Banjo maker gets the gold

Lenny Whorton started making his first banjo in 2000.

It took him three years to finish it. He carved the neck out of a 20-year-old walnut log, working it down by hand, carefully hollowing out a spot for the truss rod. He notched the inlays into the mahogany fret board he’d layered over the walnut with a Dremell tool and a pocketknife. That, he says, was the toughest part.

That nickel-plated five-string is a nearly exact copy of a Gibson RB4, minus the “Whorton” on the head, built with the aid of blueprints he’d ordered from the Gibson company. It’s the banjo he’s playing on YouTube videos posted by a teenager he’d been giving lessons to. Those videos show a bigger man than you see now, picking on “Cripple Creek,” “Foggy Mountain Breakdown” and other bluegrass chestnuts. The comments section, not notoriously a kind place, is filled with people calling him the “real deal” and asking where somebody who could play like that has been hiding.

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