Krako Banjos

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Matching the richness of the pre-WWII sound Krako Banjos

The late Sonny Osborne – a beloved member of The Osborne Brothers – said he had a rugged, sometimes annoying little guy living in his banjo. 

by Kara M. Bachman

The First Krako arrives!

It started as a joke, but the banjo company that this silly, longtime kidding spawned – including creative work by Greg Rich, the legendary and charismatic figure of Gibson Banjo fame – is no joke whatsoever. It’s the real deal.

Heavily involved in the company is Sonny’s widow Judy. She co-owns Krako Banjos along with Lincoln Hensley, who owns – and still plays – the banjo referred to as “Krako #1.” It was the first Krako baby born in 2019 when Osborne called Hensley – then a recent college graduate – to come on over and play an instrument he’d assembled from parts in his garage. Osborne mentored Hensley and gave him banjo lessons. Hensley also performed with Sonny’s brother, Bobby Osborne, and, being the guinea pig for “Krako #1,” turned the brand-new foray into the custom instrument business. 

The goal was to come up with something not concerned with looks so much as sound, something with the raw feel of Osborne’s “old Granada that’s beat to death” – which Hensley described as “one of the best 5-strings ever built” – combined with the rich coveted sound quality of the beloved pre-war Gibson banjos.

To do this, Osborne collaborated with Greg Rich. There was nobody more worthy to add his exceptional imprint to the new Krako line.

Krako banjos are

“He’s kind of the brainchild of the Krako tone ring. In my mind, it’s what sets the Krako banjo apart.” Hensley explained that the goal is to “get the same sound out of our banjos as the pre-war banjos.”

Admittedly, Hensley said they’re “not the prettiest,” but that isn’t usually the point for a serious musician. And who wouldn’t trade a project between Sonny Osborne and Greg Rich for looks? Who?

Greg Rich

brainchild of the tone ring

“Greg is 100-percent class as far as instruments go,” Hensley said. “He’s not gonna attach his name to anything that’s not the absolute best.”

Hensley said Rich’s involvement made the instrument, produced in minimal quantities despite a considerable waiting list, a type of collector’s item. He said there had been no sign of a single Krako banjo coming up for resale. People hold onto them and are investing for the future.

KRAKO

the gruff old 

banjo-dweller

“People who ordered more than one early on, they knew that after years go by, these were gonna go up in price,” Hensley said. “I truly believe that these banjos will be collector’s items.”

Rich engraves every instrument; the image is of Osborne’s gruff old banjo-dweller. 

“I asked Sonny…what does Krako look like?” laughed Hensley. “He drew a cartoon-like character.” Apparently, Rich thought it hilarious because he sent a brass armrest engraved with the Krako image logo.

The specs of this banjo based on a pre-war original 5-string scale include a 20-hole flathead ring; 3-ply hard rock Northern Maple rim; Curly maple neck and resonator; rosewood fretboard; and even more special features, such as a Sonny Osborne inlaid heel cap. The custom armrest is made to the customer’s specs, and the variations on the scraggly little dude depicted in Rich’s work are one of the reasons no Krako banjo is alike. Inlay patterns can also be customized. 

According to Hensley, every unique creation has been a hit so far. There have been zero misses.

“You can’t make every instrument the same because wood isn’t all the same,” he said. “I keep waiting for a dud, but so far, each one of these has been an amazing banjo.”

The process isn’t mass-produced or quick; it takes a year from start to finish. Right now, it’s much longer, and Hensley has had to stop adding to the waiting list.

“We’ve got seven or eight more to finish, and as soon as they are, we are opening the orders back up,” Hensley said. “Selling a hundred banjos a year and rushing them isn’t our priority.”

That goes along with the philosophy of the late Sonny Osborne, who was no speed demon. Hensley described the belief of this bluegrass legend he admired: “Sonny’s saying was, ‘anything really good is worth waiting for.’”

Indeed.