Archive for the ‘banjo builds’ Category

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

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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.

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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.

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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!)



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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.

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all set up and ready to play

I was able to deliver the banjo to the new owner on Wednesday night! My thanks to James Moore for helping me get the set up right, and my thanks to Roz for trusting me to make an instrument for her. I have included pictures of the finished banjo sent to me from the new owner and included some sound files of James playing it in the workshop. Again, take into consideration that it is recorded right into the built-in mic on the ibook so you get the ambient sound.

Roz’z Banjo (by James Moore) Off to California

_Roz’z Banjo song 2 (by James Moore)

don’t know the name of this song.

_Roz’z Banjo 3 (by James Moore) _Morning Dew_

the quilted maple is some nice wood.

I really like Will Fielding's elegant tailpiece and have used several of them on my banjos, but I made this one based on his design but longer to apply more downward pressure on the bridge.

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The Celtic knot banjo is all assembled and ready for a bridge and strings and final adjustments. I thought I would show my neck attachment system to anyone who might be interested. I wanted a little more security and found a good site on neck attachments from Taylor guitars that was quite in depth and I applied some similar hardware. I still want my necks and attachments to be primarily wood, but I think adding a brass set screw was worth it, I am extremely happy with how  the neck is locks in place!

This is the basic set up, threaded wooden dowel and brass set screw with insert in the base of the heel.

In the past I used the threaded dowel and then an indexing pin in the heel. The set screw performs the same function as an index pin and adds additional force to the mating of the neck to the pot. I imagine if necessary it could be used in making slight adjustments to the neck angle.

This is how the dowel stick looks threaded onto the wooden stud.

I am going to use this  combination for any future banjos.

So here are a couple of picture of the banjo assembled

Ready for strings!


I will get some sound files up as soon as I can. thanks for dropping by.

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I finished inlaying and fretting the fingerboard and glued it to the neck blank. I felt I executed the design pretty capably. I ordered a book on inlaying and there was some great information in it that made the job much easier. Due to the delicacy of the design, I was tempted to have the inlays made for me by DePaule Supply, but I decided to try and cut them out myself. I want to try and do as much of the work as I can on each piece and thought it was at least worth a try, and I think they came out quite nice.

Triskele and personalized with initials on the peghead


I hogged out a bunch of wood to rough shape the neck but you can now get an idea of how it will look. Here are a couple of shots of the roughed out neck and the pot together….starting to look very banjo-like……

triskeles on the fingerboard side

celtic knots on the rear peghead and heel cap.

I should be able to complete the finish shaping of the neck tomorrow. The dowel stick is finished and it’s second coat of oil is drying. I will go over the pot one more time and then start oiling it tomorrow as well. This banjo is getting real close.
I also laminated the neck of a banjo for another customer today, this project is a solid cocobolo banjo, very spare and clean design.

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Put the first Celtic knot on the heel cap today.

one more to do for the peghead.

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I finished carving the dowel stick and put on a brass ferrule, it is ready for the first coat of oil.

carved and smoothed to the final dimensions.

One tip I learned is to use a razor blade like a card scraper for delicate smoothing. (Thanks to Frank Ford of Gryphon Music for that tip).

dowel with razor blade "card scraper", simple and cheap.

The neck is starting to take it’s final shaping. I use this simple jig to check alignment and to keep everything straight when putting the neck and dowel stick together.

aligning the neck to the pot

The first inlay work is done and the fret slots are cut in the fingerboard. The triskeles at the 3rd, 5th and 10th.

fretted and inlaid fingerboard

I finished the peghead shaping and I really like the shape the customer wanted and I am going to offer it as an option. I will get some pics up soon as I start the final shaping of the neck.

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