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 ARCHIVED TOPIC: What is the most frustrating part of building a banjo for everyone here?


Please note this is an archived topic, so it is locked and unable to be replied to. You may, however, start a new topic and refer to this topic with a link: http://www.banjohangout.org/archive/380139

Lemon Banjo and Supply - Posted - 12/28/2021:  11:38:34


Just thought it'd be a cool thing to find out what everyone's least favorite part of building a banjo is, and why it's your least favorite?

My least favorite part is frets. I truly hate installing frets. Seems like every time I get them just almost the way I want, a file slips or something else happens and I either scar the fretboard, scar a fret so badly it must be replaced, or both. I'm about to remove every fret from a neck I nearly have finished because the fretboard looks God-awful now.

Thought this thread would be a good way for some other frustrated builders to let off a little steam haha!

martyjoe - Posted - 12/28/2021:  13:21:11


Oddly enough I enjoy installing frets, just as well since every banjo I make has fan-frets. One of my least favourites is ‘sanding’, ‘sanding’ & more ‘sanding’.

Ken LeVan - Posted - 12/28/2021:  14:04:35


least favorite would be finishing the sides of the peg head, but leveling the finish on the the top of the peg head is no fun either, depending on the inlay.



Second least favorite would be making and fitting nuts (although I make zero-fret nuts, which are difficult to make and install).



Third least favorite is getting the neck aligned and angled perfectly during setup—sometimes it's exactly right as soon as I set up the banjo, sometimes it takes half a day or more with 4 or 5 neck removals and tweaking with tuners and strings attached to the tailpiece and in the way.  If it's one of those "difficult ones" then this would be my least favorite, hands down.

banjukebox - Posted - 12/28/2021:  15:13:12


Definitely making the neck cut to properly align it with the pot.

jfhascall - Posted - 12/28/2021:  18:28:23


I'll second Pat's comment. Fitting the heel to truly match the pot and get the angles all aligned right is a tough thing to do without a dedicated jig. I make so few necks that I haven't put together the jig. I think that level of production is what retirement from my real job is for.

OldTymeBanjo - Posted - 12/28/2021:  20:12:54


I love making banjos, but I hate running into issues with the grain. I'm on the third neck of my current project because the first two had weird grain issues that ended up with the dowelstick breaking off. Also, things like checks and defects that you don't see until you get into it. I'm sure being able to read the lumber comes with experience, but it can be frustrating. Good hardwoods aren't cheap.

There can also be pleasant surprises, I'm now on a piece of purpleheart after trashing the figured maple and cherry, and I discovered that it's figured purpleheart, which I couldn't see until I ran it through the jointer.

I think second least favorite thing is drilling holes (for friction pegs), it's always difficult to get the orientation right on a piece of wood with only one flat surface. I've learned that you can correct the hole during reaming. It helps if you start with wood that is squared off and parallel, but that isn't always possible. Also I don't have a table saw.

Meles_Meles - Posted - 12/28/2021:  20:27:48


[
[ What is the most frustrating part of building a banjo for everyone here?
[

The cost, of course. There are literally THOUSANDS here on BHO!

Culloden - Posted - 12/28/2021:  21:33:43


Hunter, I feel for you on installing frets. That's also my least favorite part of building. I'm sure you probably have a fret rocker but do you have a fret setter? You can get them from Stewart MacDonald, eBay, and probably Luthier's Mercantile. I use a wooden mallet to tap the fret setter instead of my fretting hammer.



My favorite trick is to get the frets installed then check them with the fret rocker. I use a Sharpie on the high spots then tap them level with the fret setter. After that I use a leveling beam and sand the frets level. A fret setter can greatly reduce how much sanding you have to do which makes it much less work to get a good crown.



Here is a picture of a couple of fret setters on eBay. 


Edited by - Culloden on 12/28/2021 21:39:39



 

jduke - Posted - 12/29/2021:  05:40:22


To me, measuring, drilling and setting the dowel stick is the most frustrating, but sanding is what I dread the most.

About fretting, my banjos and banjo-ukes usually have only 7 to 9 frets. Story: When I first started building, measuring fret spacing accurately was a difficult task and I figured if I got the first seven correct, why risk messing up on the rest. Now, I have fret slotting templates and tools, but I still do not fret the entire finger board. A uniqueness of my builds!

I've sold several of my instruments, but mostly I build for myself, and as a clawhammer player, I never play out of the first position.

Ken LeVan - Posted - 12/29/2021:  05:45:05


quote:

Originally posted by jfhascall

I'll second Pat's comment. Fitting the heel to truly match the pot and get the angles all aligned right is a tough thing to do without a dedicated jig. I make so few necks that I haven't put together the jig. I think that level of production is what retirement from my real job is for.






There's an old woodworkers' joke. 



Q: How long does it take for a woodworker to screw in a lightbulb?



A: About 5 seconds, but it takes 2 weeks to make the jig.

Zachary Hoyt - Posted - 12/29/2021:  06:04:30


The most frustrating part for me is sanding the outside of the neck heel. Getting that end grain to look scratch free while working on compound curves is awkward, in my experience. I recently bought a newer used random orbit sander that came with a softer pad, and that has helped some, but there still are spots that are hard to get.

Gallaher - Posted - 12/29/2021:  10:20:48


Wow! I thought it was just me that was hit and miss on neck angle(s), both set back and side to side.
Sometimes it’s done in an hour, sometime all day.
When I saw Ken LeVan share to same issue I thought maybe he is mortal...
.he builds serious banjo art.

wrench13 - Posted - 12/29/2021:  10:28:39


"What is the most frustrating part of building a banjo for everyone here?"

I don't think I can build enough banjos for everyone !

Culloden - Posted - 12/29/2021:  11:03:42


quote:

Originally posted by Zachary Hoyt

The most frustrating part for me is sanding the outside of the neck heel. Getting that end grain to look scratch free while working on compound curves is awkward, in my experience. I recently bought a newer used random orbit sander that came with a softer pad, and that has helped some, but there still are spots that are hard to get.






I have the same problem with my heels, Zach. It's especially tricky where the facets run into the curve.




Ken LeVan - Posted - 12/29/2021:  11:32:50


quote:

Originally posted by Zachary Hoyt

The most frustrating part for me is sanding the outside of the neck heel. Getting that end grain to look scratch free while working on compound curves is awkward, in my experience. I recently bought a newer used random orbit sander that came with a softer pad, and that has helped some, but there still are spots that are hard to get.






I have always believed that dark sunburst finishes are a handy way to avoid sanding the heel to a fair-thee-well, and hide a multitude of sins that can be spackled.  Vega did it on Pete Seeger banjos, also around the peghead to hide burn marks from their cutters.



Carved heels accomplish the same thing, and years back when much was done with hand tools there were people in the factories who could do that quickly.



Along those lines d

stelldeergibber - Posted - 12/29/2021:  15:54:54


The last couple nights I've been putting an Eastman neck on an old Tubaphone pot for a friend, except drilled for two co-rods rather than dowel stick, dowel stick holes filled with wood. Head switch to Remo at 88 on the Drum Dial for a Bluegrass banjo! The neck cut is nothing fancy, just flat, as is the outer rim, just the one ridge for the notched hoop and head, but I still must have taken the neck on and off about three times before getting it locked in, and Murphys' Law, no shim needed even though I swear the first setting indicated one! So, I agree with the neck cut and angle set people, although sanding headstock sides, as Ken mentioned, gets honorable mention.

YWGbanjo - Posted - 12/29/2021:  16:38:29


Fitting the fifth string tuner. I have decent jigs and processes for the other aspects of the build, but fitting the fifth string tuner always seems to be a sketchy freehand operation, fraught with risk of screw-up. Plus it’s one of the last operations of the neck build, so the stakes are high.

Fathand - Posted - 12/29/2021:  17:36:23


Finishing is always my nemesis but carving the outside of the heel is a strong contender.

I built a jig that sands heels to shape at any radius from about 4" to 12" after rough cutting them on band saw. It will also cut the neck notch with a router bit. It is made out of a scrap 2x8 that mounts to my milling machine. It is quite ugly.


KatB - Posted - 12/30/2021:  00:00:53


.

Noodlin - Posted - 12/30/2021:  00:16:39


Hunter, thanks for starting this thread, it’s interesting and educational hearing what all of you have to say.

I’ve only done one so far, and it’s fretless. I used hand tools for it and basically no jigs. I’m getting ready to start a second, so I don’t have much to add.

I thought all of it was quite hard, lol. If I had to pick one, I’d say the neck to rim seating was the hardest, and slowly getting the action where I wanted it was a bit stressful.

Quickstep192 - Posted - 12/30/2021:  12:29:27


The most frustrating part for me is the heel cut to match the pot.

The other thing is spraying lacquer. I've never been able to get it right, despite fairly significant expenditures on professional equipment.

Fish Head - Posted - 12/30/2021:  12:54:19


OK, this is a bit of a digression. I'm not an expert but I'm slightly obsessed about banjo construction, particularly OLD banjos. Getting the neck angle and fit correct to the pot would be a big issue, I think that's borne out with what's been said above.
I'm just wondering has anyone ever tried making a banjo/banza where the neck passes through the pot and plays a part in tension of the head? Take a look at this akontig . . .
youtube.com/watch?v=ilmEnS68qJg
It just sounds so good - along with the singing of course.

OldTymeBanjo - Posted - 12/30/2021:  14:37:09


quote:

Originally posted by Fish Head

OK, this is a bit of a digression. I'm not an expert but I'm slightly obsessed about banjo construction, particularly OLD banjos. Getting the neck angle and fit correct to the pot would be a big issue, I think that's borne out with what's been said above.

I'm just wondering has anyone ever tried making a banjo/banza where the neck passes through the pot and plays a part in tension of the head? Take a look at this akontig . . .

youtube.com/watch?v=ilmEnS68qJg

It just sounds so good - along with the singing of course.






Yes of course. It's the only kind I make. I'm on my 4th.



The neck to pot connection can be accomplished using the lipstick method. I rub lipstick on the pot (you can cover the unfinished wood with masking tape because lipstick is greasy), then join the two together and carve off the high spots on the heel where the lipstick has stuck, using a small palm chisel. Do this about 100 times and you can get a fit that you can't slip a piece of paper between. It can be tedious, but it's one of my favorite parts because the result is just so perfect.

Noodlin - Posted - 12/30/2021:  14:58:06


 

Yes of course. It's the only kind I make. I'm on my 4th.



The neck to pot connection can be accomplished using the lipstick method. I rub lipstick on the pot (you can cover the unfinished wood with masking tape because lipstick is greasy), then join the two together and carve off the high spots on the heel where the lipstick has stuck, using a small palm chisel. Do this about 100 times and you can get a fit that you can't slip a piece of paper between. It can be tedious, but it's one of my favorite parts because the result is just so perfect.






I could be wrong, but I think he's asking if anyone has done it the way the "dowel stick" passes through the actual hide of the head rather than through the rim/gourd itself. 

 



I'm digging your lipstick method though, I might give that a try. 

OldTymeBanjo - Posted - 12/30/2021:  15:08:27


quote:

Originally posted by Noodlin

 

Yes of course. It's the only kind I make. I'm on my 4th.



The neck to pot connection can be accomplished using the lipstick method. I rub lipstick on the pot (you can cover the unfinished wood with masking tape because lipstick is greasy), then join the two together and carve off the high spots on the heel where the lipstick has stuck, using a small palm chisel. Do this about 100 times and you can get a fit that you can't slip a piece of paper between. It can be tedious, but it's one of my favorite parts because the result is just so perfect.






I could be wrong, but I think he's asking if anyone has done it the way the "dowel stick" passes through the actual hide of the head rather than through the rim/gourd itself. 

 



I'm digging your lipstick method though, I might give that a try. 






Ohhhh, I get it now. Jeff Menzies, who taught me the lipstick method, also build a banjo like that, there's one for sale on his website. I've never tried that particular style.



jeffmenziesinstruments.com/pro...ing-banjo



 





Seems to me the neck splits the head into two smaller heads functionally, which might not be as loud, and the bridge has to be higher. A heavier bridge might mute the sound and reduce sustain. But there might be good reasons for doing it that way. The gourd or calabash doesn't need two holes close to the head which makes it stronger.  And the action is super high.


Edited by - OldTymeBanjo on 12/30/2021 15:19:26

Fish Head - Posted - 12/30/2021:  15:22:19


Yes, that Menzies one is exactly what I'm talking about - any sounds files of it?
And that lipstick method is brilliant. I'll give it a go on something I'm working on at the moment.

degreesf - Posted - 01/01/2022:  09:49:11


The neck angle along with the bridge height. Very old banjo's were made for cat gut strings and not designed for the tension of alloy strings. Does anyone have a photo of the bridge invented by Stu Jamieson?

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