.. was one of the pioneers of modern American banjo playing. At the turn of the century when he found it impossible to purchase a banjo to suit his ideas, he built his own and continued to do so up until his death in November 1960.
At one time in his career he advanced the “hole in the vellum” idea in conjunction with a special “plate” resonator he devised and eventually the “van Eps recording banjo” was produced.
This banjo had a shaped alloy bowl set under the vellum which reflect the sound through a hole cut in the latter, the top edge of the bowl forms a tone ring. This Van Eps design does not have a flush fret fingerboard or a seperate tone ring.
The flush fret model has a 28 ½“ scale, 12” vellum, flush frets with a concave space in between, “fool-proof” pegs, long pressure tailpiece, tone rind devised by WB Farmer, and lamp “heaters” fixed to the perch-pole under the vellum to ensure a board tight soundboard. He made 24 of these.
Although Fred van Eps continued to make banjos all his life, being a master craftsman and engineer as well as a maestro of the banjo his commercial models were marketed by Lyon & Healy of Chicago, who stressed the fact that the instruments they sold were distributed by them being made by “The van Eps & Burr Corporation”. He finally made it to England in 1954.
In 1962 Art Gariepy (who traded as Gariepy Banjos) of 46 E Market Street, Long Beach, California announced that he had taken over “the van Eps Classical flush fret banjo” but he sold out to the Fender Company in 1962 and no more van Eps banjos were made.
Pictures courtesy of The Turtle Hill Banjo Company.
Clarification on the different Van Eps designs courtesy of Pat Doyle