12" Open-Back Banjo #12 123

Completed August, 2013

(click any of the thumbnails for a higher-resolution photo)


This open-back banjo features a 12" pot, ebony fretboard and peghead overlay, and ebony "tongue" on the back of the neck. It has a ton of inlay and a big, tubby sound.

Construction Photos


Construction of this special 12"-pot old-time banjo begins with the gluing of the hard maple neck blank with hot hide glue. A router-table fixture allows me to fit the Dobson tone ring perfectly to the maple rim. Another fixture mounted on the spindle sander creates a taper on the inside to give the pot a finished internal appearance.


A tape-covered caul allows holes for the bracket shoes to be drilled without damage to the rim's interior. Additional recesses are cut for binding and purfling on the bottom edges of the rim. A wheat-style purfling created from pieces of colored veneer is glued into the side channel and then scraped level with the surface of the wood. To install the abalone purfling, a teflon strip is first glued into the recess along with a pair of black accent lines. Then the teflon is removed and abalone is fitted into the resulting recess. Finally, it's scraped and sanded level with the wood. Celluloid tortise edge binding is next glued into the recess created for it.


Critical angles and dimensions are laid out on poster board, and the neck heel is cut on a pivoting fixture on a router table. Since the offset fifth string causes the centerline of the neck to differ from the centerline of the truss rod, careful shimming in two dimensions is necessary. The neck is perfectly fitted to both rim and tension hoop, centered on the third-string line and at the proper angle for correct bridge height. We've purchased pre-cut inlay for the fretboard, and much of it has come loose from the boards during shipment. After they're rearranged and lightly glued to the backing boards, they're covered with tape that will hold them in alignment after the backer board is removed.


Then the tape is cut away around the perimeter of the inlay,and the taped inlay, still on the backer, is submerged in hot water While the inlay is loosening from the backer, the fretboard is dimensioned and the scale is laid out. The inlay is sized against the target. Recesses are routed in the fretboard to receive the inlay. After a trial run to make sure everything fits, the pieces are permanently fitted with epoxy mixed with ebony dust. The fretboard is sanded level, and the fret slots are cut with a radial arm saw dedicated to that purpose. The fretboard is cut to shape and positioned on the neck blank. Frets and mother-of-pearl side dots are installed. The neck blank is cut to the rough shape of the neck, and a slot is cut for a two-way adjustable truss rod. Maple peghead "ears" are gued on. A black/white/ebony peghead overlay is applied.


A spindle sander is used to thickness the peghead and to scoop away a portion of the neck for an ebony "tongue." A clamping caul is made, and the black/white veneers are clamped with a layer of foam to take up any imperfections in the caul. A second ebony veneer is fitted and glued to the back. The ebony "tongue" is glued in place, and the peghead is cut to shape. A side view clearly shows the multiple layers of the sandwich that gives this peghead a distinctive look.


The "Skipper" logo and the peghead inlay are recessed into the headstock. A recess is routed on the bottom edges of the fretboard for a white/black purfling strip. A small inlay matching the motif of the fretboard and headstock inlays is cut for the neck heel and inlaid into a strip of ebony, which is glued to the heel cap. The neck heel is roughly shaped. A temporary jig is used to align the hole in the end of the neck that will receive the dowel stick. A matching tenon is turned on a lathe, and tapered on the table saw. It's then fitted to the neck, and tapered holes are cut in the rim to receive it.


Wax paper is taped to the rim to prevent the hot hide glue from permanently fastening the neck to the rim, and the stick is glued to the neck. We've decided to add a second tortoise binding to the lower inside of the rim; the channel is cut with a binding router, and the binding is glued in place. The headstock is beveled to reveal a glimpse of the white purfling line from a straight-on view.


The truss rod is installed, and the fretboard is glued to the neck. While the neck is still in a rectangular condition, a hole is drilled for the 5th-string tuning machine. With rasps, planes, and scrapers, the neck is brought to shape. A hole is drilled through the stick for the neck attachment mechanism. The ferrule tongue is recessed into the rim, and the lag bolt is inserted into the end of the stick. Now it's time for some serious sanding and surface preparation. When the wood is sanded to perfection, staining begins. When the instrument is the proper color, it's sealed with a coat of vinyl sealer. Then finishing with nitrocellulose lacquer begins. Because of poor drying conditions, the instrument is hung inside the climate-controlled portion of my shop for an extra day between series of coats. After the second series, the instrument is sanded level and given a final coat. Then it will hang for 10-14 days before I rub out the finish and set up the instrument. When the finish is fully cured, it's wet sanded with increasingly finer grits of MicroMesh paper, then buffed on a flannel wheel. A multitude of hardware is installed, along with the head, and the neck is attached to the rim. The bridge is fitted, and fifth-string spikes are installed.

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