Todd Taylor sets Guinness record for fastest banjo playing

Fast picker. Todd Taylor and his fast fingers set the world record for world's fastest banjo playing today in Palm Bay. Kathleen Hinkel, FLORIDA TODAY
Out here in west Palm Bay, just before the road turns to dirt, Grammy Nominated Banjoman & Recording King Banjo Endorser Todd Taylor blazed a new trail Wednesday on his Recording King banjo.

Playing "Feuding Banjos" — the Arthur Smith tune popularly known as "Dueling Banjos" from the movie "Deliverance" — he established the record for the fastest playing, at a brain-throbbing 210 beats per minute.

The walls of his house trembled with the beat, more fitting for a dance club, as his pale fingers flitted at lightning speed over the strings of his Recording King banjo. The handmade prototype, the first of a new line of instruments, was designed by Greg Rich.

"Since this is No. 1, it feels special," Taylor said of the banjo.

He should, too. After the record-keepers at Guinness approve the packet of evidence that will be sent to them, including unedited video, an audio copy and notarized statements by witnesses including Mims lawyer Bill Powell and Palm Bay police officer Dan Fisher, other musicians will have to match this measurement of his prowess.

Guinness assigned him "Dueling Banjos," even though it’s normally played by two people. "It’s a feat in itself to play both parts," Taylor said. He was playing so fast, he might have been able to play parts for three. He said he had to Super-Glue the picks to his fingers so they wouldn’t fly off.

"I’ve done it so many times, like I said, it’s monotonous," he said after stopping his first attempt halfway through. ". . . I’ve done it so many times, I’m trying to play faster than that beat now."

He ran through the song again before official record keeping resumed. "That Super Glue’s working," he said.

He got it on the second attempt, but said, "I played it OK, but I can play it better." He wanted to do it again. "I’m a perfectionist."

"Hello, I’m Todd Taylor with the Palm Bay Police Department," he joked at the start of another attempt, getting a laugh from the small crowd in his living room. Then came the serious stuff.

Witnesses verified the drum machine was set at 210 beats per minute. "Let’s set the world record, ‚ÄòDueling Banjos,’ " Taylor said, starting with the slow introduction before the drum beat began pounding out its furious pace.

He picked. The banjo sang. It was beautiful. He finished, thanked the crowd. "That was it!" he said.

Taylor, originally from Spartanburg, S.C., has spent a lot of years playing with Alan Jackson and other country musicians in Nashville and intends to move back there soon to support a new record by his band, South of Georgia.

He’s always been known for his fast playing, and after practicing for this stunt, 210 beats per minute didn’t seem all that fast to him.

"I can actually do it at 220, and it’s just on the edge of not being able to understand it," he said.

A typical fast bluegrass song might hit 130 beats. His "Banjos" performance smokes that speed. "Now that sounds like a turtle," he said. Taylor’s played so fast and so much, he’s had to change his banjo strings about three times a day. Normally, a professional on the road changes them about once a day.

"It’s like a tongue twister," Taylor said before he played for the record shortly after 2:30 p.m. ". . . Yesterday, we did it six times and filmed it six times."

Sound engineer Greg Michels of Palm Bay was helping with the Yamaha drum machine. "I’ll be glad when it’s over. I’ve heard this song so many times now, I hear it in my sleep," Michels said."After I do this today, I probably won’t play the banjo for a week, two weeks," said Taylor, who’s been practicing the song about two hours a day for six months.

"That’s good," Michels joked.

Watch the video here.