This Instructable is sort of Part II of my original salad bowl banjo post. I’ll include more pictures and a better video to show how the parts actually get assembled to make such an eye-catching instrument!
Step 1: The Neck
I make the neck from start to finish myself but a pre-made neck could be used as well. This banjo build is about the silver plate “head” and the salad bowl “hoop” more than the neck. I stained the neck and hoop Ebony to get that dark look.
The most important feature of this neck are the two bolts that protrude from the heel and will pass through two holes drilled into the front of the hoop. The part of the heel that contacts the hoop must be carved to fit as snuggly as possible to the radius of the hoop. This will transfer sound from the strings most efficiently through the instrument. I used machine screws that I cut the heads off of to make threaded rod for the bolts. Drill a hole one size smaller than your bolts into the heel and then fill the hole with glue and then screw the machine screw into the hole until it’s tight. Repeat for second bolt.
Another important consideration when shaping the neck heel is that the neck angle dives downwards as the neck goes away from the hoop. Having a neck that shoots straight out level with the guitar body would result in unacceptable string action. The strings would be too high above the frets and make playing hard and intonation almost impossible. Look at any guitar or banjo to see this angle. You might not have noticed before!
Step 3: The Silver “head” and Salad Bowl “hoop”
This part of the build was relatively easy compared to the neck! The salad bowl I bought was about 7 inches tall and had straight sides so I cut it in half to make two 3 1/2 inch tall hoops. One hoop had the bowls bottom and the other hoop has only sides. I used the hoop with the bottom to make this banjo in this Instructable. I drilled two holes in the hoop through which the protruding bolts in the neck heel will pass through and be fastened with nuts on the inside of the hoop. You can see the holes in the pic above.
To attach the silver plate I predrilled 3 very small holes through the decorative edge of the plate and into the hoop so I could use very small screws to hold it on. The copper was very soft and easy to drill through. The predrilling is more to prevent the wood from splitting in the hoop. I find guitar building uses very small parts and pre-drilling holes will save your work from damage. There is no support piece under the plate as it is very rigid. Also there is no dowel or rod extension from the neck heel to the back of the hoop as you will find in mainstream banjos. This dowel is sometimes tightened or loosened to improve string action (height). This is why the neck angle is important when shaping the heel that will fit against the hoop. We already have a solid angle built right in! If the neck angle changes just tighten the nuts inside the hoop! In the picture above you can see two small Robertson screws holding the plate onto the hoop.
Step 4: The Rest.
So we have the neck attached to the hoop, the silver plate attached to the hoop and are ready to attach the final elements. For the tailpiece that holds the “ball” end of the strings I used a chrome three hole door hinge available anywhere. I had to drill five smaller holes in it though to accommodate the guitar strings and center the holes on the tailpiece.
I made a bone nut but a threaded bolt makes a damn good and old-school nut!
The bridge saddle I made from walnut and bone but like the nut, it can be made of anything that will transfer sound tightly. Sometimes when setting up or aligning string notches in nuts and saddles I’ll just use a good thick pencil for a saddle!
Step 5: Video of the Salad Bowl Banjo Build
This video shows how the different parts of the banjo get assembled. The background music is played on this banjo. I really love how the instrument turned out and I hope this Instructable can help you make your own! Go for it! You CAN build this! Thanks for watching!