Photo Samples of Recent Instruments/2017

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.

Cat-jo 3Cat-jo 1Andrew's CJ head crown 1


Montage of “Cat-Jo” parts

Andrew's CJ 2RTT Head pennyRTT c CJJ booktos-jo-head-w-rose
Gene-jo 1

The electric”Hillbilly-jo”


Proud owner of a custom made electric CanJoe*John made, CanJoe Company instrument.

DDD yin yang 2DDD vert doorDDD 3 HeadDale Jr Head StockDale Jr Electric BoxBudjo 2nd #1Big Size Bud-joBaseball bat 1Baseball head leftBaseball headstock stars 1
Alaska-joes 2

Three special instruments!

Alaska-joes 7

Happy smiles from across the miles!


Laying in my fiddle case!

MM 1

In honor of a true American hero

Merrell Marauders Head1
Fanty 3

In honor of 40 years servive!

Fanty 1

Special Service model

Coke Btl Can 2

Another commissioned work of art.

Clayton B Family

Daddy Bear, Momma Bear & Baby Bear

L&L 3

The Deluxe CanJoes

Dixie-jo Inlays

“God, Country, Service, & State

Sibling 1

Brother Sebastian as he receives his new “Spiderman” CanJoe


Matching mahogany for young siblings.

Clayton B Family

Daddy Bear, Momma Bear & Baby Bear


Herschel R. Brown

Posted in All ABOUT CANJOES | Leave a comment

In The News


It’s interesting how the truth always rises to the top. Over a year and a half ago, two separate unassociated private emails were received a few days apart by the sole proprietor and founder of the CanJoe Company (established 1994) and located in Blountville, TN, CanJoe*John. One email was from a well established author, the other from an award winning documentary film director, and each requested interest in presenting the detailed story of the cool one-string musical instrument, the “canjoe”, via their respective formats. Prior to either sending the emails, both had already done extensive research on the subject matter. They both had already looked at every angle, investigated every similar related internet web site, reviewed the internet’s published stories and backgrounds of every maker or supplier offering similar items that they could find, had discovered almost every venue where these instruments might now be sold, had individually overturned every stone, and both, then, coming to the table as already extremely well informed. Each had become so well self educated as nothing less than being somewhat individual experts of the subject matter by their discovery efforts. Through their efforts to dig up the whole scoop on the instrument’s history, they both also individually chose the same decision, as well, to focus on and to present the historical, well documented facts pertaining to the instrument.

The official, undisputed by those in the know, creator of the genuine, original “canjoe” instrument design was Herschel R. Brown (now deceased) of eastern NC, back in the early 1990s. From their very beginning, and even prior to any of these cool one-stringed musical instruments ever existing, Herschel was a personal friend of the man whom is now known around the globe as “CanJoe*John“. The instrument’s history between them is interlaced and connected from the “git go“, and paralleled throughout. It was Herschel who initiated the avalanche, and CanJoe*John, with Herschel’s direct assistance, who simultaneously, and by great personal effort and expense, covered the world in the snow drifts that have melted into the river of the, now, world wide “canjo” awareness, and of which, too, has been responsible for gradually becoming blossomed into so many various versions that are now being produced by, and sold by so many others.

Andrew King is a musician, a scholar, an award winning documentary film maker, director and producer, and one who had purchased a “canjo” musical instrument from an on line business. His curiosity piqued his interest in learning more about the history of these cool one-stringed musical instruments, so he began researching. Inevitably, Andrew discovered the stories about CanJoe*John. After his extensive, exhaustive researching efforts, once he found and delved more deeply into the CanJoe Company’s history, he was thoroughly convinced that he had finally discovered the detailed account that soundly rings of complete verity. He then decided that the story needed mass exposure through public disclosure, on film. He sent one of the email requests to CanJoe*John asking if he might do a film documentary about the story. Now, Andrew had a mission that he felt compelled to do this venture in such a way that in utilizing his skills would best get the message and the story conveyed. He, as co-producer and director, organized together a team of mass media experts; videographers, producer, consultants, animator, graphic designer, and film editor to form a well oiled machine of gifted artists who worked seamlessly together to make the film. They spent nearly a year of further research, planning, and then traveling extensively to meet with and videotape many key witnesses, and to do detailed interviews with CanJoe*John, following him in many public and private settings to capture the story on film, and upon taping many hundreds of gigabytes of film footage, they used all the data collected to create from it their documentary, The CanJoe*Man“. The documentary that they created was debuted and premiered on April 22, 2017 at the highly prestigious Highbridge Film Festival in Wilmoth, KY. It won the “Best Documentary” award at that showing. The film has been released to many film festivals across the country for possible showing across America. Its acceptance is pending approvals soon to be announced. The film was also submitted for review by the National Academy of Arts & Sciences where it was awarded the highest honor in the nation in it’s category, “Winner: Short Form Non-Fiction/ 2017 Student Production Award”.


More information about this film documentary can be followed on Face Book at:

Within a few days of Andrew King’s contact with CanJoe*John, another made contact via email. This individual and well established author, David Rowell, turned out to be interested in writing a book about the music business. His credentials include several previously published books, but too, he’s the current deputy editor of the Washington Post Magazine. One of his interests took him to Europe for extensive research on a particular drum that is hand made and highly desired by percussionists. He, himself, is a percussionist, and he traveled the world to collect data that became the subject of one of his books, but on another internet search for unique subject matter, he discovered the “canjo”. He had been perusing the YouTube videos when he came across those posted by CanJoe*John, He was intrigued by the beautiful music that he heard coming from a single string pulled through a 12 oz beverage can on the videos, but especially he admired CanJoe*John’s version of “Over the Rainbow”. He followed up with the idea to write another book, this one about how musicians make their unique marks in the music industry. His yet to be titled book, after nearly two years of research, writing, touring with major artists, such as Peter Frampton, who is included in the upcoming book, and the internationally famous rock group YES, also in the book, and who is trying to be inducted into the Rock N Roll Hall of Fame, he recently spent a week shadowing CanJoe*John to add in what he considers his crown jewel chapter, about the “man on the can”. Below is a link to a recently published front page story in the Bristol Herald Courier newspaper of Bristol, TN.

David Rowell’s book will be published and available on the world wide market next year. It is a great honor for CanJoe*John that either or both these highly talented people took extensive time, money, effort, and interest in order to present to the world their discoveries of the true “canjo” story. More details will be made public via this blog site as to where, or when these publications will be available for purchase, viewing, or reading. To contact CanJoe*John, to inquire about CanJoe Company products, prices, or custom created instruments, call 423-323-0174, or 423-612-4320.

Posted in All ABOUT CANJOES | Leave a comment

Montage of “Cat-Jo” parts

A recent phone call to the CanJoe Company of Blountville, TN came from a very sweet sounding voice of a lady who was searching for a stringed instrument that she, a non-musician, might easily learn to play. In her internet search for such an instrument, she had discovered the one-stringed “canjo” as available via several on line sources. She stated that she looked very closely at all the other makers’ options and upon finding the web site, she quickly decided that what the CanJoe Company offers appeared to be, in her opinion, “the best of all (that she had examined)”, and so, she called to inquire of details, pricing, and options for ordering one for herself. Upon her discovery, too, that the CanJoe Company offers only custom created instruments, she was even more greatly interested. As she spoke about her personal interests and the reasons why she wanted to own for herself a cool one-stringed musical instrument, several details of her personal interests stood out, such as in particular, that she loves cats. After the discovery process concluded, her decision was to have an instrument designed and created that represents all about cats. Now, in offering and specializing in building whatever someone desires or has in mind, one of the first questions needing answers when creating a CanJoe Company instrument is as to what ‘can’ best represents what should be used on the instrument. The CanJoe Company shop has hundreds of collectible cans available to choose from, but it was quickly realized that none of the cans in stock have any cat images on them, except for a “Food Lion” soda, and she quickly rejected that option. So, the treasure hunt began. She decided to do an internet search for cat related cans. In doing so, she found what she wanted but was required to order a case of the adult beverages from the country of Cambodia.

Whenever a CanJoe Company custom instrument is ordered and/or created, a dialogue between the buyer and CanJoe*John, the true master craftsman of the genuine, original “Canjoe” musical instrument opens up that often requires multiple times of communicating. This sweet lady had many phone calls and emails of information between her and CanJoe*John over the course of a couple of months. She and one of her friends, together, embarked on a mission to find just the right can, as well as to find the right decorations for her custom instrument. When she found that the cat cans from Cambodia were no longer in stock, she and her friend went to several sources to locate another can of her choice. They discovered a brewery nearby her town that had beautiful, cool cans and due a Highway 420 that is also nearby her home, she chose a can with a fish on its label and the number 420 on it, as well. She likes fish, too, so that can was what she decided to use. Though not being a beer drinker, she was required to purchase a twelve pack of the cans in order to get what she wanted, but no problem, she and her friend decided, too, that as part of the adventure in finding the parts, they’d enjoy a can, or two of the beverage as part of the deal.

When choosing how to decorate the instrument in ways that the theme of cats would best be presented, she talked about maybe putting in inlays. Her budget prevented her from the expense of having inlays placed in the instrument, so she took it upon herself to do some more internet research. She discovered a company that sells their products on line and that makes/offers decals for stringed musical instrument finger boards. There, she ordered decals of cat paws, and cat related images. Being a savvy buyer, too, she discovered that she could order the decals from Canada and get them at less cost than ordering from US sources, so that’s what she did. Upon her receiving them, she forwarded them to the CanJoe Company with detailed instructions of how she thought she’d like them applied. The instrument’s beautiful curly maple body with mahogany finger board had been crafted awaiting the can and the decals to arrive and to further its completion. Once those items were received by CanJoe*John, the process to finish the instrument pursued.

Now, CanJoe*John always creates his works to be far better, often much more detailed than expected, and he often upgrades the orders just because he can. While building this particular fine work of musically functional art, a beautiful gold cat with emerald eyes, at one time an antique broach pin as jewelry, was an item he had sitting on a shelf in his kitchen. While washing dishes one evening, and while still working on the instrument, the gold cat caught his eye. Immediately the decision was made to inlay that cat into the instrument’s head stock… kind of a bonus item to make the instrument a bit more ‘canplete‘. Though she was unaware of that decision, it was to be a surprise when it was to be received by her. Well, of course, once she did receive her instrument, that little bit of extra was like super sweet icing on the cake… she LOVED it. Not only did she love the cat, the WHOLE instrument is so stunningly beautiful that as she and her friend opened the shipping package, together, her friend, upon seeing it, could only make one remark, WOW!”. To see why, take a moment to view the photographs of this official, genuine CanJoe Company exclusive, hand crafted by CanJoe*John, below…

This instrument has earned the name Cat-Jo, and for anyone desiring to own, or to order a fine custom instrument, too, contact CanJoe*John, directly, by calling 423-323-0174, or 423-612-4320 for all inquiries, prices, details, and options.

Cat on back

Posted on by CanJoe*John | Leave a comment

Andrew King’s Super Custom Canjoe

Andrew-jo 1

Nearly one year ago, CanJoe*John received an email from a young man who had purchased, on line from another maker, a one-stringed musical instrument using a can as its resonator and referred to as a canjo. He became curious as to the history of the original, genuine instruments and did quite a bit of research seeking out the truth. This particular individual, though, is one who is an intensely inquisitive investigator who has the uncanny knack of overturning virtually every stone to find what he’s seeking.

Andrew King is, without question, a creative genius. He just graduated a week ago from the highly prestigious Asbury University located just south of Lexington, in a small burg called Wilmoth, KY. Asbury University has the country’s foremost and highest reputation of providing the finest possible education toward degrees in mass media arts. Andrew just received his BA in that curriculum. His education and training has earned him high accolades and top accredited awards in documentary film making as producer, and director. The email that he sent was an inquiry asking to do a documentary on the history of the genuine, original canjoe instrument, including the story of CanJoe*John’s trek to performing the Grand Ole Opry, and the creation of the Tour of Smiles. With a crew of equally talented fellow Asbury students, Abby Witt (producer), Aaron Winneroski (animator, graphic design, cameraman), Landers Pannell (editor, cameraman), and Andrew (co-producer, director, cameraman) began filming the documentary in the early fall of 2016. They spent hundreds of hours filming, traveling, interviewing key people, editing and creating the documentary titled The CanJoe*Man. The movie documentary that they created premiered at the very prestigious 13th Annual Highbridge Film Festival to a sell out crowd of over one thousand viewers, including in attendance Matt Bevin, the governor of the state of Kentucky, and several top Hollywood actors and film makers in the audience. It was awarded “Best Documentary” at that festival. Among those interviewed and in the documentary are Mike Snider, a star of the Grand Ole Opry, Marcia Campbell, performer/dancer on the Grand Ole Opry and radio host of Nashville’s world famous WSM radio, Jacob Weiss, juggler extraordinaire/founder of “Playing By Air Productions” out of Nashville, and many other personal friends of CanJoe*John.

As a graduation gift from Andrew’s parents, John & Cindy King, they commissioned CanJoe*John to build a special instrument for him. CanJoe*John contributed to the creation by adding inlays and embellishments that made this gorgeous work of art a super special masterpiece level creation that relates uniquely to Andrew and his film making history. Below are some photos of his instrument:

Andrew's CJ 2

Andrew's CJ Can 1

Andrew's CJ head crown 1

Andrew's CJ Rio

Andrew's CJ Tail

More about the movie documentary, “The CanJoe*Man“, will be posted in an upcoming blog post. It is being released to film festivals across the country. For details on ordering CanJoe Company instruments and products, and all inquiries, related, including prices, please contact CanJoe*John at 423-323-0174.

Posted in All ABOUT CANJOES | Leave a comment

Heads Up Penny

RTT Head penny

Creating custom designed stringed musical instruments specific to the wishes, desires, tastes, as well as matching personalities and characteristics of the owners of their personal instruments is all about what the CanJoe Company, of Blountville, TN, does best. Occasionally, very absorbing challenges are requested, and more interestingly are that, on occasion, very engaging individuals who these instruments will belong to comes along with the order requests. One such situation occurred when the mother of a very giving young man called in to order for her son, a new instrument as a special Christmas gift.

Thaddeus Bryant, also known as Tad, is a 12 year old young man who has had a history of physical difficulties since birth that have required extensive physical and occupational therapy sessions throughout his young lifetime. In his published biography is noted, “his sweet nature made him a favorite playmate of other children in therapy with much bigger uphill battles. Through his own hard work and grit, and through working one-on-one with other kids, his silver lining was realizing that everyone has a challenge at some point in their lives. He created a strong work ethic for himself, made a habit of using his innate sensitivity and kindness, and developed a desire to help others.”

Tad is a very special human being. He discovered and put into action how with using his personal interests, he could help others. One of his interests began when he was growing up in New York City during his first nine years of life. He was inspired by his dad with the notion that found heads up coins hold auspicious favor; the “pennies from heaven” idea. While living in New York, Tad found many heads up pennies. His mom began to worry that Thaddeus might think that money “literally fell from the sky, so she taught him to divide his findings into categories: savings, spending, kids-in-need, the environment, etc”. Tad took these interests and began helping others, first with a bake sale to generate funds to donate to the non-profit, “Smile Train”, an organization that helps kids needing cleft palate surgery. His effort paid off in gaining enough funds to benefit two children in getting their surgeries. His next venture in helping others came about in getting personally and directly involved with the Bowery Mission, another non profit organization that helps feed homeless people during Christmas. There, Tad utilized his bake sale method to generate enough funds to feed 210 men at Christmas, but, not only donating the generated funds, Tad personally shared his time as he “handed out trays, shook hands, ate with those attending, and participated in prayer” at that event. This encouraged him to start his own foundation.

Having been born into a very music oriented family, his world renowned grandparents as prolific song writers wrote the tune “Rocky Top” among many other # 1 hits, which inspired Tad to write a song, too, about a “Heads Up Penny Night”. It was that song that inspirited him to create and name his non profit organization the “Heads Up Penny Foundation”. The Heads Up Penny Foundation now “changes children’s luck, one penny at a time”. This twelve year old child is realizing his dream of helping others and folks can learn more about how to support his loving, grand efforts of giving by visiting his web site at

Now, when Tad’s mom called to order a special, custom designed one-stringed musical canjoe instrument, she indicated that Tad had requested that he wanted only the authentic, original, real deal, hand crafted, specifically and exclusively created by CanJoe*John, himself. In the initial conversation involved in discovering the details relevant to Tad’s history whereas his instrument would be befitting of his personal character and tastes, the choices of materials for his instrument were offered and discussed. One request was that a penny was to be imbedded into his instrument. At first, she requested a common root beer can as the instrument’s resonator, but she quickly learned that in the CanJoe Company shop is a huge collection of unusual cans available and the decision followed that a “Rocky Top” root beer could be used. In researching more details specific of Tad, CanJoe*John noticed that his published photographs often showed him wearing orange clothing, such as shirts with the University of Tennessee’s orange with logos, so instead of root beer, the orange drink “Rocky Top” can was decided. As for the instrument’s finger board, his mom requested the “Premium” level design which is of a select hardwood, in this case she chose mahogany. However, CanJoe*John more than often upgrades the level of his creations, just because, so as a contribution to the soon to be Christmas gift, CanJoe*John chose to create Tad’s instrument by laminating a gorgeous piece of premium grade Chinese cherry with a finger board of beautiful curly maple. The cherry wood originated from a local casket company that uses the extremely exotic, flawless woods as dowels to make the casket handles. The curly maple wood used was indirectly sourced from the Gibson Instrument company as “rejected” material, not perfect enough for a Gibson banjo or guitar, but superbly fit for a super fine CanJoe Company instrument. Inlaid in the instrument’s head stock is a bright, shiny 2012 penny that was literally found heads up in a bank parking lot, and on the face of the head stock is permanently attached a beautiful cut crystal glass star, another trademark symbol used by CanJoe*John since day one of the now over 23 years of being in business. Photos of Tad’s instrument are seen with this blog post:

RTT c CJJ book

RTT c Book 2

RTT table

RTT train 2

RTT Tree

RTT Head 2

For information and all inquiries call the CanJoe Company at 423-323-0174, or 423-612-4320

Posted in All ABOUT CANJOES | Leave a comment

Tour of Smiles-jo, 2017

Still in progress, this specific instrument is currently being created and hand crafted to commemorate the “Tour of Smiles”, a now 23+ year and still ongoing journey that began with a declaration to my wife as she lay dying from cancer. The moniker, “CanJoe*John”, was bestowed by her on one of her toughest days during her illness.

Herschel R. Brown (deceased), the official originator of the earliest design of these instruments, had given one of the very first of his then newly created instruments and that he’d personally made, to me. Using that same instrument to entertain her on that very tough day she was experiencing, it was noticed that even in the worst of times of her suffering, the music from that instrument automatically brought a smile to her face. It was upon that discovery that both the name, “CanJoe*John”, and the “Tour of Smiles” originated. The many embellishments added to this specific instrument are symbols commemorating the journey. Updates and more detailed descriptions, as well as more of the related history surrounding this instrument being created will soon follow. ~ CanJoe*John







Posted in All ABOUT CANJOES | Leave a comment

Always Custom Created

5 Year Old Custom

Dinosaur Canjoe

Every genuine CanJoe Company instrument is created specific to whoever will own it. Each is expertly hand crafted in every detail using the finest materials possible; real frets, real tuner key, real guitar/banjo string, completely musically accurate, every single one, regardless of what level is made or chosen. No one alive in this world has more experience, or has even come close to making anything like or even resembling them at near the numbers of these cool, one-stringed musical instruments than has CanJoe*John. Having nearly 25 years experience in creating or crafting them, and most of those years without anything as even closely comparable as emulations offered by anyone else, anywhere in the world, his authentic, original instruments are simply the best in the world available. The CanJoe Company of Blountville, TN has produced thousands, upon thousands over the years and never, ever, received even one single complaint by anyone who has ever received or purchased one or more of them, so far.

The “Dinosaur-jo” created for a 5 year old boy as a Christmas gift from his grandmother, as seen in these posted photographs in this blog, is an example of the lessor priced instruments offered. It is made of poplar wood that began from a tobacco stick. The little guy who will treasure it loves dinosaurs. He is also the grandson of a now deceased 40 year veteran of the US Army. His great grandfather, too, is originally immigrated from Spain. The red and gold colors in the finger board are symbolic of the Spain’s national flag. The green spots on the finger board specifically mark the key notes of the instrument’s diatonic music scale. The large pearl imbedded in its head stock is to represent a dinosaur egg. The new owner not only loves dinosaurs, he loves the T Rex as his favorite, and the pterodactyl is his second favorite, thus the reason they are now a part of his finished instrument design.

A smaller version instrument, the “Christmas-jo Junior”(not pictured, yet), was created for the nearly 3 year old smaller little cousin of the 5 year old, and also as a gift from his grandmother. It is just 3/4 of the size of a full sized canjoe instrument, and too, is made of poplar wood that began from a tobacco stick. He also is the great grandson of a now deceased 28 year veteran of the US Army and the grandson of a 40 year veteran of the US Army. His great grandfather immigrated from Spain in 1917. The red and gold colors stained and presented in the finger board of his little instrument are also symbolic of the Spain’s national flag. Additionally, there is a beautiful glass star imbedded in the head stock of each and both instruments. The CanJoe Company has used the star image as part of its logos since its origin, now for over the past 25 years.

No two CanJoe Company instruments are ever alike. Everyone of them is made to match the character and personality of whomever owns them. They are the most unique items, ever, as Christmas gifts, or for any occasion. For more information please call 423-323-0174, or 423-612-4320 for all inquiries, details, ordering, pricing options, etc.

Posted in All ABOUT CANJOES | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

The History of Canned Stringed Instruments

The history of stringed musical instruments using metal cans, tins, any and all metal based canisters, including fuel cans, oil cans, cookie tins, metal boxes or barrels, bread boxes, or even all sizes of food storage and beverage cans, regardless of the metal compositions used, dates back to the earliest origins of these items. The first use of metal canisters for food storage began in the mid 1860s during the US Civil War. Their designs and the metal materials they’re now made from have been improved upon and have continued to be as used in various applications ever since. Some of the first foods having been stored in metal boxes or canisters include cakes, crackers, breads, and prepared meats. Many non-food products, including the early metal cigar boxes dating back to the late 19th century, too, have been shipped, stored and sold to consumers from the very earliest history of metal containers, as well.

Historically, the first marketed use of storing and selling beverages in cans began in the year 1932 when the Kruger beer company, as an experiment, introduced their beverage products in them. The idea was obviously an excellent one as the public embraced the concept quickly and, soon, many beer producers shifted from bottling to using metal cans to ship, store, and market their beverages. The Anheuser-Bush company, began canning their Budweiser product in the year 1936. The earlier designs of beverage containers include the cone tops, the flat tops, the crown tops, and in the 1960s, the easy pull tab tops were introduced which have since evolved to those aluminum cans used today that keep the tabs attached. The first company to adapt the use of metal cans for soda beverages was the Coca Cola company in the year 1960. Quickly, other soda beverage companies also adapted the use of cans for their products. The value of canning beverages vs bottling was discovered to be far more economical for the benefit of both the producers and consumers as being safer, cheaper, much easier to store, ship, chill, and they quickly became the most preferred method as use by the consumers. Earlier metal compositions used in making cans included and began with such metals as steel, tin, and, eventually, aluminum.

Upon the very earliest introduction of metal containers, especially of the mid 19th century and early twentieth century, folks immediately realized that they were most suitable to be adapted to use as resonators for stringed musical instruments. There are several examples found of round lard cans, for instance, and dating back to the mid 1800s and as having been used during the US Civil War period, for making banjos. Small metal cigar boxes, also as early as the Civil War period, but especially more commonly used during the US Depression era of the 1920s have been applied to the making of stringed musical instruments, such as for banjos, guitars, and fiddles. Cigar box guitars and other stringed instruments using the more common wood cigar boxes as their resonators became very popular during the US Depression era, and are still the preferred material used for the majority of the modern versions of these mostly home made instruments.

When the CanJoe Company of Blountville, TN officially began in 1994 as a licensed commercial venture of making, marketing, and selling, and at first as being of the original Herschel Brown one-stringed musical instrument design, and as the specific instruments that are based on those classically attributed to and having already been a couple of years prior to and initially introduced to the market, as well as were officially branded by him as the “Can-Joe”, the officially recognized specific instrument’s creator, Herschel Brown. The public use of the similar trade name, the “CanJoe”, and from their first public introduction in 1994, became the official and world recognized brand identity of those corresponding to Herschel’s creations that have also, since, been introduced and sold by the CanJoe Company (by Hershel’s personal permission and full approval). Still, variations and designs of many other various multi-stringed musical instruments using metal cans had long before already existed, but again, were rarely ever identified using the term canjo. Anyone using the term “canjo” as a generic reference to any of these various stringed instruments made from using metal containers as their resonators was not until recently been as common. From the beginnings, when most identifying the instruments made by the folks using metal containers as the instrument resonators and, for instance, might be intended as being specifically a banjo design, it was also referred to by near everyone to be called as just that, a banjo, or if it were a guitar, it was referred to and called as being a guitar, not a “canjo“, regardless. Not until the most recent past few years has the term “canjo” now become more commonly applied as a generic reference to virtually any or all stringed instruments that use any type of metal tins, cans, or containers as part of, or as its specific resonator of these various instruments.

In the year 1996, the curator of artifacts for the Australian Museum in Sydney and who deals more specifically with artifacts of the aboriginal bushmen of Australia, sent an email to the CanJoe Company detailing an artifact in their museum dating to the year of its origin as 1955. It is a guitar-like stringed instrument using a kerosene tin as its resonator. Below is a description from the web site of one expert from Australia on these instruments:

Kerosene Tin Dulcimer

“When John Meredith was collecting folk lore in the Mudgee area, he came across this instrument, made by Cyril Abbott, a local bushman and bush musician. Made from the once ubiquitous four gallon kerosene tin (similar to tins in which olive oil is bought in bulk) and a broomstick. The tin bears no strain and needs only be lightly nailed to the broomstick which has a nail or screw to attach the strings which pass over a bridge at each end and are fixed around crude tuning pegs made from screws and wing-nuts. The strings are Steel Guitar strings and are played like the Hawaiian Guitar, with a ‘steel’ to stop the strings and a plectrum. The strings are tuned with two in unison and the third slightly sharper to give a ‘Tremolo’ effect. Sound holes may be cut into the kerosene-tin, either at the ends or in the surface below the strings.”

There has never been, nor will ever there be any claim by anyone in business as associated with, employed by, or owned by the CanJoe Company, nor likely by anyone associated to Herschel Brown’s legacy as either identifying as, or as having claimed exclusive recognition pertaining to the creation, invention, or making of the first ever historically known stringed musical instruments that have used, or are now using metal cans, boxes, or containers as part of their design function. As this blog post should clearly indicate, there are many other stringed instrument designs and known by factual evidence to have prior existed to the specific one-stringed version as first designed and crafted by, as well as initially introduced to the market by Herschel Brown, and/or of the CanJoe Company, as being, too, the first commercially branded and openly sold to the public item using the name “Can-Joe”, or “CanJoe” to identify them. Any confusion by anyone in the public not affiliated with either Herschel Brown or of the CanJoe Company is due the recent to public wide spread use of the now newly accepted generic term currently referencing any and all stringed musical instruments using metal cans as their resonators.

For all inquiries, price information, or to purchase a genuine CanJoe Company product, please call 423-612-4320.

Posted in All ABOUT CANJOES | Leave a comment

Early Days of the Genuine, Original ‘Canjoe’ Instrument


Meeting Charlie Daniels

Some of the earliest days when the one-stringed canjoe instrument was barely heard of by virtually anyone in the world, much effort and money to get it popularized was expended. Herschel R. Brown (deceased), the official creator of the instrument was a building contractor at that time. He was far too busy building buildings to put much effort into marketing canjoe instruments. The instrument’s origins began out of Herschel’s shop in the very early 1990’s and some of the production of them was assisted by John L. VanArsdall, Herschel’s friend. Then, in 1993, John had to relocate back to Tennessee, so moved away from the coast of North Carolina where he and Herschel shared their time. When in his new home in Tennessee, John continued, with Herschel’s assistance, to build and market the instruments. From the earliest days of their beginning, everywhere John was seen, or heard about, there was a canjoe instrument in his hands, either being played and promoted, or being assembled and sold.

The photos in the included gallery are a few showing examples of early newspaper articles, live performances, and a few influential people that CanJoe*John met while on the steeply uphill journey of getting these instruments into the foothold of becoming recognized and widely marketable. (Very apparently, too, the herculean efforts have proved quite successful with many, many others who have now followed the trail to take up producing and marketing their many varied and/or similar products).

Y’all stay tuned, more of this story and more photos will follow in upcoming posts.

For more information, details, ordering or inquiries, contact CanJoe*John or the CanJoe Company via email at, or 423-612-4320.

Click on “Download File” to listen to “Redwing” from CD, “One String, One Can, One Man, One Band”(BMI), by artist, “CanJoe*John

Posted in All ABOUT CANJOES | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

“King of the One String Thing”

Big Frog

Poster of the Big Frog Bluegrass Festival, 2000

The CanJoe Company of Blountville, TN officially began operating as a licensed business in the year 1994, but prior to the legal beginning of the operation of the public commercial sales of these instruments by the proprietor, now known worldwide as “CanJoe*John”, Herschel Brown, the instrument’s creator, and CanJoe*John were very close friends who, at the time, both lived in the same town and who associated closely in the earliest manufacturing of them. The history of that association is found in nearly every one of the stories as available to any and all who read these blog posts, as well as, but more importantly, is fully documented and published in dozens of newspaper stories, magazine articles, on television newscasts and in extended news stories, or literally in hundreds of other published documents accessible to public view, and that date all the way back to the very beginning. Much more often than not, though, many now come along who have decided they are true authorities on the history, the facts, the origins, and are as self appointed ‘experts’ on how the instruments should be made, giving assundry and opined accounts of where the instruments supposedly got their start, etc. Recently, it was pointed out from yet another self designated authority and on his relatively new web site that the instrument is based on a “zither”. Also, that “they began with soda pop cans, but once they became popularized, now use bean and soup cans”…

There is a real history of these instruments. There is significant, documented evidence, too, of the history that when by indisputable documentation is presented, regardless, will still be attempted to be disputed and discredited. Nevertheless, the truth does always rise to the top, eventually. This post is about the true master craftsman of these instruments and who began by physically helping make them with the instrument’s genuine creator, Herschel R. Brown, from the very beginning, and who continues still to this day designing, creating new ones, hand making these instruments, and now with over 25 years experience. As officially and literally living the living history of these instruments one has no need to contrive or obfuscate the truth. Many have viewed and often peruse the many stories posted, but the photos of the instruments that are posted of each hand crafted by the artist, CanJoe*John, as well, tell a detailed story of themselves.

The poster at the top of this blog post has a history, too. It is of a festival in Cleveland, TN that brought “CanJoe*John” on as a headliner act to perform in the year 2000 (a date that precedes all other contemporary ‘canjo’ makers by nearly a decade). The story that follows, though written by CanJoe*John, is one not only witnessed by thousands, is clearly a testament of how these instruments grew to become known.

“King of the One Stringed Thing”

In the year 2000, I was invited and booked to headline the first “Big Frog Mountain Bluegrass Festival” near Cleveland, TN. I attended the event, was very well received by those gathered for the affair, gave a children’s workshop on ‘how to play a canjoe’, and on the Saturday night’s main stage closing act, I and Sonny Smith, who was the 1998 National Banjo Champion, had a pickoff as the grand finale, after our separately performed stage shows.

The reason I thought of this event, though it was quite memorable, I had someone who posted a comment on my official CanJoe Company blog site recently offering miscredit to its history. This individual touting himself a specialist on folk instruments has a photo of an early Herschel Brown made “canjoe” on his site, and with a sorta’ piecemealed, very brief “history” of the instruments. By his account, the instrument is based on a zither. Well, not quite … No, it’s always been based on a mountain dulcimer, but ‘whatever’… he’s the “expert”!

Anyway, as Sonny and I are together on stage preparing for the grand finish act, we were to choose a tune as a duet, totally unrehearsed, to prove for the audience who could out pick the other. As Sonny had appointed himself the MC for the act’s introduction, we were both front and center stage in the spot lights and I asked the sound engineer for a pickup cable and direct input box to plug my canjoe through the sound boards, into the main stage speakers. Sonny then being a smart alec commented to the crowd, “hey, sound man, pass me up a cable, too, so I can hook up my electric zither”… the crowd laughed. Like two professional wrestlers mouthing off before a match, the musical barbs flew back and forth as we prepared for the contest.

So, once ready, Sonny with his banjo, me with my canjoe, he asked, “well, Mr fastest, greatest canjoe picker in the world, what tune do you want to choose as you and I try to pull this off”, as he snickers with incredulity. I replied, “how about “Dueling Banjos“, and Sonny with a tone of jocular affability in his voice, “Oh boy! let’s kick her off”. He began with the intro, I followed. As the tune progressed, it got faster. Of course, I’m playing on just one string, Sonny’s picking with three fingers on a five string banjo. The tune grew faster and faster until it was blazing, but we stayed note for note throughout. On the very last note, after a blistering final stanza, we both simultaneously tagged the tune to a finish that brought the huge crowd to a spontaneous, roaring, cheering standing ovation that literally echoed off the Big Frog mountain, throughout the valley, and Sonny then immediately turned to me, stuck out his right hand to shake mine and jubilantly exclaimed, loudly and excitedly, “Mister CanJoe*John, you are TRULY the world’s greatest canjoe picker!!!“… and the “man on the can” was treated by all who witnessed, and from that point onward, as officially declared, crowned and titled, “king of the one-stringed thing”… lol. ~ CJ*J

For ordering details and prices, please call 423-612-4320.

Posted in All ABOUT CANJOES | Tagged | Leave a comment