The Roccia Banjos
Superb Banjos by Marco Roccia
only 27 Paragon Deluxe banjos were made –
the majority being plectrum with a few 5 string and tenors. It is not surprising when the cost in 1930‘s was £60!
“I have always been keen on the Paragon instruments and met Marco Roccia long after he retired from Clifford Essex. I was told that a total of 25 De Luxe Banjos were made most of these were plectrum, with a few 5 strings and very few Tenors”. Derek Kindler
Clifford Essex were making their range of Banjos long before Marco came on the scene. Not that I am knocking Marco in any way, I knew him well when I worked for the old C.E. and he was a genius. I also knew Louis Gallo who arranged several of my Compositions for guitar. A. P. Sharpe was a walking computer, a brilliant mind and I have much respect for him to this day. I was devastated when he died on January 1st 1968, just 61 years old. – Clem Vickery
Clifford Essex: made the Banjuke (Banjo//Ukelele) in the early 30’s. Marco Roccia then made the post-war Ukelele. After retirement Marco made it is believed, just 2 Ukelele’s with resonator. One is reputedly still with his family,
ESSEX & CAMMEYER
In 1893 Clifford Essex and Alfred D. Cammeyer formed a partnership with offices and teaching studios at 59 Piccadilly, London. At first, the banjos and zither-banjos they sold under the brand name of “Essex & Cammeyer” were made for them by Temlett, Weaver, Wilmshurst and Windsor but early in 1896 they opened their own workshops at 13 Greek Street, Soho, and were soon employing 14 workmen to make banjos and zither-banjos for them. The partnership was dissolved in 1900, when no more “Essex & Cammeyer” instruments were produced
When Clifford Essex dissolved his partnership with Cammeyer in 1900 he formed his own firm at 15a Grafton Street, New Bond Street, London. W1, and instruments bearing the name “Clifford Essex Co.” were put on the market. At first all the banjos were made for Clifford Essex by Spencer, Weaver, Langham (in London) and Houghton (of Birmingham), but in 1904 he started his own workshops at The Oval, Kensington, with Alfred Dare as foreman. When Richard Spencer died in 1915, Clifford Essex bought his plant and stock and took his key makers into his employ. Although most of the CIifford Essex banjos sold in the early days were made in the Clifford Essex workshops, many were still made by the outside makers; notably Richard Spencer. The Weaver-made banjos were made to Weaver’s own design although they were sold with the Clifford Essex label on them. In December 1919 the firm’s title was changed to “Clifford Essex & Son” and by then only their cheapest model (The “Popular”) was made outside their own work-shops by Houghton of Birmingham. In February 1936 the firm became a private limited company and the title changed to “Clifford Essex & Son Ltd.”.
According to the editor’s notes in the September 1937 issue of BMG, the company had simply outgrown the Grafton Street premises and Clifford Essex had understandably after 37 years made the reluctant decision to move. The other influencing factor was that Bond Street was divorced from the usual haunts of the London professional musician. Apparently, this group of people preferred not to travel very far from the orchestral premises which were situated in Archer Street. However, Clifford Essex was apparently fortunate to find ideal new premises at 90 Shaftsbury Avenue, W1. These premises sported 3 display windows and shop with showrooms above. The administrative offices stretched above Nos. 90 to 98. Soon after the outbreak of WW2 the manufacture of banjos (and other instruments) was greatly reduced owing, to shortage of materials and the call-up of workmen. When the firm went into liquidation in 1942 manufacture ceased. The new company, with the title “Clifford Essex Music Co. Ltd.” has made a few ‘special’ banjos since 1945 and these bear the initials “C.E.” in mother-of-pearl inlaid on the peg-head. From the cheapest to the dearest (£3.10.0. to £60) Clifford Essex banjos carried the following model names:-
Professional (the only 12 in. hoop model)
X.X.Special (later called Concert Grand),
Paravox (an instrument designed on the ‘”Vegavox” lines with an 11 in. vellum)
Paragon De Luxe (the last two being gold plated).
In addition the firm produced three grades of zither-banjo: “Grade III” (the cheapest), “Grade II” and “Grade I”.
Going therefore by the company trading titles and addresses, the owner of a Clifford Essex Banjo should be able to date his instrument by the table below:-
1900 – 1919 CLIFFORD ESSEX & CO 15a Grafton Street
1919 – 1936 CLIFFORD ESSEX & SON 15a Grafton Street
1936 – 1942 CLIFFORD ESSEX & SON LTD 90 Shaftsbury Ave.,
1942 – 1957 CLIFFORD ESSEX MUSIC CO. LTD 8 New Compton St.,
1957 – 1975 CLIFFORD ESSEX MUSIC CO. LTD 20 Earlham Street.
Clifford Essex musical instruments have always been rated among the best in the world and our pre 1939 range of banjos are still in huge demand. We thought long and hard about making our original range of quality banjos but eventually we decided against it. What would be the point? It has all been done before, we needed something new and exciting with a great tone so we made the ‘Gambler’. The craftsmanship is 2nd to none and the Brazilian ebony tone ring gives the instrument a sparkle the likes of which I have never heard before. We tried dozens of various tone rings before deciding on Brazilian ebony, I played a Gibson Granada for a while but the tone ring generated far too many over tones, we certainly did not want to go down that road. For 2 years we have been designing and developing this banjo and we are almost there. This instrument looks and sounds sensational. The ‘Gambler’ arm is based on the ‘Paragon’ the ‘Gambler’ has all the power and projection of the ‘Paragon’ even without a resonator and it feels like a Clifford Essex banjo. We chose co-ordinator rods because the action can be easily adjusted in a matter of minutes to suit the player. I have lost count of the number of times beautiful banjos have come in for repair with terribly warped arms, usually they have been stored away for years with the strings up to tension. Putting them right can be a huge job, all the mother of pearl inlay and the frets are removed, the arm planed flat and then everything has to be replaced. There is no way the ‘Gambler’ arm can ever warp because of the way it is constructed. No doubt the old school will moan and groan about the ‘Gambler’ simply because we have decided to change with the times, but then some folk moan about any kind of change in every walk of life. The simple answer is to play it.