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Makin' banjos!

Posted by lori nitzel on Wednesday, May 6, 2009

So I decided last year - as most of you all have decided - that I need more than one banjo. :-) Not having a lot of extra cash to fork out for something really nice, and after having read the BNL feature on banjo builders, I thought, "hey, what the heck, I'll MAKE a banjo!"

So, I got myself into the nearest woodworking class a few months ago and learned to use all of the woodworking tools. TONS of fun! I loved it. My SO, Tom, is already good at woodworking, so I figured he could help me fill in the knowledge gaps when attempting a banjo.

First, we found an old (70s? early 80s?) Shopsmith on craigslist and made our extra bedroom into the shop. Then, we stocked up on random pieces of wood we thought looked pretty, and did some parts shopping at Elderly and Stew Mac.

It's taken a while because of the baby, but we have our first banjo made! This one is mostly Tom's custom specs...mine is next in line (I glued up the neck and I'll cut it out on the bandsaw soon.) I'll post pics of it on the photos page, and a sound file in a few days. Here's the scoop:

** we wanted to use only native hardwoods

--hickory friction pegs
--maple (forgot which type!) and cherry laminated neck w/scoop and walnut heel
--fretless, walnut fingerboard
--oak rim (3-ply)
--12" pot, fiberskyn head
--nylgut strings (btw - can someone help me understand how to use these strings? i broke one right off. i guess the ones i have can't be tuned above G tuning...?

Since we only had one banjo in the house, my trusty Tradesman, we took a ton of measurements from it and built the new one with that information.

So exciting! I'm having a great time playing it. Now we'll get started on the next one. Watch out, Chuck Lee... ;-)

Edit - Having trouble seeing pics on my BHO page, so I posted the banjo pics on my picasa page:

Banjo #1

16 comments on “Makin' banjos!”

GerryH Says:
Wednesday, May 6, 2009 @2:27:32 PM


Post a picture of your new banjo or better yet a sound clip as well. I've always enjoyed your music.


chip arnold Says:
Wednesday, May 6, 2009 @3:16:02 PM

Wow you guys! That's a heck of a banjo. I want to hear it played :-) You've done beautiful work.

strokestyle Says:
Wednesday, May 6, 2009 @3:22:45 PM

Lori - This is fantastic news enjoy making and playing your new banjo. What is your scale length going to be?
You might have something sharp that caused the string to break.  Did it break by the bridge or tail piece and which string broke? I can tune my nylguts up to where ever I need them to go. I do not use a capo anymore. Even the fifth string can stretch to A. That is why I carry two banjo's -  one I tune in A & D and the other C & G.

banjotef Says:
Wednesday, May 6, 2009 @3:54:00 PM

Way to go,  Lori!  I also have a Shopsmith,  and it has come in really handy for my banjo-making,  especially the horizontal drill set-up.
You'll be making more, for sure!

Dock Jekel Says:
Wednesday, May 6, 2009 @4:39:52 PM

Very creative work.  You have done some unique carving for sure.  The peg head looks like a cat?  I am imspired, but still afraid to build my own.

dpetrzelka Says:
Wednesday, May 6, 2009 @4:47:33 PM

An inspiration to all of us who want to build our own banjo. Beautiful.

jamie_t123 Says:
Wednesday, May 6, 2009 @7:40:27 PM

Wow! Really outstanding Lori...well done!

youdye Says:
Wednesday, May 6, 2009 @8:23:02 PM


Nelson Says:
Wednesday, May 6, 2009 @9:54:00 PM

Wow!  Nice banjo... great job.

BRUNO25 Says:
Thursday, May 7, 2009 @4:49:41 AM

Sweet banjo,  Lori.  Wow!  That settles it.  I've been wanting to build a similar banjo for a while now.  Actually a couple.  Guess I need to  get on it.  


tfaux Says:
Thursday, May 7, 2009 @5:30:24 AM

Babies and banjos are good. Keep up the brilliant work.

joeblueg Says:
Sunday, May 10, 2009 @4:43:57 PM

Very nice work Lori. Now with a Shopsmith, there are so many things you can make on own. Have fun.

OldTimeJammin Says:
Thursday, May 14, 2009 @8:34:54 AM

Very Nice Lori!  When can I commission you to make me one?

ScottKnick Says:
Monday, May 18, 2009 @11:34:34 AM

Lori, it seems that everything you turn your hand to you almost instantly become a master at! You're an inspiration and, for an old guy like me, somewhat depressing as well!

billy stewart Says:
Tuesday, October 20, 2009 @1:34:04 PM

wow vary COOL!!!!!!!!!

bluemule_77 Says:
Thursday, January 14, 2010 @4:21:50 PM

Really great work! I like the look of that.

Looking forward to hearing your new band, too.

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