Lewiston, Maine. June 22, 2012. In May of 2010, the Cumberland River overflowed its banks, deluging large areas of Nashville and damaging much of Nashville’s historic downtown area, the Grand Ole Opry and other sites. Also devastated was Soundcheck, an equipment storage facility used by many of Nashville’s professional musicians.
Among the hundreds of valuable instruments ruined or damaged at Soundcheck was a 1995 Bourgeois Slope D owned by Grammy award winning bluegrass guitarist Bryan Sutton. Sutton’s work with bluegrass bands such as Kentucky Thunder and Hot Rize, his session recordings with a wide variety of artists, and solo recording projects are widely regarded as some of the finest examples of the flat picking genre.
Prized for its deep bass and exceptional volume, Sutton affectionately named the mahogany slope shouldered Dreadnought guitar “The Banjo Killer”. “This guitar is incredibly loud, and it’s blessed with the right mixture of tone,” comments Sutton. Sutton used the guitar for much of his tenure with Ricky Skaggs, as well as on numerous recordings. In 2006 Bourgeois Guitars released a Limited Edition recreation of the Banjo Killer, with a label signed by Sutton and Bourgeois.
Not long after the flood, Bourgeois received a phone call from Sutton informing him of the damaged guitar. Though much of the finish was intact, some wooden parts were significantly distorted, many braces had fallen out, and other original glue joints were fully or partially compromised. While the Banjo Killer reposed in a climate controlled storage room, Bourgeois and his team planned their strategy. “The approach we decided upon”, said Bourgeois, “is total dis-assembly, then reassembly of the guitar. That’s the only way to know for sure that every glue joint will be 100% viable.
In reality, Bourgeois’ greatest challenge would be finding enough time to properly execute the restoration. The problem was solved earlier this year when Bourgeois discussed the project via email with Shin Ichikawa, a Japanese luthier who specializes in difficult restoration of valuable guitars. Ichikawa is also an accomplished flat picker who commissioned a copy of the Banjo Killer prior to Bourgeois’ introduction of the Limited Edition. After viewing photos of the damaged original, Ichikawa commented that he wished he could be around to help.
Bourgeois immediately invited Ichikawa to participate in the restoration. Between late June and mid July, Ichikawa will travel to Bourgeois’ Lewiston, Maine shop to work on the restoration. It is anticipated that Ichikawa will execute most of the hands-on work, assisted occasionally by Bourgeois and his most senior craftsmen. Because of Green Card restrictions, Bourgeois will be unable to compensate Ichikawa for his time. “We have a lot of confidence in Shin’s talent. In many ways, he’s the perfect guy to handle this”, states Bourgeois. If we do the job right, there is every reason to expect the Banjo Killer’s original voice to return. This is going to be a lot of fun for all of us.”
In view of the provenance of the Banjo Killer , Bourgeois Guitars intends to document the reconstruction and has every hope that the guitar will be restored to its former self. Video, pictures and commentary. Dana Bourgeois himself will post daily to the Bourgeois Blog on the Bourgeois Guitars website.