Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Banjo #6

Neck: Black Walnut, Maple, Cherry, and Wenge with Ebony peghead veneer and fingerboard. Tunnelled drone string, and extra low string. 20 1/2" scale length. Brass position markers. Mini s-shaped frailing scoop. Modified raw brass mandolin tuners. Brass and resin filled cracks.

Originally this was quite an experimental neck, so I used some fairly scrappy walnut wood. When I discovered some non-structural cracks, caused by the way it had been dried, I was already well towards falling in love with the idea of this short scale, extra string design so I decided to continue on and fill them with brass dust and epoxy, which is a thing I'd been wanting to try out anyway.

Pot: 12" Maple Keller drum shell, Rickard Dobson tone-ring, hand-painted Renaissance head, hand-made drilled raw brass tension hoop and tailpiece.

All wood finished by heat impregnating with pure beeswax.

Tuned: gCDGcd

Tuned gGDGcd (Original tune by O Bäckström)

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

#6 Nearly There!

All together for the first time.

#6 More progress (& setbacks)

Unfortunately shaping revealed that the Black walnut wasn't dried very well and has split. More fortunately it isn't structural at all and I have solution that I've been meaning to try anyway.
Shaping has also revealed (note the passive description, obviously it wasn't my mistake) that the tuners are too short for the slots.

My two solutions are above. Brass dust and thin glue to fill the cracks, a little like the gold in Japanese Wabi Sabi pottery, and modified ferrules (modified with black milliput) to stabilise and bridge the gap in the slots.

Friday, October 9, 2015

#6 Progress

Rough cutting tunnel into fingerboard for drone string with rotary tool and small carbide bit.

The other side of the groove. Messy, but hidden. You can see the two carbon fibre strips in the centre here too. I've tried to sand them down a little so there is room for the walnut to contract later (it's quite damp in the shed and flat at the moment). You can also see that the headstock isn't planed flat yet - I did do it before the glue-up.

Friday, October 2, 2015

Drilled Tension Hoop

I had hoped to make drilled tension hoops the last two times, but didn't quite dare, and also thought that the 1/8" thick brass might not be thick enough. This time I'm using 3/16" thick brass and it seems to have worked well. The 3/16" brass was much harder to get a perfect bend in though, and was much harder to silver-solder too. Still some work to do to get it perfectly round.

Silver Soldering

This time I decided to fit the cross dowel horizontally because I was worried that otherwise the extra lamination could split when the bolt is tightened.

I silver-soldered a brass square onto the cross-dowel to keep it from turning away from the bolt.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Modified tuners

Modified (cut down and re-drilled) raw brass mandolin tuners for 6-string slotted headstock.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Banjo #6?

New neck blank. Black walnut, cherry, and wenge strip.
What will it be?
I'm thinking a short-scale (20"?) neck with 6-strings and a tunnelled drone string. Possibly using cut-down mandolin tuners.

Banjo #5 Mini 5-string

Maple and rosewood neck, 15" Scale length.
Rosewood fingerboard.
Inlayed brass ring side position markers.
Rosewood tailpiece.
8" extra deep (3") maple rim.
Finished with plastic-coat varnish.
Nylon classical guitar strings (for tuning to standard G/C pitch).
Handmade raw brass tension hoop.
Slotted headstock.
Grover tuners.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Banjo #4

24 1/2" scale length walnut and cherry neck with rosewood fingerboard and peghead veneer. Finished with pure beeswax, heat impregnated into the wood.
Inlayed brass ring side position markers.
1/4" brass rod tone-ring, raised on brads over scalloped, 10ply thin maple rim.
African goatskin head.
Handmade tension hoop.
18 flat-hook tensioners with raw brass shoes.
Grover tuners.
Fielding tailpiece.

In this sound sample the skin head is slightly dampened with a cloth under the dowel-stick, behind the bridge.
I'm interested to try this rim out with a plastic head and compare tones. 

Monday, September 7, 2015

Building Banjos #4 and #5 part 2

Here are most of the parts for Banjos #4 and #5. The smaller rim is from a cheapo hand-drum, and in the end I decided to order a higher quality drum-shell and use that instead. You can see that I decided to try my hand at making my own tone-rings, tension-hoops, and flesh-hoops from raw brass bar.

I made position markers from brass tubing. While testing it out (from which I learned that you have to be very careful with the edge, or it bleeds when filed down) I made this fish, more or less by accident. Later I turned it into a broach.

Building Banjos #4 and #5 Part 01

As soon as I finished banjo #3 I felt I wanted to push what I'd learned and make at least a neck entirely from scratch. I began work with a plank of American Walnut and a thinner one of British Cherry.

I decided to use just a single carbon fibre rod down the centre, since this neck would be thicker than the last, with a rounded dobson-style heel, and with the central strip of cherry adding to the stability.

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Banjo #3

11" 5-string with Dobson-style tone-ring.
2-ply steamed maple rim.
Raw brass hardware.
Peghed geared, fiddle-peg style tuners.
MOP inlayed moon, stars, and side position markers.
26 1/2" scale length.
12 steel tension hooks.

I've since removed and smoothed the experimental scallops from inside the rim and re-stained. I found that they seemed to cause the overtones of the dobson tone-ring to reverberate with a muddy sound. With a smoothed and thinner bearing edge the sound is clean.

This sound sample uses ground nylon strings (with a steel 5th). Incidentally, the tune is one I wrote on this banjo just after putting it together. The renaissance head is lightly stuffed behind the dowel stick, which is a general preference of mine with nearly all openback banjos.

I will put up a sample of the sound with all steel strings if I get the chance.

Building Banjo #3 Part 2

I did some work on making a co-ordinator rod in the style of Romero banjos. This would have really required a lathe to do a good job, but I shaped it by hand with a file from a maple dowel. In the mean-time I had been reading about “Rudy Rods” or tunnelled dowel sticks on the Banjo Hangout forums, and I ended up building one of those instead.

The neck arrived. I widened the truss rod groove using a rotary tool and a simple router bit (this doesn’t cut very deep so I had to do it in a lot of passes). Then I fitted two carbon fibre strips with a strip of ebony (off-cuts from the fingerboard) down the centre. I glued the whole lot in with epoxy. It looked a little messy, but seemed very strong, and would be totally hidden when the fingerboard was glued in.

Building banjo #3 Part 1

The banjo that I’m calling #3 (because of the two kits I built in the past) started out as a hankering for an instrument with a dobson style tone-ring (as has become fashionable for old-time banjo players in the US over the last few years, not least because of players like Adam Hurt and Richie Stearns.)

I began with a chinese-made blank mahogany neck. I used one of these for kit banjo #2 and it has been going strong for seven years. These also feature a (sort of) S S Stewart style headstock shape, which I thought was kind of appropriate as well as being pretty.

The original broken blank neck

Unfortunately, after I had cut a failing scoop and done some simple inlay work on this neck I discovered that the truss rod was mis-aligned, and then (and I think related to the wonky truss rod) that the neck had cracked. I think this crack would have been fairly easy to fix, especially if I knew then what I’ve since learned about glues and general woodwork, but I was disheartened and decided I wanted to start again with something of a higher quality.

I already had on order a good quality maple rim and hardware from Canada, so I decided to order a blank maple neck, and separate fingerboard and frets etc, from Stewmac in the US. (I’m based in London UK so was already beginning to wince at the carbon footprint of the endeavour, but anyway).

2 ply steamed maple rim and raw brass hardware.

Monday, August 31, 2015

In the beginning: Banjos!

I built a banjo from a kit some time in the year 2000. It was a basic kit, and I stained it green. So far as I know it is still working and now belongs to my friend Matthew Robins. In the intervening years I’ve restored and tinkered with a fair few others, and about seven years ago I put together a slightly higher quality kit for my girlfriend. This instrument is still going strong and actually sounds fantastic (for which I can’t take much credit).

This year, after realising that the jazz guitar style I was teaching myself was damaging my somewhat flimsy finger joints (in what felt like a permanent way), I built another banjo. Banjos in general can be set up much lighter than a guitar can, and the tunings and techniques are a little easier on the fingers. The banjo, I’ve found on returning to it, is also very suited to the various types of music that I’ve attempted, with more or less success, to play on other instruments.

11" openback banjo with dobson style tone ring. April 2015

This instrument was not a kit as such, but I used a rough cut neck blank and a pre-formed steamed maple rim. I put a good deal of work into it, and I enjoyed and obsessed over this work so much that when I’d finished I more or less immediately built two more, and filled sketchbook after sketchbook with notes, ideas, and techniques. This blog is a home for those ideas and instruments and a place to document my progress as a maker.