When Herschel R. Brown began creating the cool one-stringed instruments, he had no idea that they would ever become so popular that literally hundreds, and even thousands, of folks across America and around the world would eventually jump on the band wagon and start making and offering their own versions of similar items using his idea. Though when Hershel first began, too, he had some help. In his spacious woodworking shop, Herschel having had special saws and jigs created in order to mass manufacture his simple design, he brought scrap pine wood from the construction sites of his building contractor’s business in to the shop where he could rip out dozens of fingerboards at a time from the 2X4s and pine boards he recovered. Herschel had a couple of employees who would work after hours helping fret the boards and then store those ready to ship out as kits in the shop, on shelves. He supplied a woodworker’s supply company for a few years with the parts to be sold online or out of their catalog. He also made many completed instruments from the pine wood fingerboards he kept in stock, as well, mostly to give away, as Herschel said, “I’ve probably given more away than I’ve ever sold”. He estimated that he had made and distributed over 30,000 of his canjoe instruments since he began.
Herschel was a super kind, generous man and loved to help by donating many of his instruments to schools, as well as others who wanted to use his canjoes in order to teach and to learn how to play stringed music. He also gave many to sick kids at hospitals, too, giving lots of his instruments away freely in order to help spread the canjoe joy. Or, too, he’d sell to those who discovered or sought out his cool little instruments for what amount helped cover his cost to manufacture. His instruments were, from the get-go, a hit and he sold thousands of them through the wood working supply company and by his own marketing and personal distribution methods.
Another helper who often visited his shop in those earliest days, and who was one of the first that Herschel had shown his initial finished design canjoe instrument prototypes, giving one of them to him (still owned), is the man now known world wide as “CanJoe*John”. The story about CanJoe*John and Herschel’s relationship is well known to those who personally knew Herschel, and/or John, as well as hundreds of thousands who, now, have followed or discovered the connections. John was Herschel’s personal friend who often was invited by Herschel to view his hand made mountain dulcimers as he finished them. One evening Herschel called John and told him, “you need to come by the shop sometime soon, I want to show you the cutest little one-stringed dulcimers I’ve been making. I call them ‘can-joes'”.
John stopped by the shop that night, and upon Herschel’s initial introduction of his newly created instruments, John instantly became enamored by the cool one-stringed things. Herschel pulled one of them down from where it had been hanging on a hook and he handed to John. Herschel then said, “go out and show these to folks. They’ll love them.” So John took his gift from Herschel and started showing it around. Sure enough, everybody wanted one. For a couple of more years, John would stop by Herschel’s shop fairly often to visit, pitching in to help where needed. In 1993, he and his wife, Sissy, relocated back to TN, but John and Herschel continued their business and friendship relationship from a distance, with John in Tennessee and Herschel remaining in eastern NC.
John and Herschel communicated frequently, often collaborating on instrument design improvement ideas, and keeping in close touch over those remaining years, all the way up until Herschel’s death. In their collaborations of marketing ideas of the instruments, Herschel always kept with his most simple design, pine only for materials used in his stocks, but John quickly discovered that a huge number of interested buyers wanted custom created instruments. They wanted, and quite often requested special woods, specific cans, embellishments to their own instruments that nobody else have, or that nobody else can offer. So, below, are a bunch of photos of various custom crafted instruments that John, CanJoe*John, has designed, created and built, with these being some examples of the most contemporary instruments made over the recent past couple of years.
For ordering, making all inquiries, or just wanting to talk to the genuine successor as called the “CanJoe Man“, a title officially bestowed by Herschel’s widow, herself, as she passed the torch, please call and ask for CanJoe*John at 423-612-4320.