Shackleton Banjo from The Great British Banjo Company is British retailer's runaway bestseller

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The British-made Shackleton Banjo has become the most popular banjo ever sold by Banjos Direct, the retail arm of The Great British Banjo Company.

Simon Middleton and Nigel Cushion, creators of The Shackleton Banjo project

Simon Middleton and Nigel Cushion, creators of The Shackleton Banjo project

The Shackleton Banjo has become a phenomenon

The British-made Shackleton Banjo has become the most popular banjo ever sold by Banjos Direct, the retail arm of The Great British Banjo Company.

The Shackleton Banjo was launched with a fundraising campaign on Kickstarter earlier this year and has already out-sold all other instruments available from Banjos Direct, despite the fact that customers will not be receiving their Shackletons until January next year.

Simon Middleton, founder of The Great British Banjo Company and Banjos Direct said: "The Shackleton has become something of a phenomenon. We've been selling imported banjos for nearly four years and we've sold many hundreds or instruments in that time. But no other individual instrument has come close to the success of The Shackleton. It's out-performed everything else by miles, with 150 advance orders and new interest every day.

"We think its success is partly to do with the made-in-Britain factor, which customers really seem to like, and partly with the association of the instrument with the dramatic story of Shackleton himself and the part that a banjo played in his 1914 expedition to the Antarctic," Middleton explained.

The Shackleton Banjo is thought to be the first production banjo to be manufactured in the UK for more than 60 years. The banjo is being built and finished in Norwich, Norfolk, home of The Great British Banjo Company and Banjos Direct.

The rims are being hand made in Manchester by the iconic British drum company Premier, and the necks are being produced in a small workshop in Blackburn, Lancashire.

"It's a very British affair," said Simon Middleton. "Rims and necks are all British. Build and finishing is British. The gig bags we are making as an optional extra for the banjo are manufactured on Merseyside. even the cardboard boxes we are shipping them in are built in Norwich, from card also manufactured in Norwich from recycled materials.

"There are some imported metal parts, although next year we intend to have those manufactured in Britain too. And because customers expect it we are using American made Remo skins, which are the industry standard, and American D'Addario strings, which are amongst the best banjo strings available."

The standard version of The Shackleton, with maple and birch rim and birds-eye maple finish, retails at £345 including VAT. The 'oak rim special' with burr oak veneer and upgraded tuners is £475 including VAT.

New models are currently being designed for introduction next year, including a specially designed ultra-light instrument, called the Shackleton E100.

The E100 will be made in a limited edition of 100 instruments, one of which will be trekked 1800 miles across Antarctica starting in November next year by a team following the route planned for Sir Ernest Shackleton's Endurance expedition of 1914.

Members of the Imperial Trans-Antarctic Centenary Expedition 2014 (ITACE 2014) intend to become the first Polar explorers to walk the route which Shackleton was unable to complete after his ship became trapped in ice. Like Shackleton’s expedition the modern adventurers will carry with them a banjo.

Shackleton became legendary for his leadership skills, bringing all of his 28 men back alive from his doomed expedition of 1914-16. A key part of Shackleton’s leadership style was his insistence on keeping morale high through the power of fun and music.

When the Endurance had to be abandoned and all hands had to dispose of practically all their possessions, Shackleton allowed the expedition's meteorologist Leonard Hussey to keep his banjo, declaring: "We must have that banjo: it is vital mental medicine".

Shackleton knew that the banjo would provide a crucial morale-boosting effect during the many months of hardship that lay ahead.

Saving the instrument proved a wise decision, because when Shackleton and a small team finally had to leave 22 men trapped on Elephant Island for over four months months while they set off on an 800 mile voyage in a small open boat to seek for help, the banjo played a vital role in maintaining morale for those left behind.

The marooned men held regular concert parties and wrote songs on the banjo.
Hussey's banjo never made it to the South Pole (although it did make it safely home and is now in the National Maritime Museum, its skin signed by Shackleton and many members of his crew).

Company Information:

Banjos Direct is a division of The Great British Banjo Company which is a private limited company, owned and managed by a small group of family and friends in Norwich, Norfolk, UK.

The company works with local craftsmen as well as instrument manufacturers in other parts of Britain.

The business was founded by brand adviser, business author and musician Simon Middleton and has grown rapidly to become the UK's best known banjo specialist retailer and manufacturer.

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