Custom Open-back Banjo #15 162

Completed June, 2016

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


This neat little old-time banjo features a mahogany block rim and neck, a calfskin head, maple fretboard and headstock overlay, and a simple brass rod tone ring. It's super light, due to the shortage of hardware that's been replaced with wood. The sound is rich and funky, as you'd expect from the skin head and nylon strings, and it has suprising volume.

Construction Photos

The mahogany blocking is laid out to determine the proper sizes for the individual blocks. The blocks are splined and glued together with hot hide glue. Three layers of blocking are stacked to complete the rim. The assembly is sanded perfectly round on the spindle sander, then the inside is cut on the router table. The brackets are also made of mahogany, and are integral to the rim.

The brackets are glued into the recesses, then sanded flush inside. The exact length of each ply of the black locust tension hoop is calculated, and the hoop is built up of three layers glued together with hot hide glue.

A brass tone ring is fitted to the rim. Hooks are slightly reshaped to work with the wood hoop. The calfskin head is soaked in water until pliable, then it's stretched over the rim and the excess is trimmed away; it's then allowed to dry and tighten. A round tenon is turned on the end of the "stick," and it's tapered on the jointer.

The stick is fitted to the rim. The neck blank is shaped to fit the rim on a pivoting fixture for the router table. The maple fretboard is slotted on a dedicated table saw. A recess is cut to receive the carbon fiber neck reinforcing bar, and the bar is epoxied into place. The fretboard is cut to shape, and tortoise position markers and side dots are installed.

An outline of the "Skipper" logo is glued to a piece of Abalam. The logo is cut out and recessed into the maple head plate, then set in epoxy. The headplate is glued to the neck.

The frailing scoop area of the fretboard is routed away. An ebony thrust plate is fitted to the stick and glued to the rim. The headstock is thcknessed on the spindle sander. The fretboard is glued to the neck. The peghead is cut and sanded to shape.

Holes are drilled for the tuning pegs. The frets are installed and trimmed flush with the fretboard. The neck is shaped with planes and scrapers. A slot is cut for the neck-fastening wedge, and the wedge and pressure plate are fitted together.

The end of the stick is shaped and drilled for the tailpiece. The instrument is thoroughly sanded, then given a durable satin finish. An armrest is fabricated and attached. The pegs, nut, and bridge are fitted, and with a bit of setup, it's ready to make music.


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