Introduction: Home Made 5 String Banjo, Low Budget Built From Parts and Some Scrap.

Picture of Home Made 5 String Banjo, Low Budget Built From Parts and  Some Scrap.

This project was to build my own 5 string banjo on as low a budget as possible, yet still making something that looks good and sounds nice.

I have recently taken up the Ukulele after over 20 years of struggling to learn guitar and failing because I have short fingers and a couple of injuries that don't help either, I found the Uke was so easy to play due to the narrow neck.

I then started to wonder if the narrow neck on a banjo would be also as easy to play.

I was looking on e-bay one weekend and saw a complete 5 string banjo up for auction and i bid £20 and won.  I then started to look for the other bits and found a bridge for a few quid and 3 sets of strings for £5.  that left only the pot and skin.

I had managed to find a download of the Fox Fire books and they have a wonderful section on making your own banjo.

the pot was going to be the problem, I studied the books and though that my skills with wood are not just up to speed yet to try and make a pot.

Last week I was at the dentist and on my way back stopped in at a little old music shop that is an Aladdin's cave of cool stuff. I got a nice calfskin hide tambourine (with jingles) for £15 and the shop keeper said "your doing what?!" when i told him i was going to use it for a banjo pot.  After i explained what i was doing he even pulled out a nice chrome tailpiece that would do my job.

I at last had all the bits I needed to start my build.

I have never done anything like this before so I just used engineering skills rather than wood working skills so if it looks odd to some of you banjo guys I just didn't know any different I just did what seemed logical.

I think it turned out nice.. again pardon the pun.  It sounds great, has a nice tone and is quite loud.

The full project cost me £44 but the fun of building it was simply priceless.

I am just amazed how well it turned out, I honestly could not bring myself to part with this banjo as it sounds so nice and I can say that I put it together myself.

I was in a junk yard yesterday and I got an old chrome hubcap from a caravan that I plan to build a tenor or baritone ukulele banjo with, you just cant stop building instruments once you start.

I will post a video or sound clip once i can play a bit better.

Thanks for looking,

Andy.

Step 1: The Parts.

Picture of The Parts.

The parts took me a few weeks to gather up, I wanted to do the best job i could so i did not rush this project.

I did a rough assembly with the bits and was happy with what it should hopefully look like.

Step 2: Preparing the Neck.

Picture of Preparing the Neck.

I want ed to make a bolt on neck so if the banjo sounded bad I could try a again with some different pot.

For this I used 6mm Lag bolts, I got them in a local hardware store.

I marked and drilled the neck and used beeswax on the screw threads to make things go in smoother.  i locked 2 nuts on the machine threads so i could thighten the lag bolts into the neck.

A well padded clam was used on the neck when I was tightening the bolts in just in case it wanted to split.

Step 3: The Pot.

Picture of The Pot.

First thing I did was to remove the jingles, I just needed to grip the pin they are on with a pair of pliers and pull them out enough to slip the jingle off, I then knocked them back down so there was no holes left, this give the slots a nice look with the pins in place.

Once all the jingles where removed I then marked where the holes would be drilled in  the pot to secure the neck

Step 4: Mounting the Tail Piece.

Picture of Mounting the Tail Piece.


The tacks around the pot would not allow the tailpiece to fit nice and snug without a small block of wood to lift it clear of the tacks.

I had some seasoned beech that had grown at my house and wanted to use that. but when it came to putting the bolt in it split, I guess its just not hard enough, so I remade the piece again this time using mahogany.

The mahogany block was longer to give me room to add second bolt.

I drilled 5 1.5mm holes in the tailpiece as it was originally for a mandolin and was made to take loop end strings. the holes where then countersunk to remove any sharp edges.

Step 5: Bolt It Together and Add the Dridge and Strings.

Picture of Bolt It Together and Add the Dridge and Strings.

Once I had the neck pot and tailpiece I just had to screw it together to see what it looked a felt like.

This of course lead to me adding the strings to it had any potential for sound.

After a bit of fiddling about i had it strung and found that the bridge was only 2mm out for position. it sounded great but I knew that the pot would distort if i did not have a tension rod to take the pressure of the strings.  So i had to slack of the tension and went to have something to eat and have a ponder on what to use for a tension rod.

Step 6: The Tension Rod, Well Its a Tube in This Case.

Picture of The Tension Rod, Well Its a Tube in This Case.

I had though of making a bracket an to hold a wooden stay in place, but then I'm not all that good with wood so I opted for metal.

I took a wander though my sheds and came back with a piece of steel tube from an ironing board frames I had pulled out of the skip at the hardware store I had worked in.

I brazed a 6mm nut to a repair washer and then brazed the washer to the end of the tube with the nut inside.  I used a mapp gas torch to do the brazing which its ideal for light stuff. I repeated the process for the other end of the pipe. I then  sprayed the pipe with silver enamel paint and once it was dry I was ready to add the tension rod/tube to the pot.

I had to make the tube shorter that the inside diameter of the pot to allow me to get it fitted, once fitter the gap would be packed out with washers and bolt would be fitted through the tailpiece and pot into the tube to make it secure.

Step 7: Attaching the Tension Tube.

Picture of Attaching the Tension Tube.

I had to make the tube sightly shorter than the inner diameter of the pot, I would pack this gap out with washers.

In order to allow the  tube to be fitted.

Once I had the tube fitted and screwed up tight, I then was able to see where I needed to drill the hole in the tailpiece.

Washers where used to pack out the space at the end of the tube.

Step 8: Final Tweaks.

Picture of Final Tweaks.


I was getting some string buzz on the 1st fret so I decided to raise the nut and lower the bridge to sort this out .

What I actually did was to lower the bridge and file the fist fret down a bit as it was very high compared to the rest of the frets.

I opted for shear laziness and used light weight card to lift the strings up the fraction of a mm they needed, so day i will make a proper job of this.

Comments

jeff.dumas.9 (author)2015-03-08

Very nice job! Great idea, using a tambourine.

Water Child (author)2010-11-05

what does it sound like?

Dr Qui (author)Water Child2012-10-26

ill try and get a recording of it, i don't play it at all really the neck is to long and aggravates a shoulder injury i have if you spent to much time playing and the steel stings are seriously hard on the fingers, the guy who sold the neck recommended nylon strings but i had already the steel ones ordered before we started communicating on the subject of building. I like the sound as it has that slightly odd twangy sound that you hear on some of the Primus songs that feature Banjo's and my favorite band is Primus and anything with Les Claypool so i was chuffed to bits

Dr Qui (author)Water Child2010-12-02

Quite nice actually, the hide skin gives a much milder tone than a plastic head

jt30799 (author)2012-10-24

can the head be from a guitar?

Dr Qui (author)jt307992012-10-26

Im sure it could, i have see some where people had shaved the neck down but that could be time consuming, you could make a 6 string guitar/banjo which would probably sound quite interesting, I must look out for a busted 3/4 size acoustic guitar now as that idea sound both fun yet stupid.

I bought this neck on ebay for £20 it came complete with the frets head and tuning pegs all fitted.

If you are a torrent downloader look for a set of books called foxfire, five books all containing pioneer skills every thing from mining iron ore to smelting to building a musket from the iron you just mined, on book has a section on banjos and dulcimers, a great read if you can find them.

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