May banjos

This May was not one of my more productive months in the workshop, but sometimes that’s how it goes.  My first project was banjo #113, a custom walnut short scale with a WL/Electric type tone ring.


My other completed project was banjo #114, which was a custom curly maple A scale with hickory accents and the same kind of tone ring.


I spent the last 10 days of May working on a banjo neck and starting a guitar, both of which will appear in the June update after they are done.  I had hoped to get the neck done in May before starting the guitar but I caught a cold and lost some time.

April instruments

I am very late writing this update, but I can still remember a lot of what happened in April.   My first project was banjo #111, which is another walnut C scale and can be seen on the Banjos page.

I made two squareneck resonator guitars back in 2014 or so, and the second one sold last summer.  I had been meaning to make another one for a while and I finally got it done in April.  This is my first walnut resonator and my first bound headstock.  It’s shown on the Guitars page.  I made a primitive go-bar press while I was building this resonator and used it for several of the steps, and I am very pleased with how much easier it makes the clamping of large assemblies.  I didn’t think to take any pictures of it in use but I’ll take one next time I use it.

I made two necks in April, the first was an asymmetrical slothead design.


The second neck was a shorter scale length for a uniquely designed mountain banjo pot and was supplied unfinished.


My last project completed in April was a walnut custom banjo (#112) with a fatter neck and a few other alterations from what I  normally build.


March instruments

My first jobs in March were continued from the last part of February.  I made a mountain dulcimer (#45) and a banjo (#108) from the gym floor wood, for the customer who brought the wood.  The dulcimer is a bit of a departure for me as it is the first I have made with a sloped headstock and vertical tuners and a separate fretboard.  The banjo is a slightly modified version of the Bluestem Mountain Banjo Nouveau plan which was designed and made available online by Randy Cordle, who goes by Rudy on Banjo Hangout.  This was my first mountain banjo of any kind.  Both instruments were shipped unfinished but set up.


My next job was to make a new neck for a banjo I built a year ago.  The customer decided he wanted a slightly longer scale length, two more frets and a more central bridge location.  He sent the pot back to me to be fitted with the new neck.


Next came banjo #109, an ash banjo with hickory trim and persimmon fretboard.  This was another half-fretless.  It’s the first banjo I’ve made in a while to have nickel and aluminum hardware rather than brass.  I have a piece of very curly ash that I cut from for the peghead overlay, and the neck is mildly curly which I didn’t find out till I ran the wood through the planer to clean it up ready for use.



My last job in March was banjo #110, which is similar to #101 except that it is fretless and has a John Balch goat skin head and a paddle peghead with a coin inlaid.


February instruments

My first job in February was making a partially fretless neck to fit a client’s pot.  This was my first time making and setting up a partially fretless neck.  I roughed out a neck and fretboard similar to this a few years ago, but the customer did the final work on that project so I didn’t get to see how it worked out in person.


My next project was to make a neck and rim and send them to a customer partially completed.  He wanted to do the rest of the work himself.


Then came my first octave mandolin.  The customer wanted one with a guitar shaped body and sent a plan for the shape.  This was a fun project and I was surprised by how nice it sounded, though I don’t know how to play anything in the mandolin family properly.


I also made banjos #105, 106 and 107 during February, they are all shown on the Banjos page.

January instruments

I started off the year with a couple of unusual (for me) custom jobs.  The first was a mandolin made from maple lumber salvaged from an old gym floor which had sentimental significance.  It was supplied unfinished. This was my first time working with Adirondack spruce, and my first time installing a pickguard and binding on a mandolin.


The other custom job for January was my first left handed fiddle, and also my first chicken head fiddle made from walnut.


Banjos 101 through 104 were all in-stock instruments and are shown on the Banjos page. I also made a curly maple dulcimer which is on the Dulcimers page, which is under the Other Instruments page.

December banjos

In December my first project was to build banjo #98 from a walnut board that was supplied by the customer.  It came from a tree that was planted by a neighbor of his and blew down in a storm. PC160004.jpgPC160006.jpg

My next job was to build a replacement for a broken vintage banjo neck.  This also involved salvaging a piece of bone inlay from the old peghead and putting it in the new.


Banjos #99 and 100 are stock banjos shown on the Banjos page.  2018 was a very good year in the workshop.  I built 40 banjos this year, more than ever before, along with a few necks and other parts, three fiddles, a resonator guitar, an acoustic guitar, a dulcimer and a couple of experimental bass projects.  I’m looking forward to seeing how 2019 goes.

November instruments

My first project in November was to build a cello banjo, #92.  It is shown on the Banjos page.  #93 was a custom walnut 10″ C scale banjo with an extra-thin D shaped neck.  I used a low profile truss rod to get an 18mm neck depth along the full length.  This banjo also has pearl dots instead of brass.


I also made a custom walnut 5 string neck with hickory trim for an old Vega pot:


I made another dulcimer since I have been out of stock of them for a few months, it’s shown on the Other Instruments page, on the Dulcimers page.

Banjos 94 through 97 are all stock instruments, shown on the Banjos page.  Doing custom work provides more variety but stock instruments are nice to make because I don’t have to figure out new measurements before I build them.   Also during November I got back banjo #62 and the chicken-head fiddle I had made for the exhibit at TAUNY last January.  Someone who had seen the exhibit came down to look at the banjo once the exhibit was over, and he ended up buying the other ash banjo I had in stock at the time.  Banjo #62 has a link on its page to a NCPR story with some high quality audio of the banjo being played by a very skilled musician.  The chicken head fiddle can be found on the Fiddles page now that it is available.

October banjos

Banjo #85 was a left handed cherry C scale that I began in late September for a customer and got it done in early October.





My next scheduled project was to make a mahogany neck to fit a vintage pot.


Then came #86, a walnut 12″ with Whyte Laydie type tone ring.  This was a stock banjo that was spoken for before I made it, so it didn’t end up on the Banjos page.


Banjo #87 is a cherry 12″ with a round brass tone hoop, and is my first time using pau ferro for a fretboard.  I really like how it looks, and it seems nice and hard.


Banjo #s 88 to 91 were all made in a batch, along with #87, and they all appear on the Banjos page.  I had not tried making a batch this size before and I think it did provide some extra efficiency in setting up machines and jigs, and getting tools out and putting them away, but I also had to be careful to keep track of which parts were for what banjo so they didn’t get mixed up.  I will be building a cello banjo soon to have in stock, and I have two banjos and a neck scheduled for custom builds in November.  I also hope to get a couple of dulcimers made soon, and perhaps another squareneck resonator guitar.



Summer banjos and such

I had been meaning to continue with monthly reports showing what I’ve been doing in the shop, but over the summer I let myself fall behind.  I’ll get back to doing things in a more timely way now that fall is here.

In June I started by building a custom fiddle with walnut ribs and neck and a curly maple back.


Then I made a neck and pot for someone who was building a tenor banjo and wanted the parts partially done so he could apply the finishing touches:


And a rim for another customer:


Early in July I completed banjo #79, one of my regular 12″ walnut banjos, shown on the Banjos page.

In mid-July I finished #80, an internal resonator walnut banjo similar to #66 that was made for the BHO giveaway.  This banjo has a John Balch goatskin head.  I had heard a lot of good things about Mr. Balch and his work and the head was even nicer than I had expected.


Later in July I made this washtub bass for a customer, based on the information on Dennis Havlena’s web page.  The customer wanted flush frets, so I used jatoba inserts on an ash fingerboard.  Most of the rest of the wood was cherry.  The height-adjustable toilet plunger foot was also an idea of the customer’s.


In August I made two C scale banjos for people who had meant to buy the last stock one I had made.  #81 is mahogany and #82 is walnut.


#82 is set up with nylgut minstrel banjo strings and tuned in open G.  The customer sent the strings to be put on it and I was surprised by how well they worked on such a short scale banjo.

The rim I had made for a customer in June evolved into banjo #83, supplied unfinished.  I didn’t get it done till early September.


Banjo #84 is a cherry A scale with a 12″ pot.  This was my first time using Rocklite Sundari which is made to look like rosewood, it’s the fretboard and rim cap on this banjo.  I like how it works and looks and will continue to use it.


In mid-September my other project was to make a marimbula, which was a thing I hadn’t heard of till the customer asked about it.  This was made for the same folks who commissioned the washtub bass and several other instruments over the last year and a half.  I’ve had a lot of fun working for them and getting to try out new things.


Right now I am working on a left handed custom banjo and a stock 12″ walnut banjo which I hope to have done in the next ten days or so, along with a few sundry parts for other folks.  I will post a shorter update sooner next time.

Back at it again


I am back in the shop and making banjos (and other things) again.  My trip went well and for anyone who may be interested I’ve posted a trip report on the Adirondack Forum at the link below:

Here’s a link to a photo album on Flickr of some of the things I saw along the way:

I’ve got some custom jobs lined up through the end of November, but I’ll also be hoping to get some in-stock banjos made this fall, once I get caught up with things here on the farm.