Custom RB-6 Style Banjo #17 173


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My starting point for this project was the original headplate from a Gibson RB-6 banjo owned and played by banjo great Don Stover. My task was to recreate the banjo, incorporating the repaired headplate, on a pre-war archtop pot. This one was interesting, to say the least.

Construction Photos

The first job is to fit the neck blank to the pot. A pivoting fixture on the router table cuts the various radii at the proper angles and alignments. A hole is drilled for the 5th-string peg. The truss rod slot is cut, and the neck heel is roughly shaped. The peghead "ears" are glued onto the neck. An ebony fretboard blank is thicknessed and the fret slots are cut on a dedicated radial arm saw.

The fretboard is cut to profile. The hearts-and-flowers inlay is divided into components, traced onto paper, and glued to mother-of-pearl blanks. This inlay consists of a lot of identical parts. Not too interesting, but part of the job. When the multitude of inlay parts are cut, I turn my attention to the purfling. This checkerboard purfling is not available commercially, so I'll have to make my own. Strips of black and ivoroid binding are precisely sized by scraping level with a block of a given thickness. The strips are then alternately glued to a thin fiber backing. After the glue has cured overnight, the section is sawed into purfling strips.

The fretboard is trimmed flush with the neck heel, and the slot for the checkerboard binding is routed. The inlay is situated on the fretboard, and pencil lines are drawn around the individual pieces. The recesses are routed, and the pieces are checked for proper fit. The small dots help me keep the orientation correct.

The small pearl dots are turned on a lathe, and set first into the recesses. Then the individual pieces are set in a mixture of epoxy and ebony dust. When the epoxy is cured, the fretboard is sanded level.

Strips of the checkerboard inlay are glued into the recesses in the top of the fretboard. The finished-sized fretboard is utilzed as a pattern to rout the neck to the final width dimension. Then the sized neck is routed for the under-fretboard checkerboard binding. The binding is glued in place. Then the bottom of the fretboard is routed for the w/b binding that will delineate the fretboard from the neck.

It's starting to look line an RB-6! The truss rod pocket is cut, and the truss rod is installed. A small wooden bridge provides material into which the cover screw will go. A clamping caul is cut, and the overlay is glued to the peghead. Frets are cut to length, and notched for the binding. They're set in a thin line of hot hide glue, then pressed into place.

The side position markers are installed. The heel cap is glued on. The fretboard is glued to the neck. The various binding and purfling strips are glued into a channel on the curly maple resonator. The headstock is cut and sanded to shape. The neck is shaped with planes, rasps,

spindle sander, and scrapers. The RB-6 heel cap is fashioned and glued into place. Missing pieces from the checkerboard binding and the inlay are fashioned and replaced. A notch is cut in the resonator to receive the neck heel.

Recesses are cut in the resonator walls to receive the mounting brackets. The wall lugs are mounted to the sides. The binding and purfling is scraped level with the surrounding wood, and the instrument is fully sanded. The wood is slightly dampened to raise the grain, and then the instrument is sanded again. The interior of the resonator is masked off from the exterior,

then given a medium-brown tone so that the white wood doesn't "glare" from inside the resonator. The newly-fitted repair pieces in the overlay are stained to match the original pieces. The inside of the resonator is given a non-gloss finish. The fretboard and binding are masked off in preparation for staining. The following day, the previously finished interior of the resonator is masked off. The instrument is stained, the masking is stripped from the bindings, and the instrument is then given a thin coat of vinyl sealer.

The bindings are touched up by scraping clean the edges between the stained and unstained parts. Another thin coat of vinyl sealer is applied, followed by a coat of pore filler. The instrument is allowed to cure over the weekend, then the finish coats of nitrocellulose lacquer begin.

Lacquer is applied in two series of three coats each, with a day's curing time between series. Then the instrument is sanded level. This is one of the most challenging jobs in the building process. Sanding is a mind-numbing task, but constant attention must be paid to prevent sanding through a very thin finish (the finish on my most recent guitar body, including pore filler and stain, weighed less than one ounce). Then the instrument is given two additional thinned coats of lacquer, then allowed to cure for 10-14 days before the final sanding, buffing, and setup.

When the lacquer is fully cured, the instrument is wet-sanded with increasingly finer grits of MicroMesh paper, then buffed on a Domet flannel wheel. The masking is removed from the fretboard, and the frets are leveled and dressed. Maker's information is engraved onto the neck heel. The peg holes are reamed for proper fit, and the tuning machines are installed.

The pot is reassembled and the neck is attached. A mother-of-pearl nut is fitted into the slot. A special ruler is utilized to set proper string spacing. The bone 5th-string nut is shaped and installed, and strings are attached. The nut is slotted for strings, polished, and glued in place. The original mother-of-pearl truss rod cover is attached.

5th-string spikes are installed. The hardware is remounted on the resonator, and my label is glued in place. A bit of setup work and adjustment, and this old classic has come back to life.

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