September banjos and necks

The first job I completed in September was one I had begun toward the end of August but failed to finish on time. It’s a curly maple neck for a vintage pot.

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Next came a custom banjo. #168 is my first semi-fretless with a brass plate instead of a wooden one in the fretless portion of the neck. It’s a cherry 11″ with walnut trim and a jatoba fretboard. The customer also wanted a “landing pad” for the thumb added to the side of the scoop. He said he’d been thinking about one for a while, and I made this one so that it can be sanded off if it is found to be undesirable after being tried for a while.

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Next came another neck, this one a radiused fretless with a slot head. The fingerboard, heel cap and overlay are granadillo, and the rest is African mahogany.

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My last banjo for September was #169, the smallest banjo I have ever built, and the shortest scale length of any instrument I’ve made, at 10.25″. It’s made from ash and hickory. The person who commissioned it described it as a piccolo tango banjo, which is new to me.

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The last project for September (which I didn’t get completed till October 4) was an unfinished maple A scale neck for a vintage pot, with ebony trim. The customer is going to do the staining and finishing himself as I am colorblind and therefore unable to stain with any degree of confidence.

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The agenda for October includes 3 custom banjos and 2 or 3 stock banjos. I have been pecking away at my version of a classic resonator banjo design for a few months now in between other things and I hope to get it done this month.

August banjos and an octave mandolin

August was a good month, though it got a little frantic as it tends to do with things coming in from the garden. My first project for the month was to put the finish on the octave mandolin and set it up, I’ve been working on it a little at a time for the last few months so it was nice to get it done. It’s shown on the Mandolins page.

I custom made a couple of plywood backed flat disk resonators after a failed attempt to make this design out of solid wood. The customer always does his own finishing, and does a very nice job at it. He kindly sent me some pictures once the finish was applied.

I made 4 banjos during August, the first was #164, a custom walnut C scale banjo with a 12″ pot, a large scoop and 12 frets. One of the fun things about making custom banjos is seeing how different people use their banjos, and how they want them made to facilitate those uses.

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Next came banjo #165, which is a mahogany A scale slot head. It was ordered to be an A scale version of #31, which is on the Banjos page, with a few other minor changes. It has an aluminum tension hoop.

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Next to be completed was #166, a stock banjo which is shown on the Banjos page.

My last completed job for August was #167, a custom walnut 12″ with aged hardware, a veneered block rim and Rocklite Ebano trim. This is the first banjo I have sent to Canada, though I’ve sent a few to countries that are further away.

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July banjos

This was the busiest July I’ve ever had in the shop, with 6 banjos and a neck on the agenda.  The first one was #158, a walnut 12″ with a Dobson tone ring and John Balch head from Balsam Banjo Works and a radiused fretboard.

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Next was #159, a curly maple and hickory banjo uke with an 8″ pot, made to fit in one of Bob Smakula’s uke cases.  I made a banjo uke neck for an old pot way back in the dim past, but this was the first complete banjo uke I have gotten to make.  The customer requested any odd wood I had, so I used some curly maple with dark sections in it.

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My last custom banjo in July was #160, a 10″ walnut C scale with a persimmon fretboard and aged hardware.

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I also built a mahogany neck with an ebony fretboard for an existing pot that was mailed to me by the owner.

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Banjos 161 through 163 are shown on the Banjos page, they’re all 12″ and made from various woods.  In August I have three custom banjos to build and am planning to make two stock banjos.  The octave mandolin project is almost done, I just need to do final sanding, finishing and setup.  I’ve been moving pretty slowly on it, but the end is in sight.

June banjos

My first project in June was a batch of 12″ stock banjos to replace what had been bought in May.  Banjos 153, 154 and 155 are all shown on the Banjos page.

Banjo #156 was my only custom banjo in June, it is a walnut 12″ with just a few differences from what I normally make. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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I also made a custom neck for a vintage banjo pot.  I have never seen one quite like this before, so it was a fun project.

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Banjo #157 is a cherry 11″ and is shown on the Banjos page.  I also made several armrests and a removable resonator.  This is a picture of the resonator that was sent to me after the customer applied the finish.

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I worked some more on the octave mandolin in June and the body is complete except for binding, but the neck is still only half made.  I hope to finish the build this month if time permits.  Also in July I am building 3 custom banjos, 3 stock banjos, and a neck, as long as I don’t run out of time.

May banjos

I made 5 banjos in May, the first one to be completed was #148.  It is a 12″ banjo with a wood tone ring, made from a variety of woods.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Next came #149, a walnut banjo with a Tubaphone tone ring and a bracket band.  The customer did all the inlay work and drew the picture on the head.  I learned from this one that it’s important (at least with wood bindings) to bind the fretboard and flatten it before the inlay work is done.  I had some difficulty with getting the frets to behave, but the customer was kindly able to resolve the problems after he received the banjo.

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My last custom build in May was #150, my first time putting together all of the parts to make a bluegrass resonator banjo.  The customer sent the hardware from a Recording King resonator banjo and had me make new wooden parts for it.

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Banjos #151 and #152 are both cherry short-scale banjos, and they are shown on the Banjos page.  I started making a new octave mandolin in May but ran out of time, so I hope to perhaps get it completed in June.  I also have some custom necks and a custom banjo to build in June, and a few stock banjos.

April banjos and a guitar

Banjo #145 was my first completed instrument in April.  It is a C scale made from cherry with somewhat wavy grain, not tight enough to be called curly.

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The other two April banjos are #146 and #147, both 12″, curly maple and cherry respectively.  They are both shown on the Banjos page.

My last project in April was a left handed guitar based on a Gibson L-0.  It has curly birch for the back and sides, Adirondack spruce for the soundboard, African mahogany for the neck, and walnut binding.

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My plans for May are to build four or five banjos, depending on how the time goes.

March banjos and a fiddle, and a new situation

This past month has been unusual.  We have not yet been directly affected by the COVID-19 pandemic but it is changing how we do a lot of things.  I work alone when building instruments, and the workshop is here at the farm where I live, so my ability to work has not been affected by the closure of non-essential businesses.  I have enough hardware and wood to keep building instruments for several months, and as long as the mail continues to run I will be happy to send out instruments.  I normally am happy to have visitors come to try out instruments in person, but I will not be able to do this until the social distancing orders are lifted.  I know this is a very difficult time for a lot of people, and I hope that we will come out of it soon.

The first project I completed in March was a fiddle made from salvaged wood from a gym floor.  The customer likes to apply the finishes himself, so I sent him the fiddle “in the white”.  It has an Adirondack spruce soundboard and jatoba fingerboard, chinrest and tailpiece. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I completed a batch of four banjos at the end of the month.  #141 was a walnut 12″ with aged brass hardware, Rocklite Ebano trim and a John Balch head.  The customer ordered a charming pendant depicting a frog playing a banjo from an Etsy seller, and I inlaid it into the peghead.

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#142 was an 11″ walnut left handed banjo, with aged brass hardware and a rosewood fretboard. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

#143 was a 12″ cherry banjo.  It was originally going to be a stock banjo, but when I was partway through the build a customer wrote who wanted a banjo like #136, which this one was built to replace, only with a brass tone hoop and two extra fretboard dots.  Both of those were changes I could still make to this banjo, so it became a semi-custom build.

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Banjo #144 is a walnut C scale and is shown on the Banjos page.   In April I have two stock banjos, a custom banjo and a custom guitar to build.

February banjos and guitars

February is a short month, and it was a busy one in the shop for me this year.  I worked on all 5 instruments concomitantly and put the finish on them all on the same day, while I had the wood stove going in the winter finishing room.

The first one I got set up was acoustic guitar #9, a walnut guitar with western red cedar soundboard and cherry binding.  The customer requested a few extra thing on this guitar, including a pre-made fancy rosette, snakewood bridge pins, and Waverly tuners with snakewood buttons.  This guitar is now on its way to England, and I hope the customer will like it once she receives it in a week or ten days.

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The next instrument to be completed was a wood topped banjo, with a back like a guitar wold have.  I am not sure of the proper name for this instrument.  The customer has an antique instrument of this type and wanted to try having a new one made.  He did the inlay work and designed the instrument, and I put it together.  The rim (or side assembly) is made from a piece of Keller drum shell with a thick cherry veneer on the outside, and guitar style kerfed linings.   The soundboard is western red cedar, the back and neck are also cherry, and the fretboard is Rocklite Ebano.  The customer kindly sent me a picture of the new instrument and the old one together.  I was pleasantly surprised by how loud and resonant this instrument was, and I made a short video of it.

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Banjo #139 was my other custom project for February, I left it till last because I knew it would take longest to set up.  A customer who has one of my much earlier banjos, from 2017, asked me if I could make a banjo with a removable resonator, and it took me a few hours to figure out how to make it work.  I had the general idea of attaching a bracket to the dowel stick, but I wanted to make it so that when the resonator and bracket are removed it looks just like a normal open back banjo.  This is what I ended up making, the bracket is made from Douglas fir so it won’t scratch the dowel stick when coming off and on.

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On Friday I set up banjo #140 and resonator guitar #5, which are shown on the Banjos and Guitars pages.  I am hoping to build a C scale banjo in March, and perhaps a Mastertone style bluegrass banjo if time permits along with the 2 custom banjos and a fiddle that are on the calendar.

January banjos and dulcimers

My first job in January was to make a banjo pot and fit it to a neck I had made for someone last year.  He supplied the hardware and I made the rim and put it all together.

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Then came a batch of 5 banjos.  Banjo #134 was a walnut 10″ A scale slot head.

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Banjo #135 was a cherry 12″.  The customer inlaid a bird in the peghead overlay and sent it for me to install on the banjo.

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Banjos #136, 137 and 138 are all stock instruments and are shown on the Banjos page.

Dulcimers #47 and 48 were the last projects in January.  They are both shown on the Dulcimers page, which is found on the Other Instruments page.

February’s work is going to be two banjos, a banjo hybrid, an OM size acoustic guitar and a squareneck resonator guitar.

December instruments

December started off with two 12″ walnut in-stock banjos, 130 and 131.  131 is shown on the Banjos page, 130 doesn’t appear there because a customer asked for first refusal on my next walnut 12″, so I made two and posted the one he didn’t buy.

My next project was a rim and neck to be shipped incomplete, so the customer could do the inlay, fretting, finishing, and such.  This was my first time working on a banjo that is open back but has a flathead tone ring like a bluegrass banjo.  Here is a picture of what it looked like when I sent it out.

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Then came banjo #132, which had two firsts for me.  One was the black stained pot, I asked for advice on Banjo Hangout and used Fiebing’s Leather Dye to color the ash rim black.  It is very easy stuff to work with and the Tru Oil finish went on over it easily.  The second first was aging the brass hardware.  The customer read online about how to use coffee grounds to age brass, and sent me a link about it.  I followed the directions but it didn’t have any effect on the test pieces of brass, other than to make them smell faintly like coffee.  Then the customer ordered a bottle of brass ager and had it sent to me, and that aged the brass very thoroughly in 2 minutes of soaking.  It was an interesting banjo to work on, and I got to learn two useful new skills, so that was nice.

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Banjo #133 is a slot head, shown on the Banjos page.

My last projects for December didn’t get completed till a few days into January.  Guitar #8 is my first in stock parlor guitar and my first experiment with a new-to-me kind of neck stripe, and fiddle #24 is my first curly maple chicken head fiddle.  They are shown on the Guitars and Fiddles pages, respectively.

My January 2020 projects include 5 banjos that I am working on now, and I hope to have time to squeeze in a dulcimer or two, as I am now out of stock of them.