Here’s a perspective on the 30-year history of FQMS in the words of Bill Sullivan, Banjo Guru, Patriarch, and Founder:
In early 1970, a friend at work let me read his copy of Earl Scruggs And The Five String Banjo. I had always loved the banjo and I found this book most interesting, especially the part about building your own banjo. My first effort was very frustrating… I found that there was a lot more to building a good banjo than I had imagined.
One of the problems I had was cutting the fingerboard scale. It took a lot of time and patience… too much time. Working in the tool and die shop at General Electric, I had access to precision machinery and was able to build a small and accurate fret slotting saw and template for banjo fingerboards. I assumed others might be in similar circumstances, so I ran a small ad in one of the trade magazines. Almost overnight I was overwhelmed with orders for our pre-slotted banjo fingerboards. My wife Anne and I filled the orders and began to search for other banjo-related products. We put out a small two-page flier, and First Quality Banjo was born.
In 1971, good fortune came our way in the person of Harry Sparks, one of the foremost Mastertone authorities, who lived in Louisville at the time. On his first visit to our modest shop, he gave me the best advice possible: Make your patterns to the old Pre-war Mastertone style banjos and make the parts you offer as close to the original as possible.
He supplied us with some old original necks to copy and get drawings from, plus other various old parts. At the same time, he placed an order for 15 Mastertone-style necks which he could use to convert old tenors to five-string banjos. This show of confidence in our work was the boost we needed to make the investment to get our small operation going.
Through the seventies, First Quality continued to grow along with the popularity of the banjo, which was really something. The movie Deliverance was playing at the theaters, and Dueling Banjos was played a lot on the radio. I had built several personal banjos and really enjoyed the company of other banjo enthusiasts. I quickly found, however, that I was much better suited to building and helping others than to playing. This approach allowed me to be involved with music and musicians on a professional level without being an accomplished picker.
By 1982 our small operation had grown to more than part time, forcing the decision to devote full time to First Quality Banjo. We had a network of friends and fellow craftsmen who shared similar interests, and we got a tremendous boost from the late Hub Nitchie of Banjo Newsletter, who seemed to take a personal interest in our devotion to the banjo.
Jeff, our eldest son, began to get interested in 1985. With all his personal savings, he purchased a small line of musical strings and began selling them through our catalog. In 1986 Jeff and his wife Karen began operating their own portion of First Quality as First Quality Strings.
Eric, my youngest son, who has worked in our shop since his early teens, has developed as a craftsman. He has a keen appreciation for fine work. In 1992, with the help of his wife Marsha, he established First Quality Neckworks. We now had three separate operations going under one roof.
It was time to consolidate. In 1995, we joined the three businesses as a partnership under the name First Quality Musical Supplies™, which more accurately represents the breadth of our offerings.
First Quality now employs several other family members and a few close friends. We look forward to seeing you at our retail shop and warehouse in Louisville’s Riverport industrial park.
First Quality Musical Supplies