Picture of Cookie Tin Banjo Part 4: Bed Post Banjo
Here's a great sounding banjo you can build in a few hours.
It's a lot lighter and a little quieter than a regular banjo.
It's based on the traditional folk instruments seen in "Foxfire Volume Three".
I had an ornate poplar bedpost handy so I made a neck out of that.

We've already got the hard part done.
We've already made a peg hole reamer in Part 1,
A peg shaver in Part 2, and
made our tuning pegs in part 3.
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Step 1: Lumber Jack Operations

Picture of Lumber Jack Operations
I scavenged these bed parts from a burn pile.
Each post is almost a banjo neck already! Looks like I'll be making four banjos.
They're poplar which isn't a hardwood, but it turned out fine.
I thought maybe the tuning pegs would get loose, but it hasn't been a problem yet.

Look in every dumpster you pass, just like Errol Flynn would. (source: "my wicked wicked ways", his autobiography) Banjo Necks galore! There it is lined up next to my commercial model. Walking down the hall - Free Banjo Necks! At this rate I'll be set for life!

Step 2: Make the Initial Incision

Picture of Make the Initial Incision
Get a copy of Foxfire Volume 3 from your local public library.
It's got all the dimensions and a bunch of nice stories about mountaineers and their banjos.
Then start cutting wood. It doesn't have to be perfect, and your friends will be demanding banjos as soon as they see this one, so you better get it done and strung so you can start the next one.

I'm using a Japanese pullsaw. It's really thin and sharp, so it cuts like the dickens.
You won't use your power saw much if you have one of these.
I got this one in Japan for ten bucks or so. Good tools are cheap in Japan.

Step 3: Or if You'd Rather be More Methodical

Picture of Or if You'd Rather be More Methodical
Draw top and side views of the banjo neck on your wood and then saw around the lines.
I laid my banjo face down on the stock and traced it. OOPS! I made a left-handed banjo.
ziret7 years ago
Do you mean someone like you can't figure out a way to make the fret wire out of--well I can't think of what, but something laying around the garage or a dumpster? These are fantastic, and I like your scavenging ethic.
yoyology ziret2 years ago
I had the same concern when building my first ukulele with no fretwire available. My solution was 18ga copper wire wrapped around a separate fretboard, which I then glued to the neck.

Click for details.
yeah, I've been thinking about alternative fretting methods myself. I found a pdf version of an instruction manual for a cheap ukulele kit that specified toothpicks with one side flattened as the frets. Also, I've heard using epoxy to glue any available wire into small slots cut into the fretboard. something i was thinking about doing that i haven't heard of anywhere else is cutting small notches at the edges of the fretboard and wrapping a piece of wire all the way around the neck. Then you could just twist the wire until its really tight, cut the excess, and bend the twist flush with the neck. Also, i was surprised to find the music store near my house carries fret wire. I'm living in St Petersburg, Russia right now and i guess there are more homebrew luthiers out here, but you might be surprised what they have near you.
jtobako ziret7 years ago
I've seen frets made of nails held on by rubber bands, and used toothpicks and glue. And I understand why you would wait for fret wire...
Ezza jtobako7 years ago
Another way is to find some nice thickish wire, maybe brass, and to cut little channels or gouges in the fret board that are deep enough so that when you glue the wire into the gouges, only like half of the wire sticks up form the fretboard.
Unless you use gut strings, brass might be a little soft for frets - you'd be replacing them constantly...

Another homemade banjo made from found materials, his frets were made from windshield washer blades and he has a nice tensioning system for tightening and loosening the skin head, which is not tacked on like the heads on a hand drum. I suppose you could adapt a drum tensioning system to the banjo, since the pot is really a drum head.
TechDante3 years ago
i have some questions:

1: if i use real banjo strings will i need to put in a reinforcing rod under teh fret board (like most guitar strings),

2: i have seen some cookie tin banjos with a threaded rod insided instead of an extention of teh timber, is this a better way to go or will that just add more work for me.

excelent ible, very informative it is now in my favorites
SinAmos3 years ago
I'm in love!
Leon Close4 years ago
Built one! Everyone seems to have those tins of Danish butter cookies at this time of year. The neck and pegs are red mahogany, the bridge is gidgee and the nut is a bit of a galvanised nail with filed notches. I have it strung with stainless steel wire for fishing leaders. It's surprisingly loud but the 4th string seems to buzz a bit. Any ideas what's going on there?
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cani066 years ago
how would fret The banjo, where would you put the frets
This may seem like a stupid question, but do you think it would be possible to make a banjo from a tambourine? Put a coated head on it or something, take out the jingles (?). You may not read this, its just me thinking on the keyboard.
Absolutely - a friend of mine made one. He put small springs on the jingles to keep them closed, but would jingle when the body was slapped. A really cool "toy"!
Hi, I had a business selling Celtic musical instruments, including these 8" diameter mini-bodhrans. We sold a number of them to people building banjos as they had a skin head and were round with wooden bodies. Being a natural skin (as the old banjos were), you would need to tune them depending upon the weather. If they got loose in humid weather, you needed to tighten the head with heat (incandescent bulbs worked a treat) or setting near a campfire) and loosen them with water in dry weather. This is not a problem with the tin banjo. I might have a few mini-bodhrans left and if you are interested contact me and I will check, or you can find them on ebay. In any case, I'll keep one for myself and give this a try.
With the wooden body (rim), you could eliminate the tail piece and use small nails or screws affixed to the body to attach the ends of the strings.

This video of a man palying a banjo he made from a hand drum showed up as a choice for further viewing after I finished watching Tim's video of the cookie tin banjo being palyed by himself.
I forgot to mention in my earlier post that some early banjos did have jingles in the body just like a tambourine..
TimAnderson (author)  Thunderexpress7 years ago
It's a good idea, you can buy one like that, called a "banjo tam" with or without jingles.
Amazing. I love banjos... :-) Do you play one?
TimAnderson (author)  drinkmorecoffee7 years ago
Everyone plays banjo! Humans are born with it! Just strum the open strings. That's a G chord. All the other major chords are one finger straight across. Now you know 300 songs! "Banjo" is the sound the banjo makes. When you're saying the word, that's a banjo song!
Thanks, Tim,. for another great instructable. The great thing about banjos is that they can be found in many different guises and tunings: Tenor Banjo (aka Tango banjo), 4 strings, is tuned CG (below Middle C) DA (above middle C), Irish musicians tune them like a mandolin (using only 4 strings) Originally, the 5 string banjo only had 4 strings, the 5th string was supposedly added by Joe Sweeny about the time of the US War Between the States Banjoline (8 strings) tuned like a mandolin N.B. The Tenor Guitar was developed to allow the tenor banjo players in jazz bands to get the guitar sound when the guitar sound replaced the banjo in bands Banjolele aka banjo ukelele (played by British Music Hall Stars George Formby, jr, & Tessie O'Shea) tuned like a uke Guitar Banjo either 6 strings tuned like a guitar or 4 strings tuned like the top 4 guitar strings. Nylon strings give it the old timey sound, replacing gut. Pete Seeger in his greet banjo book "How to Play the 5 String banjo," suggests using nylon fishing line and gives the thickness of line necessary for each string. I knew that the 5 string banjo played an open G chord, but I never put it together that you could play different chords by barring the neck, which is also possible with tenor banjo chords and you could use a slide to do the barring and save your fingers. If you know 3 chords, I, IV, V or V7, you can play just about any song in the world, add the relevant minor chords and you are really all set. Pete Seeger believed that you could get by with fewer chords and he explains how in his book. As an aside, a skin headed stringed instrument was found in an ancient Egyptian tune, so it's ancestry goes back a long way.
LOL. I guess so. I was asking more along the lines of a traditional style. I have taken some traditional claw-hammer style lessons up here in the mountains, where it's been around for hundreds of years. I love banjos. :-)
DrStoooopid7 years ago
but how does it sound? Any chance of a sound clip?
AT7 years ago
Nice Instructable. It is missing but one thing! How about some audio so we can hear the melodious tones from these marvelous works. P.S. I'm left handed so having a left handed banjo wouldn't be an issue.
hugoestr AT7 years ago
I am left handed too. I half way this project, which is a left-handed banjo. Tim's instructions and key comments have been a total inspiration. When I am done, I will post a picture of it.
Here it is in his first iteration:

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Now I am going to start working on modifying it :)
Hmm, dyslexia strikes again source. Okay, here it is again. I started it on Saturday evening, after getting the foxfire book from the library.
AT hugoestr7 years ago
That look great! How about some video or audio of some good ol' pluckin'!
tmd93147 years ago
I am currently building an elctric banjo/guitar based off of this ill post pics when done
Wade Tarzia7 years ago
Has anyone ever seen Eric Royer's "guitar machine"? He's an old friend of mine who invented a wonderful contraption. I think he plays a banjo with his hands while be plays the guitar with his feet, or is it the other way around? He used to set up on the streets and subways of Boston, and now sells CD and goes to festivals. Instructables folk would love his contraption!
enamresu7 years ago
why not dispense with frets altogether - put a flat steel or brass brass fingerboard a sarod.
dsi17 years ago
Neat project! Some lutes will use frets of nylon monofiliment tied to the fretboard and neck - this has the advantage of adjusting the intonation. You may want to try this to help with the fret positions.
gmoon7 years ago
The bed post banjo is **excellent**! I hope you don't mind, but I'm adding an image of a firefox-inspired banjo I made years ago. The resonator is drum head, stretched on a collar made from galvanized heater pipe. Fret were stolen from an trashed classical guitar. Can't find the bridge, but it's around here somewhere. Sure could have used your tuning peg reamer and shaver! You've inspired me to revisit this, and make it playable again.
TimAnderson (author)  gmoon7 years ago
Fabulous! Hey - that piano seems to have some extra parts - maybe make another banjo?
hehe, somehow I don't think the wife would approve...
Well done, Tim! Loved the series! Pretty darn awesome product, too.
Pyrowuzzup7 years ago
im fidning these banjos fascinating despite the fact that i cant play a single instrument. maybe ill pick up the banjo as soon as i make one
bumpus7 years ago
dude that is the coolest thing, you are mad talented, only one much?