ever seen.

The company is the brainchild of Ken Caulkins, who has modified the concept of the player piano for a variety of other stringed instruments and percussion. He has also created full-sized MIDI music boxes with actual instruments that perform upon command.

Ken is obviously a bluegrass fan, as he offers several versions of his automated music players in a Bluegrass Special line. The lovely conversation starter pictured above is his Grade 3 model, complete with banjo, guitar and bass, selling for $37,950 in cherry.

Here’s a look at one in action.

Hollender forwarded me the following video, which gives a great look at his robot banjo in operation, this time in clawhammer style.

What do you get for the bluegrass picker who has everything? You can see more and get full details on these fascinating machines at

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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.