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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

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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

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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.

http://stuartmasontradition.com

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.

Details

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

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The cats are beginning to feel at home….DSCN0183