Sunday, May 13, 2007

Last Post

Well, it was fun doing the whole project. I finished and got an A on it. Boo Yeah!

Sunday, April 1, 2007


Looking back, this has been a fun project. Planning was the biggest key to doing the entire project.

What I've learned:
Money isn't easy to come by, but its damn easy to spend.
If I'm going to work, I'd best put my whole effort into it
I've really gotten closer to my tools

Working on something like this, something you've put your tears, sweat and blood into, I know the feeling. Its a rush to finally see your project finished like this. All's left is to fill out the form and get a grade.

Banjo specs:

Head diameter: 11 1/8th inch
Head type: fyberskin
Lugs: 30 hex
tailpiece: Waverly
bridge: Grover ebony with inserts
Neck: 19 frets
Brand: Astro
Tuners: Five star Planetary 9:1 ratio
Strings: Vega tenor strings T09, T16, T23, T30


Jan 29: Purchased Banjo from Oklahoma
Feb 28: Disassembled entire banjo
March 14: Purchased head
March 14: Installed head
March 22: Purchased tuners
March 31: Installed tuners
March 31: Installed strings and bridge
March 31: Installed mutes
April 1: Finished

Due date of project: April 14


Happy strummin' to all!

Mute: JDM tone enhancer.

My parents aren't exactly tolerant to all sorts of noises espically those at night. Which is why I purchased the tone enhancer/mute from Janet Davis music.

So here's my banjo. Its been played. It needs something. It's 11 o'clock (metaphorically) and I'm itching to play. Yet, the banjo is a loud son'of a b****. Its not exactly easy to cover up such a sound as a banjo at night.

This is it. Heavy machined piece of brass and cork. Two thumb screws tighten and loosen the lower plate.

To put it on, remove the bottom plate and place top piece in position, with the angled part towards the bridge.

With a careful hand, screw on the piece corresponding to each other. Take care to make sure the bottom plate is on correctly.

And there ya go, Its installed and ready to go. No need to take it off now.

Positions available:
Close to tail piece: no effect Banjo -esque
between tail piece and bridge: some effect
Cork directly on bridge: Lutish or archtop guitar sound. Very pleasant
Cork on strings past the bridge: mutes it good!

Happy strummin'!

Changing strings

Its not a pleasant job. I hate it in fact. I absent minded attempted to tune my tenor with brand new strings to a mandolin which is tuned a fifth above a tenor. With nasty results. I snapped the G string thinking it was a D. It happens when you haven't played since the start of the month. But when I change or put new strings in, I use a locking method which is handy since planetary tuners aren't exactly known for being locking. At all.

You may ask, what is a locking method? Its a special way of stringing a string without resorting to the old stereotypical way of just stick it in and turn the tuners. With this method, you're guaranteed not to let the strings slip in any way.

I'm going to refer to the part you stick the string though as the tuning column. There should be a hole through it for the string to feed through. Turn it so that the hole is perpendicular to the fretboard. Have your string ready and feed from inside out. Meaning, if the tuner is on the left side, looking at it from the front, stick the string though from the right and out the left side. Leave a little slack and bring the string towards the headstock and wrap around the tuning column. Feed the string under the string that's inside the column and pull it up. With a grip on it, start turning until it holds in place. You shouldn't have any problems anymore with slippage. If you do, feel free to use any other method.

Putting strings on a Waverly copy tailpiece

So I put a Waverly copy tailpiece on my banjo. I felt its the best design since it could accommodate both four strings and five strings. It has a classy look as well since its a shorter version of the Kershner tailpieces. So here, it sits barren and stringless.

For my banjo, I use Vega tenor strings. These have loop ends which hook nicely onto the little nuts that stick out from the back of the tailpiece.

Like so, feed the hook through the loop of the string. (its not as easy as I thought)

Now is the really hard part about this whole thing. Feed the wire through the hole somehow. I thought it'd be much simpler but it isint. The design of the string is rather awkward so you cant feed the string through that easily.

Eventually, I got it through. So grab your bridge, we're going to measure where it should be.

Theoretically, the 12th fret is the exact middle of the string from nut to bridge. I think it also works with guitars, but it turns out from nut to 12th fret, its about 11 1/4th inches. So measure 11 1/4th inches from the 12th fret towards the tailpiece. Wherever 0 or 11 1/4th inches is marked (whichever you used) put your tailpiece there.

I'm not going to bother talking about how to wind strings in this post, but here's the end result. Pretty?

Happy Strummin'!


I'm going to show you all a quick way, or my way of installing 5 star planetary gear tuners.

First as always as ever, lay out a soft cloth if you're working on a hard surface. This protects your banjo/whatever and protects your desk as well.
So to change your banjo, you need. Your banjo! Grab it, and your new spiffy tuners as well and get ready to put them in. I had previously reamed holes in the woodshop earlier that day and the holes are the correct size for the new tuners. The thing about these five stars, is that they have a little thing on the back to dig into the wood and prevent it from spinning about when tuning. So there's a special process to do it.

First, remove the screw from the top holding down the pearloid button.

Removing the button should reveal the brass squared cylinder which works with the buttons. Remove the collar that would sit beneath the button and take special care to remove the felt washer as well.

On the other end, there's an adjustable collar and washer, remove that too.

Stripped down to the essentials, it should resemble something like this:

Fit the tuner's column sleeve in as far as possible. if you want to maintain a uniform look, have the little part that sticks out pointing the same direction on all of them.

Slip a plastic washer between the chrome

Take a socket and place it on top of the plastic washer.

Have a piece of thick material ready at hand for what we're about to do next. Punch a hole through it. I used card stock since it is thick and easily punchable. Put a hole through it.

Place it over the tuning top where the string goes through.

And place another socket on top. We're going to be using compression forces to get that tuner locked into place. Its also helpful when the tuner wont go all the way in.

Using a C clamp, put it over the sockets and start turning. Sockets are ideal for this job since they have a smooth and/or polished surface making it ideal for this work.

Keep turning! Gently does the job. Don't do the work fast. You'll either end up damaging the banjo or the tuners themselves.

That should be the end result. A tuner fit snugly in place.

Put back on the washer and ring collar and tighten.

Replace the column sleeve as well as the felt washer.

Fit the pearloid button back on and screw it back tightly. If its loose, it wont hold a note for what its worth.

Voila! That's what it should look like. Now repeat three more times!

The front collar ring put back in snugly in place.

Happy strummin'!


Ah the day finally has come. I got to ream new holes into my banjo headstock. Rather than drilling, I finally learned to use a new process called reaming. Which is entirely in process than drilling.

The process of reaming: Holes are not made perfect. Holes are never perfect unless they are reamed. Consider drill bits. I bet most of you have seen one. Imagine a rectangle twisted into a helical shape with a sharp edge. These are for rough holes. To get a hole to the exact size you need, you ream it to the perfect size. This is where reaming comes into play. It's almost like a propeller just extruded with a cutting face on each side.

After some consoling with the forums on I decided I would have to do the whole thing by hand rather than relying on a machine. Since it's a careful process, I only had one chance to do it. So getting down to business, below, is a picture of my mentor, Martin Sweet's hand holding a very slightly smaller reamer than what I needed, but It got the job done.

Using a tap thingy, (sorry, I dont know the true name). Slowly and surely, I would increase the size of the holes from 11/16ths to 3/8ths. The picture below is the headstock with the highest, lowest and furthest right holes already reamed. The hole furthest left has only been started and I realized I should be taking photos.

Does it sound hard? It really isn't actually. Sure, my wrist felt like heck, but it was well worth it.