Fred Van Eps was probably the greatest banjoist on early records, notwithstanding stiff competition in the acoustic era from artists such as Vess L. Ossman and Olly Oakley. In acoustic recording, the banjo was a popular, mainstream instrument, and often utilized on early records due to its clear, penetrating tone. A New Jersey native, Van Eps was not quite 20 years of age when he purchased his first phonograph in 1896, primarily so that he could hear records made by his idol, Vess L. Ossman. Within a year, he was using this phonograph to make his own home recordings on wax cylinder blanks, and in 1897, Van Eps approached the Edison company to make records with them. Although his early Edison cylinders sold well, Van Eps was comparatively slow in breaking into the business of recording on disc -- his first Columbia appeared in 1904, and his first Victor record, "The Burglar Buck," did not appear until 1910. The latter title moved many copies for Victor, and in the ensuing decade, Van Eps was so popular that he was able to work for just about any record label in America, with the Victors outselling the records he made for other companies.