New Banjo on the Block

Associate Editor

THE BANJO HOP: Rob Bishline, playing the Danny Barnes model banjo, hopes to start up some open jams at his shop in the future. But for now, banjo players will have to make do with the upcoming workshop featuring banjo talent, Danny Barnes.


When a person puts together unique design, artistic inlays and state of the art technology, he or she enters into a marriage between sound and art that looks something like a banjo.

Rob Bishline, of Bishline Banjos, 10th Street and Elgin Avenue, is doing pretty well at combining these two qualities in his custom made banjos, and in late January is hosting a workshop for banjo players with Danny Barnes.

Barnes, an experimental and talented solo artist from Texas, has played with popular musicians Robert Earl Keen, Dave Matthews Band, and Tim O’Brien to name a few. These big names would fill large venues and Barnes was having trouble with feedback in the high volume situations. So Bishline built him the Danny Barnes model banjo with a rim design that doesn’t feedback in high volume levels.

Now Barnes is coming to Tulsa Jan. 30, with his Bishline Banjo. He’ll be playing his banjo/jazz, banjo/heavy metal and banjo/punk style music at Bob’s, Cain’s second stage at 7 p.m. On Jan. 31 Barnes is heading over to Bishline Banjos to lead a workshop for banjo players of all levels at 1 p.m.

Bishline is not a stranger to filling custom orders like the Danny Barnes model. They get calls from all over the world with new ideas.

There are about 10 dealers across the U.S. that sell Bishline banjos and custom orders come in weekly. During the first year, Bishline was making 60-65 banjos a week.

“We were getting pretty swamped with orders so we hired David a year ago,” says Bishline.

Shop foreman David Haddock is working on the newest Bishline model, the Midnight Moon, which features stars, constellations and a moon inlay.

“We’ve got some innovative ideas coming up that will make ours different from the average banjo,” says Bishline. “There’s passion that goes into it. It’s a golden age for building instruments. There’s some of the best instruments out there than ever before, and when they get older, they sound better.”

The market for banjos includes traditional bluegrass musicians, who will pay $75,000-$100,000 for a pre-war banjo. The difference is in the materials used back then, but now the technology is better than ever.

“We’re untraditional in a sense because we build stuff that’s new and strange in the market, but we also build traditional. We went out on a limb making the designs different. You have to love building the instrument. That value shows.”

Bishline started making banjos in his garage while he was teaching banjo lessons and playing in various bands around Tulsa. Frank Davenport, one of his students at the time, and Andy Oatman, former DJ for KVOO, approached Bishline about building banjos full time under the umbrella of a partnership and in 2003 Bishline Banjos was born.

Updated 02-05-2009

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