- Associated Press - Friday, February 19, 2016

PROVO, Utah (AP) - Thomas Larsen, a passionate musician and craftsman, makes banjos out of everything from high quality wood, to family trees, and even occasionally vintage “junk” he finds in his garage.

“This one only took a few minutes,” said Larsen, when describing a banjo he made out of an old can he found in a garage. “This is the ‘canjo’. I just put a neck on it, attached a few knobs and strung it up.”

While Larsen has fun experimenting at his shop in his basement with different pieces of “junk,” his passion comes from his love of crafting high-end banjos. Ebony, mahogany, and oak are among the extensive list of different woods that Larsen works with. Custom inlays, hand painted and rubbed, Larsen will spend anywhere from a few days to a month or two, depending on the project.

Sometimes the earth does some of the crafting for him, and the pieces of wood that he chooses to work with come with their own weathered personality.

Larsen describes a piece of wood that had been eaten by some insect. To others the piece of wood may be a waste, but he saw it as an opportunity.

“So this one here was eaten a bit by worms, or termites. So I filled in the holes with some epoxy, and then sprinkled the neck with turquoise,” he said.

Larsen’s banjo journey began about 10 years ago, when he decided to make his first banjo in his garage. From there, he taught himself how to play the instrument while simultaneously honing his craft in his basement wood shop. Now, he often makes banjos not only for himself, but also for clients who are looking for high-quality, handcrafted pieces of art for their instruments.

Hailing from southern California, Larsen often found himself looking to escape the commercial sprawl of the valley. He found solace in exploring bluegrass music, as well as making treks in the San Bernardino wilderness. On those nature treks, he would regularly pick wild blackberries, which is the namesake of his operation, Blackberry Banjos.

Describing his escape from the mainstream, Larsen is more optimistic than bemoaning.

“I kind of like the idea of American Roots music,” he said. “For me it goes back to what music used to be. I find comfort in it.”

Finding comfort in the music is one thing, but Larsen sees the opportunity for bluegrass to bring people together. While he sees the claw hammer style of banjo picking as a shelter from the big bass, hard-hitting pop hits of today, it’s much more about the camaraderie.

“I guess one thing about the musical society is that it’s governed more about entertainment value,” Larsen said. “Roots music to me is about not caring about if people are necessarily entertained, it’s more about bringing people together, hanging out, and playing music together. “

Larsen’s banjos are priced from $900 and up, depending on the intricacy of the project and the length of time and materials it takes. To learn more about Thomas’s projects, follow him on Instagram at @Blackberry_Banjos, where he regularly updates the account. He also has a new website, www.blackberrybanjo.com.


Information from: The Daily Herald, https://www.heraldextra.com

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