In this instructable I will show you how I built a 5-string banjo for under 15$ using a wooden salad bowl for the hoop and a silver-plated copper plate for the head. A video at the end shows how the banjo is assembled. Have fun with this and try other materials too!
Step 1: The Materials
At the Goodwill I bought a salad bowl and some silver plated plates for about 1.25$ each.
I used eBay guitar economy tuners 5.99$
The neck is made from a bed frame slat. I make it myself and use about 50 cents worth of fretwire.
A door hinge for a tailpiece Goodwill 25 cents.
I made a bone nut and bone saddle but a nut can be a machine screw and the saddle can be made of anything that’s the right height!
Add a pack of guitar strings and that’s your materials.
Step 2: Making the Body and Neck
This instruction won’t go into detail about how to make a fretted guitar neck. That’s up to you to conquer! But here’s how I made this one and attached it to the body.
First I carved the neck shape and fretted it. The fret spacing measures can be found anywhere on the web.
Then I cut the wooden salad bowl in half leaving TWO hoops. One hoop is just a ring and the other has the bottom of the bowl still attached. The hoop with the bottom still attached is the hoop o used for this banjo. I’ll use the other hoop for an “open back” banjo to be built later!
I glued two pieces of wood onto the neck to make a “heel”. This step is important because you’ll need the bulk later on to install bolts that will fasten the neck to the hoop.
Step 3: Attaching the Neck to the Hoop
Now you’ll have to attach the neck to the hoop. Drill two holes in the heel of the neck that are each big enough to insert a threaded rod into. For rod I cut the head off of 1/4 inch machine screws. Make the holes just smaller than the screw diameter and add glue before twisting the screws into the hole. These screws will pass through two holes in the hoop and be tightened with a nut on the inside of the hoop.
The tighter the neck heel fits against the hoop the better your banjo will sound. Try to carve the radius on the neck heel to match the hoop radius. Also for ease of playing (string height) try to shape this joint so the neck dives down a little off level relative to the hoop. Basically the headstock should not be level with the hoop body but actually 1-2 inches below that level.
Step 4: Adding Everything Else
Now it’s looking like a banjo! At this point I screwed the plate onto the hoop using 3 or 4 small screws. It’s usually a good idea to predrill holes for screws as small as the ones used in guitar making. With the “head” on, next attach the hinge “tailpiece”. I had to drill extra holes in the hinge because it only had 3 holes. I need 5! Now use a straight edge and lay it down the neck and figure out where to drill the holes for the four tuners on the headstock. Basically about 1/2 inch in from the edge of the headstock and evenly spaced apart from each other works. Install tuners.
The fifth string is a drone string. I use a regular headstock tuner for this tuner and carve out a flat spot in the neck where it will be installed. It would be easier buying a screw-in 5 th string tuner but that’s another 15$ by itself!
Attach strings and make a nut or use a screw.
Make a bridge saddle.
Step 5: Video Visual
Here is a short video showing how some of the parts go together. The background music is me playing the salad bowl banjo. Enjoy and thanks for checking out my instructable!