In 1909 the Ludwig Drum Company was founded in Chicago by two brothers. William F and Theo. Ludwig.
In 1920 Charles Mc Neil the tenor-banjo player on the then popular dance orchestra of Ishman Jones used to call frequently at the Ludwig factory in N Lincoln Street, for special parts to be made for his instruments and, including especially good quality calf velum.
He complained that few tenor-banjos were fretted correctly , intonation was bad and he suggested that there was room for improvements in many tenor-banjos made in the period.
In 1921 William Ludwig finally became interested in the tenor-banjo so took the matters up with his chief engineer RC Danly. Feeling there was a market for better quality instruments and after lengthy discussions they decided to make an all metal banjo hoop from cast bronze (along similar lines to a side drum shell) which had a scalloped bezel for top tension , with the brackets engaging a solid flange in stead of passing through shoes to take the conventional nuts. In addition they devised ways of overcoming the other faults Mr McNeil had pointed out to them.
As production of the âLudwigâ banjos came nearer the company provide a studio in the factory in which McNeil could teach his pupils. Ludwig saw great potential for their banjos and built specialist manufacturing equipment to produce their revolutionary instruments.
In 1926 Chas. McNeil joined the Ludwig Company as official tester and inspector and every banjo (5 string, tenor or plectrum) passed through his hands. Before long they had a complete range of models ranging in price from $75 to $1,000, sold only through dealers and in every part of the world through intensive advertising.
In 1931 The Ludwig Co. stopped making banjo because demand for top end banjos had dropped while its drum business was expanding.
In a letter to Terry Hollands in 1965 WM, F Ludwig Snr. wrote that his company had no intention of entering the banjo market again. âWe wouldâ he said âjust as soon forget the whole thing because of the sad experience we had in those ten years. We put in and lost about $200,000 on tools and equipment that were sold for scrap a few years later â and that is not counting the multiplicity of hours our engineering department spent on the development of the Ludwig banjo".
Pictures courtesy of Intermountain Guitar & Banjo