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User Name Thread Name Subject Posted
CRANKY YANKEE Luthier Todd Farnham of Tiverton RI (20) TODD FARNHAM of Tiverton RI 24 Dec 01


I met Todd Farnham through my Daughter Joyce Katzberg. She'd mention Todd every now and then and say something like, "You really should meet him, He's a very interesting person. He gave her a "Dobro" with a lat, spruce top that he made in 1929. So, I says to myself, "Self!, you've got to meet this guy who's so nice to my offspring" Joyce gave me his adress and I stopped off at his home in Tiverton, Rhode Island, one evening while I was on my way to a gig in Fall River, Mass. Tiverton is on the way to Fall River, just off Route 24. I'm familiar with Tiverton as I'm a memeber of the Tiverton Rod and Gun Club, where I shoot my flint-lock musket and WW II M-1 (Garand) rifle at paper targets as a competitive sport. Mika Seeger and Joe Bossom (her husband) also live in Tiverton.
Well, I damned near forgot about the gig when I met Todd and Millie Farnham.

Todd is a world class Luthier. He made guitars, mandolins, banjo's dulcimers,(mountain and hammer) and did great mother of pearl and abalone inlays.
Millie, his wife and he were also performers. Todd played guitar and "3 finger" (scruggs style) banjo, Millie played Dobro and mountain Dulcimer. I seem to recall that she also played autoharp and zither.
Todd and Millie were in their 90's when I met them. Oh yes, they both sang.
Todd has detached retinas and is almost blind. He gets around though, within his own house where he knows where everything is.
Needless to say, he hasn't made any instruments in some time. They used to live on Prudence Island, which is in Narragansett Bay about halfway between Newport and Providence.(and right next to "Patience" Island) I think Millie taught school on Prudence.
We became good friends, and I stopped off to see them every chance I got. Todd taught me some "Stuff" about guitars and banjos. Oh yes, he gave Nick Lucas his first Pick (it was a mandola plectrum) and lucas used it to become the first guy to flat pick a guitar. Cool,huh? I remember when I started playing guitar, we all used "Nick Lucas" picks. They were pretty much the best selling real tortois shell picks on the market. This was w a a y before the advent of the nylon picks. One either used a celluloid "imitation toroise shell" pick or a real tortoise shell pick. The still make celluloid picks. I don't know about genuine tortoise shell. The celuloid ones broke very easily (as they still do) while the shell ones lasted a while. You couldn't tell by looking at them which were celuloid and which were shell. So, we put them to the test. Do you know how to tell the difference? Put a match to it. Celluloid is Nitro-cullulose. If it smelled like burning hair and didn't burst into flame it was tortoise shell. When I was a kid (1930's) we used to make stink bombs by rolling up pieces of celluloid in newspaper, set it afire, and when the smoke got fast, furious and stinky, we'd stomp it out and run like hell. It would smolder, smoke and stink up a storm. This was great fun on Halloween (or Guy Fawks day) (Alright, I don't know how to spell) but I wouldn't suggest you do this trick nowadays.
But, I digress.

When I first met them, Millie was wheelchair bound and very crippled with rhumatoid arthritis, but, she was a darling old gal, and I became quite fond of them.
Todd used Holly, black walnut, Brazilian Rosewood and Honduras Mahogany for the back and sides of his guitars.
Millie took a turn for the worst and died about ten months ago. You know that line in Stan Rogers' "First Christmas"?

"When the Old Girl passed away
He fell apart more every day,

That pretty much describes how it hit Todd. But, He recovered and seemed to be doing alright for a while living by himself. Donna and I tried to get him to move in with us, but he wouldn't. He had to take care of his cat, and he had all his familiar furniture and stuff in his house in Tiverton. I drove out and got him one time so he could spend the day with us, and I got him to go to one of the picking parties we have in Fall River and once he came to "Billy Goode's" with me when I was playing there. He met another old timer at Billy Goodes named Arthur Ball who has his own story to tell. Next time I run into Arthur I'll interview him and do another thread about him. I play my "Bass Foodle" with Arthur every now and then.

Todd's neice came up from Florida to live with him and "do" for him. She just got her Masters and she put a lot of cheer back in His life,
Todd finally decided to move to Florida at the invitation of another niece, so he packed up all his stuff, and just before he left, He went rummaging around in his basement and came upstairs with the greatest banjo I've ever seen or heard. He said, "This "pot" was made by Fred Bacon, and I made the neck. It was the first thing I ever Made, when I was still an amateur on Prudence Island. I WANT YOU TO HAVE IT. I also made the case because I couldn't find one for a long neck banjo. (25 frets, 3 more than standard)
I was flabberghasted, and speechless. (somewhat unusual for me) Finally I managed to blurt out, "I don't know what to say".
"That's a first", says Todd, with a twinkle in his eye.
"I don't know how to thank you", I said, "This is the nicest present thing anyone's ever given me
"Just play it lot and think of me" he replied,"
And, give this to Donna" says Todd, pointing at a mountain Dulcimer, on his couch, IT WAS MILLIE'S"

I'm going to close for now before AOL throws me off Line

A very grateful Jody Gibson


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