Thursday, September 3, 2015

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.

I cut the edge of the rim to fit the dobson-style tone ring. The internal diameter of the ring is slightly smaller than the standard 11” rim (I think this is so that these tone-rings will slip neatly over a drum-shell rim). I did this with a file and a small rotary sander, as that’s pretty much the sum of the tools I had at the time.

Experimental scallops under the dobson style tone-ring

I also filed out some scallops in the inside of the rim as an experiment. I had been reading about other kinds of scalloped rims and had this idea to possibly increase the complexity of the tone. Whether or not that worked I’ll get into later!

Stained and finished with Tru-oil

I stained the rim with artist’s archival pigments (as an illustrator I've got this sort of thing lying around) and coated it with several layers of Tru-oil gunstock finish. I used an epoxy grain filler on the bottom edge, but had a lot of trouble getting a good stain and finish. So I mixed black pigment with Rustin’s Plastic Coat and gave the rim a black edge. In the long run I don’t think this was the ideal solution. With my woodwork skills and tools at this stage I didn’t feel ready to put a hardwood cap on there.

What with waiting for parts and fitting it around my illustration work, the build up to this point took about a month, maybe two.

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