Building a Banjo
By John Fisher
Perhaps it is a good thing that you haven't seen all your dreams come true. For if you got all you wished for immediately, you would be miserable. Alexander the Great conquered the world, but died of sheer boredom. To be forever reaching out, to remain unsatisfied, is the key to spiritual progress.
As in the past with several others things that I have built, I had very little info on how to build this banjo. Here in Mexico, they simply do not exist so I have not been able to study one in order to help me build it. I ordered some parts form Stewart McDonald but I had a bit of a hard time just figuring out how to put it together as there were some physical aspects that I had no idea about. I started looking on the web at numerous sites just to see how they were made and to get other vital clues on the function of different parts.
I do want to thank Bill Palmer for his great patience with me as he answered numerous e-mails with the many questions that I had. Do check out his site, as it is full of good info about banjos and banjo setup tips. http://www.billpalmer.com/banjset.htm
The guy has been around the block and knows what he is talking about, so I was honored to have his help. On finishing the banjo he said, "This is probably the first banjo ever built completely by e-mail".
Although I did purchase some parts like the banjo pot, head, hardware (hooks and ring) there were many parts that I didn't have which I wound up making like the neck, fret board with inlays, resonator, coordinator rods, bridge and some of the hardware details that I in my ignorance† didn't order, such as the tail piece and arm rest. This shows you how much I didn't know about banjos. As you will see, I had to overcome many hurdles and solve many problems that I encountered which led to quite a bit of experimenting. This is fun for me as I learn a lot through these kinds of problems.
Several years ago I did build a banjo from scratch even making every metal piece of the banjo out of brass but I had even less of an idea about banjos and the banjo didn't have a tone ring or a resonator. This banjo however is designed basically form the Mastertone 5 string banjo in itís functions with a couple of slight variations.
I am mainly a guitar player so there are many details about banjos and it's functions and even the cultural aspects that I had to study up on and familiarize myself with. I am not even that familiar with a lot of the many popular artists in the bluegrass world. One thing I did learn though, is that the setup of the banjo is quite complex, much more then a guitar as there are several factors in the setup that will effect the playability and the tone drastically.
You will see in the articles to follow that I use very simple tools and I even lack a lot of things that I should use. I am not against using more advanced tools as they will help to do a better and quicker job but there are many things that I simply do not have. Because of this you will even see me do things that I donít even personally recommend. If anything at, I hope I may be able to at least inspire some creative ideas that others can gain from and show that it is possible to do a lot with very little. After all, were just trying to have fun!
The greatest things in the World have been done by those who systematized their work & organized their time.