My Involvement In The World Of Banjo Hoop Making


The Clifford Essex Music Company is associated with a very long history of musical instrument making. It all started in 1893 when Clifford Essex and Alfred D. Cammeyer formed a partnership with offices and teaching studios at 59 Piccadilly, London.

At first, the banjos and zither-banjos they sold under the brand name of 'Essex & Cammeyer' were made for them by Temlett, Weaver, Wilmshurst and Windsor, but early in 1896 they opened their own workshops at 13 Greek Street, Soho, and were soon employing fourteen workmen to make banjos and zither-banjos for them.

In 1900 Clifford Essex & Co. was born, and in 1903 Clifford Essex launched BMG, the magazine for all players of fretted instruments. Clifford Essex Banjos, Mandolins & Guitars have always been made by superior craftsmen, and to this day they are in huge demand throughout the world.

When Clifford Essex dissolved his partnership with Cammeyer in 1900, he formed his own firm at 15a Grafton Street, New Bond Street, London. Instruments bearing the name Clifford Essex Co. were put on the market, and at first all the banjos were made for Clifford Essex by Spencer, Weaver, Langham [London] and Houghton [Birmingham]. In 1904 he started his own workshops at The Oval, Kensington, with Alfred Dare as foreman, and when Richard Spencer died in 1915, Clifford Essex bought his plant and stock and took his key craftsmen into his employ.

Although most of the Clifford Essex instruments sold in those early days were made in the Clifford Essex workshops, some were still made by the above-mentioned outside makers. The Weaver-made banjos were made to Weaver's own design, although they were sold with the Clifford Essex label on them. In December 1919 the firm's title changed to Clifford Essex & Son, and by then only their cheapest model 'The Popular' was made outside their own workshops by Houghton of Birmingham.


Over the intervening years the company changed its name and status on several occasions.

From 1942 onwards Clifford Essex flourished under the directorship of the much respected A.P. Sharpe.

After demobilisation in 1945, Marco Roccia, master luthier, who had joined the company in 1927, returned to his position with the Clifford Essex Music Co. Ltd., and was solely responsible for all repair work. In addition Marco Roccia made some very beautiful instruments including 'concert size' classical guitars, plectrum guitars, banjos and mandolins, all of which were entirely hand made by this master craftsman. Marco remained with the company for over thirty years.

Clem Vickery first became involved with the company in the 1960s, until 1970 when he left to become a professional banjo player.

When AP Sharp died the company rapidly went downhill, the new management was a disaster, music rights were sold, BMG became an apology for a magazine and lost most of its readers, and less than ten years after AP's death the company ceased to exist.

On August 6th 2007 Clem Vickery achieved his life-time ambition and re-established Clifford Essex Music Co. Ltd. He also resurrected the famous fretted instrument magazine 'BMG' in its original tried and tested format.

The Clifford Essex music catalogue is growing fast, and the company is once again making world class instruments. The Company which Clifford Essex began over a hundred years ago, has adapted to the modern world.

You can visit the website for the Clifford Essex Music Company by clicking here.


So, lets move on, and I will tell the story of my involvement with the Clifford Essex Company.

Things all started in August 2018 when I recieved an email from Clem Vickery, asking if I would be able to make banjo hoops for him. Clearly, Clem had viewed my web site and had seen and admired the segmented work I have done.

Having asked several questions about construction and finish, I visited Clem and the chap he uses to actually build the instruments, and as a result, I decided to give it a go.

The next problem arose quite quickly, in that the first hoop was needed pretty quick, and at the time, I was due to go on a four week trip to Australia within twenty one days.

I have been in the frying pan several times, once more would not make a lot of difference, and a learning curve is only steep if you let it get the better of you. The first hoop was constructed well within the required timescale, and all that saw it were happy with what I had done. Phew !!

Shown on the right here is another hoop I have made, displayed with the instrument neck it was going to be built up with.
I did not make the neck section.

Much thought went into how the hoops were to be assembled, and eventually, I came out with a working procedure which has proved itself to be robust. During the intervening months I have improved the measuring techniques I use, but, the fundemental process has not changed.

Below, I detail the process I use for building banjo hoops, I hope you find it interesting.

  1) My first task was to design a baseboard upon which I could build the hoop. This board has a lathe faceplate bolted to the back, and a raised sacrificial strip made of pine on the front. On the raised strip I have marked a pair of circles representing the inside and outside line of a finished hoop.

2) Let the cutting commence. The hoops are constructed with 5 layers of 12 segment rings, making 60 cut blocks per hoop. Here we see timber for 3 of the 5 layers.
  3) As can just be seen in picture 1 above, the segment joints on the baseboard have been covered with adhesive tape. Each ring is created by fitting the segments together with a high degree of accuracy, having sanded the ends to the correct angle at the correct length. It is important at this stage that the rings are not stuck down to the base while being constructed.

4) The four main rings have been constructed, and the Ebony binder ring is now being created in a similar manner, only this time the adhesive tape strips have been removed and the ring is stuck down directly onto the base ring.
  5) The base binder ring has now been skimmed flat on the lathe, and the four main rings have been sanded smooth and flat, all to the correct thickness.

6) The four main rings have been stacked with care, ensuring they are all in good alignment with the rings originally drawn on the base. Also, the rings have pegged to each other so that they cannot move out of alignment
  7) The stack has been taken apart and all surfaces have been cleaned, before re-assembling it all with glue on each of the eight mating faced. The pegs ensure that all layers go together in the correct alignment without slippage.

8) After 48 hours the glue has dried, and the assembly is now ready for turning
  9) The hoop has now been turned to a finish, but is still attached to the baseboard, and needs to be separated.
I have mounted a work light, aimed deep inside at the point where the base binder ring is attached to the sacrificial pine ring.

10) Now looking at the outside, I have started to cut into the sacrificial ring without cutting into the binder ring. The deep orange glow is the light showing through from the inside. This gives me an accurate index as to how far I dare cut through.
  11) Getting a bit brighter now. I have already looked round the groove to find this point, here the glow is brightest.

12) Break-through. The first hole has appeared, at the point where the glow was brightest. I cannot cut any deeper while turning, the piece now has to be separated from the base manually using a thin hacksaw blade.
  13) Now separated from the baseboard, these hoops are ready for final finishing.

14) Re-mounted on a set of cole jaws, the binder ring can now be trimmed and profiled. The cole jaws have been fitted with rubber door stops to give a better hold on a larger piece of work. Also, 6mm ply discs have been added under the rubber stops to separate the hoop from the four metal back-plates.
  15) One pair of hoops, ready for delivery.

16) This style of hoop has a slightly thinner Ebony ring at the top. A recess has been cut into it to accept a spun brass Paragon tone ring as used in the pre-war top of the range Clifford Essex Paragon banjos. In the finished instrument it produces an amazing superior tone.