This is the flagship of my collection. I really never thought I'd own one. But then in late 1997, I stopped into my local music store for some strings and got talking with the owner, who I've known for 35 years. I mentioned how I'd love to own a Vega banjo. He got a smile on his face and told me to follow him upstairs to the store room. I thought, gee, he's probably got an old Vega up there, but I never mentioned that the banjo I wanted was a Pete Seeger model. We got upstairs, and there in a corner was a long case. My heart started speeding up a little. He picked it up, put it on a stack of other merchandise and opened it. There, staring right at me, was this beauty. I had my eyes fixated on where the peghead would be when the case opened. The first thing I saw was the inlaid star. I'd never even been close to one in my life. Now, I thought, is this the real McCoy or a post-Martin takeover manufactured instrument? I lifted it out of the case and couldn't believe the heft, after years of playing my aluminum potted Ode. I turned it over, and there inside was the faded yellow label: The VEGA Co., Boston 16, MA. A genuine Pete Seeger model (as also indicated in handwriting on the label.) It was too good to be true. Then I realized, it probably was. Where did he get it and how much was it. He told me the story of how about six months previously, an elderly gentleman came into the store with this banjo, another Vega resonator banjo, and a Martin D-28 guitar. All virtually in near mint condition. The old man asked my friend if he could sell them on consignment. The gentleman went on to relate how they had belonged to his son, who was killed in Vietnam. The old man held them all these years, never wanting to let them go, as they were his last tangible hold on his son. But he finally decided it was time. For whatever reason. I don't know. Being a Vietnam Veteran myself, I got somewhat choked up. I thought, maybe this was meant to be. Then I asked how much the man wanted for it. I won't go into specifics, but it ended up being well within my means at the time and I bought it. A dream came true. But at the expense of a young man who, like I did many years before, went off to war, but never returned. Like so many things I've often meant to do, but always forget, I want to find out the old man's sons name. I want to visit the wall in Washington, as I've done several times in the past. But this time I want to find his name, and personally thank him. Everytime I pick up this banjo to play it, I think of this, to me, Unknown Soldier. And I pray that he's pickin' and grinnin' where Soldiers, young and old go, when their war is over.
To visit my old friend and long time companion, my Ode/Muse long neck banjo, click here.
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