What does the Virginian, Old Woody, Sunflower, Staghorn, Crusader, Bellflower and Master Cross have in common? These are some of highest quality banjos made by Geoff Stelling at Stelling Banjo Works, located in Afton Virgnia. I like to think of them as the Rolls Royce of banjos.
In the early 1970s, I first heard of the Stelling banjo after listening and studying the banjo technique of Alan Munde, one of my favorite banjo players. I read an article that claimed that Alan Munde was playing a banjo called a Stelling Staghorn.
It was still hard for me to imagine that the Gibson banjo could be beat. I was playing a Gibson RB 250 at the time. At age 12, I saved my hard earned allowance money for that Gibson and I was proud to own it. I still have it today. Yet, I was curious about what attracted Alan Munde to the Stelling banjo.
In 1974, Stelling Banjo Works was founded by Geoff Stelling. In the mid-1960s, while in College and later stationed in the Navy, Geoff played a bass and banjo in various semi-professional bands. In a November 1977 BNL inteview, Geoff explained that he tinkered around with his early inexpensive banjos (Kay, Vega, Sears) that had obvious sound limitations. Of course, those banjos were beginner models. It’s true that you get what you pay for.
Today, Mr. Stelling’s business keeps going strong. The Stelling banjos are made of the highest quality walnut and maple woods, utilize the Tony Pass old wood rims, and have well designed tail pieces. The Stelling patented wedge-fitted pot assembly allows for the best tone ring and flange to wood fit possible. For more information on Mr. Stelling’s company and his instruments, see www.stellingbanjo.com.
It took awhile but thirty years later, I was in the financial position to buy a Stelling Staghorn. Whether performing on stage or playing for others in a more intimate setting, people constantly ask me about the banjo. They are impressed with the sound of the instrument.
Who knows, maybe thirty years from now, if I am still alive, I’ll buy another Stelling banjo. For now, I’ll keep picking away on my own Staghorn that I first read about in the early 1970s.
Author’s Note: Feel free to share your own Stelling banjo experiences by posting to this article.