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 ARCHIVED TOPIC: Banjo materials question

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scorn001 - Posted - 02/04/2019:  06:52:30

I was learning and progressing on 5 string banjo playing clawhammer a few years ago, and then I had a shop constructed in the back yard. Suddenly I found myself out there tinkering on different things whenever I had any free time. Playing the banjo pretty much completely went away just due to the fact that I sort of wanted to be out there. I could play banjo out there of course, but it's not climate controlled so storing the banjo out there isn't going to happen, and honestly, dragging it out there every time I want to play, and then taking it back into the house is more inconvenience than I'm willing to mess with it. It made me think of a couple of questions:

1. What did people do before air conditioning? Did banjos, and other wooden instruments just fail frequently or warp a lot, and people would just deal with it and re-tune frequently? Replace necks frequently? Trash them frequently? Seems like it would have been a real problem, yet we know that people have been playing these and other instruments for a long time, long before air conditioning came about. Different materials maybe?

2. Is there a solution to my particular dilemma other than constructing an air conditioned space in my shop? A plastic banjo or one made of an enamel of some sort? I've Googled the idea and searched on here. I see a few people have used various plastic parts, but I wasn't able to see a fully plastic banjo, or even a plastic banjo neck.

I apologize if these are all ridiculous questions.


rudy - Posted - 02/04/2019:  07:29:58

It's a perfectly logical question.

Banjos aren't anywhere near as sensitive as a lightly built guitar, so there's less of a necessity to keep them in a uniform and perfectly controlled environment.

If you build the neck in a way that resists humidity fluctuations then there's no reason  why a banjo constructed in the usual manner and fitted with a standard mylar head can't simply be hung on a wall hook in your shop.

Easy and quick access to an instrument encourages spur of the moment inspiration and playing, and that's not a bad thing.

In other words, construct the instrument to fit with its environment, not the other way around.

Edited by - rudy on 02/04/2019 07:31:34

Bill H - Posted - 02/04/2019:  08:58:34

I used to take my 1895 banjo out to my shop to practice every morning at 5:00am back in the early 80's before I started work. The shop was cold in winter and I would sit in front of the wood stove with the door open while the fire got going. At the end of the day I'd take my banjo back down to the house.

Still have the banjo. The neck is straight as an arrow. It still plays great. Just don't drop a hunk of maple on it.

The Old Timer - Posted - 02/04/2019:  09:36:23

Harmony used to make a Bakelite banjo, they turn up in antique shops. Pretty inert.

In general, I feel a modern construction banjo with a steel truss rod, and not something ancient found in an attic and all dried out, can probably stand up to anything you might have going on. A calfskin head would be by far the most sensitive part. Use a plastic head, and you can probably enjoy most any banjo in your shop. Keep it in a case when not in use.

Mind you, I wouldn't treat a multi-thousand dollar vintage "fancy" banjo in this way.

scorn001 - Posted - 02/04/2019:  10:53:37

Thank you for the responses. I've an inexpensive Epiphone MB-100 open back. Definitely nothing high end. At the same time I really don't want it ruined. In north Texas where I live the humidity can get pretty pretty high, in the summer it can get as high as 110 during the day, maybe hotter than that in a closed up shop, and down the the 20s fairly routinely this time of year.

Maybe I'll keep it in the case out there and play it now and then just to see how the tuning is impacted.

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