"I found Will Howson on line in 2018, when I was looking for a banjo luthier to build a custom five string. I'd never done this before, like most people I guess. You'll probably do this once in a lifetime or not much more than that, so it can be a bit daunting. I had been playing on and off for about 30 years, but with a big gap, so was definitely no kind of expert.
Working with Will is easy though, he listens brilliantly to what you want, but offers alternatives too. He has such deep knowledge of the build process and how options will impact tone, playability and personal style. He also has the craft and skill to build superbly put together instruments.
If you can manage it, a visit to Howson HQ work shop in the Severn Valley will help. I did this, played some banjos, and just chatted through options. Will changed my mind about a Whyte Laydie tone ring, I was adamant I wanted one when I first planned the banjo. But playing a series of banjos with wood tone rings was a real revelation. I heard beautiful ringing tones and sustain with Will's ebony tone rings and they were much cheaper too, so that's what I went for.
Will is great with inlay too, and produced my edelweiss headstock inlay from a few conversations and images shared.
I'm delighted with my Howson, it's my go to, everyday banjo. 12" cherry pot, ebony tone ring, goat hide head, brass hardware. I have a few others, including antique banjos from some of the best American makers. It's the Howson that I reach for most. Check out my videos on YouTube at Cerddoriaeth Fynyddig / Mountain Music. Most of those include my Howson."
I am happy to share my delight in my two Howson banjos.
They are really well made and the inlay is first rate and detailed: a mouse on the fiddle with stars and planets! The tenor has a synthetic head which is consistent in tension and does not require adjustment when playing outside. The five stringer has a skin head which is a little more sensitive to where it is being played. Easily rectified if you carry a bracket key in the case. Both instruments are made in cherry wood and the neck is a little wider which is great for playing.
Importantly, the intonation on both is accurate, and the handmade tone ring gives a brighter sound but does not diminish the old time fullness you would hope to have on a traditional style instrument. The workmanship extends to handmade bridges. The five string bridge is a work of art and has compensation built in. It is a thing of beauty in itself.
Will has selected details and materials from traditional ways of making banjos and has drawn them together to create instruments of quality which he is happy to tailor to the individuality of each player. I would not part with mine!
At the time I settled in my mind to commission an instrument from Will Howson, I was really interested in the Boucher minstrel banjos with the scroll head and ougi. I was impressed at how Will took on these requests and was fully behind the project from day one. After a few conversations about my concepts, he transformed what was a vague picture in my mind into a beautiful reality. His inlay work really sets this instrument apart, and now I have it hanging on my wall so I can grab it at any time and to show it off when people come over.
I have two of Will's banjos and both are works of art in terms of craftsmanship and tone. When you consider the potential for custom options (I love super-chunky necks) and Will's own finely honed sense of aesthetics, ordering a banjo from Will becomes a no-brainer! He is a very easy person to deal with and is passionate about what he does, something which shows the minute you pluck that first glorious note!
After an initial consultation to choose guitar style, custom parts etc will began making me a copy of an L1 guitar.
From the start of the process to the finished product everything was spot on. The guitar is stunning, plays beautifully and remains hands down my favourite instrument. Thank you!
As a fiddle player I asked Will to make me a 17 fret short scale open back tenor banjo so I could play using my fiddle fingering. The result is a stunning instrument with a wooden tone ring and understated brass fittings which plays beautifully with a loud but mellow tone. My wife loves the look and sound of it which is a further plus point! Will is a pleasure to deal with and a true craftsman to boot. Get in quick and order one now and I promise you will not be disappointed.
I often think that looking at a banjo is like looking at food because firstly it has to appeal to the eye and that is how I felt the first time I saw the fretless banjo I bought from WGF Howson Instruments. Not only does it sound great but when I’m not playing it, it stands in my room like a piece of art.
I bought the banjo after visit a Wills workshop in March 2019 in search of a fretless but not really having any specifics in mind. Will showed me a number of examples recently built and played each one. I had never played fretless and Will is very good indeed. In no time at all I made my choice.
I came away with a 12” Sepele Banjo with a rosewood fretboard and an oval scoop. It sounds fantastic with its Rosewood tone ring and the Planetary tuners suit it down to the ground. One of my favourite features is that the fretboard has flush inlayed frets from the 7th fret, meaning it’s easier to maintain position. The stained head looks cool as well.
Overall this is a fantastic banjo, looks great and sound great but whatever your tastes I’m sure Will can build something that will suit your needs