February banjos

February was a busy month in the shop, and I was able to get quite a lot of time in the shop to get it all done. My first completed project was banjo #193, an ash 12″ with a kind of archtop tone ring system consisting of an 11″ brass ring mounted in a rabbet on the inside wall of the rim and the head touching the rim itself at the outer edge. I shipped the banjo set up but with the wood unfinished.

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The person who ordered this banjo ebonized the ash and did some inlay work. He kindly sent me some pictures of how it looked afterward, and a link to a video he made about it.

My next project was a new neck for a vintage pot. This was the most inlay I have ever installed, and while I was fairly happy with how the fretboard came out the peghead was less successful and required a lot of filler. I had never tried before to inlay a large piece like this, flexible at the joints but composed of stiff pieces. This project enabled me to add a new template to my assortment, traced from a picture of an old Orpheum No. 1 banjo. This neck was also shipped unfinished so that the buyer could stain the curly maple to match the pot. I am not able to stain (except black) because I’m colorblind and can’t tell what I’m doing.

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My last custom job for February was banjo #194, a walnut 11″ with a removable center mounted resonator like the one I made last year. This is the first time I’ve used these very small dots (that I often used as side dots) on the fretboard face.

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Banjos #195-#200 are all shown on the Banjos page. My plan for March is to make two custom banjos and two necks, and three stock banjos: a cherry 11″, a walnut 11″ and an ash 12″. If time permits I am also hoping to make a mahogany squareneck resonator guitar to replace the cherry one that was sold last month.

January banjos and a nameless oddity

January was a busy month in the shop, and I was able to get more time than usual away from my ‘day job’. The first banjo completed was #186, a 12″ walnut banjo pretty similar to #180 but with a streaky ebony fretboard.

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Next came #187, a mahogany 12″ with a 1/4″ brass tone hoop and Dobson heel.

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#188 was a cherry A scale which I had built to be a stock instrument, but someone was looking for an A scale and decided to buy it instead of #182 which I had in stock at the time, so I never listed it on the Banjos page.

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Banjo #189 was a walnut 12″ with spalted maple peghead overlay and a hickory layer on top of the rim, and ball shoes from Balsam Banjo Works.

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#190 was a 12″ walnut banjo with a left handed neck, a Whyte Laydie type tone ring, and a John Balch head.

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Banjos #191 and #192 are both shown on the Banjos page. Also shown on that page is a thing I am currently calling a wood topped banjo, though there are probably other and perhaps better names for this kind of thing. It’s a banjo neck on a banjo-shaped but structurally more guitar-like body.

In February I have two custom banjos and a custom neck to build, and am planning to build 4 stock banjos if I have time, as I am currently running a bit low. I think there will be another pair of 12″ walnut banjos with and without a metal tone ring, and an 11″ walnut slot head, and a cherry A scale, but my plan may change depending how things go.

December banjos and an archtop guitar

I am three weeks late in posting this update about December, but that’s life sometimes. I started off the month with a batch of 5 banjos. #181 was the only custom build, a Boucher-styled design with some more modern elements. This was also my first foray into making hooks and shoes, which were fun to experiment with. The customer wanted to use wing nuts, as they are canonical for this banjo style, and I wanted to use heavier brass for the hooks since there were only to be 8 to tension a 12″ Renaissance head. The hooks ended up being 3/16″ brass rod which I was able to anneal and bend fairly easily, if not always neatly, and which I then threaded with a 10-32 die. The shoes I cut out on the bandsaw and drilled on the drill press and the Shopsmith, and then sanded to their final shape. I thought about trying to refine the shape so they were more graceful but doubted my ability to make them consistent. This banjo has cherry flush frets and a truss rod that is under a layer of cherry on the bottom of the ebony fretboard. The customer applied a stain and oil finish to the banjo and did a very nice job of it, and was kind enough to send me pictures and let me include them in this post. The pale pictures are what it looked like before shipping.

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Banjos 182 through 185 were stock banjos and are shown on the Banjos page. My last project of the year during the Christmas break was to make another archtop guitar to replace my first one which was sold last spring. This guitar is shown on the Guitars page and is the reason why I am so late in posting this. I spent a few days working on the finish and didn’t get the guitar set up till the 8th of January, and then I found that the cheap tuners I had bought a couple of years ago on eBay were not good, and the knobs rattled when the D string was played. I ordered a set of Gotoh tuners that looked identical from Stew-Mac, but the mail has been overwhelmed lately and the tuners got delayed, and were not delivered till a couple of days ago. I have been working on a batch of 7 banjos which are getting their finish applied today, and while the 4th coat was drying I had time to get the tuners swapped out, make a quick video and get the guitar up on the website.

The 7 banjos will all be set up by the end of the month, and I’ll be making more banjos in February, and possibly a fiddle if I get caught up enough. I’ll plan to post the next monthly report in a more timely way, in 9 or 10 days from now.

November banjos, dulcimers and a fiddle

My first project in November was a pair of cherry dulcimers. #50 is shown on the Dulcimers page at the regular price and #51 is a second, due to the neck being slightly off center on the sound box. This does not affect the playability, it is just a cosmetic flaw. #51 is available for $100 plus shipping, a discount of $50.

Fiddle #26 is a cherry fiddle with a scroll, made to order. It’s not customized in any way, but it’s a model I have not had in stock for a while.

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I had two custom banjos to build. #176 is a curly maple tenor banjo with ukulele strings, I think possibly it is the size of a baritone or tenor uke but I am not sure which, as I am not familiar with the ukulele world.

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#177 is a 12″ walnut banjo with a one piece neck and a Balsam Banjo Works 3 ply rim, and aged hardware. As of the time of this writing it has been in the mail for 10 days and seems to be stuck in limbo, but I am still hoping it will be delivered in the end, and if not the shipment is insured so it will be okay.

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I also made a custom unfinished maple fretless neck in November, it too is currently lost in the mail system somewhere. It’s been a tough time for the carriers with the high mail volume and the pandemic, so I hoping they are just delayed and not permanently lost.

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Banjo #178 was a stock walnut A scale, but it was spoken for before it was completed and thus does not appear on the Banjos page.

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Banjos 179 and 180 are stock, shown on the Banjos page.

I have decided it’s time to offer a 25% discount on Guitar #4 which was made in 2017 and is still unsold. It is shown on the Guitars page, and I’ll put in some current photos here. It is slightly more primitive than the guitars I make now, especially the binding, which has several visible flaws, but it plays well and sounds nice. The original price was $600 and I am now offering it for $450.

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December’s project list comprises one custom banjo, four stock banjos including a cello banjo, and an archtop guitar that I hope to make over the Christmas break when I have more free time in the shop.

October banjos and a dulcimer

October was a 6 banjo month with had three stock banjos and three custom banjos to build. #170 was an 11″ curly maple banjo with a Silver Bell tone ring from Bill Rickard. The customer asked for aged hardware, and to have the banjo sent unfinished so he could do that part himself.

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Banjo #171 was another curly maple with aged brass hardware, but this time in the 12″ size, with a fancier peghead, a wood tine ring profile and a John Balch stained head.

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#172 was a walnut 12″ with nickel hardware and pearl dots, and a brass hoop tone ring.

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Banjos 173 through 175 are stock banjos, shown on the Banjos page. I am very pleased to have finally gotten a bluegrass banjo built with the hardware I bought from Eric Sullivan in the spring, it was a fun change from always building open backs.

Dulcimer #49 was my last project for the month. I’ve only had one dulcimer left in stock for a few months and with the holidays approaching I thought it was time to make another cherry dulcimer, and I had enough extra time to get it made before finishing day, since the blanks were all cut out for the parts, waiting on the shelf since last winter.

November looks like it will include two custom banjos, one or two necks, a fiddle and three stock banjos. I’ll miss the whole of Election Day when I’m going to work at the polls from early till late, but otherwise I should be able to spend a lot of time in the shop now that fall is really closing in and the outside work is mostly done for the year.

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

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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.