Banjo making...Appalachian mountain style.

I've just finished this..what a challenge it's been..and long overdue in the completion. It's an Appalachian mountain-style banjo for Hollowbelly. This is designed to be a stage instrument so I opted to use a Fiberskyn head instead of a natural vellum as it would be less prone to variations in humidity and temperature, and it's also got a pickup in it. The tailpiece is designed to accept loop-ended banjo strings or ball-end guitar strings.

There's no exotic timbers in this, all European and North American woods...mainly cherry, with a beech lamination in the neck, black walnut fretboard and headstock veneer.  Figuring out how these things fit together was a right old game, but I've managed to do it. It's got a few neat bits...double action trussrod, and a method of adjusting the tension on the head...but the internal pot is a simple 6" cake tin, and the skin is a drum head, as they don't make banjo heads that small. The pickup is mounted internally under the head, so the output is on the weak side, but maintains the old-timey appearance and importantly manages to put out  a real banjo-ey tone when amplified.

Here's the back ring with the tee nuts for the tension adjusters. A 6mm birch ply ring fits into the circular recess and  transfers the pressure onto the bottom edge of the internal pot.

Here's the headstock..the name "The Preacher" is a reflection of the theme of some of Hollowbelly's songs. The 5th string has a"railroad spike" rather than a bone "pip" to locate's easier to install and I think it looks neater.


Cutting the main part of the pot from solid cherrywood. I used a circle cutting jig on the bandsaw and just inserted some veneer in the saw cut and glued it, loosing the joint behind the neck heel.

The finished article..ready to go.

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Comment by jim on March 23, 2014 at 1:11pm

Nice work John.

Comment by ChickenboneJohn on March 23, 2014 at 12:18pm

The cake tin is acting as the rim that you'd get on a normal type of banjo..that's the way these old-timey banjos were made...commonly using a piece for 6" stovepipe. However, it's very flimsy, thats why you end up with the heavy cut-from-solid ring to attach the neck to. 

Comment by Rand Moore on March 22, 2014 at 7:27am

Hi CBJ...

I'm impressed with your build, and some nice build photos. I was wondering about the 6" cake tin you used beneath the drum head. I assume this was meant to be a kind of resonator to increase the sound output of the instrument when unplugged from an amplifier. Is this a common feature of mountain banjos, or is this something unique to your design? And does this feature work as you intended. Inquiring minds want to know...

My alternate idea is that the 6" cake tin is being used as a kind of "poor man's" drum head tensioning system.

I also put a link to this thread in the CBN banjo discussion area (Banjo Players Unite!) so they can view your creation as well.


Comment by Richey Kay on March 20, 2014 at 2:19pm
Fantastic work John. Really impressive. Any chance of a video?

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