Hi All.

The 5-string banjo is what usually comes to mind when I think of a banjo.


If you have a 5-stringer, or are building a 5-stinger, or are interested in learning to play a 5 stringer, then here is the place you can ask questions.


Here we loosely define 5-string banjos as any 5-stringer with a twangy banjo sound regardless of what you are using for a sound box. Other people insist the sound box must be a skin or synthetic drum. However, at Cigar Box Nation (CBN) our mantra is "There are no rules...", so wood covered drums, cake or cookie tins, and even cigar box resonators are welcome.


Also, the 5th string (also called the drone string) must be tuned re-entrantly to allow one to play claw-hammer style (aka "frailing").



Here are some photos of 5-string banjos built by Cigar Box Nation (CBN) members:

  1. Built by Milton Cable. More photos at this link (on CBN and worth a look.)
  2. Built by Mark Werner. The drum resonator was built from a short length of 8" diameter PVC pipe with a 1/8" plywood (veneer) sound board and an oak neck modeled after a classic Gibson. It's also nicely painted and is said to sound "pretty banjo-y".
  3. Built by Bear (aka Todd Treadway), this Cigar Box Banjo uses a "headless" design where four of the tuners are mounted on the tail end of the neck. The exception is the 5th string's tuner. He has a few other banjo builds, so you can view photos of those at this link.
  4. Built by Jim Sharkey, this 5-string cigar box banjo incorporates a Remo drum head. It's a real beauty (IMHO).
  5. Built by Jef Long, this 5-string banjo was built from a wooden bowl and covered with kangaroo skin, hence his name for this instrument: "Banjaroo". Notice that all 5 tuners are located on the headstock. More photos and discussion on this instrument at this link.
  6. Built by Philip Eggers, this 5-string banjo combines a drum and a hub cap to form a nice sounding resonator. More photos at this link.
  7. Built by Scott Winburn, this 5-string banjo features a gourd resonator. More photos here.
  8. Built by Old Lowe using a hub cap for the resonator. The fifth string is "hidden" with its tuner located on the headstock. I like the fretboard color scheme, something I might try next time. I need more visual clues to move from diatonic fretboards to learning chromatic fretboards. Here's a link for more photos.
  9. Built by Bruce Lee Rose, this 5-stringer uses a hexagonal box with a wood soundboard as its resonator.
  10. Here's another 5-string Cigar Box Banjo (CBB). It was built by 'Artist Formerly Known as Matt' (AFKAM).
  11. Here's an interesting banjo made by Flatfoot Johnny using a vintage Lyle's Golden Syrup can.

  Here's a link to a Video showing Flatfoot Johnny playing it using clawhammer (frailing).


More photos welcome!


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Hi All.

Check this video out by flatfoot johnny playing his 5-string gourd banjo. Here's the link. Enjoy.


Hi All.

While in the States this summer I bought a real 5-String Banjo. It's a $200 Savannah and it looks real nice and plays real nice. I took off the resonator so it would be an open back, but still have to remove the 4 metal flanges that hold the resonator in place with 4 screws. They come off if you have the right sized hex wrench handy. I bought it so I'd have a reference model to build banjos in the future, as well as to learn how to play. I'm especially interested in learning frailing (clawhammer). The frailing videos all assume you are playing a 5-string banjo tuned to G'-D-G-B-D'. I used to have another used banjo I bough back in the '80s and which got stolen in the '90s. At that time I was trying to play more Bluegrass picking style, but never got very far with it. I also bought it used for $70 more than what I paid for this instrument. Any way, with the playing experience gained with messing around with ukuleles, stick dulcimers, and cigar box dulcimers, I find playing the banjo is a lot easier than before. However, I still getting used to the chromatic fretboard after playing with stick dulcimers and their diatonic fretboard for the past 2 or 3 years. So, far I am very pleased with the instrument, although it is a lot heavier than any of the instruments I build. I'll post a photo of it here soon.




Alright, so last May I built my friend Matt a banjo. (Album here.)

It was my first banjo build, and I learned some things I could do better, and now I want one. I'm going to use a cigar box this time, but I have a question. It seems to me that instead of adding that strip of wood I used for the 5th string, and then doing all the work to fit the neck to the box, it would be easier to fit the neck first and then add the strip to the portion of the neck that extends from the box. I don't plan on the tail-end of the neck going all the way through (it will terminate at the back wall of the box), so I don't think it would necessary for the extra bit to go through at all, unless it's necessary for strength. After noticing a slight bow on a couple of my guitars, I've started reinforcing the neck inside the box, and I plan on doing that here. That should be enough, shouldn't it, without the 5th string piece being full length?

Hi Ryan,

Looks like a nice first go at building a banjo and I bet you did learn a lot from the experience. I'm happy to hear that it has turned you on to banjos. Welcome to the club!

You should not have a problem starting the "strip of wood" on the side of the neck for the 5th string where the long end of the neck pops-out from the drum (or sound box), assuming your neck is otherwise strong. The bond formed by gluing on the side piece to the neck should be plenty strong to hold all the tension of the 5th string. But the difference in the amount of work in running a 4-sting wide neck verses a 5-string wide neck thru either a cake/cookie tin or a cigar box should be rather insignificant. I'd opt for running it all the way thru 5-strings wide. Then, when you drill the holes in the tail end of the neck, its a straight run for the strings across the bride and up the neck, resulting in a"cleaner" design. Doing it the way you suggest means crowding the string together at the "tail piece", then spreading them apart at the bridge. Using a threaded bolt and nut for the bridge would work in keeping the strings in place, but using a banjo style bridge, you'd have to cut grooves in the bridge to allow the strings to be properly spaced going up the neck toward the nut and headstock. Not much of a problem, so feel free in doing it either way.

A "neck-almost-thru" design as you are suggesting for your next build will require some sort of tail piece which will most likely be screwed down to the tail end of the sound box and into the tail end of the neck. You should spend some time designing a strong tailpiece -- search Cigar Box Nation for ideas. The strongest tail pieces tend to be made of metal, so if you have metal work experience, designing an building one should be easy. Wooden tailpieces tend to fail, unless you use very hard wood (oak), are careful about not introducing any new string angle(s) where the string might cut into the wood, and you reinforce any corners you do introduce with metal (sometimes all that is needed is a strategically located nail with which to route the strings over) then you should be able to make a pretty good tailpiece out of wood.

On you next build you might want to try a set of geared tuners. A 5-th String banjo tuner should set you back just $20 to $25, if you buy via the Internet. Buying retail thru a music store will likely be much more expensive. The other 4 tuners can be cheap guitar tuners. Geared tuners will hold their tune a lot better/longer than most home made tuners. Well, good luck on your next build. Let us know how it turns out.


P.S. Your "album here" link seems broken, so I wasn't able to see the other photos. Will have to hunt for them...

That's weird. Doesn't work for me either. Try this: http://www.cigarboxnation.com/photo/albums/matt-s-banjo

Thanks Ryan. That fixes the broken link to your photo album. I liked this photo best...

It shows how you secured the piece of wood for the fifth string to the side of the neck, illustrating what we've been talking about. With glue and screws, that part is going no where even long after you string it up and tune it. No worries about shortening the add-on board so it won't have to run through th sound box either. Go for it on your next banjo build.  By the way, you have a fair number of other good looking CBG builds -- all with your, by now, trademark home-made tuners. If they work for you, then by all means, continue to use them.


Not my trademark. I learned how from Crow.

Hi Ryan,

Yeah, I've seen photos of some of Crow's creations. His other trademark is attaching the neck to the top side of the sound board much like they do on mountain dulcimers. And if my memory serves me right, most of his instruments are fret-less. So, his creation definitely lie on the "primitive" side of the CBG continuum. And they are usually, played with a slide, an interesting sound, but something I'm not very familiar with. I wouldn't know where I am w/o the frets. Maybe I should build one and see if I can find my way around on a fret-less CBG; especially now that I'm out of fret wire.

By the way, how are those toothpick frets holding up? I'd be afraid to use them with steel strings, but they might handle nylon strings long term. I've been spoiled by real fret wire and refuse to use anything else after experimenting a long time with nylon tie wraps, bamboo skewers, wire frets and cut nail frets. The bamboo skewers glued in and painted with polyurethane might make a stronger alternative to tooth picks, without complicating your installation process to much. I like the idea of using cut nails, but the 2-part epoxy is pretty messy and I usually knock loose 30% of the frets when I go to file down the cut ends of the nail, or when I file away excess dried glue. So, it takes a lot of patience, more than I'm willing to give anymore. And super glue drys too quickly to allow me to place and reposition the frets when needed - not to mention my tendency of gluing my fingers together using it.

So, I'll stick to real fret wire, and when I can't get it, I'll try fret-less, or spend more time playing the 20+ instruments I have already made.

Well, happy building & happier playing...


I don't usually do fretless, but when I do, I at least draw the lines on with a pencil. I'd get lost too, and that's the last thing I need, considering my lack of playing experience.


The toothpicks work pretty well for me. I don't play much, and quite often use a slide when I do, so they haven't worn down much yet. There are some spots where they're visibly worn, but not to the point where it interferes with playing. I've considered using bamboo skewers, but I haven't got around to it yet. A box of toothpicks lasts a long time. Plus, there's something cool, in my head anyway, about grabbing $1, walking down to 7-11, and buying a box of frets. But I think bamboo would work just as well, and shouldn't be any more complicated.

And here it is:

And the rest of the album, hopefully. I'm pretty happy with how it turned out.


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