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 ARCHIVED TOPIC: Low tuned banjo with radiused fingerboard

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Ken LeVan - Posted - 07/31/2022:  06:03:45

I just finished a group of banjos, all different.  One of them is a low-tuned­—what you would call a “John Hartford” type banjo—John performed with several banjos, all  tuned to standard G tuning, but different pitches.  His favorite was a banjo tuned to E with heavier strings.  He liked the mid range.

This banjo is that kind of banjo.   I’ve always been intrigued by this idea, and made one along these lines for a guitarist in 2013, but that one was tuned to G—This one is tuned to E.  It has 24 frets,the additional two frets added at the pot end.

This gives it a central bridge position, which is normal for a “John Hartford” configuration.

Here’s my drawing of it:


Here’s a picture of the actual banjo—top tension, with my particular kind removable resonator / flange assembly, making a clean openback


It plays in E open, just like a Vega Pete Seeger longneck, except that it has a 26 1/4” scale as opposed to a 32” scale.  If you put a capo on the third fret,it plays in G, just like a Seeger,except that now it has a 24 1/4” scale

The neck is Honduras mahogany which has been “speed-neck” finished with Osmo in the playing part. The fingerboard has a 12” radius—same as most Gibson guitars.  The peghead top has my recently developed chamfered edge.  It's hard to see the finish change on the neck because of the color of the mahogany, but you can feel it.

Here’s the pot.  You see the top tension construction.  The little black bolt on the bracket band is one of four that attach the resonator via tabs on the flange plate.  The rim is laminated, maple interior and mahogany (sapele) on the surface . Honduras mahogany rim cap.

The resonator has a sapele veneer, herringbone and rope purfling and is French polished.

It has a carbon fiber matrix tone ring with a 6061 aluminum skirt



Here in a “Mantega” view, —you see the radius of the nut, fingerboard and bridge

This is strung 12-14-20W-26W-12—pretty heavy strings for me, but it’s easy to play.  One thing I discovered (I should have known) is that a moon bridge doesn’t work with a wound third string, so at the very last minute as I was going through the chromatic scale on every string I realized I had to make a straight bridge, actually bumped out a hair at the third string.  So, the bridge in my photos is not the final bridge on this banjo.

Here are a couple of sound files (played with the moon bridge)—one, a verse of a familiar John Hartford tune, the other a few bars of Pretty Polly played without the resonator.

Edited by - Ken LeVan on 07/31/2022 06:21:11

banjodobro56 - Posted - 07/31/2022:  07:28:24

Wonderful work as always. Thanks for sharing the photos and the philosophies.

lazlototh - Posted - 07/31/2022:  10:04:31

I picked up a Go Vox plectrum banjo for parts a couple months ago. It was a synthesizer banjo made in the 60's. It came with heavy strings including a wound third string. I wondered about how that would be to play and sound.
It is a real honker! Lots of volume. Nice banjo overall. I just need to forget about the fifth string.
I need to order more heavy strings.
Hartford would have loved your banjo!

PaulRF - Posted - 07/31/2022:  17:42:20

Excellent as usual Ken.


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