Gourd banjo.

Stu Mason has a serious case of banjo acquisition syndrome! He is exploring new sounds and techniques and became very interested in a gourd banjo. Stu bought a gourd online that was hollowed out and dried  and modified it including epoxying the inside and staining it. He then brought it to me and we put together a gourd banjo using some information he downloaded from David Menzies. It was an “organic” process and he ended up with an “organic” banjo! I was going to put Peg Hed tuners on it but opted to turn my own. We strung it up,  and the tuners were very hard to use and not at all acceptable for

playing on a stage, so back to the original idea and I installed peg heds. That made a world of difference and still kept with the  look he wanted. Here are some pics of the banjo build (with the shop turned pegs) and a video of Stu trying it out minutes after it was strung up and brought to a tuning of G-D-G-D

ready for strings with shop made friction pegs and a sound hole that directs sound to the player

ready for strings with shop made friction pegs and a sound hole that directs sound to the player

they looked nice but were a bear to use!  back to the peg heds!

they looked nice but were a bear to use! back to the peg heds!

IMG_1549inside  the gourd, looking throughout the sound hole

that sharp peg head looks sort of dangerous

that sharp peg head looks sort of dangerous

Flush Fret Banjo

amber elite head with a dobson tone ring.

amber elite head with a dobson tone ring.

Recently finished a flush fret banjo for Connie Moxness. She gave me a photograph of a flush fret Stewart from the 1890’s that had a sweet peg head and beautiful lines and I did my best to recreate that lovely banjo. We added some modern touches, but she wanted a clean and simple design. I especially liked the peghead shape and plan to incorporate that much more.

original photo from which design was taken

original photo from which design was taken

Connie's banjo

Connie’s banjo

The Flush Fret banjo has a cocbolo fingerboard and the flush frets are ebony. I added a Dobson tone ring (from Bill Rickard) and made my own adjusting tailpiece to be able to create a 15 degree angle over the bridge. All the hardware was aged by Connie.

The banjo is made from local walnut and the veneers and fingerboard are cocobolo. This banjo is made with a laminated walnut rim, which made if very light. It is a G-scale banjo 25.5″ scale, and the neck is two frets shorter to make it easier to play. I also backstrapped the rear peg head veneer.

front peg head with cocobolo veneer

front peg head with cocobolo veneer

rear peg head with backstrap

rear peg head with backstrap


adjustable tailpiece

adjustable tailpiece

_DSC7626I will put up a picture of the owner and sound files soon.

Stu Mason and I recently collaborated on building a fretless, slot head, tack head banjo. I am happy to say, Stu recently recorded a solo album “Tradition” featuring this banjo, and I am really happy with the sound. IMG_0767 IMG_0769 IMG_0818 IMG_0820 IMG_0823 IMG_0830

IMG_0832 IMG_0835

Stu wanted a slot head so he could use guitar tuners which are much finer than normal banjo tuners, and important factor for him, especially when he is on stage. Costs were lowered by purchasing a bodhran on line, which Stu distressed. The Bodhran tension can be adjusted from the inside. I made a simple wedge and block for attaching the neck and custom made the tailpiece as well. We aged all the brass and I added a brass plate on the heel and frailing scoop. I had to close my eyes when Stu “distressed” the neck.


You can listen to this fine album here and also hear the results of our collaboration.

I am pretty excited. I got a recent email from Jim Connolly of Santa Barbara. I made Jim a custom banjo and he just recorded an album called “Broadcasting Live” under the name “Toy Shop Ghost” and featuring his new banjo. Jim is a very interesting character, bassist, composer, piano tuner. His website is http://www.jimconnollymusic.com. Here is a link to sound cloud: https://soundcloud.com/james-connolly-4.

Cocobolo Banjo

Cocobolo Banjo

Over the Mother’s Day weekend we had a great time playing at the Parkfield Bluegrass Festival! It sold out and was the most successful festival to date. The main headliner was Peter Rowan and he was fantastic! The festival has broadened the music venue to make room for groups to venture into old time and Americana numbers. Hopefully that has made it more accessible to a broader audience than strictly hardcore bluegrass.  It was fun and an honor for us to play there again. I have to mention Paul Knight ,who, besides playing outstanding bass for Peter Rowan, provided the most incredible sound ever!

playing our set on Saturday

playing our set on Saturday, R to L, Amber Cross, Stuart Mason, Gary Arcemont and myself.

sometimes they let me loose….

sometimes they let me loose….

It was quite a bit cooler at night this year, and that cut way down on the jamming, everyone was huddling in their camps. The upside was Amber Cross sold a ton of her custom flannel shirts! She sold many CDs and so did Stuart Mason, who also performed with his other group Little Black Train. They put on a hell of a show. As for me, I sold one of my banjos right after this set!  Here is a picture of the happy owner from Santa Barbara

Banjo pickin' Dr. Bob!

Banjo pickin’ Dr. Bob! (cut him some slack for the hat!)



Well, it took longer than I anticipated to finish our new house, but we are done and in and so it’s back to banjos. I had one on order and fortunately the customer was patient (2yrs!) But I am happy to say I finished it up and it is now in the hands of the new owner. Here are some of the details:

The owner wanted a very clean instrument with simple curves. He also wanted dramatic grain, and I had some cocobolo that fit the bill. It is a good tone wood and really adds a lot of power. I trimmed it with ebony for a nice red/black contrast. I made him a very simple “japanese style” peg head and added some simple abalone inlay accents, and deco-style of his initials in the peg head. I like the clean look of inlaid brass. While I was at it, I added a brass overlay to the frailing scoop. The curve of the scoop reflects the simple curve of the pot. Instead of abalone inlays for position markers, I inlaid and dyed maple in a green color. Keeping the clean lines, I opted for a wooden flange instead of brass shoes. Also, I made a very simple curve for the dowel stick. For the tailpiece, I took one of my Fielding’s (which I love) and used it as a pattern and fabricated a longer one to get more of a downward angle on the strings over the bridge (15 degrees). All in all, I am really happy with how this instrument turned out, it has a lot of power, but sounds good when played softly.


We had the stair treads and risers cut and fit today. They are going to look good.




The cats are beginning to feel at home….DSCN0183

Wrapping up.

Wow!  I did not realize how long it has been since posting. All the interior cabinetry  and floors are completed. The fire sprinkler system is completed and alarmed. The electrical and lighting is all completed. We also completed the steel framing and aluminum decking. The front entry is done, and the driveway and all the approaches are repaved. We had a pre-final inspection, and there are only a few things to complete before we can occupy the structure. So here are some pics of all the latest work.

The deck. This was a big thing. All the planning and calculations and hoping we had ordered a sufficient amount of material. We had attached the ledgers prior to stuccoing the exterior. It was like building a big erector set (I may be dating myself there).

steel joists and ledger for 2nd floor

The  framing:

completed deck framing

Once that was done it was off to LA to pick up the decking material. Our choice was called TB-940 safe-t-grid from McNichols Co.  We wanted to minimize maintenance and also needed a minimum weight bearing capacity of 200lbs. per square foot for the second floor deck. Using steel box beams for joists and the aluminum deck we have a capacity of around 1000 lbs. per square foot. The shipping was very expensive so we borrowed a trailer and picked up the decking ourselves.

Aluminum decking strapped down and ready for the long ride home.

All the decking is pre-cut to fit your square footage of deck so there is basically no cut off or waste.

first floor deck

and second floor deck with cross-bracing:

These are the stair treads.

You can now see the reason for the weight bearing capacity, we moved a hot tub onto the upper deck. Once the stairs and guardrails are installed we can get final inspection. Yay!

In the meantime we also completed some other items:

We finished the front entry area by adding a step and using the left over pavers from the patio.

Front steps and pavers and a curved planter in front of the house

We repaved the driveway approach and patched all the cut outs in the driveway.

Approach and curbing.

Don’t mess with a woman and her steamroller!

And here are the completed bamboo floors:

So we are still busy every day with the final steps. There are a million small details that need completing as we go along and we are just a few weeks away from occupancy!

Finish Work

Well, it has been a prodigiously long time since I updated any pictures and much has happened.  Once the plastering was completed and the front door set, we took a little break and spent a month in France! We visited friends and relatives and bicycled all over the Loire Valley and in the south of France. It was fantastic to get away from work although I didn’t know how much we needed a break.  We rode along the Loire river through small villages on the way to Chenonceau and all the stress seemed to melt away. Oh, and did I mention that if you ride every day….then you can eat everything in sight!  Which is pretty much what we did.

Pastry in Chinon…..

Bike trail to Chenonceau

further south

When we returned, it was right back to work on the house. We set all the cabinets in the kitchen, laundry room and bathrooms…

counters, hood and ’52 Wedgewood ready to go.

a larger oven and a dishwasher! (our first)

the bamboo butcher block in progress

laundry room

One thing we have always enjoyed are glass awnings. When I was growing up, many of the art deco buildings in Pasadena had glass awnings with the wired safety glass in them. On my first trip to France I was thrilled to see so many glass awnings and swore if I ever got the chance to build one I would. I was able to find some trick hardware from CR Laurance for a modern awning and we powder coated our roof panel lifting plates and attached them to the wall as anchor points. We had to use 9/16″ safety glass and it was tricky to get it up and in place, but we are really happy with the results.

This is our modern  glass awning. We chose blue glass, which  looks the best with our building.

We also installed all the cabinets in the bathrooms and the fixtures:

Floating cabinets and a vessel sink from China. The sink was a gift from Ariane’s good friend Marie who did a ceramics artist in residency there.

 sink interior

Bathroom with glass shower installed

Ariane and I are now busy laying the floors upstairs.

bamboo floor in closet

Almost finished with the master bedroom Most all of the electrical outlets are functional, all but a few of the lights are installed, and the sound system is working so we can listen to music in each room.

Our fabulous foyer light fixture, the moon of Meepzorp

A wall sconce made by Barry Frantz looks terrific.

We continue to plod along every day, trying to get out of our trailer before Christmas!

We have been so busy, I had to bypass the posting on the plastering process…which is probably ok as it was a long and difficult process. More so for the plasterers, as we were all operating on some bad information and they had to figure a lot of things out as they went. I cannot say how much we appreciate all the good work done by  Felipe Landin and his crew,  Luis and Marcelo, of Mission Plastering. Great work and attention to detail and we highly recommend them.

Marcelo and Luis


Living room

We installed copper backsplashes and then the kitchen cabinets. Pacific Heating of Morro Bay made all the backsplashes. Green Goods of San Luis Obispo made the cabinets and they did an excellent job, excellent quality.

Island cabinets

the tape is where the hood will mount on the backsplash

A few more drawers and doors to set and then the countertops!

And finally some really good news!  Our front door finally arrived and we made quick work of getting it in. Now the house is completely closed, and Felipe will stucco it this week!

building a house requires a daily infusion of red wine!

Milano door installed and ready for the stucco.

The door will look good from the inside

Entry door, and an art piece by Christina McPhee.

We cleaned up the floors upstairs and now you can see what the bathroom is going to look like:

Much of the electrical finish and plumbing has been completed. The utility room is completed and so has the laundry room. So we are left with setting bathroom cabinets and fixtures, stairs, upstairs flooring and  the decks.  Just a brief update, but we are getting it done.