Starting to look like a banjo….

A little progress on the salad bowl banjo…

IMG_2617I think the neck is still a little clunkier than I’d like so over Christmas I’m going to take it down a bit. I may shorten the end piece some as well. Still to do – drill and ream the peg holes, shape the pegs, stretch the goatskin on the bowl.  Getting there.

Forked Deer

I came across this version of Forked Deer (that’s pronounced fork-kid) tonight surfing around on YouTube. I really like the relaxed pace on this one – a lot of versions of this tune seem to be played at lightning speed. The fiddler here is Joe Sites.

I’ve been listening to various versions of this one because I’m trying to learn it on clawhammer.

Camp videos

Regular readers of this blog know I attended the Midwest Banjo Camp back in June. I noticed they posted a few videos last week from this year’s camp concerts. There were two faculty concerts, once on the Friday and the other on the Saturday evening.

Here’s Chuck Levy with Erynn Marshall…

Chuck led the slow jams, which were handy for the “jam challenged” players (like me). I’ve been learning pretty much in isolation and haven’t had much jam experience. I participated in a couple of Chuck’s slow jams, and found them to be a really good confidence booster. I finally felt comfortable enough to start playing in intermediate jams. While I found some of the tunes difficult to jump in and play along to, I surprised myself in managing to find something to play in most of the tunes – and in some  other tunes I was able to play with some confidence.

Here’s Adam Hurt with Mike Compton on mandolin. Adam Hurt is a very strong teacher as well as being a great player. I took his class on fills where we started with a basic melody and inserted various fills to build an arrangement.

Then there were the Bluegrass guys. There were some very fine Scruggs-style players at camp.

I took one class at camp from Joe Newberry – all about the Galax lick. He’s a very likeable fellow. I was impressed Joe took the trouble to learn everyone’s name. He taught by ear and was really good at making sure everyone in the class got down what he was teaching.

Here’s Joe with Bruce Molsky, Mike Compton and more playing Rockingham Cindy.

I hope they post more videos soon – these brought me right back to camp.

Mark Twain on the banjo….

The piano may do for love-sick girls who lace themselves to skeletons, and lunch on chalk, pickles and slate pencils. But give me the banjo. Gottschalk compared to Sam Pride or Charley Rhoades, is as a Dashaway cocktail to a hot whisky punch. When you want genuine music — music that will come right home to you like a bad quarter, suffuse your system like strychnine whisky, go right through you like Brandreth’s pills, ramify your whole constitution like the measles, and break out on your hide like the pin-feather pimples on a picked goose, — when you want all this, just smash your piano, and invoke the glory-beaming banjo!
– “Enthusiastic Eloquence,” San Francisco Dramatic Chronicle, 23 June 1865

Salad bowl banjo progress report

IMG_2055Making good progress on the salad bowl banjo. The neck is roughly shaped out.IMG_2056  I still have some finer shaping to do, then sanding. Once that is done, I can drill the peg holes, and measure and cut the bowl to enable the neck to go through.  More updates soon.

Gluing up

IMG_1816I glued the fingerboard to the neck blank for the salad bowl banjo this morning, and later glued the heel/dowel stick section to the neck. I hope to find a few hours tomorrow to get going on shaping the neck.

I had planned to overlay some zebra wood on the peghead and on the neck behind the fingerboard – simply because I had it and it’s really nice looking wood. I’ve been rethinking that idea, though. I don’t think the banjo needs it.

Salad bowl banjo – progress report

I’ve rough-cut the wood I’ll be using for the banjo neck. Next step is to laminate the pieces and then start the shaping.


For the second photo I’ve laid out the pieces pre-shaping but you can imagine from the layout how the banjo will look when completed. The heel will go through the bowl and out the other side…for the photo I simply laid the bowl on top of the heel piece. Lots of work ahead shaping the neck.

The neck and heel piece are ash. The fingerboard is rosewood, and I’m putting a zebrawood overylay on the peghead and on the neck behind the fingerboard. The bowl, made by Jamie, is maple and the tailpiece is antler. I was going to use bone for the nut, but I’ve cut a piece of ebony and I might use that instead, or perhaps a piece of bone with a bit of ebony behind it as a decorative element.

Salad Bowl Banjos

My friend Jamie and I are working together on two salad bowl banjos, one for each of us. Jamie started by turning the first bowl.

IMG_1718It’s going to be a pretty big pot – about 12 inches. He’s also fashioned a nice tailpiece from antler. Jamie dropped those elements over here the other day. I’m starting the neck this week. It’s going to be ash with an ebony fingerboard. I also have the piece of wood to the left in the photo. I’m not sure what it is. It comes from the offcuts bin at Exotic Woods in Burlington Ontario. I bought it because I thought it would be good for making banjo bridges. Now I’m thinking I might also face the peg-head with this too.

The construction will be similar to a gourd banjo. The neck will have a “dowel stick” that will extend through the salad bowl. Shaping the neck is a good deal of work but but fairly straightforward as it is not highly intricate. The challenge I think will be getting the holes in the salad bowl just right so the neck fits in at exactly the correct angle. The nut will be bone (I have some for the purpose) and the pegs will be ebony violin pegs. I have a bunch of those on hand.

The head of the banjo will be goat skin. It will be stretched over the bowl in a similar manner to gourd banjos, using upholstery nails. I sourced the ones we want today and will pick them up this week.

We don’t know if the bowl will need sound holes or not. I suspect the answer is likely yes, but we don’t have to commit to them just yet. First there is lots of work to do on the neck. We also have to decide on a peg-head shape. That decision will have to happen soon.

I’ll post progress reports as this project comes together.

Banjo Practice

This is me, practicing an Old Time standard known as Lost Indian. There are lots of different versions of this one, and even some very different tunes that use the same title.

I’m playing my Bart Reiter Standard banjo in open G tuning, with a capo on the second fret – playing in the key of A.