Custom Five-String Banjo #16 169

Completed November, 2016

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


This banjo incorporates an integral ebony tone ring with a brass rod ring, which produces some good bluegrass tone while holding down the weight. Waverly tuners and a nice sunburst set off the ebony-and-maple motif.

Here's a taste of what this banjo sounds like:

Construction Photos

This banjo will have a curly maple-and-ebony rim. The mass of the ebony, along with a brass rim rod, should produce some good bluegrass sound without excessive weight. The segments are cut on a sliding jig, then splined together with hot hide glue. One segment is left unglued to allow the bandsaw access to the inside of the ring. The segments are individually cut, then allowed to fully cure before laminating. The individual rings are cut close to size, and the connecting edges are sanded flat. Holes are drilled for wooden pins that align the separate rings.

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The rings are glued with hot hide glue and clamped together. Then the glued-together rim is glued to a MDF disk with a piece of paper separating the two elements. The disk pivots on a fixed point to assure that the rim is sanded perfectly round. When the rim is exactly the right diameter, it's split away from the disk. Another jig guides the rim while the inner surface is sanded.

Yet another jig is utilized on the router table to fit the brass tone ring and the metal flange. I'm using a Cox resonator; they're well built, and the materials are superb. The pot is given a test run to make sure all the components fit together properly. The edges are eased on the rim, and it's finished for now.

A pivoting fixture is used on the router table to cut the various levels of the neck heel on the neck blank. The slot for the flange is roughed out on the table saw. The neck is cut to side profile, and an ebony heel cap is glued on. A slot is cut for the truss rod. The ears are glued onto the peghead. A hole is drilled for the fifth-string peg.

The truss rod is installed, and an adjustment slot is cut in the ebony peghead overlay. The overlay is glued to the peghead. An ebony fretboard blank is slotted for frets on a dedicated radial arm saw. The fretboard is cut to profile. Mother-of-pearl block inlays are sized and shaped, then recessed into the fretboard. An abalone panel with black purfling is inset into the 12-th fret marker.

The markers are set in epoxy colored with ebony dust. The fretboard is sanded level. The headstock is roughly cut to shape on the bandsaw, then finished on the spindle sander. That sander is also utilized to thickness the headstock. The neck is shaped with planes, scrapers, and rasps.


The logo is cut from mother of pearl, then inlet into the headstock and set in epoxy. The fretboard is glued to the neck. Frets are cut to length, and a special nipper is used to remove the tang to allow for the binding.

The frets are set in a thin line of hot hide glue, then pressed into place with a pair of different tools. Side dots are installed. The co-ordinator rods are fitted and installed, anchoring the neck to the rim.

The resonator is cut away for the neck heel. Wall lugs and thumbscrew brackets are installed. The tailpiece is checked for clearance. All the parts are given a test fit. The resonator is notched to receive the mounting flanges.

Binding is installed on the resonator, then scraped level with the surrounding wood. The entire instrument is sanded perfectly smooth. The inside of the resonator is darkened with a medium-brown tint. The bindings are masked off, and the instrument is given an amber-to-black sunburst.

After staining, the parts are given a coat of vinyl sealer and allowed to dry overnight. The following day, the instrument is lightly sanded and given the first of two series of three coats of lacquer. The process is repeated the next day. After curing over the weekend, the instrument is sanded level, and a final pair of thinned lacquer coats are applied. Then the instrument is allowed to cure for 10-14 days before final rubout and setup. Though it's a bit early to buff out the neck and resonator, I feel comfortable in rubbing out the rim and assembling the pot. Tuning machines and other hardware are installed.

The resonator is wet-sanded with MicroMesh paper, then buffed on a flannel wheel. The label is glued in, and with the addition of strings and a bit of setup, it's ready for delivery.

Thanks for watching this project

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