I am thinking about making a thick seashell banjo tailpiece for my new gourd banjo. but, I wonder how well it will work. I doubt it would hold up to steel strings, but I could by wrong. what it your thoughts on this?
Since you probably wouldn't use steel strings on a gourd banjo it should work fine. Dan's suggestion is a really good idea. On the flip side, you could take an inexpensive, nonadjustable tailpiece and glue a shell to the top of it and have a similar result.
Glueing "rebar" to the underside of the shell might work.
I'm thinking of making your own "filament tape"( made of glass fibers stuck to plastic backing), where the shell and epoxy coating on the underside is the backing, and the wire/thread/whatever is the filament.
You'll want to reinforce the holes in the shell to keep strings from cutting shell, and keep shell from cutting strings. Hole lined with epoxy? Small metal washers, edges filed smooth, stuck to underside of shell?
Should be a neat tailpiece, be sure to post photos :-)
Will you be using local shells? I collected freshwater clams in Adirondack State Park probably 60 years ago :-). There are freshwater mussels too. Not sure about using the imported zebra mussels, might bug some people.
Wampum is made from quohog shells. These are the "hard clams" sold in the NorthEast, yum. Parts of the shell have a beautiful blue/purple color. This is only on the inside of the shell, however. You'd have to make a tailpiece of the shell upside down, so to speak, to get the neat color. Maybe a piece of upside down clamshell glued to a metal tailpiece, similar to suggestions above, would work. You can saw/carve the shells, too. I gave my wife some neat purple&white earrings made by a local First Peoples artist; they were light and delicate, not clunky whole shells :-) I imagine you could use the shells for fretboard inlay also.