• Banjo.com Finds a New Home

    Barry Waldrep and family
    Interstate I-20 between Birmingham, Alabama and Atlanta, Georgia is two hours of snarled traffic, commuters competing to see how fast they can get to work, and too many large trucks to slow the process.


    Exit I-20 at the midway point and head south a few miles and you arrive in Wedowee, Alabama, population 800+, the new home of Banjo.com, the world's largest banjo retailer.

    Stress gone. There, that's better.

    The town, the building, the owner, and the experience of a visit is as far from I-20 as the country road leading to the store.

    Founded in 2003 by John Drummond, Banjo.com has been under the ownership of his good friend (and former customer) Barry Waldrep since May, 2015.

    A career professional with a broad resume that includes everything from traditional to southern country-rock, Waldrep brings the experience of a musician's musician to a store which boasts over 175 different brands and models of banjos. We caught up with Barry (pictured above with his family) for this exclusive Banjo Cafe interview.

    Banjo.com has been one of the premiere destinations for banjo players for some time now. What's the story behind your recent acquisition?

    My good friend John Drummond contacted me in January, 2015 and asked if I'd be interested in running the business for him. I told him, "I want to help you out until you can find someone." John is a great guy and I didn't want to leave him hanging until he could find the right person. It was just one of those things that came out of nowhere and worked out for us.

    At the time the store was located in Marietta, Georgia and I was living in LaGrange. That meant a 90-minute morning drive, and up to 2 1/2 hours or more in the afternoon depending upon traffic and weather.

    I made the drive for about five months and finally told John we had to try to work out a deal to move it or do something. I just couldn't do that drive, so we got together on a deal and I purchased the business. I had known John for a long time and had purchased a lot of instruments from him. The timing was just right for us both.

    The store stayed in the Marietta location for a month and then moved to a temporary location in LaGrange until I could get the new showroom completed in Wedowee. We located here because it's home, it's where I grew up. We've been in the new store for three months. We're about a mile and a half outside of Wedowee on Highway 431 and we're another half mile off the highway. Wedowee is small, but due to nearby Lake Wedowee the surrounding population increases by about 20,000 people or more in the summer due to summer homes and folk camping.

    Map of Wedowee, Alabama showing banjo.com location

    What can banjo players arriving at the store expect?

    It's the perfect destination for banjo players (the store also carries a few high quality guitars and mandolins). It's a beautiful countryside with plenty of opportunities to sit outside or inside the showroom to play banjos. There are no other businesses around us. There's no foot traffic so whoever is in the store is going to be a banjo player, a builder, or someone with a strong connection to banjos. It's very relaxed.

    We're open by appointment only. The focus and attention is totally on the banjo and your presence, nothing else!

    The showroom is 1,200 square feet with about 175 banjos on display, and another 800 square feet of warehouse space. The warehouse holds a lot more banjos that are duplicates of what is on display. We own the property and have plenty of room to expand if necessary.

    Banjo.com showroom
    Banjo.com store sign. Photo credit: Barry Waldrep.

    Most banjo players have heard of Banjo.com and some might assume it's solely internet-based. That's obviously not the case.

    Right. Of course we make plenty of internet based sales but our heart is in making a one-on-one relationship with a customer, but not everyone can visit in person. People that are thinking of spending up to $3,000 or more generally want and need to get their hands on an instrument.

    Banjo players find a way to get here, but it can be pretty overwhelming to walk in the front door and be faced with so many choices (laughs!).

    As far as internet, there are banjos on our site you can buy on amazon.com or Musician's Friend, but you can't ask them a single question, and they aren't going to set it up for you. We stock only instruments that are good quality. When someone places an order from us for something we don't just ship it to them, we try to have a conversation and let them know what they're getting and what to expect and and give our professional opinion about their purchase. Sometimes it works and sometimes it results in us losing a sale. In the end it's more important for us that the customer gets what they really need and for us to believe in what we're doing which is protecting the their interest.

    As a career musician I know the quality of instruments and how they can impact your playing. It can be a tough line to walk, but it's the right way to do business.

    Two high end Gibson banjos
    Foreground: 1927 Gibson Bella Voce and a 1979 Gibson All American. Photo credit: Barry Waldrep.

    We're guessing you're having customers fly into Atlanta and surrounding airports with the sole purpose of making the pilgrimage here for some premium banjo viewing.

    It's a pretty easy drive from Atlanta or Birmingham so we encourage folks that want to try out a wide range of instruments to give us a call and make an appointment. (Ed. NOTE: the store is also easily and quickly accessed from Montgomery, Alabama and Columbus, Georgia.)

    We had a visitor from the west coast recently that spent all day playing instruments. He didn't leave with one but we're still talking (laughs)!

    The chances of a banjo player having access to a store with a selection of high end instruments like this is very rare. We really have at least one of everything, and if we don't it's either on the way or I'm hunting for it (laughs)! I've had a couple original Pre-war conversions. Those are hard to keep in stock because they're in such high demand. We have a lot of re-issue Gibsons, Stelling, Bishline, Deering, Yates, Nechville, Stealth, Ode, Ome, Recording King, Gold Star, some older Gibson trap doors, open back Vega, Deering, Goodtime, Wildwood, Enoch. I can't name them all.

    Banjo.com store sign

    Are you more focused on one type of banjo?

    In inventory and total sales we lean more towards resonator banjos, but our openback market, particularly when you include the Goodtime line, is huge. When we get past the $2,000 price point then resonator banjos heavily outweigh as far as sales are concerned. I personally play clawhammer banjo and resonator in my own shows and I'm a huge fan of what's going on in the openback market.

    I grew up in the traditional side of music but I'm very open minded to different types of music where banjo is used. This is a place for everyone. Whether Scruggs style or how far out they are I want everyone to feel comfortable here. It's not a place just for one type of banjo player.

    What services are you providing besides retail sales?

    We offer set-ups and light repair. More involved work like refretting or repairing headstocks is handled by a good friend that lives about a half hour away, so when we have something needing a major repair we contract that out to him on an individual basis.

    Barry Waldrep performing set-up

    Exclusive Bishline Models for Banjo.com

    A few weeks ago Banjo.com and Bishline Banjos announced a collaboration on two new models — The Coal Dust Model and The Coal Dust Revenge Model — to be sold exclusively through Banjo.com with availability expected late October, 2016. The following two photos were taken just before this article was published showing the build under way.

    Banjo.com / Bishline exclusive model build

    Banjo.com / Bishline exclusive model build

    The Coal Dust Model

    • Black Stained Maple Neck
    • Black Ebony Finger Board (No Inlay with Side Markers only)
    • Black Stained Maple Resonator with Black Binding
    • Nickel Hardware with Black Ebony Buttons
    • Tone Hoop
    • Hard Shell Case
    • $1,959.00

    The Coal Dust Revenge Model

    • Black Stained Maple Neck with Black Binding
    • Black Ebony Finger Board (No Inlay with Side Markers only)
    • Black Stained Maple Resonator with Black Binding
    • Nickel hardware with Black Ebony Buttons
    • Bishline Tone Ring
    • Hard Shell Case
    • $2,259.00

    Photo used on Barry Waldrep's recording Smoke From The Kitchen
    Cover photo from Barry Waldrep's solo recording Smoke From The Kitchen.

    Barry Waldrep's daughters Morgan and Mallorie
    Barry Waldrep's daughters Morgan and Mallorie. Photo credit: Barry Waldrep.

    Additional Information