Introduction: Space Age Mylar DIY Banjo Head
I recently scored this awesome banjo ukulele. It's an all metal Dixie from the mid 1950's. I love it but... The tailpiece was missing and the calfskin head had a couple of small holes. The tailpiece I made from a spoon that I flattened with a hammer, cut off, filed and drilled. Easy. The head was a bit of a head scratcher. I was hoping to replace it with a Mylar head for tuning stability, but they don't make 'em that small (6 3/4".) I remembered that Mylar is also used for things like balloons, boxed wine and other packaging. Luckily shiny silver is the perfect color for a shiny silver banjo uke. I found a bag that was fairly thick and big enough to do the trick.
1 Mylar bag as thick as you can find
2 coat hanger
1 socket to remove nuts
3 soldering iron
Step 1: Dissasemble
This is the easy part. Loosen the strings, and remove the bridge and tailpiece. The tension nuts should be removed a little at a time in a criss-cross pattern so nothing gets warped. Gently pull up on the tension hoop, then carefully pull off the old head. Then the neck can now be unscrewed. This is a good time to clean it up a little while it's apart.
Step 2: The Flesh Hoop
Animal skin heads are stretched over a wire ring called a "flesh hoop." We will be constructing our Mylar head the same way. Make this "flesh hoop" from a coat hanger. Bending it to the right size can be tricky. Keep at it until it's round and you can slide it over the pot. It shouldn't be a tight fit. Check to see if it fits under the tension hoop too. You might have to trim it and file it to get it right. Now solder the ends together. If you don't have access to a soldering iron heat shrink tubing might work as an alternative.
Step 3: Cut the Bag
Trace the outside of the old head onto the bag with a sharpie. My bag had a tiny hole punched in it. I was careful to position it so it would be hidden under the tailpiece. I made a few marks about an inch from my line and connected them to make the line I will cut. Now cut it out.
Step 4: Fit the Head
Put the head on top of the pot. Align the circle you drew with the edge of the pot. Now slide the hoop over the head. Look at the old head. Slide the hoop down as far as the old head was. If it sits too low the tension hoop will bottom out before the head is tight enough.
Step 5: Tape It Up
Carefully fold an edge over the flesh hoop and tape it to the top of the head. Do the same on the opposite side being careful to keep it even. Now fold and tape another edge 90 degrees from the last. Keep working your way around until the edges are fully taped up all the way around.
Step 6: Seal Away
Use an iron set on medium and run the edge around the top of the flesh hoop. Try to keep the seal about 1/8" wide. Take your time and try to seal it everywhere. Now take the head off the banjo pot off and run the iron around the inside. Now you can remove the tape. When the tape is off run the iron around the outside edge and the inside once more. Use a pair of scissors and cut off the extra Mylar down to about 1/4 inch from the bottom of the hoop.
Step 7: Mount the Head
Put the head on the pot and install the tension hoop. Spin the nuts on until they are all just touching the flange. To tension the head, tighten 1/4 of a turn at a time, going around in a criss-cross pattern. Try to keep all of the nuts at equal tension. Some cracking sounds here and there are normal when it gets really tight.
Step 8: Put It Back Together
Same as the first, just in reverse. Put a piece of cardboard inside the head to protect it and screw on the neck. Put the tailpiece and bridge back on and tighten up the strings.
Step 9: PLAY IT!
Tune up your new futuristic banjo and give it a strum. I found the tone to be loud and bright. It doesn't go out of tune with the weather like calf skin which is what I was hoping for. Another bonus was I didn't have to leave the house to get anything. Also at FREE! the price was right too. I'm currently using my improved Dixie Banjolele to invent new genres of music, Lunar Vaudeville, Rag Time Machine and Aloha Cyberpunk.
Participated in the
Trash to Treasure Contest
2 years ago on Step 9
Clever and it looks really cool! Well done!