Custom Banjo #13 148

Completed January, 2015

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


This experimental banjo weighs in at 3-3/4 pounds, and even without a resonator is scary loud and has a great tone. It's cutting enough to hold its own in a bluegrass band, and plunky enough to be played as an open-back. Most of the hardware has been replaced with either wood or carbon fiber. Per my own preference, the neck is just a bit wider and thinner than normal, giving my arthritic joints a fighting chance. I judge this experiment a success, and can imagine that my weighs-a-ton bluegrass ax will get some well-deserved rest.

Construction Photos

Construction begins with the wood rim. A layer of paper is glued with Titebond to a MDF disk, and then maple segments are built up with hot hide glue. Tapered slots are cut in the center section of segments. Excess wood is removed with the bandsaw, and then the outside is sanded smooth and perfectly round on a spindle sander. The inside is roughly cut with the router,

then finished with the sander. Maple brackets are shaped and fitted to the tapered slots, then sanded flush with the inside. The rim is shaped on the upper edge, and a groove is routed on the bottom. Both to reinforce the bottom row of segments and for decoration, a three-ply strip of celluloid binding is glued into the groove. A maple heel cap is glued to the neck blank.

A radius jig is used in conjunction with a router table to cut the neck heel at the proper angle and alignment, and to the correct radii for the rim and tension hoop. A quickly rigged jig provides proper alignment for the "stick." The maple stick is tapered on the table saw, and a tenon is turned on the end to fit into the hole in the neck heel.

A maple fretboard is created and slotted on the radial arm saw. The fretboard is cut to a rough profile, and the neck is roughly cut to size. The fretboard is fitted with position markers and frets, and a maple headplate is glued to the neck. Holes are cut in the rim to receive the stick.

An ebony escutcheon is fashioned and glued to the rim; this will be a pressure plate against which a foxtail wedge will later bear. The rim is finished with several coats of urethane varnish. A carbon fiber reinforcing rod is glue into the neck. The headstock is cut to shape. Holes are drilled to receive the tuning machines.

The "Skipper" logo is cut from mother of pearl and inlaid into the maple headstock overlay. The fretboard is glued to the neck with hot hide glue.

The pot is assembled. The neck is shaped with an assortment of chisels, gouges, spokeshaves, scrapers, and rasps. A slot is cut in the stick, and an ebony wear bushing is fitted and installed. An ebony wedge is cut that pins the neck to the rim. A coat of pore filler is applied to the mahogany.

The neck is again thoroughly sanded, then finished using the same materials and methods used on the rim. The tuners are installed, the neck is attached to the pot. Strings, spikes, and a bit of setup and this puppy's ready to bark!


Thanks for watching this project

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