Introduction: Making a Canjo

We recently had a 7th birthday party for my son.  It was originally scheduled to be an outdoor party, but due to northern CA winter weather, we needed a quick, fun indoor activity for the kids to do.

I was inspired when I saw Mark Frauenfelder's ( post on making 2-string guitars and my son thought that the idea was awesome, so we set out to build not one, but 10 of these babies.

I really liked Mark's canjo, but when I went to look for strings and tuning pegs, this turned in to a really expensive project.  Since I was building a bunch of these for 7-year olds, I was less concerned about the sound quality and more concerned about making a cool project on the cheap. 

Here are the parts that I used:
- The neck - 1 piece of 2 x 1 pine - $0.98 - I made my necks about 24" long, but it could be smaller for a different sound.
- Strings - I bought about 19 miles of 24 gauge picture wire for about $6. I tried 18 gauge, but it snapped as I tightened it.  24 gauge can hold about 10 lbs.
- Screws to hold the neck to the can - About $0.03 a piece.  I used a sheet metal screw because I wanted a flat, not tapered head.
- A big washer for additional support - About $0.05 a piece.  It is about 1 1/4" in diameter
- Nuts to hold the strings in place - About $0.01 a piece
- A good size bolt for the bridge at the top - About $0.08 a piece.
- Eye hooks for tuning pegs - About $0.45 a piece.  You'll need two of these if you're making a two string guitar
- A can - This is the most expensive part - these were about $3.00 a pop.  I think that I could have used a plastic bucket, but I don't really know how it would sound.

Total cost per canjo - About $5.00 USD

It was a huge hit with the kids, though a bit more complicated than I thought that it would be for them.  I was thinking that they could have built these on their own, but screwing the neck and tightening the strings was a bit more than they could handle.

Step 1: Make the Necks

I cut the necks to 24 inches.  Like I said, you could probably make them shorter or longer, but for 7 year olds, it seemed to work.

Once I cut them, I drew a line a few inches from the top which is where the bridge would go and then drew a line about half way between that as a place to drill out the eye bolt / tuning pegs.

Finally, I drilled a hole in the center of the bottom of the piece where the can will be connected to neck.

Step 2: 3 Holes

I didn't grab a photo of this because I thought that it would be kind of obvious, but you need to put three holes in your can. 

I did discover that the closer to the center of the can, the more stable the neck.  Also, I'd recommend putting one hole in the center of the neck, then attaching the neck and then punching the two holes for the strings.

I was eyeballing it a bit and on some occasions, I had the strings rising too much towards the can and little kids couldn't push them down.  Not the end of the world.

Step 3: Strings & Bridge

Once your neck is attached, it's time to string this hammer of the gods.

First, I hot glued the bolt that we used for the bridge.  Let it sit for a few minutes for the glue to dry then string it up.

Second, get a piece of wire and make it about 6" longer than your neck.  Run about 3" of wire through your nut a couple of times and then twist it off like a real guitar string.  Be careful not to poke out your eyes and be sure, if you don't have quasi-tough thumbs to get a couple of pricks. 

Run your strings through the string holes in your can and you're ready to tune.

Wrap the other end around the eye hooks at the top of your neck a couple of times and then tighten the bolt on the back of that.  I didn't use a washer, but you might want to.  Just tighten it enough that it doesn't spin around and make the string loose, but not so tight that you unwind it at the nut at the bottom or worse, snap the string (da-woing).

Step 4: Playing (sort Of)

I couldn't make the embed code work, but you can see it here.

I'm using a pair of needle nose pliers for the slide and an extra washer for the pick.  Also, I have no talent, but you do, so go make a killer canjo!